Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Nothing but Reruns From Here on Out

By Josh R
While I’m aware that this is technically a film site, recent posts by Edward have expanded the range of topics to include television. This a particularly timely occurrence since the current season is now in the process of drawing to a close, providing me with an opportunity to recap two of the shows I’ve remained slavishly faithful to throughout the year, and judge the level of success with which they met their objectives.

Sounds scary, no? Well, it is, kind of, since I can be very hard to please…this is why my therapist thinks I have a hard time sustaining relationships. Which I’m not sure is entirely true — I don’t feel I have a hard time sustaining relationships. Which is why my therapist and I have since parted ways (ba-dum-dum). What was the topic again? Oh, right, television. I’ll bestow praise where I feel it is warranted, but mostly, I’m just gonna get all bitchy about the stuff that let me down. In other words, it’s slice-and-dice time, kids, because this viewer (of the much sought-after 18-to-39 demographic) has a few axes to grind.

I’m going to start with ABC’s Lost, because it’s probably the show that has disappointed me the most this past year. After an auspicious inaugural season, the show now seems to be living up to its title in ways its creators probably never intended. Now, I still like it, and I’m even looking forward to tonight’s season finale in the vain hope that it may actually answer some questions — something last year’s finale blissfully neglected to do — but I ain’t holding out for any miracles.

Lost is one of the most ambitious shows on television, and also one of the most frustrating. The cast is, with very few exceptions, capable and engaging, featuring several standouts who have miraculously been able to lend some credibility to the proceedings in spite of how self-contradictory most of the information about their characters has been (some cast members, including Terry O’Quinn, have complained about how drastically their characters have been retooled from last season to this). The real problem is the show’s lack of direction — it juggles a jillion disparate plot points and only follows through on a handful of them, leaving confusion in its wake. I call this Polar Bear syndrome, in reference to the furry white animal that was seen on the island last season, never explained, and has barely been referenced since. I think the entire polar bear community shares my indignation at the show’s failure to address this matter in some kind of satisfying way.

The show’s legions of fans speculate endlessly about what The Big Secret of the Island is — in other words, what the show is actually about. Some insist that the Lostaways all died in the plane crash and are in some form of tikki-hut Purgatory. I don’t really subscribe to this theory, since I can’t quite wrap my mind around the idea of old Mama Cass records being made available to people in the afterlife — and certainly not in hell, unless said recording features duets with anyone from the Gibb family. Others feel that the characters are all guinea pigs in some sort of hideous government experiment engineered to study human reaction to sinister yet absurd circumstances, which is sometimes how I feel when I watch MSNBC for any long stretch of time. Giving credence to this notion is the fact the gang has now uncovered an ever-growing number of sophisticated underground complexes equipped with all kinds of sinister gadgetry. The “hatches,” as they’re called, have been popping up left and right this year with an alarming degree of frequency — the place is starting to look like Battlestar Galactica (so far, the only hatch that hasn’t shown up on this island is Richard Hatch, to whom I’m sure we’d all like to wish the best of luck during his stretch in stir). Still others think that the entire Island Adventure is all one big hallucination — sort of like the infamous Dallas season which apparently all existed in Victoria Principal’s mind.

Personally, I have my own theory — that the writers have no idea what the hell they’re doing. The more I watch, the more convinced I am that no one involved ever bothered to sort out what the Big Concept was before they started, and now they’re just throwing an increasing number of red herrings our way to distract us from the fact that they haven’t the foggiest how they’re going to tie everything together. The show has its share of pleasures, but it’s rudderless — it lacks any sense of direction because the creative team doesn’t seem to know where the ultimate destination should be, and aren’t quite sure how to reconcile everything they’ve done up to this point. Maybe I’m wrong — maybe there is some master plan that’s slowly being revealed to us step by mind-numbing step. But I wish it would make itself manifest soon, since the entire enterprise is beginning to look like a case of The Emperor not having any clothing.

I’d also like to tackle another ABC show in its sophomore year, that deliriously pulpy phenom known as Desperate Housewives. Some critics allege that the show has been experiencing a sophomore slump. Nonsense — it was inevitable that in the face of so much success, the critics would get the itch to tear down what they’d spent all of last year building up. If it were a moderate success in need of some attention instead of a pop cultural juggernaut, no one would be griping right now. True, this year’s “mystery” storyline, involving the underused Alfre Woodward as a smooth suburban matron who plays the piano beautifully while keeping her special needs son locked up in the basement, has been something of a dud, at least compared to the Mary Alice suicide mystery that supplied last year’s story arc. But overall, I think the women of Wisteria Lane have held up pretty darn well.

Felicity Huffman’s Emmy win last year might have been a tad generous, but she’s more than justified it this year with character’s return to the workplace, applying her hard-earned parenting skills and matching talent for manipulation to navigating the treacherous waters of corporate America. No matter how ridiculous the circumstances that find her speed-eating raw bacon to put an end to puerile office “dare” challenges, or having hysterically uninhibited chatroom sex with the boss’s wife, Huffman makes it as believable as it is riotously funny. Teri Hatcher’s talent for slapstick continues to be used to good advantage, and her “I love Mike…Mike is Love!” routine while heavily anesthetized on a hospital table before undergoing surgery (to the obvious displeasure of her new boyfriend, who also happens to be her surgeon — “let’s cut this bitch open”) is an instant classic. Eva Longoria, who seemed to be last season’s weak link, has become a genuine asset to the show, displaying a genuine comic spark and a wicked way with a one-liner that was only beginning to emerge in the latter stages of season one. She’s handled all her material extremely well, although her epic brawl with the nun who has designs on her husband — which would, of course, take place close to an altar with several lit candles on it — had me rolling on the floor.

So now let’s talk about Marcia Cross — I loved the brazen campiness of her work on Melrose Place, but in this context, I have some issues with her (this role has considerably more dimension than crazy Nurse Kimberly, and exposes some of her limitations as an actress). The one thing that I haven’t liked about this season — and it’s actually something that really bothers me — is the way the Bree-Andrew storyline has developed. I mean, it’s funny and well-written and all, but do we really need an evil gay character on television in this day and age? Unless you’re Rick Santorum, and you feel there should be an entire channel devoted to the demonization of gay people?

OK, some of you will say that Andrew isn’t bad, he’s just misunderstood. But in the space of one season, Andrew’s ongoing vendetta against his mother has taken some incredibly ugly turns that leave a bitter aftertaste. I was uncomfortable when he petitioned the court for emancipation, threatening mommy with false allegations of sexual abuse, if she didn’t free up his trust fund so he could buy a fly SUV. But seducing and bedding his mother’s sex addict boyfriend as a means of ruining her life is taking things a wee bit too far. I’ve spoken with the ghost of Jacqueline Susann, and she thinks it was taking things a bit too far. The show’s writers have made some half-hearted attempts to convince us that Andrew is really hurting on the inside, but Shawn Pyfrom (who is excellent) enacts all of Andrew’s dastardly doings with such gleeful malevolence that it makes Patty McCormack’s pig-tailed rottenness in The Bad Seed look like a mild tantrum by comparison. The thing that gets me is that series creator Marc Cherry is, in fact, gay — you would assume he’d be a bit more aware of exactly what he’s doing, which is basically lending credence to the fundamentalist assertion that homosexuality is something to be attributed to lack of moral character.

There are other shows in my repertoire, but those are the two that probably provide the strongest basis for spirited discussion. I’ve been delighted with My Name is Earl all season long, and have nothing to say about it since I have nothing bad to say about it — although you’ll hear plenty of bellyaching on my part if Jaime Pressly isn’t nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Emmy this fall. I flit in and out of The O.C., mainly to marvel at Ben McKenzie’supper arms and to solve the riddle of where Mischa Barton’s talent has gone since she made Lawn Dogs and Pups (I suspect its disappearance has something to do with insufficient calorie intake). I tolerate the sweet-toothed preciousness of Gilmore Girls for the welcome injections of vinegar supplied by the show’s MVP, Kelly Bishop, playing the kind of imperious, highly-strung socialite who’d give Lee Radziwill night sweats. I often wish that someone would put together a spin-off where Bishop’s Emily Gilmore meets up with Jessica Walter’s Lucille Bluth from the now-defunct Arrested Development to form a latter-day Mame-and-Vera-Charles act — they could open up a pita stand in Santa Monica or something. After neglecting it all season long, I’ve watched the last few episodes of the ingenious NBC series The Office, which are enough to whet my appetite for next year and the DVD release of the season that’s just concluded.

How do you think your favorite shows have fared this past year? Did they live up to your expectations? Which performances and storylines stood out for you, and which ones left you feeling underwhelmed? Are there any regular characters you’d like to see plummet down an elevator shaft next year, or be otherwise mangled in some appropriately hideous fashion? Be specific — like Emperor Palpatine in the final showdown from Return of the Jedi, your wrath only serves to increase my power.

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nicely written commentary. you actually made me laugh.

i agree, lost has lost some momentum but i still watch it b/c i have a need to know what happens.

desperate housewives does not disappoint in the outrageousness of its storylines but sometimes, it gets a bit exhausting. the whole andrew-bree thing was becoming so stale and even though what happened with the sex addict bf was shocking, it definitely made me cringe a little. ok, a lot.

for me, fox's bones was a huge disappointment. i wanted it to be good so very much but no, it is not. it has potential at times, but i find myself rolling my eyes and throwing my arms up in frustration over the cheesy dialogue and anticlimatic conclusions. i could've made better use of my time watching america's next top model.

i started watching cbs's criminal minds b/c i love crime-related shows and it seems to be okay for now. i also realized that agent gideon is played by mandy patinkin who was inigo montoya from the princess bride! now if that's not a reason to watch, i don't know what is. certainly not for thomas gibson because nobody wants somebody who has been with dharma. now, that leaves an even worse aftertaste.
Hi Josh -

Looks like you're doing a good job of filling in for Ed.

I started writing something here last night about DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES - nice to see some attention paid to it within "my" circle of blogging - then I got distracted and scrapped it.

Glad I did so, as what I would've written, while still applicable, would've seemed "so last week" after tonight. I've got many issues with the show - criticisms, stuff I think they could do far more successfully...but Cherry and Co. did a bang-up job with tonight's finale.

Most of the season's setups paid off and they laid some compelling groundwork for S3. Kyle MacLachlan - where have you been, my friend!?!? Can't wait to see where that's headed.

I only wish that the show was ALWAYS this good - heck, I'd even settle for it being this good half the time.
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