Sunday, January 30, 2011

The New Showtime Sunday: A Brief Assessment

Ever since Mad Men ended, my Sunday viewing has been sparse and disappointing, to say the least. Sparse because the only viable option is Desperate Housewives, and disappointing because, well, I don't think that bears an explanation. Naturally, I was more than a little excited to check out not one but two new Sunday shows from Showtime, a network with a track record of producing TV that is both great (i.e. Weeds) and... not-so-great (i.e. Californication).

True to its name, Showtime's newest (attempted) dramedy seems hell-bent on blowing up the appall-o-meter with its diversely messed up characters. Unfortunately, in spite of the semi-interesting premise, I don't think Shameless is a show I will keep watching for very much longer. There's nothing horribly wrong with it, but there's nothing truly special about it either. The show happens to suffer from a mediocre lead actress, but the biggest gripe I have is the huge discord between the gravity of the issues presented and the humorous attitude with which they are treated. Call me stodgy, but poverty and perpetually drunk single fathers-of-six are not that funny, no matter how many horny Joan Cusacks you throw into the mix. And then there's the other thing... Let's just say that in spite of the mixed signals emitted by this show, Shameless does give its audience one very clear, very frequent message: dudes sure be gaga over damaged chicks.

I much prefer Episodes, the new comedy about a grounded (and regular-looking!) husband-and-wife screenwriting/producing team who agree to bring their beloved and successful British sitcom to America, then are subsequently forced to stand by and watch the myriad ways in which the Hollywood treatment fails to deliver on its promises. The show also ushers in Matt LeBlanc's first regular TV gig since Friends (let's just pretend the abysmal Joey never happened), this time playing a hilariously dramatized version of himself, à la Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Pair a narcissistic LeBlanc with two judgmental Brits and toss them all into a Hollywood studio setting, and you've got yourself some mighty hijinks, my friend. All in all, Episodes is a pretty bloody funny show and home to the single most refreshingly "equalized" romantic partnership I can remember seeing depicted on a sitcom. (A friend jokingly referred to the female half as a "bit of a ball buster," but she's not. She's not!)

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Rock Bottom

Just when you thought the red rose couldn't be a bigger cliche...

Unlike my colleague here at our nifty little blog, one of my resolutions for 2011 is to watch more TV, if for no other reason than to accumulate fodder for said blog. (Parenthetically, it will be interesting to see how well this goal will gel with res number two: lose thirfteenleven pounds.) Of course, given the amount of TV I already watch, this decision has forced me in many ways to dip dangerously close to the bottom of the barrel.

Last week I tuned in for the season premiere of The Bachelor, fueled only by my ongoing mission to find the perfect show on which to do weekly recaps. (Spoiler alert: the search continues.) I was hoping the “controversy” associated with this season would provide some mild analytical twists, while the show’s usual antics would lend themselves perfectly to jokes and ridicule. As it turns out, the scandal surrounding this year’s bachelor is hardly enough to make a few ripples in the show’s monotony, let alone an actual wave. In a nutshell, bachelor Brad Womack catapulted himself to notoriety during his first stint on the show back in 2007, by brazenly rejecting both of the final two future Mrs. Womack hopefuls. The nerve.

I stuck around through the end of the episode, if only to relish the inherent hilarity in the fresh batch of women having their “words” with the dude who deigned to screw with the show’s promise of a televised proposal. Because, as all of us card-carrying Ladies often ask ourselves, what’s the point in dating a man while sabotaging other women if he doesn’t give you a big shiny rock in the end? I mean, to not be ready to propose marriage to someone after six whole weeks of dating in a variety of fantasy scenarios? What kind of a dick move is that?! And OMG, like, who would even choose being alone over being with a girl who wears evening dresses and fancy eye shadow every day? Enjoy your TV-lit frozen dinners and bubbleless baths, douchebag!

Of course, the solidarity was quickly abandoned as, true to form, the women’s baby-making instincts kicked in and they began fighting each other in earnest for Brad’s sperm attention. Ugh! I should have known I couldn’t watch a show whose sheer premise fundamentally disgusts me. My favorite moment, if I can call it that, came when one of the bachelorettes, mere moments after meeting him, slapped Brad square across the face “just to get it out of the way,” prompting him to utter the words, “Now I like you even more,” or some such. I get it; who doesn’t love a little abuse now and then, am I right? The whole episode, really, was a rubbernecker’s wet dream, from Brad's awkward confrontation with the two spurned ladies of yore to the gratuitous footage of his Changed Self, a change that—if the circumference of his upper torso is any indication—took place largely in that most sacred sanctuary of dudedom: The Gym. (To be completely honest, this was the first time I’d ever been jealous of a man’s nipple pertness.) What really amused me throughout the whole thing was the level of righteous indignation, albeit short-lived, shown by some of the new women on behalf of the old, rejected ones. I mean, this guy is practically a pariah for making a decision than any rational human in the real (read: unsimulated) world would applaud. It boggles the mind, it does.  

Fortunately, the second show I discovered on my new year’s quest fared much better. In fact, Grey’s Anatomy is actually, sort of, in a way, good. This is a show I had tried out when it first started, back when Scrubs was in its heyday and doctor shows in general were all the rage, but I abandoned it shortly thereafter due to both my general inability to suspend that pesky disbelief and my fear of being associated with that very specific demographic of doe-eyed womanfolk. (Full disclosure: I’ve really been revisiting this show since last season’s finale, which I tuned into after being exposed to endless ABC promos and which turned out to be a positively gripping two hours of television.)

I’m not saying it’s on par with Mad Men or Breaking Bad (seriously, did the AMC execs make some Faustian-type deal back in 2007?), but Grey’s Anatomy is pretty solid, not-completely-ridiculous entertainment. I am also shameless enough to admit that the collective hotness of the cast is likely doing wonders toward helping me forgive those long, impassioned speeches that creator Shonda Rhimes is known for. At any rate, there are some good bloody moments in this show. For example, even though I could have done with less repetitive dialogue, I was totally transfixed when Meredith called out Derek in the OR last week. That scene surprised me, and I was definitely not expecting this show to ever be able to sneak up on me like that. And then there are those awesome shots of the Space Needle between scenes? Sold!

Look at how hot they are!

But, like Sir Isaac Newton once postulated, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every awesome moment on Grey’s, there’s an equally cheesy one, too. Sure, you might witness a wrenching and plausible exchange between newly-broken-up Drs. Torres and Robbins, but a mere few minutes later you will be cringing through a sappy and clichéd reunion of estranged BFFs Meredith and Christina, set to the tune of the worst '80s Top Gun music I’ve heard so far in this millennium. There’s a good chance you’ll be compelled to nod emphatically through a scene that speaks super true to the harsh realities of post-traumatic stress, but faster than you can say “sassy black lady,” out comes Dr. Bailey summoning her inner Scarlett O’Hara (after the glamour years) to literally look up into the heavens and dem-ay-and—raised fist and all—that God return the life into a patient’s body, hammering home the point that the writers have been bending over backwards to illustrate since Episode 1: that when Miranda Bailey speaks, folks listen, deities included.

Personally I’m thankful for the corny moments because they keep me grounded and a safe distance away from wanting to think this show makes for some sort of brilliant, groundbreaking television. Still, fitting somewhere between the guilty pleasures and the eagerly anticipated must-sees, Grey’s has wedged itself pretty comfortably in my long list of followed programming.  

What are some other shows I should watch and/or recap? Help this tellyphile meet her New Year’s resolutions by leaving lots of comments. Weight loss tips unwelcome.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year's Resolutions For the Fictional (They're People Too, Sort Of)

The new year is finally here, folks, and with it the return of some old TV favorites/guilty pleasures (V, Jersey Shore, The Game.) Lately, my TV watching has been sporadic at best, especially with most of my favorite shows being on holiday break (why do you abandon me in my time of need, NBC? Who doesn’t need a break after hours of fruitless after-Christmas shopping?) Nevertheless, it's time to turn over a new leaf and turn on the TV.

Sadly this week does not bring us new installments of either 30 Rock (why, Tina, why?) or Community, and although their absence from the small screen will probably make it easier for me to start on my New Year's resolutions (read more, exercise, watch less TV, etc), it also makes me ponder the hypothetical resolutions of my favorite characters. What is Liz Lemon hoping for in the new year, as she sits at her desk eating a hoagie?

A friend of mine once said, "If I'm not watching The Shield, Vic Mackey isn't stopping crime; I gotta go." I, on the other hand, like to think things carry on in the TV universe. Somewhere Sue Sylvester is throwing out her Christmas tree and plotting her next move, Sheldon Cooper is starting the year out with some deep cleaning and Liz Lemon is eating a second hoagie. Here are some things I think they, and other TV characters, are adding to their list of New Year's Resolutions:

Sue Sylvester: Design world's first armored track suit.

Mr. Schuester: Invest in a manufacturer of hair straighteners; lobby for the creation of a tiny hair straightener. An aside: As a member of the curly hair community I know I should be pro natural curls, but in the words of Sue, "I thought you [Will Schuester] might want to put all of us out of our misery and shave off that Chia pet.” (His hair bugs me. It's irrational. I don't care.)

Sheldon Cooper: Join Germaphobics Anonymous.

Liz Lemon: Begin skincare regimen; explore anti-oxidant properties of hoagies.

Peggy Olson: Read The Second Sex.

Nancy Botwin: Hatch plan to seduce FBI agent/lawyer/judge.

The entire cast of Grey's Anatomy: Stop speaking in soliloquies (or try shaving off a minute from each impassioned speech. Baby steps, people, baby steps.)

What are your new year’s resolutions? And what are your favorite characters up to (hypothetically)?