Archive | May, 2012

Taking another look: New Girl

4 May

Schmidt and Nick
I’m ready to admit it.  New Girl is a good show.  I’ve consistently rated it highly amongst the new shows of this year, but generally with the stipulation that it had the potential to be very good, but was still finding its footing.  Well, after watching the latest episode (though it really could have been done after the episode before, or the episode before that), I’ve taken the show off probation.  There’s no longer an issue of potentiality.  The show is straight up good.  I doubt I’m the first one to say this, but Schmidt, the lovable deuchebag is on the verge of becoming a break out character, and is the new Barney, from How I Met Your Mother.  As that show becomes less relevant, New Girl becomes more.  New Girl has mostly ironed out the problems that seemed like they could blow up after the first couple of episodes.  Jess, Zooey Deschanel’s protagonist, who bordered on unfathomably weird, has become far more manageable, and the word “protagonist” is misleading because the show is much more of an ensemble piece than Zooey and friends.

Schmidt, who seemed like he could easily move into the territory of an unlikable tool, has instead become the rare loveable deuchebag.  All the characters know what he is, and they hate him and love him at the same time.  His hilarious moments are both his most douche-y, and his most OCD, such as his complaining when Cece incompetently and uncaringly attempts to help him in the kitchen.  Winston, who wasn’t even in the pilot, and barely played a role in the first few episodes, actually became a character, with attributes and actual lines, some of which were funny.  Nick, as the straight man of the group, who seems bound to eventually get with Jess, has had his moments as well (though it’s worth noting that Winston might, by this point actually be more of a straight man than Nick, but moving on).  The phone call in episode “Kids,” where Schmidt pretends he’s talking to a woman, but is instead talking to Nick, is downright hilarious; and most of the credit here is to Nick and his reactions.  The same credit goes to Nick during the last scene in that episode in which Schmidt takes Nick to an Italian circus, and Nick can’t get enough.

Also, Winston is actually a character.  Winston got the short shrift in the early going, possibly due to the unforeseen circumstances that he wasn’t even supposed to exist.  Pilot character Coach, played by Damon Wayans Jr., was excised when Wayans Jr.’s other show, Happy Endings was unexpectedly (but fortunately) picked up for a second season.  Lamone Morris’s Winston debuted in the second episode as a basketball player with a short professional career in Latvia just moving back to the states, and he didn’t get a whole lot to do in the first few episodes.  New Girl finally got around to giving him some characterization, and while he still lags behind Schmidt and Nick in the amount of good lines he gets, Winston has at least gotten a couple of chances to shine.

The theme’s not great; but nothing’s perfect.

It feels good just to take the shackles off and enjoy a show without reservations.  Welcome to my personal canon, New Girl.  You’ve earned it.

Spring 2012 Review: Veep

3 May

Elaine Benes is the Veep

Some shows have forms of comedy that are very difficult to explain the concepts behind, while some shows have types of comedy that are far easier to describe.  The basic ideas behind Veep, I think are the latter.  Here’s the idea.  Veep is a half hour comedy about Vice President Selena Meyer, portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and her work life, her professional comings and goings (it’s basically an office sitcom).  Veep is designed to be good of course, but it’s designed to make you laugh, not to speak to all manner of generational issues like Girls, or to keep up with dramatic soapy storylines like Entourage.  Curb Your Enthusiasm might be the closest modern HBO comedy parallel, though Veep exists in a much more realistic world, relative to Curb.

While the president is in theory competently working on important matters of state with a huge entourage while meeting influential leaders, the Veep is borderline incompetently toiling away at stupid things that don’t really matter with a shoddy cast of incapables (why has there never been a movie called “The Incapables”  I call it, I just need to come up with a premise).  First and foremost, that’s the grand joke of the series.  Take something highly serious seeming like WashingtonD.C., and politics, and the vice presidential office and make it a combination of mundane and ridiculous.  Show that this allegedly rarefied area is occupied by people who waste their time just like people in any boring office job.

Meyer’s staff includes her Chief of Staff, Amy (Anna Chlumsky, the titular girl in My Girl) who seems to be the responsible one, her body man, Gary (Arrested Development’s Toby Hale), who seems a little slow of mind and exists solely to help Meyer, even when he’s not really helping, and press secretary Mike (Matt Walsh – former Daily Show correspondent) who doesn’t always seem to be on the ball either.  In the pilot, she welcomes new hire, ambitious tool Dan, who all of her fellow employees decry as a little shit, but whom she hires because she feels that’s exactly what she needs.  Other characters include her executive assistant, Sue, and the white house liason, Jonah.  The joke with Jonah is that he’s not only super annoying, but that he exchanges maybe five words with the president in a week, but he’s still in charge or ordering around the vice president’s office from the president.

Wacky side character alert:  Sadly, no one stands out – everyone’s a little bit wacky – there’s no true straight man/woman, but no one is so far wackier than everyone else. Gary is probably the strangest, but it’s incompetence within reason, rather than impossible to believe.

Will I watch it again?  Yeah, I probably will.  It seems fairly episodic so I feel like I can just tune into one or two more without worrying for better or worse about getting sucked into a season-long plot.  As goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, the success of a show like this depends largely on its writing and the comedic timing of the actors;  I don’t know much else from the writers, but the actors certainly have it within them, so there’s reason to be hopeful for a successful show if not perhaps an all-time classic.

Spring 2012 Review: I Just Want My Pants Back

2 May

Still has his pants at this point

MTV comedy for the MTV generation – well I guess the MTV generation is about 40 by now, but you get the idea.  Young people.  Partying, sex, booze, etc, etc.  Our main character is a young New Yorker, a couple of years out of college, working at a lousy job for little pay, who hasn’t gotten laid in a while.  He complains to his friend Tina at a bar, as they drink and then get high, that he’s had a rough patch (six weeks!) and that it needs to end.  Tina leaves to see some guy she’s with (at least partly for his air conditioning in this hot summer, apparently).  Main character Jason (I didn’t know his name during the episode; had to look it up) sees a girl he’s been checking out at the bar, and goes up to converse with her, exchanging witty and trying banter long enough to go back to his place and break his dry spell in an unusual way, having sex while she’s in his refrigerator (the door stays open, obviously).  In the morning, Jason realizes that he really likes this girl, and gets her number, while she asks to borrow his pants; she doesn’t want her judgmental doorman to see her wearing the same clothes two days in a row.

Jason’s also struggling in his career and trying to figure out what he wants to do; he’s currently working under a jerk boss, played by Chris Parnell, who seems to be appearing in bit roles everywhere on TV now (30 Rock, Suburgatory).  He meets up with a tool Tina knows for some mentoring advice, and may get a connection into a field he might be into, music journalism.  He’s also invited to the tool’s hippie pro-environment + hot girls magazine launch party, where Tina and he attempt to hook up with a couple of lawyers, with both of their encounters going slightly awry; Jason feels awkward when asked to put his finger up the female lawyer’s ass (but he does it anyway) while Tina decides against sleeping with the male lawyer when she realizes the combination of the guy being a weirdo and that she has feelings for her air conditioning guy.

Jason, during the party, is supposed to pick up Wavves tickets from a craigslist seller for the birthday of one of the other two characters; Eric and Stacey, a couple Tina and Jason are friends with, who are both in grad school.  Jason doesn’t get the tickets, prompting Stacey’s ire, but makes up for it by throwing her a kick ass birthday party.

Wacky side character alert:  The closest we have here is local bodega owner Bobby, who exchanges words with Jason and Jason’s “whore friend” Tina when they shop in the morning hungover to buy some liquids.

The show isn’t really funny per se; it’s more of a Entourage style comedy, which is as much about plot and characters and easy viewing than it is about actually laughing out loud.

And yes, Jason does, at one point say, “I Just Want My Pants Back.”  Thank goodness for small favors.

Will I watch it again?  Probably not. Another not bad show that also doesn’t exactly make me want to see the next episode.  It’s not bad though; that’s definitely worth something.

Spring 2012 Review: House of Lies

1 May

The consulting team on their way to clients

House of Lies is about a group of consultants.  Props here to the idea of using consultants as the basis for a show; there has never been any show focusing primarily on consultants that I can think of; the closest pop culture has is Dogbert from Dilbert comics.  These consultants play into whatever existing management consultant stereotypes there are; that they’re sleazy, that they don’t really contribute anything to either their clients or to society; that they have a whole bunch of jargon that doesn’t really mean anything.  The group is actually a team, led by Don Cheadle’s Marty Kaan, and including Kristen Bell’s Jeannie van der Hooven, Parks and Recreation’s Jean-Ralphio’s Ben Schwartz as Clyde Oberholt, and Josh Lawson’s Doug Guggenheim.  Kaan is the leader and the amount of confidence and trust the team has in him is not always clear.

They’re supposed to be debaucherous and political incorrect.  They’re extremely unethical, but as we learn, it’s not just them – that’s how their chief competitors work as well, with a team led by Marty’s ex, Monica Talbot.  Marty attempts to woo, and then manages to piss off a member of the company he’s consulting on at a disastrous dinner where the prostitute Marty brought as a date ends up hooking up with his client’s wife in the bathroom (played by second season of True Blood’s Anna Camp).   However, he and his team make up for it by winning over the higher CEO with a bunch of brilliant ways to screw consumers.

There’s a B story in the first episode about Marty’s home life, particularly about his dad, who watches over Marty’s son while Marty’s traveling (played by Glynn Turman – best known as Mayor Clarence Royce in The Wire), and his son, Roscoe, who appears to be pre-gay (see: Curb Your Enthusiasm), Roscoe wants to try out for the female lead in the school play.  Marty is initially hesitant but eventually relents and lets his son be himself.

House of Lies has a classic case of beginner’s sitcom sickness.  It doesn’t really know what it wants to be exactly.  It’s trying different things, experimenting in an actual episode to see what clicks and what doesn’t, and it ends up all over the map.  I’m not sure there’s one style here that will work perfectly, but it appears scattered and non-cohesive.  That said, it’s not incredibly uncommon in a sitcom pilot to be still figuring out what works, but House of Lies is probably more behind the ball than most.  I don’t think it’s a hopeless case – it’s not a particularly memorable show, but there are snatches of laughs and minor smiles to be had intermittently and the cast is a talented one.

Don Cheadle is a sitcom newbie, who has mostly appeared in dramatic roles, and in mildly comedic roles in the Ocean’s film and he clearly is also having issues figuring out how exactly to act the part.

Will I watch it again?  Maybe – it was such a jumble that it is hard to know whether it could find itself, and if it could, what it would find, but it has Kristen Bell and Jean-Ralfio, so that’s two points in its favor.  This is a show that, for better or worse, would be cancelled by now on a network, but will get a second season on Showtime.