I’m a very busy guy. I run a business. I’m the father of twins. I’m a world-class endurance athlete. And I write the most popular, most visited blog in the entire World Wide Web. Not this blog, a completely different blog that I oversee under my pseudonym Arianna Huffington.
So while I really was more excited than BK the first time he saw a black woman in the nude to offer my season preview of this year’s new network fall television season, life – along with a crippling addiction to the pipe – slowed the long-awaited release of this blog post. But as my followers know, I don’t quit – with the exception of cross-country my sophomore year in high-school, that bullshit macro-economics class my junior year in college, that 2nd overnight job at UPS while living in Denver, and my first two marriages, although I guess the 2nd ceremony wasn’t recognized by the state as “marriage” in the traditional sense (thanks a lot Mitt Romney). Still, when I want to see something through I’ll see something through if for no other reason than the high literary quality that a preview such as this will yield. Like reading a Jimmy Breslin column on Al Capone. Timeless to this day – I would assume. Which is why next week I’ll be finally issuing my long overdue preview of the 1993 NFL Draft (Buy High on Rick Mirer – he’s got all the tools!)
However, my tardiness has prevented me from giving a full review of the steaming pile of shit that was NBC’s The Playboy Club. Sometimes, while watching PAX or Great American Country, you’ll see an old episode of CHiPS or Miami Vice or Hunter and you’ll see just how badly written and acted these shows were and you’ll scratch your head and say to yourself “Why did I think this show was so good when it was on?” And my theory always was that we just evolve as a collective, human, television watching public and shows have just gotten collectively better. It’s not that all shows of the 80’s were bad or that all shows today are good, but rather in general television just gets a little bit better every decade. So even Cheers doesn’t seem to hold up now as well as Seinfeld which probably won’t hold up as well as Arrested Development and so on and so forth. However, The Playboy Club is the creationism to my Darwinian Evolutionary TV theory. This show was bad. I mean really bad. Like literally from the opening scene when the male lead and the female lead exchange a series of cliché’s while lying in bed with one another. Miraculously, within seconds, the show establishes these two characters as the least interesting people on television today. What was most unfortunate about the episode I saw – some nonsense about a female reporter pretending to be a playboy bunny to dig up dirt on the club – wasn’t the poor construction of the script, the tired dialogue, or the total lack of heat and sexuality in a show that, presumably, should be oozing with it, but rather the insulting, dismissive way it treats the women on the show, almost all of whom are presented as lower class, vacuous, troubled women completely at the will of whatever man happened to be with them at the time. Which is perhaps why at the end of the show the female lead character has to lecture the reporter – and all of us – that despite what we’ve just witnessed playboy bunnies are really smart, intelligent, fiercely independent gals trying to make a better life for themselves. Maybe that’s why NBC decided to make a better decision for itself and cancel the show after 3 episodes joining ABC’s ill-fated Charlie’s Angel’s re-make, the Hank Azaria sitch Free Agents also on NBC, and something called H8R on something called the CW as this year’s first TV casualties.
Before viewing The Playboy Club I honestly didn’t think I’d see a worse show than Person of Interest, yet another in the long-line of cop-ish dramas presented by CBS since the emergence of CSI however many years ago. Person of Interest centers around the mysterious Mr. Finch and his even more mysterious partner John Reese. Finch has some kind of techno-dandy-dee-computer-like tool that allows him to find people “of interest” who are going to do harm or may be harmed and Reese is the guy with a military past who does the field work. There are flashbacks to Reese’s past and there’s a sassy female black police officer or detective or chief or something who’s after him and honestly this show is such a bunch of convoluted nonsense I don’t know how to explain it. The episode I saw involved ex-Army guys turned robbers and is borderline offensive in the condescending way it treats soldiers returning home and the sad-sap audience watching it. The show looks cheap – the police station looks like a set – and since I imagine its really not that cheap there’s no excuse for that kind of poor execution. The acting is also sub par. Isn’t Jim Caveziel supposed to be a good actor? That’s what I thought but now that I think about it, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Jim Caveziel in a movie. I didn’t watch the Mel Gibson Jesus movie. If I want to see a Jew orchestrate the abuse of a Gentile I’ll just listen to an interview with David Stern regarding the current NBA lockout.
I think I might have seen Caveziel in the J-Lo vehicle Angel Eyes at a preview at Fox a few years back. Wasn’t that the one where she learns to fight so she can kick the shit out of her ex? Anyway, Caveziel basically just doesn’t act in the show, playing a monotone, brooding, unemotional, tortured soul. It’s like watching Kerry Collins in the 2001 Super Bowl. And why do these shows always cast black women as lead police officers (or chiefs or whatever)? When was the last time someone black – or Asian for that matter – was the lead in a crime drama? It’s like the consolation prize for every black actress in Hollywood. Instead we’re stuck with roles like the one played by the badly miscast Taraji Hanson in Person of Interest as the sassy wanna-be foil to Caveziel’s Reese. It may be time for Tyler Perry to go all dramatic and shit on us. I’m sure whatever he comes up with will be excellent. Meanwhile, Person of Interest is not the worst crime show on TV (that goes to the inanely boring Castle on ABC which somehow is managing to enter its 4th season), but the fact that I have a sneaking suspicion this show may last a few seasons is yet another devastating blow to my evolutionary TV theory.
A better, but still flawed, detective drama is NBC’s attempt at an American version of the famed (dare I say legendary) British detective show Prime Suspect. Maria Bello takes on the lead role made famous by Helen Mirren and she’s not bad casting, primarily because she’s good-looking and can act. I’m not sure she’s the perfect match for Mirren, but that would be unfair for any actress and she’s probably as good as NBC could have hoped for in the role and all things considered that’s pretty good.
There are those that say the original Prime Suspect was the greatest show in the history of television and this American-ized version not surprisingly contains enough obvious dialogue, over-explained narrative and simplistic plot twists to piss off (and turn off) fans of the original. Perhaps most upsetting, however, will be that unlike the truly flawed and troubled Detective Jane Tennison (think Andy Sipowicz with a touch of Walter White), Bellos’ Jane Timony may be course and uncouth and kind of a jerk but she’s not truly on the edge of sanity the way her British counterpart was. Instead, the producers and writers of Prime Suspect try to pass off indifference and roughness as a substitute for authenticity and it is transparent and doesn’t work. Still, there are moments of the show that do work. Amidst the multitude of scenes where Timony does something inconsiderate followed by her co-workers telling her (and we the viewers in case we’re too stupid to figure it out) how inconsiderate she was, lie scenes of little gems. In the episode I last watched, there’s an oddly effective (and thankfully unexplained) scene where Timony, when questioning a suspect in his home, has the tables turned on her and he asks her a series of unprovoked personal questions. And the relationship between Bello and her boss, played with restrained gusto by Aiden Quinn, has a natural flow to them more reminiscent of NYPD Blue than the “excuse to push the story along and fill time” back and forth’s we get in shows like Law & Order, Law & Order SVU, Law & Order CS, Law & Order Los Angeles, Law & Order: the High-School Years, and Law & Order Gone Wild. It’s also good to note that Aiden Quinn is not an African-American female and hasn’t been since his Academy-Award winning performance in Precious. Ultimately, however, the real problem with Prime Suspect isn’t that it’s a bad show -because it’s not – but rather that it’s just another detective show. It’s ordinary. And for a show that is adapted from “the greatest detective show of all-time”, that’s probably not going to cut it. The truth is – and I hate saying this because I hate being that guy, you know the pretentious guy who’s always pointing to the British or foreign version of a show or movie as the superior product – but the truth is if you want a show that more closely emulates the British Prime Suspect than you need to check out another British cop show in Luther on BBC America.
Similarly to Prime Suspect, Pan Am, ABC’s attempt at copy-catting 60’s style and chic a la Mad Men (I assume The Playboy Club was NBC’s version of that although after watching it who could tell) isn’t terrible either. I mean basically it’s a soap-opera that seemingly is a more akin to a show like Chicago Hope then Mad Men. Focused around a bevy of young flight attendants (they were called stewardess’ back then in case you didn’t know) working for Pan American airlines (which went out of business 20 years ago for those of my readers born after Bill Clinton was elected to his first term) and honestly there’s not a lot for the viewer to chew on here. To the show’s credit, the back story of its main characters are interesting enough and its attempt to show women trying to find their independence and breaking societal norms at the time all the while still trying to maintain their “womanliness” in a male-chauvinist world is a strong concept and supposedly what The Playboy Club was trying and so monumentally failed to achieve. Unfortunately, Pan Am is on ABC not AMC and thusly the show saddles itself with simple story arcs and silly plot lines such as one character being recruited to work as a secret agent with the CIA (or FBI or ASPCA or the MLS, who cares). It should be added that Christina Ricci turns up in Pan Am as a sassy, fight-the-power co-lead and she, perhaps not unsurprisingly, has become an odd-looking chipmunk of a woman. I kind of thought in 2003 when she turned up as the young fiancée to the guy from American Pie in the largely (and deservedly) forgotten Woody Allen vehicle Anything Else that she might have crossed the line from odd child to oddly sexy young adult. But she’s 31 now and something has happened and she’s become just odd-looking. Her forehead is too high, and her arms too chubby and muscular for the rest of her body and I don’t know what to make of her. Although I would still allow her to take my hand as Mrs. Doug number 4 if the opportunity presented itself because there may be some money to be gained in the inevitable divorce settlement that would follow 16 months later and advertising revenue for this blog has failed to hit pre-2011 projections so I could really use the extra coin.
I had five sitcoms on my list this season to watch and review but unfortunately my DVR had a conflict between the premiere of Two Broke Girls, an Austin City Limits featuring two bands I never heard of and NFL Network’s Top Quarterbacks of the 90’s, so needless to say Two Broke Girls had to go. So let’s just presume this Whitney Cummings produced and co-created vehicle is “just fine” and move on to the show that actually stars and bears Ms. Cummings name – Whitney. Who doesn’t like Whitney Cummings? Perhaps older, more talented, less-physically alluring stand-up comedians? But fuck them says NBC. Cummings is cute, she’s been great on the Comedy Central roasts and her stand-up is better than average. Still, Whitney is kind of a strange show. It’s been given a choice time period on NBC’s Thursday night in 30 Rock’s slot right behind the Steve Carell-less The Office. However, unlike The Office, as well as the two shows that precede it Community and Parks and Rec, Whitney is like a throw back show. Shot in front of a live studio audience, the look of the show more closely resembles that of Family Ties than a more current 30-minute comedy. It’s also strangely paced, where scenes just sort of fade out instead of ending. It’s not that the show isn’t funny because it does have some legitimately funny lines and scenes. But it doesn’t seem so much like a show as it does actors and one comedian (Cummings) reciting written jokes. Now that’s a common trait of sitcoms based on the comedy of stand-ups (even the first episode of the Cosby Show does this) but it feels like the show has a long way to go. The supporting characters are all cliché’s and there’s no conflict, comedic or otherwise, between any of the characters. It’s just sort of one comedy skit, err scene, connected to another by a loosely put together story. Cummings can be very sexy and the show seems well aware of this as yet an episode seems to have emerged without at least one scene of her in some sort of stripper cum hooker Halloween outfit. Still, because Cummings is so hot right now (career-wise I mean) I have to believe NBC will work with Whitney to give Whitney every chance to succeed.
Another show in the Whitney canon is the Fox comedy The New Girl starring the always oddly alluring Zooey Deschanel. Zooey is a goofy name and Deschanel has a reputation of being a bit of a goofy gal so this show seems to want to take that personality to its logical conclusion by creating a show around a goofy girl and her 3 (or maybe it was 4) male roommate. I don’t know why they can’t be female friends. I’m not even sure where creatively this show comes from other than the idea that someone thought Deschanel was a strong enough presence that a show could just be pieced around her. In the opening scene of the episode I viewed, “Jess” is hanging out with one of these guys (or maybe there was more than one) and being goofy by wearing fake teeth and sort of being unsexual before emerging in a purple dress that is supposed to take her male friend(s) breath away. But the scene doesn’t work because it just seems forced and while Deschanel is a cute girl, the dress she’s in makes her look more “hip-eee” than sexy. The episode is set at a wedding and unlike in Whitney, where the show hurries from scene to scene, The New Girl seems to want to create a show of interest around this one long scene, almost a la Seinfeld. That would be perfectly fine if it was funny, but it’s not. The New Girl, despite its irreverent lead, seems more interested in being liked than funny. Perhaps most disappointing, though, is that the show seems to center around the male characters and how “Jess” works with them on their problems as opposed to needs and wants of The New Girl herself and that, unfortunately for Fox and Deschanel, is an old concept.
Throwing a baby in a sitcom is an old concept too, but it usually doesn’t occur until after a show’s been on the air awhile – the traditional “Jump the Shark” moment when producers and writers have truly run out of ideas so let’s just throw in a baby so the audience will be distracted by cuteness (or in the case of Growing Pains seduced by the inescapable charms of a pre-teen Leo DiCaprio). However, in Up All Night, the show’s creator’s decide to base the whole concept of the show (sort of) around a once partying couple being suddenly made uncool by the birth of their daughter. As a new father myself I was intrigued by the show and I like all the actors in the show – Cristina Applegate, Will Arnet, Maya Rudolph. However, during my first viewing I felt like everyone just needed to take it down a notch and relax. The comedy was so forced, the actions (and motivations) of the lead characters so over the top, that you cringed in embarrassment as opposed to chuckled or guffawed or as BK would say “go laughy taffy”. However, while subsequent episodes still showed a lot of unevenness, it seemed as if the show was starting to find a rhythm and even I went laughy taffy a few times. While I like Applegate and Arnett, I’m not sure the chemistry with them is quite right and Rudoph’s over the top Oprah-esque character is often times sillier than the rest of the show.
Still Up All Night has funny moments which gives it an edge over the hard to put your arms around Suburgatory which has been given the enviable slot on ABC just ahead of Modern Family.
Suburgatory is an odd mix of Modern Family, Glee, and Swingtown. Jeremy Sisto (37 years old), who I’m not sure I’ve ever seen do comedy, moves from the city to the suburbs with his fish-out-of-water, square-peg-in-a-round-hole and of course unmistakably attractive daughter played by Jane Levy (22 years old). Levy doesn’t look 16 although Sisto manages to look older than 37 so I’m not sure what that says about either of them. The show is trying to create a world of suburban oddity around the seemingly normal pair of Sisto and Levy and it tries really hard, complete with goofy neighbors, real housewive-esque divorcees, high-school clique-ishness, manicured lawns and day-glo polo shirts. Look closely and you’ll even see a guy who looks like Tim Tebow’s younger brother in the show, although from what I understand this actor is more accurate with his short, mid and long-range passes. I’ve decided that Sisto is a good actor even if he sometimes seems to be acting in a different show than everybody else, almost like he doesn’t realize he’s not on the set of Law & Order anymore. The show is not so much funny as really really earnest and like Up All Night and Whitney it’s not inconceivable it could be turned into something worth watching and apparently ABC thinks so as it’s renewed Suburgatory for a full-season.
So what’s the best show I’ve seen this new season? Most of you would probably assume I’d say A Football Life on NFL Network and I must admit the two-part Bill Belicheck premiere was quite good, although I didn’t like the Walter Payton episode as much. Still, while I always enjoy what NFL Films does, it is formulaic. You know what they produce will always be good, but you also know going in pretty much how it’s going to be presented to you.
No, while I can’t say I was overwhelmed by the network offerings this year, the best show I’ve seen thus far in 2011? Well, that would be the Victor Cruz show, playing Sundays. Check your local listings for the time and channel near you. I especially urge you to watch on Sunday, November 20th at 8pm EST, 5pm PST when the elusive Cruz and his New York Giants play the Philadelphia Eagles in an episode simply called “Victor makes Nnamdi his bitch again.”