Archive | February, 2012

Spring 2012 Review: Rob

10 Feb

 

I’m still a bit confused about the actual title of this show, and how many !s should be in it, and where they should be placed.  So let’s just accept that I’m talking about the new Rob Schneider sitcom, in which he impulsively marries a Mexican woman, and boy does he not realize, that’s he’s married to her family also!  Where Work It indulged heartily in stereotypes about women, Rob digs in to Mexican stereotypes.

Disclaimer:  After writing the Work It review and this one, I do want to say, it’s not that the use of stereotypes can absolutely never ever be funny.  It’s just that it’s usually not funny, and is usually terrible and offensive.  I just want to leave that door open for the few who trade in this general type of humor more effectively, a la Chapelle’s Show.  Stil, for ever Chapelle’s Show that does it well, there’s ten Mind of Mencias that do it terribly.

Either way, I would like to focus in on how bad Rob is as a television program.

Basically, Rob meets his wife, Maggie’s family, and while needing to impress them, constantly embarrasses himself (think Meet the Parents but with a stereotypical Mexican component).  Rob was as difficult to watch as Work It, but for a very different reason.  Rob basically contained the this-man-can’t-do-anything-right type of pratfalls, as he stumbled through physical comedy bits embarrassing himself, but without any of the actual laughter which comes from when this type of humor actually works.  You get the hard to watch part without the funny.

Rob takes on hard hitting issues like illegal immigration, mentioning to Cheech Marin, who plays his wife’s father, that he feels that the borders should be open, while Marin responds that he wants a wall to be erected so he doesn’t have any competition.  Rob mentions he’s a landscape architect to his wife’s mother, who labels him a gardener.  I love that they think they’re turning stereotypes on their head, for example by showing us that these Mexicans are successful – father Cheech Marin says he owns several car washes, contrary to what us stupid Americans, who have low expectations for Mexican=-Americans, think.

There’s a lot of low brow, physical comedy.  It’s not that I think all low brow comedy is unfunny, but there’s caught-in-a-situation-where-someone-mistakes-you-as-masturbating joke, and there’s a caught-in-a-situation-where-someone-mistakes-you-as-masturbating joke.  Party Down manages to pull it off when goofy boss Ron gets caught trying to use a stain pen on his pants, but Rob not so much when his wife’s grandmother catches him trying to put out of the fire that has erupted on his pants when accidentally knocks over his wife’s grandmother’s devotional candles to her dead husband.  Rob even follows it with an extremely creepy and terrible joke and he ends up in an awkward sexual position vis a vis the grandmother, after trying to cover her mouth to prevent her from screaming out what a mess he’s made setting the room on fire.

What’s really sad is that there is a dearth of Latin American actors on television, and likeSt. Louisdeserves better than Work It, Latin American actors and actresses deserve better than Rob.

Will I watch it again?  No.  Sadly, while Work It was quickly cancelled, this is on CBS, so people watch it.  I look forward to never having to think about this program again, except in the litany of terrible projects Rob Schneider has been associated with.  It’s amazing how the man, in a town where so many talented comedians never get a chance, manages to continue to get a work, and get a project where he gets to have an attractive, much younger wife.

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Spring 2012 Review: Work It

9 Feb

It’s long past due that I reviewed this show that I called the Lebron James of shows-picked-to-be-cancelled (don’t think too hard about thea analogy) which was as predicted added to the great list of shows cancelled after a mere two episodes.  Still, late is usually better than never, and if I didn’t watch every new broadcast show eventually I wouldn’t be staying true to myself so here it is.  The show, for those who don’t know, is in a sentence, about two unemployed best friends who discover that women can get jobs in the terrible economy but men can’t, and thus dress up as women to get said jobs.

Let’s start out by saying that this show is cringe-worthy bad, hard to watch bad, and not hard to watch in a British comedy sense, where it’s like a traffic accident that you want to look away but you always want to watch, more that you just don’t want to watch. I had to watch the show in approximately 2 to 3 minute segments just to get through it at all.  Maybe a half a dozen comedies a year make you truly feel like you’re losing brain cells watching them (not that anyone actually knows what that would feel like, but let’s let that pass) and this is the worst of them all.  This is dare I say, more insulting than 2 Broke Girls, and I don’t pass that judgment lightly.

With the assumption accepted that the show is mind-bogglingly awful, let’s move on with some specific comments.  First, the show takes place in St. Louis.  What a sad fate for a  proud city.  Not that I have any strong feelings about the city one way or another, but it seems like the Gateway to the West deserves if not one great series, one half-way decent one.  The bestSt. Louiscurrently has is either AfterMASH or The John Larroqette Show. It deserves better than Work It.  (New great idea: Power Rankings of shows by city, or cities by show – look for it soon).

The main character I recognized from his stint playing Robin’s co-anchor and serious boyfriend in an arc of How I Met Your Mother.  In addition, Rebecca Mader, who played Charlotte in Lost, plays the bitchy office top dog, who is poised for sales competition with the main character.

The show is simply jam-packed with insulting shows about seriously out-moded gender stereotypes, and without a hint of winking self-awareness under which the creators could at least cover themselves, claiming everything is done in an ironic fashion.  It reminds me of the insulting stereotypes rife in Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing, but worse.  It takes until just two and a half minutes into the episode for the jokes about women to begin, as the worst character in a show of terrible characters, third friend Brian talks about a world in which women will take over, leaving only some men women will take as sex slaves, but not the good kind of sex – kissing and cuddling, and can you believe it, listening!  Boy, do women love to make men listen to them, an extremely emasculating pursuit.

In the theme sequence, the creators have their names appear in big letters.  I hope, for their sakes, that they’re pseudonyms, because otherwise it’s a big sign saying “don’t hire me ever again!”  Lucky for them few enough people were watching to ever remember their names.

In order to live in Work It’s world, we have to accept that people could unquestionably accept both of these men terribly dressed in far lower than Mrs. Doubtfire quality drag as women.  There’s so many insulting jokes about women that it would be impossible to list them all.

The single best part of the show may have been that in the closing seconds my file includes a promo for “Gary Busey and Ted Haggert: The Premier of Celebrity Wife Swap” which I still don’t believe is real.

Will I watch it again?  Well, obviously I don’t have a choice, since it will not air more than two episodes.  The answer would obviously be no anyway, but I still think it bears wondering how this ever got on the air.  On ABC, too, which while having far from a perfect record on sitcoms, has largely focused on laugh-track free slightly smarter sitcoms of late like Modern Family and Happy Endings.  I hope someone is laughing out there who created this show as a giant joke just to see if could ever get on the air.  At least one person would laugh then.

Spring 2012 Review: Key & Peele

8 Feb

Evaluating a sketch show by nature comes with a different standard than evaluating any other type of show.  Instead of coming at you with a coherent episode, sketch shows give you a handful of mini-episodes, which tend to be premised on one, or just a few, jokes each.  These sketches are often really good or really bad.  More than that, it’s okay to have a bad sketch; once the next sketch starts, it’s almost as if the bad sketch never happened, rather than in an episode of a normal show, where a shaky first few minutes can have a bigger impact on the entire show.  That’s not to say it’s good to have a couple of stinkers; all gold would be best.  Still, if there’s one thing sketch shows generally need its an editor, and because a couple of great sketches more than outweigh a couple of lousy sketches, because you can just ignore the bad sketches, a sketch show that hits .500 isn’t that bad.  It’s certainly a lot better than a normal sitcom hitting .500.  In addition, a lot of sketch shows are bad.  That doesn’t mean all sketches are bad.  Saturday Night Live, which I think is the most overrated culture institution of the last 30 years, has churned out plenty of good sketches over the course if its history, but because its batting average is so low I’m content to wait and hope the really good sketches funnel through youtube or the blogosphere to get to me.

The first episode of Key and Peele hit just about .500, and I actually saw that as a good sign.  We’ll take it sketch by sketch, though let’s note that my text is no substitute for watching, for good or ill.  Also, we’re going to skip the talking part at the beginning, where Key and Peele chat in front of the audience, introducing the show, much like Chapelle did or Mr. Show did.  There’s enough to talk about already.

First sketch:  One couple meets another couple at their house.  The men and women separate.  The men, whenever they’re together, look around, several times, and make sure the women are nowhere nearby before calling their girlfriend a bitch.  They repeat, each time moving to a more obscure location, and ending up space.

Verdict:  This one took the classic Family Guy Peter falling and hurting his knee path – it was a little bit funny, the tiresome and repetitive, but went far enough that it came around again and was a little bit funny.

Second sketch:  Chefs are in line to be judged by a Gordon Ramsay-like chef on a cooking reality show.  The Ramsay-like character goes back and forth between saying the contestant’s food is good and terrible, in a confusing manner, so much so that the contestant has no clue what the chef thinks.

Verdict:  I chose to describe this is an unfunny manner, but it was pretty good sketch, a good idea with good execution.

Third sketch:  A reality crew follows the life of Lil Wayne in prison.  That’s just the wikipedia description.  I don’t have a ton to add, but the joke is that Lil Wayne talks a tough game, but is nobody in prison.

Verdict:  It’s a pretty good idea, but it mostly didn’t work, though the fact that the idea was a good one meant it at least came through in one or two jokes, this sketch actually was repeated in little bits throughout the episode.

Fourth sketch:  Imitating a commercial for ancestry.com, people speak about the joys of tracing their lineage back to a famous person.  The white people go back to people like George Washington or Alexander the Great, but the black people always find their way back to Thomas Jefferson.

Verdict:  Success – I honestly thought this was a commercial as it started, and didn’t pay attention initially, which shows how closely they imitated.  It was short, and to the point, and they got good leverage out of the joke without overdoing it.

Fifth sketch:  A man goes to the doctor, planning on giving fake symptoms to get a prescription for marijuana.  While the doctor is willing, the man keeps giving ridiculous diseases, such as leprosy, or AIDS, every time the doctor presses him for a new less serious disease.

Verdict:  Success – this is one of those sketches that fell about half on the idea, and half the execution.  The writing isn’t that important past the idea; the only important part is to think of sufficiently ridiculous conditions, which admittedly isn’t obvious, but isn’t impossible either.  The job by Peele as the patient particularly helps sell the skit and makes it funnier than it should be.

Sixth sketch:

Because President Obama must appear calm and reasoned, he enlists a translator to express what he really means, much more angrily, when he says things.  This was on all the commercials.

Verdict:  Not so great.  Again, it’s not a failure of idea, but this one just didn’t come together in practice.  I could see it working in theory, but it was a little bit off and I don’t have the exact best way to fix it but think that it could possibly be funny.

Will I watch it again?  I haven’t yet, but I will.  Since it’s a sketch show, it doesn’t give the same impetus to watch week-to-week but the show has definitely earned at least a second look.  Looking back, even the sketches that didn’t work, could have worked, which says more about execution than concept, which I think is easier to improve upon in the future.

Power Rankings: Night Court, part 2

7 Feb

Night Court Power Rankings, part 2.  The top three.  On we go.

3.  Markie Post – (as Christine Sullivan) – She was first in TV movies Beyond Suspicion and Someone She Knows, and then had her most notable post-Night Court role in three season sitcom Hearts Afire, starring aside John Ritter.  She made her money after that as a TV movie regular for a couple of years, appearing in Visitors of the Night, Chasing the Dragon, Dog’s Best Friend (as the voice of Horse), Survival on the Mountain, and I’ve Been Waiting for You.  She also appeared in an episode of Harry Anderson’s Dave’s World, and as Mary’s mom in There’s Something About Mary.  She was in one season TGIF sitcom Odd Man Out in 1999, and appeared in the ‘00s in TV movies Late Bloomers, Till Dad Do Us Part,Holidayin Handcuffs, and Backyard Wedding.  She was in two episodes of The District, three of Scrubs, and one of Man Up and Ghost Whisperer, and in eight episodes in a voice role in Transformers: Prime.

2.  Charles Robinson (as Mac Robinson)  – I’ll be honest – I expected all of these actors to have done absolutely nothing because I was only familiar with two or three of them.  He was a main cast member on three season and utterly forgotten CBS series Love & War.  He was in episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Ink, cast mate John Laroquette’s eponymous John Larroquette Show, In The House, Malcolm and Eddie, and Touched by an Angel.  He was in nine of Home Improvement as Bud Harper and was in episodes of The Trouble of Normal, Soul Food (if you couldn’t figure out Robinson’s race, you probably have a good guess by now), Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place, My Wife and Kids, Abby, Yes, Dear, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Carinvale, The Bernie Mac Show, Charmed, House M.D., Cold Case (I know this list keeps going, bear with me), The Riches, My Name is Earl, Big Love, The Game, Hank, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, $#*! My Dad Says, and Harry’s Law.  That may well be the longest list I’ve ever gone through in one of these, and that’s saying something, so congratulate yourself if you made it through.  He was also in films Antoine Fisher and The House Bunny.

1.  John Laroquette (as Dan Fielding) – The clear breakout star of Night Court, Laroquette was one of three actors, along with Anderson and Richard Moll, to appear in every episode of the series.  He won four straight emmies for Best Supporting Actor, in every year from 1984-88, and asked not to be considered in 1989.  He declined a shot at a spin off starring his character, and instead ventured off into his own sitcom, The John Laroquette Show, which was critically well-liked, but commercially less so.  Still it lasted for four seasons.  Otherwise, in the ‘90s, he was in Richie Rich, an episode of Night Court cast member Harry Anderson’s Dave’s World, and starred in a short-lived CBS midseason replacement series Payne, based on the UK’s far more successful FawlyTowers.  He played recurring psychopathic murderer Joey Heric on six episodes of The Practice and he co-starred in epic fantasy five-part miniseries The 10th Kingdom on NBC in 2000.  He was in a The West Wing and starred in one-season NBC sitcom Happy Family with Christine Baranski.  He was in ten Hallmark TV movies as defense lawyer McBride and narrated the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.  He was in two episodes of Joey and one of Kitchen Confidential, House M.D., Parks and Recreation, and White Collar.  He played lawyer Carl Sack on the last two seasons of Boston Legal.  He was in two episodes of Chuck and three of CSI:New York.  He was also in films Wedding Daze and Southland Tales.

Power Rankings: Night Court, part 1

6 Feb

Okay, it’s been a lot of reviews and some commercials recently, but it’s time to get back into the ranking business.  Since we’ve been doing so much new, let’s do some old in the form of a return to the ‘80s with Night Court.  I never really watched the show, but was reminded of it by that weird 30 Rock episode where Kenneth’s dream is a recreation of Night Court.  It lasted a crazy nine seasons, and although I fully admitted the cast, who I knew almost nothing about, to be largely unsuccessful, I was surprised.  There aren’t a lot of stars, but almost everybody’s had at least a fair amount of work.

6.  Marsha Warfield (as Roz Russell) – Warfield is the obvious sixth, and then the rankings get muddled, but her career really isn’t bad at all.  She followed up Night Court with appearances in episodes of Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, The Addams Family, The John Larroquette Show, and her biggest role outside of Night Court as Dr. Maxine Nightengale in two seasons of Empty Next.  She was in episodes of Dave’s World, Smart Guy, Mad About You, Moesha (if you couldn’t figure out Warfield’s race, you probably have a good guess by now), two of Living Single, and singles of Clueless, the series, Love Boat: The Next Wave, and Veronica’s Closet.  She hasn’t acted in this millennium.

5.  Richard Moll (as Bull Shannon) – Shannon proves that you can do a lot of work acting and still have nobody notice.  Between voice acting, cameos in TV episodes, and low budget films, Moll has kept shockingly busy.  Voice acting:  As Two Face in stone cold classic Batman: The Animated Series, Norman in Mighty Max, episodes of Superman, Freakazoid, Aaaahh!!! Real Monsters (had to check three times to get the “Aaahh!!!” spelling correct), The Incredible Hulk, Spider-man, as Scorpion, The New Batman Adventures, Justice League, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  TV:  He was in episodes of Martin and Highlander, five episodes of two-season forgotten TGIF show Getting By, episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Babylon 5, Baywatch, Weird Science, Married with Children, 7th Heaven, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Smallville, and Cold Case.  He appeared in 17 episodes of Nick show 100 Deeds for Eddie Dowd.  Movies, real, and seemingly made up:  He was in Beanstalk, The Elevator, Galaxis, The Lawyer, The Secret Agent Club, Jingle All The Way, Snide and Prejudice, But I’m A Cheerleader, Monkey Business, Route 66, The Biggest Fan, Angel Blade, Dumb Luck, Lake Effects, and then, well you get the idea.  The man must really need some paychecks.  His ranking here by the way is not obvious at all.  The reason he got stuck in fifth is the simple lack of being a main cast member in an at least three season sitcom, which everyone else coming up has.

4.  Harry Anderson (as Harry Stone) –  He was in episodes of Hearts Afire, Night Stand, his Night Court co-worker’s The John Larroquette Show, and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.  His most notable post-Night Court work was starring in four season sitcom Dave’s World based on the life of columnist Dave Barry (Anderson was Dave).  After that, he’s only been in episodes of Noddy and Son of the Beach, which was in 2002.  I thought I’d put him higher for starring in a four season sitcom, but everyone left was a main cast member in something and showed up in more shows.

Spring 2012 Review: The River

3 Feb

The River is brought to us by Oren Peli, best known to the world for Paranoraml Activity, a horror-type movie which was supposed to be a cut above the average film in the genre.  It’s a genre that’s never been my particular cup of tea, and I have yet to see the film, but from what I know, it’s notable for its distinctive “found footage” style, similar to the Blair Witch Project, with scenes viewed as it from cameras set up by the primary couple in the film, who are being haunted.

This gave me a couple of impressions going into The River and two primary concerns.  First, I understand the appeal of the “found footage” style but I worried that the hurky jerky camera work could prove too gimmicky if overused during the course of a series.  Second, and this is a more personal bias, I wondered if this would venture too far into the Paranormal Activity-type genre for my liking.  However, I found the premise interesting, and I was willing to trust the general consensus that this Peli guy had some idea of what he was doing and wasn’t just a horror movie hack.

The River is about a nature explorer, Emmett Cole, a lot like say a Steve Irwin, who travels throughout the world, showing off nature with , occasionally with his family, on a nationally televised TV show.  He’s done this for over twenty years until he gets lost on an expedition into the amazon.  After rescue teams try to find him for six months and fail, he’s declared dead, and his family mourns his loss, but when his rescue beacon goes off, his wife, Tess, tries persuade his son, Lincoln, to go down and attempt to find him. Lincoln only agrees when he learns that the television network will only pay for the expedition if both he and his mother are on board.

The team, including some cameramen, a security person, Cole’s wife and son, an engineer who worked with Cole, and his daughter, starts down the river, where they run into their last member, Lena Landry, the daughter of another man who worked with Cole and was on the missing expedition.  They find the beacon quickly, and are about to turn around, when Landry tells them she’s been able to figure out where to go next, and they follow her instructions and find the ship.

This is where it starts getting all Paranormal Activity.  Apparently the panic room is welded shut, and inside is a shell which it turns out contains some sort of evil spirt which had been trapped, but is now out and wants blood.  There’s a bunch of crazy camera angles as we look from the crew’s camera perspective, and we switch back and forth in vantage points quickly, wondering where the evil spirt’s at.  Eventually, one guy gets killed, the spirit gets trapped again, and the wife leaves more certain than ever that her husband’s still alive.  Many of the crew are pretty quick to accept the supernatural, and the show does not spend almost any time on any serious disbelief of the idea of spirits.

I thought for a minute that the show might not actually be about the supernatural, and might just involve animals, and wild tribes, and drug runners, and what not, but that was obviously misguided.  There’s going to be tons of supernatural, and I can live with that in and of itself, but it’s always a tricky direction to go in because you need rules.  The camera work was a little much for me, but not so much that I wasn’t intrigued.  I have major doubts about the sustainability of a show like this, and since the crew number is probably more or less set, it limits the ability to keep killing them off.   It’s interesting; I’ll give it that, and that’s worth a lot with a pilot, but I have serious doubts about its lasting power.

Will I watch it again?  Yes, I will. Alcatraz seems a safer bet, but The River seems to have more potential. Alcatraz is the college draft pick pitcher who likely has a ceiling as a #3 starter but is likely to reach it, while The River is a high school lefty who can’t help but intrigue you even if you wonder if his unusual motion will lead to an inevitable injury.  Okay, long analogy over.  I’m going to go watch it again, for at least a couple of episodes.

Ads Watch: AT&T Summoner or “Romantic Dinner”

2 Feb

I haven’t talked that much about commercials yet, but when I did I made points about how commercials, more than any other form (maybe sketch comedy is the closest), because they’re so short, are so dependent on tiny little quirks of acting and writing that aren’t always obvious until the whole thing is put together, but help raise the commercial up above the norm.   A perfect example of this is AT&T’s thirty second commercial called “Romantic Dinner.”  This isn’t conceptually brilliant by any means.  It’s pretty basic actually, and like a lot of these ads, it’s three of four different words or motions or looks away from not necessarily being awful (though it could be) but at least being unmemorable.  Instead, it’s good.  The two actors both play their parts sublimely in the ad, but the male especially makes the words “summon” and “summoner” minorly hystrerical.  But, we’ll get to that.  Let’s start at the beginning.

An African-American couple (maybe low 30s – I’m terrible with ages) is eating dinner at a classy restaurant.  The woman remarks how nice it is to spend sometime with just the two of them, and the man agrees.  The woman begins another sentence, seemingly focusing further on how they should spend more time together, when she notices the man glance quickly downwards.  She gives him an accusatory look and asks if he checked the game on his phone.  Here’s where it gets good.  The man gives the best line of the ad, responding  “What, no, what am I, like some kind of summoner who can summon footage to his phone like that?”  The best part is when his eyes grow large as he says “summoner” with a disbelieving look, as to show how crazy she is for even thinking he has this capability.  He then says, as he’s finishing, “come on,” in a perfect gimme-a-break manner.

Obviously the explanation was sufficient and clear enough to make the woman doubt her initial conclusions, and feel bad about them.  She says, “I guess I’m just a little oversensitive.”  Between “little” and “oversensitive,” the man makes a quick indecipherable shouting noise.  The women ignores and moves forward, “it’s just that you and I.”  At this point, the man exclaims a clearly decipherable, “Yes!” but then just acts as if nothing happens, continuing to look at his date as before.  There they stare at each other, with the implication that the jig is up, but the man makes absolutely no acknowledgement of it, until after a slightly awkward second, the commercial fades into a shot of the game streaming on the man’s phone, and then a white screen with some information about AT&T.

I admit this is a perfect example of where a written description ruins the magic, but let me try to emphasize the individual pieces that make it wonderful.  The accent from the man on the words “summon” and “summoner.”  The look throughout that whole line, particularly the large eyes, and the “come on,” at the end.  The way the woman is genuinely concerned she’s been overly sensitive, even though she’s completely right, and the way the commercial ends at exactly the right time, not going on any longer than it needs to to make it’s point.  Ending at the right the time can never be underestimated, and many a sketch can learn from it.