Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Unwatchable

Every few years, for some reason, I find interest in some of the the new television series'. Sometimes it's just one or two new shows that capture my attention. But this year - perhaps due to the greater amount of free time I find I have - I have grown fondly of a few new shows. For the past few years, the only TV that  watched regularly was NFL football, MLB baseball and American Idol. Then last year, as I was recovering in a rehab center following knee replacement surgery, my TV choices were TV Land and MeTV, where I was inundated with old shows from the '60s and '70s. For a while, it felt like a walk down memory lane - especially the theme music (although I did wish they's have added "Room 222" and "Welcome Back, Kotter").

By the time I was back in rehab, following my abscessed colon, I discovered Hulu and Netflix. I watched hour after hour of "The Office" (from the very beginning to the very end - TWICE) and also I discovered a gem of a skit show called "Little Britain," which was wickedly naughty. Also, I decided to find out what the big buzz was with "The Big Bang Theory."

But as the new season started in September, I decided to take a look at the main networks again. Doing so allowed me to give chance to some new shows* that had promising previews and/or pilots. After a few months, I have decided on which are my favorites and which need to be thrown in a pit of despair, never to grace the TV screen ever again.

*The following list includes all the shows I sacrificed my time to watch, so you don't have to.
Two Broke Girls, The Crazy Ones, Mom, The Millers, Mike and Molly, The Neighbors, The Goldberg's, Trophy Wife, Dads, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Rake, Unlisted

The worst of these new shows was pretty tough to determine. But there were two shows that stood out so badly, I did not give it another watch. "The Neighbors" stars Jamie Gertz (who is still as stunning as she was when she was in "The Lost Boys") and revolves around a family that has relocated to a gated townhouse community called "Hidden Hills". Upon their arrival, they discover that the entire community is populated by residents from another planet. Amongst their myriad quirks, these aliens identify themselves by the names of sports celebrities, patrol the community in golf carts, dress alike, receive nourishment through their eyes and mind by reading books rather than eating, and cry green goo from out their ears. Since the aliens have assumed human form, they can also revert to their original appearances by clapping their hands above their heads. They have been stuck on Earth for 10 years, still awaiting instructions to return home.

In other words, it's a really bad remake of 3rd Rock From The Sun, mixed with all the stale (lack of) charm of the old TGIF lineup on ABC.

The other horrible waste of television is the Seth Green/Giovanni Ribisi vehicle, "Dads." Let's just say every possible stereotype ever created about one's father is all rolled into the two fathers of these two sadly unfunny actors. Perhaps Martin Mull was funny in 1974, and Peter Reigert? Ok, he had a few good lines in "Crossing Delancy" about 25 years ago. But that's pretty much all I can remember.

On the other side of the coin, there are a couple of shows that have the potential to be the next "big thing." The first one of these is "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which is a terrific comedy starring former-SNL alum Andy Samberg. This show centers around a fictional police precinct and the department staff. While the show clearly stars Samberg as an immature, but talented detective, the greatness of the show is the relatively unknown ensemble cast that work so well together. Of all the new shows, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is truly the cream of the crop.

On the next level - These are the shows I watch each week, but don't necessarily run to my DVR as soon as I can there (let's call this the "B" level) - there are a few stand outs. The first one is the sitcom, "Mom."

I really did not expect to enjoy this one. "Mom" follows Christy Plunkett (Anna Faris), a single mother who—after dealing with her battle with alcoholism and drug addiction—decides to restart her life in Napa, California's wine country working as a waitress and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Her mother Bonnie Plunkett (Allison Janney) is also a recovering drug and alcohol addict, and her 17-year-old daughter Violet (Sadie Calvano), who was born when Christy was 16, has become pregnant by her boyfriend Luke. Christy also has a younger son Roscoe by her ex-husband Baxter, a deadbeat drug-dealer (Wikipedia).

What impresses me is the strength of the relationship between the mother and grandmother. I actually do not care for the daughter character, as I find her the least believable. Over the past few weeks, the show's emphasis switched to some of the side characters, including Alvin (Christy's biological father, played by Kevin Pollack), Marjory (Mimi Kennedy) and Regina (Octavia Spencer). This keeps the storylines fresh and interesting.

Another "B" show is the comedy-drama show "Rake," which is an adaptation of an Australian series of the same name. The series follows Keegan Deane (played brilliantly by Greg Kinnear), a criminal defense lawyer whose personal problems and self-destructive behavior has him battling wits and/or owing money to everyone around him, including his ex-wife, judges, an assistant district attorney, his bookie, a brothel owner, and the IRS (Wikipedia).

As with all the other shows I've mentioned, the main character is someone you really want to root for. However, in Keegan Rake's character, his self-destructive behavior often gives you reason to throw something at your screen. Unlike the other shows on this list, "Rake" is on for an hour (as opposed to the other shows which are all 30-minute sitcoms). There are certain aspects to the show that I fear can cost it committed viewers. For one thing, because the show really is centered around the main star (Kinnear), I still find a lack of connection between the side characters and the audience. In addition, storylines are generally completed within a single episode. Yes, there are some carry-over plot lines. But the more intense stories are wrapped up way too quickly. Perhaps TV has evolved to the point that the viewers attention-spans have dwindled. But in shows I find similar to "Rake" (like "House," "Boston Legal" and "Ally McBeal"), the development of story lines and characters often took much longer to introduce and carry out. I find that lacking in "Rake." However, it is still fun television.

On the "C" level - which are shows I tape and watch sometime during the week (but don't get upset if I miss an episode), I would place the new Robyn Williams/Sarah Michelle-Geller vehicle, "The Crazy Ones," which is a sitcom about a Chicago ad agency. Williams plays the part of a former alcoholic/drug abuser who has been clean for a number of years, thanks to his tightly-strung daughter (Geller), who is his business partner as well.

The strength of this show is clearly the timing of the ensemble cast who often carry the show. This show is the first foray into television for Williams since "Mork and Mindy" 30 years ago. While his character can be quite funny, the series only works due to the side characters, who keep Williams in check.

Another "C" show is "Trophy Wife." This series centers on a 2-time divorced man who has just married his third wife, who is considerably younger than him. The humor revolves around the diverse characters in his life, including his two ex-wives - one who is a stern perfectionist and the other is a flaky new age-hippy. In addition, he has 3 children - 2 older kids from wife #1 and one little guy from marriage #2. Individually, the characters are not strong enough to carry the show. But as a group, they make it work (usually). The newest wife does often come across considerably less mature that she should, given her newfound responsibilities and is therefore difficult to believe - especially when confronted with her best friend, who acts as if she's still in high school. There are a few inconsistencies that require a break in reality. But barring that, the show can be enjoyable. However, I would be surprised if this show lasts more than a year or two.

A few other shows I've watched are not worth the time or effort to write much about. The first one, "The Goldbergs" is a stereotypical reflection of a Jewish family from Philadelphia, circa 1980s. The plot lines have all been done before and have been done much better. The worst thing I can say about "The Goldbergs" is that the main character, the Jewish mother, of course, is such a dislikable person she ruins the show for everyone else. Apparently, the show was created from Adam Goldberg's memories of growing up. It's clear he should have invested a serious amount of money to therapy. The characters are not believable and again, unlikable. I seriously gave this show 6 episodes before I just had enough. Knowing the TV industry, it will probably be renewed into syndication. It should be cancelled before it hurts someone.

"Two Broke Girls" is basically a vehicle for comedienne Kat Dennings, who plays a sarcastic, foul-mouthed waitress with a huge chip on her shoulder. Beth Behers plays her best friend and fellow-poor waitress who also is her roommate. Behers basically sets up the one-liners that Dennings tries to hit. The side characters are even less believable and even less humorous. The show is a simple collection of used sex jokes, innuendos and liberal moralizations and is unworthy of renewal. It's really that bad.

I suppose "The Millers" have some redeeming value. But I haven't found it yet. They do have their moments and it would not surprise me if it's given a second season. Nor would it surprise me if it's cancelled tomorrow. The same goes for "Unlisted" and "Mike and Molly." Actually, that isn't correct. I would be surprised if "Mike and Molly" were cancelled so quickly. It isn't that I like the show - I really, really don't. However, CBS really pushes the advertisements for this show and for whatever reason, really want it to succeed. I really don't understand why.

So that is my take on television. I'm still watching "American Idol" and will write something about it starting in a couple of weeks. Another show I'm watching regularly is "Night Court," whose reruns are on one of the Encore channels (Direct TV 537). I've always loved that show. And in a couple of weeks, baseball is back on and I'll have to peel my son away from the screen whenever a game is on. How much fun is that?

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