Sunday, March 06, 2005

TV Review: Reba

When not teasing viewers with the prospect of whether or not Tom Welling will flash a little skin, the WB isn't quite sure what it is.

Is it Blue Collar TV? Or something far worse? Yes, there is worse than Blue Collar TV. It's name is Reba.

In the early days, the show got by on the hope that it could turn it around, maybe make something of itself.

It held promise. The children weren't typical sitcom muppets noted only for their overwhelming blandness. Steve Howey was actually a wowie. And Melissa Peterman was ideal for a sitcom.

But, like 227 before it, the biggest problem with the show was one that couldn't be fixed: it's "star." Oh sure, Reba and Barbara Jean could be paired together the same way that Mary and Sondra were on 227. And you might chuckle because Peterman/Jackee Harry were actually funny even with a wet blanket smothering them.

But when Jackee left 227, the show died even if it took NBC a year to realize that.
The same fate awaits Reba should Peterman ever leave.

The theme song tell us the character Reba is "with gentle hands and the heart of a fighter/
I'm a survivor" -- were that it were true!

That a professional singer could deliver her lines in the same pattern with the same emphasis makes us seriously question how talented Reba McEntire is as a singer? She's like a teacher on the Peanuts cartoons but enuciating a little more clearly.

It doesn't matter what the line is, she's saying it her usual bah-bah-bah-bah-bah-bah. And you can't miss the sneak to the audience that seems to say, "Ain't I funny! Don't I tickle you!"

It's as though The Brady Bunch's Susan Olson's body grew but not her mind or her talent.

On the most recently aired episode (a repeat), McEntire delivered two lines exactly the same, "Well, at least he wore nice underwear" and "Probably, what's your guess?" Note that one of them ends in a question mark though you wouldn't know that from her monotone delivery.
Here are two more lines she delivered exactly the same (as each other and as the two before):
"But in order for a boy to date my daughter I have to be able to pick him out of line up" and
"Jails are full of shy boys." It's really irritating watching her be so amused at herself that she managed to get each word out. And we could offer more examples easily because she delivers every line the same.

Memorization isn't acting. But maybe on this show it passes for it? Christopher Rich has been giving the same bland performance his entire career (Murphy Brown, Another World) so it doesn't really matter that this time his name is Brock and he's Reba's ex-husband. Oh sure, he's added a southern accent this go round. Such passes for characterization on this show apparently.

What passes for writing? When the show started, we met Reba who's husband had left her and taken up with Barbara Jean with whom he'd soon have a baby. Meanwhile, her eldest daughter (still in high school) was pregnant. The show really wanted to have the working class feel of Roseanne. (Though with that house, it was nearly impossible.)

These days, the show is just bland. The idea that it might take on social mores vanished long ago. (Though every now and then, they trot out Howey for another episode of 'Van just discovered gay people exist and will have to learn to adjust to that fact.' The writers never seem to tire of that story. And never seem to realize that it's been written, for this show, before. Short of an episode entitled "Honey, I Just Got Butt Fucked" there's really no reason to rework this story again. But we're sure the writers will try.)

Reba lives in an upscale house with two kids underfoot, a daughter and son-in-law in college and rarely seems to have a money worry outside of the occassional joke or episode.
(Possibly she saves money by dressing so awfully? That would explain the jersey shirt she wore in a hideous shade of green on the most recent episode?)

There is no reality in this show. And McEntire's bound and determine to twinkle like the worst child star. (She long ago passed the "Do you know how much the human head weighs?" phase.)
She's a survivor? Of what exactly? A nice home, two kids who more or less do exactly what she wants, a son-in-law playing pro football (this season) . . . What's she surviving?

If Roseanne were on today, you'd probably get some episodes about the cuts in health care but Reba lives in a non-reality based world (with clothes provided by Wal-Mart) where each moment but awaits her latest rattled off line.

What does her fan base (she does have one, right?) think when they hear Reba rattling off lines that were tired twenty years ago but are downright offensive coming from McEntire? Worried that her daughter is dating a guy in the band? A band? McEntire, aren't you living in the glass house that music built? Referring to the daughter's boyfriend -- insultingly -- as Willie Nelson?
Who writes this stuff and how does it get on air?

Will she next be taking pot shots at Loretta Lynn? There must be other music legends awaiting the "wit" of Reba. (Maybe the actress is just settling old scores?)

In the beginning, the show had promise: a semi-reality base, some interesting potential situations and, most of all, the hope that Reba McEntire might develop into some form of actress. Those hopes are long gone. It's 2005 and Reba exists (still) in an entirely white world, with no economic worries, and no lead actress.

I'm a survivor?

Possibly, but she's no comedian. When she's given a bit of physical humor to do, she overplays it long after the canned laughter dies. When she's given a line that passes for funny on this show, she delivers it the same way she does every other line on the show. We're longing for the debut of the WB's Living with Fran which will feature an actual comedian in the lead. A female comedian, how long has it been since we've seen a show built around that?

There's nothing wrong with Courtney Thorne-Smith, for instance. She's certainly lovely to look at and a good sport. But what has happened to female comedians? If Lucille Ball was 48 today, she probably couldn't get hired. Too funny to work opposite a fat male comedian. Too funny to play the thin wife who might get off a funny line when she's crabby. (And has anyone stopped to consider that they're so crabby because those cheeseballs engage in the missonary position when they have sex? You try to be bright and spritely after having all that tonnage on top of you!)

Wanda Sykes and Whoopi Goldberg had a shot at it, a brief shot because the networks have decided that fat white male is the new basic black apparently. A sitcom just can't seem to exist without one. As Yes, Dear crusies back onto CBS's primetime schedule, you have to wonder if Sykes and Goldberg's greatest offense was actually being funny while being non-white, non-male leads?

The last few years in sitcom land have played out like Fatal Attraction wherein the women rewarded are the ones playing Anne Archer's good, non-transgressive wife and any sort of spunk on the part of a woman leads to suits hearing rumblings from somewhere of "Kill the bitch! Kill the bitch!" (Maybe those cries are coming just from their own sick inner souls?)

We doubt Living With Fran will last an entire season. We're not even sure the shows themselves will be that funny. But what a relief it will be to see an honest to God comedian commanding the lead in a sitcom again. After suffering through the pleasantvilles of Leah Thompson's bland Caroline (in the City), the many TV drama actresses (Sharon Lawrence comes to mind) passing themselves off as comedians, and assorted stick figure women playing wives (usually non-work-outside-the-home wives) we can't wait to see the one and only Fran Drescher strut her stuff onscreen again.

Though her nasal tone may turn off some people, we're sure that Drescher won't just stand around delivering her lines in a monotone and then grin madly as though she's awaiting for teacher to give her a gold star for her memorization skills. And good or bad, we doubt Drescher will come off as bland.
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