Before I start the “official column” this week, I just wanted to say THANK YOU to all of you that responded to my last column: “It takes character to succeed.” I got more than two-dozen responses, more than any other column I’ve written to date. I’ve decided to revive the “character debate” in a couple of future columns, both utilizing reader feedback and throwing some more “great characters” out there for consideration. But that’s for another time. In the mean time, hopefully, you will take a look at my reviews of several new offerings from the small screen.
Once again, thank you to all for reading and responding!
Back in February, I took a page out of the book of the great ESPN.com Page 2 columnist Bill Simmons, and authored the first “On the Screen GRAND BUFFET.”, I talked about the great character actor, John C. Reilly, the Bravo TV show, “The It Factor,” what I would do as the Vice-President of Programming at various television networks, and finally, I publicly dreamt that “The Family Guy” would be brought back with all new original episodes.
Last week, Moodspins editor-in-chief, Matthew Michaels, gave me my first “assignment” and “suggested” that I write about the “CBS at 75” special that aired on Sunday, November 2nd. I was a little reluctant to take on an assignment like that because I don’t particularly enjoy watching networks pay tribute to themselves with a three-hour primetime special during network sweeps month. Nonetheless, I said I would do it since he rarely asks me for anything of major consequence.
The last two paragraphs are important and relevant to each other because I’ve decided to accept the assignment from Mr. Biscuiti while also reviving the “Grand Buffet” format as I talk about that particular show along with three brand new Fox shows that have finally debuted since the Florida Marlins won baseball’s World Series for the dozens of people who elected to watch. Several intriguing new shows premiered on the Rupert Murdoch’s television network, so I thought it would be both relevant and interesting to think about Fox’s new batch of shows and address a few of them as well.
With that said, be prepared for an order of “CBS at 75” with processed cheese, a cherry flavored “A Minute with Stan Hooper,” a large “Tru Calling” with extra “butter flavored topping” and a free package of “Arrested Development” (since you bought the movie theatre combo of course )
CBS at 75 Think about that a second 75!
For the most part, I find awards shows unwatchable. I always make an effort to watch the Oscars, Emmys, the Golden Globes and, of course, the prestigious MTV Movie Awards, but many of the other shows out there just aggravate me to no end. It gets to the point where people aren’t being recognized for the great work they’ve done, it’s just an excuse for the networks to not put another repeat of a bad program on, it’s an excuse for the artist and record company to get some primetime exposure, and it’s even just an excuse for dress designers to get some free advertising by stapling them to the female performers’ bodies. It is just shy of nauseating really.
It’s one thing when the networks air the dozen or so awards shows paying tribute to the work of other organizations in other industries, but when they decide to pay tribute to themselves with a black tie/expensive Vera Wang dress event, I envision my televisions “swimming with the fishes” because that is where they deserve to be. NBC aired a special similar to this recently and it wasn’t terrible, even providing some laugh-out-loud moments.
However, I noticed that CBS was devoting a great deal of advertising space and time to this event and it had me frightened that this may be a more elaborate ceremony than if the Oscar’s were awarded at the same time and place as Charles and Di’s wedding. Once the show came on, my initial fears were realized when the announcer for the network’s tribute show said they were broadcasting from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City and I saw people in tuxedos and those Vera Wang dresses and gowns.
I rolled my eyes, but continued to stick with the show for the sake of the “assignment.”
Actually, I’m glad I did
In looking at the brief title, “CBS at 75,” the significance of it might gloss over the typical viewer the same way it did to me initially. But, let’s think about it for one second. CBS has been broadcasting for 75 years! That means since the infancy of the radio, CBS has been broadcasting. As the television evolved into arguably the most culturally and technologically powerful tool in the history of mankind, CBS was there through that whole amazing ride. Even more impressively, the network was able to recognize that without going completely overboard with congratulatory handshakes and pats on the back. The whole night was simply a remembrance of the fine works of broadcasting the network has created for its audience and for that it deserves credit. It could have been as obnoxious as someone throwing his/her own birthday party, but it wasn’t.
The show paid tribute in the form of long video packages with different clips to CBS’s various program forms it has created over the years. All of these included the primetime drama (with a little bit of the reality genre thrown in with that), the western genre, the “soap opera” (or more sophistically known today as the “daytime drama”), news programs, including the invention of the television news magazine (“60 Minutes”), sports events, made-for-TV movies, and of course all the comedies like “I love Lucy,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H,” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
There were some funny moments such as the recreation and parody of the 1990 finale of Bob Newhart’s show “Newhart” with accomplished television actress, Suzanne Pleshette, David Letterman’s “Top 10” list about how CBS people were celebrating the anniversary, and in one probably one of the strangest moments in the history of television, Tom Wopat (Luke Duke) and John Schenider (Bo Duke) of “The Dukes of Hazzard” fame leading a musical number of various television theme songs from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. As this unfolded, I would have laughed, but I was too stunned to do so.
Of course, the show wasn’t perfect. The main hiccup that I mentally took note of was in the reminiscing of the various news events in American history over the last 75 years, the network portrayed itself as the revolutionary network that covered many news events that other news organizations weren’t available for. While Walter Cronkite’s 1963 announcement of the assassination of President Kennedy is probably the most famous, it certainly wasn’t the only one. Also, while 1968 was a tumultuous year in American history with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. Robert Kennedy, and the mess that was the Democratic National Convention, CBS was not the only network to have representatives from its’ news department present covering those events. While it wasn’t the place of CBS to pay tribute to other networks at that time, I do believe those particular segments should have been addressed with a bit more care.
Overall, I found the show to be pretty enjoyable and a good summation of CBS’s history. Though, the more I think about it, I almost think CBS could probably produce a 10 (maybe even 25) DVD set of the network’s 75-year history. It would probably do its’ major contributors a lot more justice than just a three hour TV show.
I never thought I’d say that when I first tuned in
You should spend more than a minute with Stan Hooper
Fox recently debuted Norm McDonald’s latest attempt to score with a situation comedy in the brand new, “A Minute with Stan Hooper.” The premise of the show is Stan Hooper is a famous “commentator of life” known for his weekly feature “A Minute with Stan Hooper” seen on the fictional national news magazine show, “Newsline.” Stan (played by McDonald) decides to pick up his life and his wife Molly (played by the accomplished Penelope Ann Miller) to Waterford Falls, Wisconsin, a place they apparently visited while on their honeymoon many years earlier. They did this so Stan could find some real stories of life, something he didn’t think he was properly achieving in Manhattan (apparently Stan has never been to Queens, Brooklyn, or the Bronx ).
In the pilot episode, the audience is introduced to Stan, Molly and some of the “townsfolk” of tiny Waterford Falls. The main characters include Gary (played by Brian Howe) who is a flannel shirt-wearing butler that “comes with” the house they are renting. Gary brings them afternoon tea whether they like it or not. We also meet Fred (brilliantly played by the historically funny Fred Willard) who is the local “cheese mogul,” a guy who has made his fortune by running a mammoth cheese factory (it’s Wisconsin I guess that’s all they do there). In addition, we meet Ryan (Eric Lively), Fred’s son who wishes to go into the news/entertainment industry (with Stan) and his frisky girlfriend, Chelsea (Reagan Dale Neis). Finally, we meet two of the funniest characters, Lou and Pete Petersen (Garret Dillahunt and Daniel Roebuck), who run the local diner and who Stan mistakes as brothers when they’re really gay lovers (Pete took Lou’s last name after the commitment ceremony).
It’s certainly an eclectic cast of characters and they are what make the show as humorous as it is. Fred, the cheese mogul, is clueless as he is ruthless and Willard plays both up very well. The exchanges between Stan, the city guy, and Lou and Pete, the country guys are funny because of the constant misunderstandings between the way Stan “talks” and the people in Waterford Falls “talk.” Also, Gary (the butler) is a fun character because not only do Stan and Molly not know to act in front of a butler, they aren’t really sure if they want one; so, that creates some amusing exchanges as well.
While the overall cast of characters is funny and the writing is great, I have to question two aspects of the show .it just happens to be the two main aspects of the show: Norm McDonald and Penelope Ann Miller. Looking at McDonald first, his portrayal of Stan is nothing short of dreadful. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but when I see him trying to act on this show, I see a combination of someone who has no idea how to act in a situation comedy and someone who has no desire to act in a situation comedy. His dry, deadpan style really isn’t great for this type of comedy and the expressions on his face tell me that he has no desire at all to be sharing the stage. Personally, I think McDonald is better suited writing, doing stand-up or revisiting his “Saturday Night Live” comedic skit roots.
As for Miller, I look at her and remember the prominent movie roles she was able to get in the early 1990s (Kindergarten Cop, Other People’s Money, Chaplin, and especially Carlito’s Way) and I immediately become distracted any time she is on the screen. She went from playing Al Pacino’s love interest in a Brian de Palma directed film to playing Norm McDonald’s interest on a television sitcom? That isn’t a black eye on the television industry because it holds a special place in my heart, but it just seems like this particular program wasn’t the best career move for her. This is especially because her character floats around somewhere between relevant and unnecessary and I’m not quite sure how she fits in. She occasionally makes some both funny and poignant comments, but as far as I’m concerned, she isn’t indispensable. It wouldn’t take much to write her out of the show. Stan certainly wouldn’t suffer.
It’s nothing short of remarkable to have a level of disdain and/or indifference for the two main characters of a show, yet still have enough of an admiration that I want to tune in every week. Bottom line: The writing and supporting cast is great but Norm McDonald and Penelope Ann Miller aren’t. If you like the former, I suggest you spend more than a minute with Stan Hooper
Is it really a “Tru Calling?” I don’t know
Besides the new (and already recently canceled) “Skin” Fox devoted a great deal of advertising to the new sci-fi-esque series “Tru Calling” starring “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” alumni Eliza Dushku (and don’t forget, she was Arnold and Jamie Lee’s daughter in True Lies). Basically, Dushku plays a recent college graduate named Tru Davies who, after a prestigious medical internship falls through, ends up working the midnight shift at a local morgue. While there, she thinks she hears the voices of one of the cadavers and eventually realizes that she isn’t hallucinating after all. The cadaver she suspected of talking to her ends up muttering something to her and next thing she knows, she ends up back in bed to relive the entire previous day with the obvious hope that she can prevent that particular person dying on that day. Depending on how one looks at it, it’s part “Early Edition,” part Groundhog Day or, while it may be a bit of a stretch, part “Quantum Leap.” The bottom line is she is basically sent back in time to relive the entire day and help that person she previously saw in the morgue “get it right” so he/she doesn’t die.
The show primarily revolves around Tru, but other characters are thrown into mix to potentially make things more interesting later. First, we are introduced to her completely unlikable siblings, corporate clown, drug addict, older sister Meredith (Jessica Collins) and dopey, moronic, stubborn, gambling addict, Harrison (Shawn Reeves). In the pilot, both siblings faced potential disasters that were prevented by Tru because she knew they were going to happen (since she lived the same day twice). Personally, it would have been better off if they both died, because chances are, the audience won’t care too much about them. Also, the pilot introduced Tru’s good friend from college Lindsay (A.J. Cook) and her older, college professor boyfriend Davis (Zach Galifianakis) but those two were not as well developed as the siblings were.
While there is a cast of characters besides Tru, the show essentially revolves around her and her different adventures with a cast of characters that will change weekly. So, this show takes the format of having a very small cast of core characters with stories revolving around a set of other new characters every week. If one thinks about it, “Tru Calling” utilizes the same format as current programs “Law & Order” family of shows, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” the new successful CBS show “Cold Case” and past shows such as “Early Edition,” “Quantum Leap,” and even “The Love Boat.” The key to using this format has to include (at least) one of two valuable attributes: 1) compelling and interesting but different stories every week (this is why “Law & Order and “CSI” will be on forever) and/or 2) likable lead characters that the audience cares about leading the charge. The problem is I didn’t really see either in the pilot.
Not only did the supporting cast come up flat, but Tru (Dushku) didn’t really establish herself one way or another as someone we should really like and care about. Even before she realized she had this “gift,” she was kind of floating around with a part blank, part nasty scowl on her face. The one thing I did notice about Duhsku’s performance is that she captured the cluelessness that a person who discovered they had this gift beautifully. She had no idea what was happening but knew she had to do something about it. I would hope that as the show continues, she realizes her “mission” and is able to carry out these individual quests in a way that won’t make me want to slap her.
As for the storyline of the pilot, it was horribly evident that the writers and producers were trying to do too much too soon. In addition to introducing the audience to Tru, her supporting characters, and how she managed to get into the situation she was in, the creative team attempted to sandwich in her first adventure reliving the previous day to save a young woman that died due to a gunshot wound. That meant this particular story and its characters were underdeveloped and I didn’t care about the end result.
Finally, the visual techniques that were employed were a little too flashy for their own good. The audience was often subject to these unnecessary flashbacks where several dozen images would fly on the screen in a two or three second span. Even our modern society focused on visual imagery and with the attention span of a gnat wouldn’t be able to look at the screen during these sequences without becoming nauseous. Also, the same way VH-1’s “I Love the 80s: Strikes Back” separates segments with a computerized voice screaming “bodacious” or “stoked” or “awesome,” “Tru Calling separated segments with Tru running. Apparently, she doesn’t own a car and is adamantly against public transportation. She is always running and, even better, when she gets to her specified location, she was hardly sweating and certainly not breathing heavy. Whoops.
Despite all the negative attributes I’ve pointed out about the show to this point, I’ll make one encouraging point: I am going to continue to watch. The premise of the show is a bit off and makes me wonder if she is reliving the same day over and over again until all humankind is saved, but I still think there’s hope in developing better stories and the characters so I care more about both. I wonder if Fox will give up on this as quickly as they did “Skin.”
Jason Bateman: grown man with child
The last Fox show I wanted to address for this column is the new Jason Bateman led sit-com, “Arrested Development.” Who knew that there would be a time where we would utter those words again? After Teen Wolf Too, I thought poor Jason would be strictly relegated to dinner theatre projects in the Central and Mountain time zones. For his sake, it’s a good thing I was wrong. Jason is back and it looks like he’s made a pretty good choice to return to prime time television with this new project.
This particular new show is about the dysfunctional Bluth family and the major corruption that exists at the Bluth Development Company, a multi-million corporation devoted to real estate. Michael Bluth (Bateman) has faithfully worked for his dad’s company for ten years only to get passed over when dad (played by Jeffrey Tambor) named his wife the CEO when he decided to get out of the position. This was certainly a bit of a travesty to Michael who subjected himself and his young teenage son (wasn’t Bateman a teenage hunk not too long ago?) George Michael (Michael Cera) to live in the attic of one of the model houses so it would not be ruined by standard human living. Once this happened, Michael was fed up and was close to moving to Arizona to take a job with another developer. Considering the characters in his family, I probably would have too.
His mother, Lucille (Jessica Walter) is a spoiled socialite stealing money from the company to feed her spoiled, rich girl needs. His twin sister, Lindsay (played by “Ally McBeal’s” Portia de Rossi) steals money from the company to host wine and cheese parties for unusual charities with her dweeb of a husband, Tobias (played by the underrated David Cross) and her daughter “Maeby” who has a fascination with making out with her cousin George Michael in order to get attention. George Bluth II (Will Arnett) is a part-time magician who has never had a real job and youngest brother Buster (Tony Hale) steals money from the company so he can be a full-time graduate student pursuing unnecessary and useless degrees. This coupled with his frequent intense panic attacks and penchant for giving uncomfortable, intimate back massages to his family make him the cherry on top of this sundae of freaks and thieves.
The Securities and Exchange Commission eventually catches on to the accounting practices of the Bluth Development Company and dad gets arrested and is sent to jail to await trial. Of course, the family is more concerned when are alerted that their expense account is frozen than when they find out dad is stuck in jail. That pretty much sums up pettiness of the majority of the family. Bateman’s character, Michael ends up staying with dad’s company and moves into one of the model homes with his twin sister, her husband and daughter setting up future family “fun” we think.
Two final points about the show: First, the pilot utilized an unusual tactic to introduce the cast of characters and to set the situation for the viewers: a narrator. I’ve read in several places several times from several authors that if a film/television director needs a narrator to tell a story, then there is a major problem with what’s being shown on screen. Supposedly, it’s unnecessary and excessive. Most of the time, I would agree with that statement. However, in this case, the narrator helped the audience get to know the characters and the situation quickly. This allowed the characters themselves make jokes based on their traits as described by the narrator. It proved to be significantly helpful in this case. I will say this though. If the production and creative staff feel the need to utilize the narrator on a regular basis, I think it will definitely lose its effectiveness and become more of an unnecessary nuisance than an admirable guide to the story.
Finally, with the first show ending the way it did, the question that needs to be addressed is “What direction is this going in?” I assume it will revolve around the misadventures of the other dopey family members while Bateman’s character (and to a lesser degree, his son), will be the “voice(s) of reason,” but it isn’t overly clear. The writing is fairly effective, but I can’t decide if I think the characters are just strange and wacky in their own unique ways or if they just plain suck. Several critics I have read believe this show has promise and should be given a chance to find its niche. I agree with the latter but am unsure about the former. This is another show I am willing to have another helping of before dumping it in the garbage.
Hopefully, you feel the same way about my television reviews
I know this is a “movies” column, but I would like to incorporate more television related stuff into the mix. Hopefully, you approve. Feel free to send me an email at email@example.com and tell me whatever you’re thinking. The more mail I get, the better!
Thanks for reading and .
Enjoy the show!