Sunday, September 25, 2011

BRAVE VIEWED WORLD 2011 Edition Week One

It's the middle of September, which means the Broadcast Networks (are there 'broadcast networks' anymore, given how everything is all digital now?) are marching out their bright shiny new shows, hoping to lure us away from our cable addictions for a couple of months.

So what I've decided to do is take a look at the pilots of all the shows that even vaguely interest me--as you'll learn, many of these are looked at because, well, I once crushed on an actress contained within--and give you my impressions, ending with whether I plan on giving the show a second watch or not. This entry will be rather longish, but I imagine the next two or three weeks will be noticably shorter.

Alright, ramblers...let's get rambling.

2 Broke Girls: Much like NBC Thursday Night sitcoms of the late 80's and early 90's, CBS Monday Night Sitcoms have codified into their very own brand. To be specific, CBS Monday Night comedies are set in urban environments and posture like they're hip urban shows...when their real intent is quite the opposite. They're designed to let the suburban and flyover types know that they've made the right decision--that the people that society hail as sophisticated and intelligent are really freaks and weirdos. Hell, this network is so skilled in finding these shows that they managed to unleash one that makes geek culture out to be pathetic, stupid and contemptuously laughable--and yet has convinced the bulk of Geek Nation that it's actually a love letter to them.

Pretty girls laughing at you in a superior way...apparently
Bowling For Soup was right, and High School Never Ends.

Loving the significant other that shows us nothing but disrespect...that's the American way.

I say that to say this: 2 Broke Girls is definitely in that CBS Monday Night Sitcom mode. I decided to watch it based on my fondness for Kat Dennings, who has proven to be a clever and able actress...but this is one mean-spirited, cynical and nasty show (you know, much like the aforementioned Big Bang Theory, except this one doesn't have a Barenaked Ladies theme song). We're supposed to identify with Dennings' Kat because she constantly belittles and shows up all the hipsters surrounding her, but--much like BBT's Sheldon--her behavior is so unpleasant and rude that you can't get behind her. And her world is populated by grotesques--the tiny Asian owner of the diner, the salacious cook, the boho musician boyfriend who cheats on her--who seem to be there just so Max can gain points and 'woohoos' from the Fox News Drones who obviously make up the target audience of this slate of shows. The only character who seems to be genuinely pleasant and fun to see is Garrett Morris' cashier, and he has maybe four lines total.

And then there's the other Broke Girl, Caroline played with broad lack-of-appeal by Beth Behrs, who is obviously meant to be a broad parody of Paris Hilton (who is namechecked). It's painful to watch her try to breathe life into a cartoon, and the 'bonding' between her and Max comes off as forced. It's obvious to me that The Manhattanite Rich are the true freaks of this show...hell, Max even has a second job as a nanny to a second Manhattanite so we can get double the sneering laughter at how stupid and helpless and out of touch with Real Amurricans they are.

To be fair, this one doesn't raise my hackles up as much as Big Bang Theory did, and continues to do, but...fuck this show. I won't be back.

New Girl: This sitcom was apparently built on the idea that Guys Like Zooey Deschanel, not the least because she is pretty much Geek Nation's Ideal Girlfriend--hot, nerd-knowledgable, approachable and seriously quirky. I bet Ben Gibbard is glad he snapped her up before things got out of hand.

It's Zoeey nerdette
glasses!  Must...resist...falling....

Here's the thing, though; throughout the pilot, I never got the sense that neither Deschanel's character Jessie or the three guys into whose impossibly spacious apartment she moves into are anything more than Quirks On Two Legs. I never felt this quartet of main characters had a life before the set-up, and the show seems to be in love with the strange habits of each one (Hey, Jessie likes to sing at inappropriate moments! One guy has anger issues! Another guy has a Douchebag Jar!). It's sad given the talent on display--not only am I a fan of Deschanel, I really liked Max Greenberg during his brief turn as a romantic interest on Veronica Mars. I laughed maybe twice, and I am feeling the same way about this I felt about Shit My Dad Said last year, where I was torn between wanting a weekly dose of Nicole Sullivan and not wanting her stuck in such a crap sitcom--I want to support Zooey, but I have a sneaking suspicion I don't want to spend a half hour every week with these cyphers. I may give it one more shot.

Unforgetable: My first drama, one I decided to watch because I was intrigued by the premise, and because I used to have a crush on Poppy Montgomery when she played coroner Ellie Sparks in the very short lived Kevin Williamson soaper-with-something-spooky Glory Days (which still has one of the best taglines of any television series ever: 'Welcome to Glory. Population...dwindling'). And one of the first things that strikes you about this series is how it conforms to CBS' Crime Drama meme. It's all there--the mood lighting, the mix of soft jazz and pop music as a score, the sepia-toned arty cinematography and echoey sound mix when it comes to flashbacks. You could swap out Montgomery and romantic and professional foil Dylan Walsh with any of the CSI groups without any disruption of the episode's flow.

" that Gary Sinese shooting up the block?"

And yet...there is definitely something about this show that is compelling. Most of it is how Montgomery's Carrie Wells is one of those people who seem to enjoy her particular talent; so many other crime dramas like this seem to delight in showing us how unhappy these people are with being unique, and seeing Carrie reel off facts and figures with that uniquely sexy smile on her face is simply fun. But I have to wonder if all there is. The twist in the mystery, quite frankly, was so thunderingly obvious you had to wonder why no one in the squad brought up the possibility and the overarc (because every single CBS Crime Drama needs to have their leads haunted by a Case They Never Solved) is still so sketchy as to be unreadable at this moment.

Whether this series succeeds beyond an initial thirteen week commitment rests on whether the producers managed to build a compelling enough structure around Wells; if all they're giving us is just another CBS Crime Drama with Poppy Montgomery--who, let's be honest, hasn't had to carry a show by herself before--they might find their watching populace...dwindling. But for the time being I'll give it an episode or two more.

The Office: Yes, it's not a new program, but it's the first one with James Spader in the driver's seat, so it's a new show to me. And, as anyone who listens to my podcast knows, Spader is one of my favorite actors. Hell, I put up with the miserable bullcrap David E. Kelley shoveled on my head during the four years of Boston Legal just to get a weekly dose of Spader-y goodness.

Beware James Spader and his enigma-stare!
Which brings us to this episode, and Spader's first turn as CEO of the titular office. I gotta be honest--I found the show thoroughly inpenetrable...but since Spader's Robert California seems to be a willful spanner in the works, intentionally finding ways to put everyone off balance to keep them on their toes in the name of 'positive reinforcement', it really doesn't matter that I don't know who anyone is. There's a certain joy in seeing California behave in this strange, enigmatic way that only Spader can pull off just to see how the people around him will react. So yes, because it's James Spader, I am going to watch some more.

Yep...only good thing in this show...

Whitney: This however....God, this show (watched only because it's between The Office and Prime Suspect) is a microcosm of everything I hate about the modern sitcom: people who just don't interact like real human beings and speak in great gobs of exposition, supporting characters who seem to have no life outside of the scenes they're in, plotting that's on the rails to the point of predictable...and all delivered by an actress who is admittedly hellacute (and fills out a naughty nurse outfit quite admirably) but seems devoid of charisma. Whitney Cummings has this weird habit of acting through her forearms--every statement is punctuated with this rotating of her hands outwards until they're at a right angle from her body--that is truly and sincerely annoying. It also doesn't help that the actor playing her boyfriend is thoroughly bland. I hated these people about five minutes in, wanted them all to die, and hope to never have to think about this show ever, ever again.

Prime Suspect: Admittedly, I wanted to see this pilot not because I was intrigued--even though I think Maria Bello is a Hell of An Actress--but because the rumor was that this was a legendarily bad first episode.

Don't look at me that way. Everyone loves a train wreck.'s Maria a funky hat!  Don't you wanna
watch now?
And to be fair, this pilot--directed by personal favorite Peter Berg--is not legendarily bad. Oh, it has bad elements to it, but it also has some pretty good elements to it as well. Once you get past the sweeping overhead shots of New York, there's a definite subdued look to the show with an emphasis on whites and earth tones. I also like how many of the actors surrounding Bello tend toward the subdued as well, as if they're trying to shore up the fact that this is a serious show. I particularly liked Aiden Quinn's turn as the Chief of Detectives.

However...there is a definite schism in how this series see itself, and only half of that schism works. When we have Bello waving around her gun to harass a taxi driver or blackmail her fiance's ex-wife into giving him visitation, the show just falls to pieces. On the other hand, when we have Bello telling a child who witnessed his mother's murder that she would help him kill the murderer or utilizes her knowledge of vice to exonerate a suspect, the show works. The show runner is really going to have to decide whether this is going to be a character drama where the characters happen to be cops or a 'case of the week' show...because as much as I disliked all the character drama stuff, I still think Bello could pull it off by sheer dint of talent, but being pulled in two directions like she was in this pilot, the show will never find its footing.

I am going to give this some more viewings to see if the producers resolve the show's schizophrenic nature.

Next Week...two pilots I didn't cover from this week, plus dinosaurs and Christina Ricci in a tight stewardess' dress.

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