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Fall 2011 Review: Up All Night

15 Sep

Up All Night is a sitcom about a couple, Will Arnett and Christina Applegate in their late ‘30s/early 40s, whose life is changed when they have a baby.  Arnett’s character leaves his law job to care for the baby while Applegate’s character goes back to work for her wacky and overbearing boss, Ellen/Oprah-like daytime talk show host Ava, portrayed by Maya Rudolph.

I came in expecting the show to be disappointing, and I found the show in practice to be underwhelming, and I’m still not sure if these are the same thing.  While the blogosphere lit up in excitement for a show that combined the considerable talents of Will Arnett, Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph, I was less impressed, having never seen Arnett as successful outside of playing the oversized G.O.B. in Arrested Development, a character who can’t work as a lead in a non-absurdist show.

Yet this wasn’t the problem with the show at all.  Arnett was absolutely fine, as were Applegate and Rudolph.  I don’t mean fine as a bad thing.  It’s not that they didn’t sell the lines or the jokes well, it’s just that there wasn’t that much to sell.  It was by no means bad with a capital b; unlike watching the previews of Whitney or 2 Broke Girls or the poster of How to Be A Gentleman I never cringed or felt bad for the actors and the producers and everyone who made the decision to put that particularly show on the air.  I just didn’t really feel anything.  There were a couple of smiles, I’d admit, maybe a chuckle or two but not much more.  I was waiting for it to gel and get to the point where the light turns on and I know why I’m watching but it just didn’t hit that point in the first episode.

I will note that Maya Rudolph’s character has the potential to become very cartoonish very quickly.  As the outsized television host personality, Rudolph is needy, loud, and a little bit off her rocker and is clearly looking to be the break out character.  I normally dislike that type of exaggerated sitcom character but while I by no means found it hilarious, it didn’t bother me too much either in this episode.  That said, it’s something to watch for and see how the writers handle in future episodes.

Will I watch again?  Not right away, I don’t think..  I’ll take the Parks and Recreation route.  When I watched the pilot, I wasn’t impressed and I didn’t watch the rest of the season.  When everyone I have ever met told me it was different and better and that I NEEDED to watch it, I gave in, and everyone was absolutely right and it’s one of the best comedies on TV today.  That is to say I’m going to assume it’s just kind of okay unless I hear an outpouring of raves later in the season; it could need time to grow into its own.

Fall 2011 Preview and Predictions: CBS

15 Sep

(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

1.  Renewal – show gets renewed

2.  13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed

3.  12- – the show is cancelled before 13)

We’ll tackle CBS next, the ratings leaders behind their procedural powerhouses CSI and NCIS and unfortunate comedy stars Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.  All their new shows start next week except for How to Be A Gentleman, which starts the week after.

2 Broke Girls – 9/19

No single preview has offended me more personally than that for 2 Broke Girls, in which Kat Dennings’s character makes a reference to Coldplay as a hipster band, amongst other things.  What Big Bang Theory does for nerds, it looks like 2 Broke Girls will do for hipsters.  Basically, it’s a show written to make fun of hipsters by people who don’t know what hipsters are, or it so it appears from the preview.  On top of that, I’ve disliked Kat Dennings since I saw Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, one of the worst movies I’ve seen in the last five years.

Verdict.  13+ – For some reason people claim to be liking this, and because it’s on CBS, every show might be renewed because people over the age of 50 just leave the TV on CBS and throw away their remotes, but boy I just can’t pick a show that looks this terrible to succeed in good conscience

How to Be a Gentlemen – 9/29

Ah!  Finally, a show that just looks really and truly terrible and has absolutely no reason to support it.  Wait – it actually has cast members who I kind of like?  David Hornsby, better known to me as Rickety Cricket from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia as the uptight Felix Unger roommate, and Kevin Dillon, or Johnny Drama from Entourage, as the crazy, slobbish, Oscar Madison roommate, along with Dave Foley, Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe from 24) and Rhys Darby (Murray from Flight of the Conchords).  Cricket and Johnny Drama are roommates who are perfectly mismatched, have love-hate relationship, teach a little bit to each other, blah blah blah.

Verdict:  12- Boy, I like that cast, but boy that show sounds and looks terrible.

Person of Interest – 9/22

One of the more interesting sounding series of the new season, Person of Interest is something like Batman meets Minority Report.  Michael Emerson, otherwise known as the uber-creepy Ben Linus from Lost, is a reclusive billionaire who has developed a program which can predict information about violent crimes in the future, but with limited detail.  Linus hires an ex-CIA agent thought to be dead to do the legwork on stopping these crimes that his program picks up on.  Add all this to the fact it’s created by Jonathan Nolan, Chris’s younger brother, who co-wrote the screenplays to The Prestige and The Dark Knight and it sounds pretty promising.

Verdict:  Renewal – CBS is moving ratings giant CSI to get Person of Interest some viewers – if that’s not a sign of big-time network backing, then I don’t know what is.  On top of that, it apparently got legendary approval ratings for its pilot.

A Gifted Man – 9/23

Patrick Wilson is quite literally a man constantly bringing gifts to small children.  No, if only.  This is actually far more insane. Wilsonis a materialistic, selfish, scrooge-ish but extraordinarily talented surgeon working and dabbling amongst the upper crust exclusively.  That is, until his dead wife comes back in ghost form and starts trying to make him a better person, having him run the free clinic that she apparently ran before they died (how did they get along when they were both alive with such disparate interests?).  Oh, and Julie Benz (Rita from Dexter) plays his sister.

Verdict:  13+ – Jonathan Demme directed the pilot, which is probably good news, but this seems like it could get awful predictable awful fast.

Unforgettable – 9/20

Gimmicky procedurals are right in CBS’s wheelhouse, and Unforgettable fits right in with The Mentalist.  Unforgettable stars Poppy Montgomery as a woman with a rare medical condition, which means that she quite literally can not forget anything.  A former detective before the show begins, her former boyfriend and ex-partner (the same person) ask her to come back to help solve cases using her rare ability.  On top of that, we’ve got a long-term plot based on the only thing Miss Unforgettable can not remember:  The mysterious circumstances behind the murder of her sister!  Bum bum bum!

Verdict:  13+ – I’m sure it won’t be bad, but I have a hard time believing it will be that good either.  It just sounds so unbelievably generic.  On CBS, it’ll get viewers, but CBS expects more too, and one of these dramas has to not deliver

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 22: Workaholics

15 Sep

Comedy Central runs through shows faster than well, choose your own analogy. Fast is the point.  If you’re not the Daily Show, Colbert Report or South Park, and you’re on Comedy Central, you probably won’t be next year.  I’ve tuned in here and there, but I try not to get too attached, because I know whatever show I’m watching won’t be around.  It’s usually not difficult because most of them are terrible or at least forgettably mediocre.  Dog Bites Man?  Remember that one?  Halfway Home, the prison-meets-real-world premise with Oscar from The Office.  Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire?  The only point of that show was that I had a new nickname for Frankie Rodriguez.  For this reason, it was hard to get too excited about Workaholics as the season progressed, marching towards its probable inevitable Comedy Central doom.  It was a sign though, that it wasn’t just me, when some executives there deemed Workaholics worthy of receiving the coveted second season.

I feel like this is true for about third of this list, but I started watching the show at least partially ironically.  Not ironically in the sense that I thought it would be horrible, more in a way that was several layers of anti-humor away ironically in that, upon the appearance of Workaholics commercials it was pretty much decided I was watching whether it ended up being good or not.  One such commercial featured a character asks one of the main characters, named Anders, if his name is Finnish, to which he replies, “No, sir – I’m just getting started.”  Not brilliant stuff, I know.  But it’s kind of funny.

Luckily, it actually ended up being pretty good, or at least there were funny parts in the first few episodes, enough so to keep me watching.  It’s not a sketch show, but it has some of a sketch show feel (think Michael and Michael Have Issues if you actually remember that Comedy Central show). There are three main characters and they work in a call center and do a bunch of stupid and/or ridiculous things in every episode.  Even better, as the season went forward, the episodes actually got significantly stronger – the consistency rate of laughs was higher.  The characters got themselves into sticky situations, such as ending up at a meeting of the Juggalos, and, to their advantage, unlike what happens in some sketch shows where the emphasis is on wacky plots and not characterization (as it should be, for the most part), the characters feel at least a little bit different.   You couldn’t simply switch their plots around in every episode.

Why it’s this high:  When it hits, it captures dumb funny as good as any show on TV – best moment perhaps – one character threatening a larger guy invading a party –  he says, “If we do this there’ll be two hits… me punching you in the face. and Kid Rock’s Bawitdaba playing in the background”

Why it’s not higher:  It’s tough on sketch-type shows – you get your hit and your occasional miss.

Best episode of most recent season:  “To Friend a Predator”  – just the premise alone is darkly funny and the episode delivers on it – the guys take it upon themselves to bait and take down a local child molester, only to find out he’s a really cool guy to hang out with.