Sunday, July 03, 2005

TV Review: Make Room for Bully

After two weeks of body wash operettas, it was like a spray of Axe on our skins to watch something where thirty-year-olds didn't pretend to be high schoolers. And we were so excited to discover that Tuesday night would feature a brave programming choice in a nation grown timid -- Make Room for Bully!

That's what we dubbed it because, honestly, we must have missed the opening credits. Our apologies to our loyal readers for that but, believe us, no one regrets that more than we do. We've tried to imagine the theme song that played over those opening credits:

He's screwed up Afghanistan
Turned Iraq into the killing land
Make Room for Bully
Make Room for Bully
Bully Boy is on his way.

We pictured that theme playing while he wonders around the oval office, shaking hands, flipping the bird and choking on pretzels. We especially liked the choking on the pretzel because it would be kind of like when Dick Van Dyke would trip during the opening credits of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Tuesday was innovative television like we haven't seen since Julia Louis Dreyfuss tried to do her show in real time. Make Room for Bully appeared to run in real time as well. And no laugh track! It takes a brave spirit to put on a sitcom without the canned laughter. You're never sure if the folks watching at home will get it if you don't have laughs-a-plenty blasting through their speakers.

The star, fortunately, is a natural born comedian. We were confused early on but finally figured out it was Timothy Bottoms in the lead. (Again, we missed the opening credits.) He's gifted. He didn't break character once.

Our biggest laugh early on was when he said this line:

The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror.

The troops here are fighting! We were rolling! Only someone parodying the Bully Boy could make such an idiotic comment with a straight face! What? We're under martial law?

It got better. He followed that with:

The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001.

See, there Timothy Bottoms and the writers were sending up the real Bully Boy's incessant attempts to make a connection between 9-11 and Iraq. That seemed a little unfair, maybe even a cheap shot, because, in real life, Bully Boy did admit there was no connection so even he wouldn't dare try to trick the people again. Would he?

Regardless, this was really strong, social commentary comedy. And we started wondering if Larry Gelbart had returned to television? Take, for example, this moment when Bottoms said, "After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again." We can imagine the protests letters from the fright wing on that. I mean Bottoms (as Bully) is admitting that he did nothing before the attacks of 9-11. (Well, he "waited.") Bottoms (as Bully) is admitting that only after the attacks did he make a committment to national security. That was pointed commentary.

We're sure lines like that scared off the sponsors (the program aired commercial free).
We're sorry that the emperor has no clothes but don't blame the comedy writers for sending up the obvious.

And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces.

No higher calling? A line like that only works because in real life the Bully Boy has made statements like that about teachers and mothers and assorted other groups before. It's completley meaningless and for the writers to put it in the part where Bottoms is talking about the lives lost (and saying he's seen "the pictures" -- not of coffins!) makes it especially biting and strong.

Bottoms is giving empty lip service (he captured that perfectly!) when reciting the lines on "sacrifice." The character he's playing is infamous not just for "Bring it on" but also for the "brave" sacrifice of giving up sweets when Operation Enduring Falsehood began. Judging by the size of the Bully's gut during the 2004 campaign, that's just one more promise he broke.

Here are the words of Osama bin Laden.

That line may have crossed the line since in real life Bully Boy's gone from "Wanted Dead or Alive" to "Who cares?" But we think with brave writing, you give a little leeway to the ones willing to go out on limb since so many people just recycle the obvious. Here were writers trying to send up the Bully Boy and coming up with things that even he would never say.

Yes, we're focusing a great deal on the writing -- that's because there really wasn't much action. Bottoms basically stood at the podium for about an hour. The extras they got to play the crowd were perfection. If only the real Bully Boy's speech could be greeted with such silence, huh? Would that not say once and for all that the tide has turned, hit the lights and go home because Bully Boy is so out of here?

Bottoms deserves an Emmy. He not only had the mannerisms down (from the idiotic blank expression to that smug smile), he also demonstrated the core of the character: a man completely divorced from reality, willing to resort to any lie to fool the people.

We do have some concerns about future episodes. The real-time thing has never really worked (even with the drama 24, you're talking about a specialized audience -- read "small"). It was a bravo performance from Bottoms. Okay, we saw it, we know he can do it. Now stick to rounding out the supporting cast.

Obviously Bully's the madcap one, so he needs a sidekick who's a little more serious and a lot more prissy. We think they should create a character named Cheney who goes around hiding maps of the Middle East and stroking his stuffed cat that he calls Boo-Boo Kitty WMD. We think Jonathan Winters would be perfection in the role.

Yeah, it's a steal from Laverne & Shirley but imagine the opening credits as they skip down Pennsylvania Avenue singing "Give us any treaty we'll break it . . ."

And think of how humorous it would be if Bottoms had a big "B" on all his outfits. Especially if they dressed him up in military garb! The AWOL Bully in military garb would bring the house down. It would be "high-larious" to use a word none of the kids are saying but What I Like About You tries to convince us they are.

The biggest obstacle we can see is the lack of sex appeal. We're sure Bottoms tickled everyone's funny bone Tuesday night but with that squat figure and the hair that screams "I Remember Mama!" we're just not sure that people would tune in each Tuesday. There's got to be some eye candy and, frankly, what we saw on our screens Tuesday night was physically repugnant, if not repulsive.

So we started wondering who they could bring on to up the sex quotient?

Then we remembered that Nick Lachey. He truly has no career beyond serving as a display model for Jessica Simpson. So what about Lachey?

He's already guested on Hope & Faith this year as well as Charmed. We suggest that they bring him on. (Bring Him On! We even amuse ourselves!) Granted, with his fading teen-throb looks and stiff mannerism, there's not much he'd be believable as. Then we remembered how a certain hairball was all the rage in the nineties until he became All Too Human and now hosts a chat & chew. Maybe a character who had something to do with the press would work for Lachey?

We were just brain storming and trying to come up with the wildest premise, high concept comedy, when we thought, "What if he regularly attends press conferences and asks really stupid questions?" Okay, it could work (and wouldn't require Lachey to stretch as an "actor"), but what's the back story?

Here's the high concept part, he's not really a reporter! No, he's not. He's a male porn star. Maybe a male prostitute!

Now we know that seems unbelievable and could never happen -- a male prostitute/porn star in a White House press conference! -- but comedy is about inflating reality. So suspend your disbelief and just picture Lachey in that role. We even have a name for the character: Jeff Guckert! "Guckert!" It's got yucks all over it (at least we hope those are yucks) -- just saying it makes you laugh.

So we've got the sidekick Cheney (Winters) and we've got the sex appeal factor with Guckert (Lachey). But we needed a strong first season storyline to make sure that the show gets picked up for the fall. What could the story arc be? We thought of a coming out episode for the Bully but Ellen's already 'been there, done that, shocked the Baptists.' So what's left? We finally had to put the storyline arc on hold and focus on something else. But that was okay because our brainstorming had underscored how Bottoms would be playing a character who repeatedly screws up. That means we need a catch phrase!

Fonzie had "Aaaay." Arnold had, "What you talking 'bout Willis?" Dee had "I'm telling!" What could be Bully's catch phrase?

We had trouble with this one. Maybe when ever things lagged, this was one idea, Bully could start nosing around the basement apartment he shares with Cheney and saying dopey things like, "Those weapons of mass destruction have to be around here somewhere." But then we thought, "Surely no one would be stupid enough to laugh at that." Not after all the lives lost, right? No one would, right? They'd be embarrassed to show their face if they laughed at that, right?

So what about, if every time the show lagged, Bottoms turned to the camera (a la Norman Fell) and asked, "What Downing Street Memo?" We think it would bring the house down, show after show.

Bottoms proved Tuesday night that he's perfectly captured the Bully Boy's essence (aggressive posturing and little activity in the brain). But we worry that if the show isn't fleshed out with other characters and other sets, it's a one trick pony. We hope that Gelbart, or whomever was behind the hilarity on Tuesday, we'll give serious consideration to bringing on a supporting cast. Maybe a someone who worships the boss and always almost calls him her "husband" while sporting a hair cut that appears to be a homage to Peanut's Lucy?

We finally did figure out the season one arc that would make the network pick up the show for this fall: impeachment!

All season long, Bottoms would play the bumbling fool and all around him people would be revealed to be liars (and worse) as we worked up to the season ending cliffhanger where Bottoms gets told the House has just voted to impeach him. As the shot tightens, Bottoms turns to the camera and says "What Downing Street Memo?" Freeze frame, stamp on production credit and then a dissolve.

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