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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.

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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.

Spring 2012 Review: Unsupervised

30 Apr

The two on the left are Unsupervised

It’s looking like a three strikes and you’re out situation for new animation in the 2011-12 primetime television season.  The fall started us off behind in the count with Allen Gregory and Napoleon Dynamite, and the spring brings us a swinging strike three with new FX cartoon Unsupervised.

Unsupervised’s protagonist are two high school freshman, Gary and Joel, voiced by Justin Long and David Hornsby. respectively.  Hornsby is best known as recurring character Rickety Cricket on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and as the creator and co-star of terrible short-lived fall 2011 CBS sitcom How To Be a Gentleman.  Gary and Joel have just entered high school, and are eager to get the girls that are supposed to come with it.  While they want to be sophisticated and get girls, they enjoy the pleasures of the simpler things in life though, like riding their bikes, and creating a lightning rod, and jumping off one of their roofs onto bushes.  They’re Unsupervised because both of their parents are out of the picture and the two of them, though relatively poor, basically live in their houses on their own most of the time.  Because of their unusual living situations, they realize later they can have people over to drink, or throw giant parties without concern.

They need to grow up though, portly African-American friend character Darius (voiced by Weeds’ Romany Malco) tells them.  No more kid stuff – clean clothes, mature attitude, partying, alcohol, drugs; that’s the way to women.  Meanwhile, female friend character Megan (voiced by Kristen Bell) goes the other way – they don’t need to party to have fun, or have sex before they’re ready – good clean teenage living is the way to go.

Wacky side character alert:  It’s an animated series.  Of course there’s a couple of wacky side characters.  First, we’ve got latino neighbor Martin, who speaks with a thick accent, and tries to act as a mentor to the boys – telling them to avoid the partying ways of his own daughter.  Second, we’ve got Australian neighbor (Russ?  Maybe?  Not worth watching the show again to find out)  who lives up to every Aussie stereotype and participates in the weirdest flashback sequence where it turns out he was once in love with a kangaroo.

It’s not very funny.  Allen Gregory tried a lot of gags where I could easily see what they were attempting, and it just failed.  Unsupervised is a step away from that.  It just doesn’t work.  It’s not really an absurdist show; it’s vaguely juvenile and tyring to hit the perfect so-stupid-it’s-funny here and there.

It’s easy to box animated comedy together, but there’s so many different types.  While there’s unlikely in the near future to be a Two and a Half Men of animation, because cartoons skew younger, there can be as relatively conventional shows as King of the Hill as well as absurdist fare like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and everything in between.  Many of the gimmicks which made animation unique have been taken live action in shows like Childrens Hospital and Eagleheart.

Unsupervised doesn’t try to be absurdist or super clever or super reference-y or super droll.  I don’t think it’s quite as base as Beavis and Butthead, but there’s probably an influence there, or at least an attempt at one.

Will I watch it again?  It’s not going to happen.  It’s a shame such admirable voice talent is wasted on seriously grade B material.  I think maybe it’s particularly hard to figure out if animated material works before seeing it in action, but this doesn’t, and it’s not just slightly off.

Spring 2012 Review: Missing

27 Apr

Ashley Judd's son may or may not be missing

The pilot opens with main character Becca Winstone (Ashley Judd) finishing her run while her husband and young son are shown in Europe about to come home.  We know approximately when this is because, of all things, the kid has a Zinedine Zidane signed soccer ball, and calls Zidane the greatest player in the world, which puts us within a couple of years before or after 2000.  Becca speaks to her husband, and then son, on the phone, and as the husband starts the car to go to the airport, boom, explosion, he dies, and the son was just lucky to not have been in the car at the time.  Oh, and the husband’s played by Sean Bean.  Pretty cool.

We flash forward to the present day, 10 years later.  We know it’s the future because Becca’s hair is short; we’ll know we’re back in the past when her hair is long, and her son is 8 instead of 18.  Becca works at a flower shop and her son, after beating her for the first time ever on their daily run, lets his mom know that he got into an architecture program in Rome.  His mom clearly doesn’t want him to go, but relents, and says goodbye at the airport.  The son shows Becca a special code that will be his way of texting that he loves her; he doesn’t want to have to say “I love you, mom” in front of his friends (how embarrassing; they probably don’t love their moms).  This code, whose origins are explained in detail, will clearly never come back again in any way (sarcasm).

The son (what is his name?  Michael! We’ll use that from now on) calls his mom and texts and sends her pictures of his view.  Suddenly, however, he stops calling and texting, and gradually his mom becomes worried.  Time passes with no contact.  We know he’s getting missing-er because we see the action-packed process of Becca checking her phone and seeing “No New Messages” several times.  Eventually, she gets a call from her son’s school, saying he’s been kicked out because he missed three lectures (just three and kicked out?  rough).

“Something’s happened to my son,” Becca says alarmed.  Of course, what she’s supposed to say is “HE”S GONE MISSING”  We have a title to repeat here.

She’s soon on a plane to Italy to figure out what the fuck happened to Michael.  She checks out his apartment.  While she’s investigating,  she sees a gunman, and it turns out she has SUER NINJA FIGHTING SKILLS.  She kills the gunman, finding no information in the process, and then the hunt his on.  She calls an old Italian friend, apparently an old lover, to help and it turns out SHE WAS IN THE CIA.  Finally, by the way, we get a “My Son is Missing” –  could she have wasted the title with any less drama?  She and her Italian helper valiantly hunt for Michael’s kidnapper while the CIA hunts for her, because she’s been causing mayhem all over Rome.

Eventually, she finds some intelligence, and is on her way following a lead to France when she’s picked up by the CIA.   The agent with whom she speaks is sympathetic to her situation and lets her go for some reason I don’t understand even though he’s supposed to not let her go, though I don’t understand whether they’d have that power either.  She makes a mess in Paris, finding a new lead while the CIA are one step behind with the instructions to seriously not let her go when they grab her this time.  Oh, and then she gets randomly shot in the last minute on a bridge inParis.  I guess she’s dead.  End of series.  Sigh.

I was hoping for more nuanced multiple meanings of missing.  Like, maybe her sense of morality is also missing.  But not so much.  Serioulsy though, Missing is an action show.  I mean, there’s a story, and obviously the story is important, and the quality of the story could be a difference between whether it’s worth following or not.  But at it’s heart it’s an action show, and there really is a dearth of action TV series (there will be again once Missing is cancelled).  I’m not defending Missing here, but there should be a place for action on TV, and you could do worse.  You could do better.  But you could do worse.

I’m not particularly intrigued by the story.  I don’t care about the characters, certainly not after one episode, and it doesn’t seem like the premise lends itself to lasting multiple seasons (which the show won’t, but let’s pretend there was a chance it could be successful).  I’m trying to remember what grabbed me so quickly when I started watching the last action show I really cared about, 24, and I don’t exactly remember, but I don’t think this has it.  It’s good enough for my dad though, who is a big fan, and I can’t begrudge him that.  I wouldn’t turn away from watching an episode if it was on, though I could probably also have the new plot details explained to me in about a minute, but that’s not really the point.

Will I watch it again?

I’ve seen Taken, and you, sir, are no Taken.  That’s high standards of course.  If Missing was a 100 minute movie on TNT on a Saturday at 3:30, yeah, I’d probably stick around for the end.  A television series requires greater investment though, which I’m not really willing to give.

Spring 2012 Review: GCB

26 Apr

One of the good christian bitches on the right

 

GCB begins with our protagonist, Amanda Vaughn, finding out that her husband, who has embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from investors (this embezzlement trope has to have been in at least a dozen shows over the last couple of years), and attempted to run off with his mistress, only to die in a car crash after veering off road when his mistress gave him a blowjob while he was driving.  Since the government took everything that remained, Vaughn now has nothing except the clothes on her back and her two kids, and decides to move the back to Dallas, where she grew up, and back with her overbearing zealous extremely Southern mother (Annie Potts), for a fresh start.

While she moves back and tries to figure out what to do with her life, we learn, though she’s humble and well meaning now, she was a mean girl queen bee in high school and tortured several of her classmates.  Those classmates are now well off and fashionable and upon seeing Amanda come back into town, they conspire to have their very southernly hospitable revenge.  The pack is led by Carlene Cockburn (Kristen Chenowith), once fat, and the biggest target of high school Amanda.  She’s got her lacky, formerly attractive but now fat, Sharon, and another crafty cohort in Cricket.  The fourth former Amanda enemy hanging around is Heather Cruz, unique in that she is the only member of the pack who seems to realize Amanda has changed and legitimately befriend her.  Making the women more angry is the fact that the husbands and men in their circle all seem to be attracted to Amanda, particularly Sharon’s husband; Cricket’s husband seems to have feelings for her as well, until we find out he’s in the closet, and it’s just actual friendship.

Amanda has trouble finding work, partly due to Carlene and co., who use their power in the community to ensure no one will hire her.  She eventually finds a job as a waitress at a Hooters-like establishment, sticking more of a middle finger at the Dallas high society her mom and former high school classmates now inhabit. She finds out that while she was made fun of by Carlene for her new job, Carlene’s company actually owns the restaurant in which she works, and decides to embarrass Carlene in front of everyone at church, which appears to be the ultimate southern embarrassment.  It’s on, ladies, like Donkey Kong.

The idea, if GCB is successful, is clearly to replace ABC Sunday night property Desperate Housewives, which is departing after this season.  GCB attempts to have the same trashy/fun/soapy/satirical/doesn’t-take-itself-too-seriously tone that Desperate Housewives rode to 8 occasionally repetitive but for the most part successful seasons.  Just like Desperate Housewives, GCB is all about the polite society on the surface, sex and filth underneath, and you know, catfights.  It’s better than I thought it would be, but I’m not sure whether or not it will have legs.  Nothing about it make it incredibly compelling viewing, and does anyone else find Kristin Chenoweth grating after a while (I think it’s the voice)?  It’s perfectly harmless, and if done at its best it could be the kind of enjoyable type drama which doesn’t make you think too much.  I just don’t think it’s likely to get there.

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.  It really is not bad, but I currently have Revenge satisfying my trashy/soap, (albeit a lot lot more serious) show quota.  There’s just nothing about it to help it stand out above anything else.