W.D. Prescott’s Screen Burn™ More New Fall Television Reviews!

I’ll be rating each show using the following designations: Live! (a show I will try to watch every week), DVR/App (I like it, but can wait till the weekend to watch), Check Back (could be good, but I’ll wait a few weeks and see if it gets better before watching again) and Netflix (I’ll wait till the whole season is over before checking it out). I’m never going to suggest “not to watch” because shows can get better and my taste will not always be your taste.

CBS Mondays
8:30 pm ET

I honestly can’t remember the last CBS sitcom I watched. The problem: They’re all pretty formulaic… Following a fairly concise formula:

Step 1: Find a “culturally fashionable theme” for show
Step 2: Create at least two characters (couples or roommates are the best choice) that live solidly within that theme
Step 3: Create every joke based on that theme, even at the expense of the story or character’s ability to grow or the actor’s ability to perform

As I watched Partners, I realized the network decided not to take a chance with a new formula this year. (No surprise really, with CBS firmly ensconced as the #1 Network in America.) Partners is centered on two lifelong friends– current partners in an architectural firm– and their relationships.

In the end, this series turned out to be nothing more than a Jewish clone of Will & Grace (not that surprising, as the creator is the same). It’s a shame too– because actors like Brandon Routh and David Krumholtz could have made this a successful comedy. While watching, I almost felt Krumholtz was asked not to act well. (There were more than a few moments where I don’t think the script called for character pauses– but actor Krumholtz stood there thinking, “Damn it, the character wouldn’t act this way! I can still figure out a way to make this funny and not pander to the audience’s low expectations.”)

Routh spent half his dialogue making “hard on” and “schmeckle” puns… So much so, it almost turned the entire enterprise into a schmeckle-fest. Penes (the plural of penis, I looked it up) already seem to be a show sub-theme. Christopher Reeve survived Superman 3, yet Hollywood seems intent on crushing Brandon Routh. Come on Tinseltown, give the man some respect! If you want an actor to speak these idiotic lines and not look uncomfortable– give the role to someone who’s made a career out of it… Like any actor who’s ever appeared in more than one Adam Sandler movie.

I’m also getting kind of tired of the stock role of “comedic gay” in sitcoms. It’s a tired gimmick that’s sliding swiftly towards ignorance… Rather than opening up opportunities for acceptance. It’s also the same reason I can’t stand Big Bang Theory. Geeks and Gays in these series are laughed at for simply existing. Of course, people not used to gays or geeks might not see it that way, because they don’t deal with the ridicule on a daily basis. And there will be people or groups that will support these shows– because at least people aren’t dismissing them for being who they are now… But I feel it’s the exact opposite of tolerance. It’s ignorance disguised as acceptance.

Rant over.

Ben and Kate
Fox Tuesdays
8:30 pm ET

This is the first of two comedies Fox added to their Tuesday comedy block when they decided to move Glee to Thursdays… Which I hope is Fox’s subtle way of saying, “Yeah, Glee’s crappy now.”

Still, I was really split on whether to watch. From one view, I was really looking forward to the new sitcom because it seemed like a great pairing for Raising Hope (an extremely undervalued comedy) and the characters– as described– seemed complete enough to be able to grow through the show’s run. On the other, the new series was created by the same person who created New Girl, which I find as funny as Jimmy Fallon.

I lucked out. Ben and Kate is a very funny show. But during the ep, I figured out why Ben and Kate and Raising Hope are both going to be perennial favorites for cancellation… While New Girl and its’ clone The Mindy Project (see my review below) will probably survive for at least three seasons each.

Gen Xers.

We are hitting a generational shift in TV viewers. Baby boomers aren’t watching sitcoms anymore, since most of the people they found funny have retired, now work on dramas or have moved to working behind the scenes. So Gen Xers are the latest group to influence TV content. And something about them must love awkward comedy… Hence Michael Cera and New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel.

Ben and Kate and Raising Hope are comedies for a different group– Millennials. If you were to animate Ben and Kate, it would look a lot like a mash-up of Doug and Ren & Stimpy from the golden age of Nicktoons. My generation was brought up on series that weaved morals throughout… And the Village Idiot was a person to respect, regardless of their actions. That’s also the core of Ben and Kate. No matter how much of an idiot Ben can be, he is always the best thing for those he cares about.

The show is sand in the eye to the self-importance created by Generation X. The scene with the babysitter who tries to correct Maddie’s (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) coloring is a prime example. Ben (Nat Faxon) says let the kid be a kid, not a little adult. A lot of people may watch this and just see stupid people– but the idiocy is a tool to tell us, the viewers, to not be so serious all the time… You don’t always need to over-think and over-analyze everything.

To steal from Robert Bloch, “All of us go a little stupid at times.”

The Mindy Project
Fox Tuesdays
9:30 pm ET

It’s really hard to say anything about this show, because the pilot was soulless.

As the show began, I replaced star/creator Mindy Kaling with Zooey Deschanel in my mind and the ep played exactly like any episode of New Girl. From Fox’s perspective, this similarity is probably great– since the shows air back-to-back in the States. As a viewer, I just look at The Mindy Project and think what I think when I look at all the CSI shows: Why bother?

For most of the show, the humor relied on awkwardness and ham-fisted reference to romantic comedies… And I was able to predict halfway into The Mindy Project several of the pop culture touchstones that would turn up. If you think about it, romantic comedies and awkward sitcoms are polar opposites. Awkwardness relies on events that lead to an outcome neither the characters or the viewers expect. Romantic comedies rely on events that will lead to an outcome the viewers are hoping for or expecting– but the characters try to deny.

So how do you successfully create outcomes that viewers don’t expect, yet do? The Mindy Project is still looking for the answer.

And can we please stop thinking anyone and everyone attached to The Office must always be funny? Mindy Kaling’s character on The Office is not that different from her character on The Mindy Project– except she’s not domineering in this latest incarnation… Meaning this show gave me a half hour of everything I usually hate about The Office.

Having said all that, you’d think I’d give this a burning Netflix rating– but I’m not. For a small period of time– during a scene where Mindy and a fellow doctor (Chris Messina) talk about dressing for a first date– there was a glimmer of hope for the show. Much like its’ time slot rival, The New Normal, there is a hint of indie movie comedy vibe here. And I wanted to watch that.

I think we, as an audience, have confused what we want in comedy with what we actually get in comedy. With shows like The Office, a faux reality show, there is the impression we will see the comedy of “real” life. It’s very different from what mainstream sitcoms do– they are all about exaggerating life. But as later episodes of The Office went on, what we got was the furthest thing from “real” life– just one awkward moment after another.

If someone’s life is like this, I feel sorry for you… Because 100% awkward 100% of the time is not real life. But we’re conditioned by sitcoms to believe awkward is what life is– so season after season, every new series copies the formula. But that one scene between those two characters in The Mindy Project… That felt real. That interested me. If the show grows in that direction, I think it can only help TMP step out of the shadow of New Girl. It will also have a better chance of capturing people like me as regular viewers.

CBS Tuesdays
10:00pm ET

While I normally push people to watch history-based shows, I have to admit the pilot for Vegas left me thinking this trip down Cowboy Street and Gangster Way was going to be mediocre at best. The promos played the premise simply: Cowboy Lawman goes up against the Mob in post-war Las Vegas. And as the show began, that’s exactly what I got.

Then I was surprised how quickly it became a police procedural. It was kinda hard to swallow the idea of rancher turned deputy/sheriff, but it’s based on a real rancher turned sheriff– so I went with it. I really didn’t get a feel for the time period either. If you took this show and set it in modern Las Vegas, it really wouldn’t lose anything in translation. Actually, I’m surprised they didn’t update the time period– essentially produce a 21st Century remake of McCloud (this time starring Dennis Quaid instead of Dennis Weaver).

Quaid has found a good role with this show. There were a few moments of scenery chewing, but for the most part what made Quaid a good actor in all his best roles was usually on display. And it is still weird for me to watch Michael Chiklis in anything other than The Commish. (I know. Get your head out of the early 90s, W.D.) The good news: Chiklis’ acting was impeccable.

These two “name” actors play well off each other. If this show is known for anything, I think it will be the chemistry between these two men. Vegas is definitely worth watching just for their interplay. Carrie-Anne Moss is also superb. I was never a big fan of hers during the Matrix movies, but her acting here makes me want to search out more of her work. Everyone else (especially the actors playing Quaid’s sons) were kinda flat through the episode– playing their parts just enough to move their characters through the story.

The show has another obvious weak point: Other than the Quaid/Chiklis pairing, there isn’t a lot that reaches out and grabs you. Since I was anticipating more of a Dukes of Hazzard meets The Sopranos log-line, it’s possible my expectations kept me from enjoying it for the procedural it is.

It also felt there were lots of little subplots I never fully understood because the supporting cast was ill-defined. (I don’t mind admitting it was easy to lose track of who people were and their relation to each other.) If I’m having this kind of trouble in the first episode, it’s going to be hard for me to want to watch Vegas every Tuesday night. But I think the acting of Quaid, Chiklis and Moss could produce something great– so I’m going to stick around to see how it plays out.

Animal Practice
NBC Wednesdays
8:00 pm ET

Dear God in Heaven, what did we do as a Nation to deserve this show? (And how can we atone, to be rid of it?)

I really wish I had a better understanding of how NBC chooses which sitcoms to air– because, at some point, everyone employed there had to know this show was garbage. Why do I say that? Because of every other comedy that’s premiered this season on NBC,  the network made certain their pilot episodes aired during the first three weeks. From what my Comcast guide, my TV Guide app and my NBC app told me– not only has Animal Practice never aired its pilot but the second episode was completely skipped over— with Episode Three used as the series’ premiere. After watching Episode #3, I actually should send NBC Execs a fruit basket for not airing those episodes… Especially if they are worse than this one.

I can only hope the producers were intentionally trying to target 5-year-olds with this sitcom, as most of the “humor” felt like rejected punch lines from an Eddie Murphy Dr. Doolittle movie.

The characters are, for the most part, ludicrous. Animal Practice is overloaded with flat-out dumbasses… And a monkey.

The head Veterinarian (Justin Kirk) keeps relating everything to the animal kingdom because he doesn’t like people. Yet somehow, he’s responsible for a vet hospital of some renown. If that’s true, wouldn’t he have to deal with actual people? I mean animals don’t just walk in for treatment off the street, do they? (Last time I checked, they don’t pay for their own vet bills either.) Flaw #1

The supporting characters are so hamstrung by unrealistic stereotypes that any humor involving them falls flat– primarily because none of them would never exist… Even in a crack addict’s fever dream. I mean, really– when does adopting a pig while drunk make someone “wild and crazy”? Flaw #2

Half the show relies on Dr. Rizzo— a Capuchin monkey. Flaw #3… Yer Out!

The Neighbors
ABC Wednesdays
9:30 pm ET

In the last six years, ABC has fallen off my TV map. The only Disney-approved excursions I’ve taken were with Happy Town and The River— two horror-themed shows cut down way too early. Apparently the network never meant to give either series a chance… Since they did so little promotion, very people ever knew they aired.

Watching The Neighbors reminded me why I am no longer an ABC kinda guy: I’m not part of the network’s preferred/intended audience.

I’ll probably explore this idea in greater detail with my 666 Park Avenue review– since that series is ABC’s latest “horror” offering and should be something I’ll want to watch. But for purposes of this review, here’s the audience I think ABC wants watching The Neighbors: Families with small children. Everything from the set design to the aliens (and their characteristics) pointed to humor meant to be funny to kids… With broad enough comedy that parents might be able to extract their own experiences.

That’s not a bad thing. I remember when there were a lot of shows I could watch with my parents every night as a kid… And these days I would be hard pressed to find something I’d let my 5-year-old nephew or my 4-year-old niece watch even three prime time minutes of. ABC and Disney seem to realize there’s a lack of Family shows on Network TV, so they’re purposely aiming for that audience. Not surprisingly, that also leaves a lot of us out of the equation.

The aliens were complete clichés. I even mentioned on Twitter (@ScreenBurnIMJ Plug! Follow Me!) that I wanted to go back and watch My Favorite Martian and 3rd Rock from the Sun again… Just to see how much of The Neighbors was lifted from these shows. A lot of the ideas about the alien society and the way they lived seemed very forced– and again, meant to play to children. I doubt many adults actually laughed at anything they did, but I could see lots of kids LOLing their butts off.

I’m sure if I had a family of my own, my perspective on the show would be different. And if you have a family with small kids, you might want to check it out before taking my view as gospel. But if you’re like me– over the age of 10, single and/or in a childless relationship– I wouldn’t bother with this one.

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6 Responses to W.D. Prescott’s Screen Burn™ More New Fall Television Reviews!

  1. dimaman15 says:

    Yes, “The River” was taken off way too early. The last shot of the series with the river shifting just killed me. Now we’ll never know what happens.

    • I still need to catch the last two episode of the The River since I was catching up before I heard the news of the cancelation. I’ve been hoping it would come to Netflix already because I wanted to see it, but every keeps saying it frustrating since it left on such a cliffhanger that I’ve kept pushing it off.

  2. ed2962 says:

    Neat article, WD! Very interesting point at the end of your Partners review. I was listening to a radio talk show a while back and the guest suggested that TV shows like Modern Family actually go further to help gay people gain acceptance than activism cuz they portray Gay ppl as normal. It also made me ponder stuff like Will and Grace, with the “straight acting” Will playing off the more stereotyped “Jack”. I don’t have an answer, I just think it’s an interesting subject to consider.

    • I don’t have an answer either, but I would agree with the suggestion you mentioned. BUt not being gay I really can’t say. Half the gay friends love those stereotypical gays characters the other half loathe. So who is right, or can anybody every be right in the argument, I don’t know. But I will say that we use TV or TV like experiences (YouTube, iPad apps, etc) to engage in the world and learn from our experiences more than we’ve ever had in history. Because of that, whether consciously or not, television is shaping our society much faster. IF we keep pumping these roles on TV, people with think that is normal, just like they think they know forensics from CSI.

  3. Pingback: Screen Burn™ New Fall Television Reviews – Week 3 part 1 | Phylactery of Nightmares & Dreams

  4. jimmymackey says:

    I’m glad to read a review by someone that isn’t so super critical that they give up after one episode. Of course, if you don’t like procedurals, don’t watch, but I don’t mind them and Vegas has other elements that make it a decent show, like the actors. My only wish is that the writers would write something other than angry and angrier for Quaid. My DISH coworker says it’s getting decent ratings too, which I figure should guarantee even more success and money to keep it a class act show. I found out about it when my Hopper PrimeTime Anytime feature I enabled, automatically recorded it. I like the fact that I find lots of new shows to watch, since every major network show records each day.

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