Sunday, August 27, 2006

TV: Washington Weak

Once a week, PBS airs Washington Week aka Washington Weak. (Air date and time varies from market to market). The show stars Gwen Ifell who suffers from many things including a surname that sounds like a follow up hit for A Flock of Seagulls. As a result, we tried not to hold it against her that she's such an obvious aficionado of the TV series Family Affair that her chosen hairstyle is a clear homage to Mrs. Beasley.

Ifell is famous for many things including once remarking that the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame by people in the administration was "only a summer scandal." Fortunately for Ifell, accuracy isn't a big thing in the gas bag biz so she remains not only still employed but also still the star/host of the show. We wouldn't call her a "moderator" and we'll get to the why of that in a bit.

Let's instead turn to some real news: Nancy Walker Lives!

And she's apparently raided Rhoda Morgenstern's jewelry box!

How else do you explain Bloomberg's Janine Zacharia who favors the right side of her mouth when speaking and apparently mistook herself for a Christmas tree and jewelry for ornaments? While some might see the ear rings alone as 'over done,' Janine demonstrates that "tacky" is a foreign concept and piles on an equally ridiculous necklace (with ten 'charms' on the chain). We kept expecting her to turn to the camera and explain that, for just $19.95, the costume jewelry could be delivered to your home in four-to-six weeks.

Wearing a 'funky' Rhoda-like sweater, Janine got a healthy chunk of air time and, in fact, the first segment was more or less a free-association monologue for her as she rambled on about Hizbollah and Lebanon. Fortunately for her, all the mavins accepted the premise that Israel's motives were pure and just and filled, as Joni Mitchell once put it, "with fantasy and fairies, rainbows and butterscotch."

That's because even conventional wisdom is a reach for Washington Weak. Instead, the guests follow the host's lead and kibitz for a half-hour. Anything more than simple patter leaves Gwen feeling and looking all fartootsteh -- like the time, a few years back, when she infamously attempted to weigh in, on air, about the First Amendment and got it so wrong that a guest dared to correct her leading to (and remember this airs on PBS) her laughable reply of "Well, whatever it says . . ."

Last week's show (or today/night's depending upon when it airs in your market) found Gwen surrounded by the types she likes: folks eager to editorialize and opine. The much maligned (oft deservedly so) Elisabeth Bumiller earned herself a scowl and exile from Gwen when she refused to offer speculation while discussing the Bully Boy's alleged National Guard service. The hint seems to have taken and all panelists now eagerly race to prove that they can offer so much more than just facts.

The big stars this week were Gwen (of course Gwen, it's always Gwen!), Janine and the Bobble Head Pundit -- from The New York Times, Helene Cooper. Did she think she was on Springer and attempting to stay loose for the head roll? Who knows? And who knows what Helene said most of the time? Watching her head dip and bob, weave and thrust on every word, we were mesmerized by the swaying earrings she appeared to have borrowed from Polly Holiday back when Holiday played Flo. There were three tiers to those earrings. Exactly who costumed Helene? And if this passes for professional dress at The Times these days, color us shocked.

Not to be outdone, Gwen Ifell went for matching slivers on her ears and around her neck. The choice must have been very taxing for Gwen -- which would explain her confusion when she attempted to note Bully Boy's comment from last Monday about the effects of the Iraq war on the country: "These are challenging times, and they're difficult times, and they're straining the psyche of our country. I understand that." Gwen phrased it thusly: "He said . . . he understands that the nation's psyche is kind of bruised -- it's not the word he used, but kind of". Kind of always passes for 'good enough' on Washington Weak.

While most might assume that a host should be prepared with the quotes she plans to note, Gwen settles for "kind of". (There is a word that follows 'kind of' and repeated attempts to decipher the word she squeals -- her voice rises and rises -- were unsuccessful. Lots of luck to the transcriptionist who posts at the show's website on Monday.)

The Iraq discussion was as trivial as everything else on the show (and we hope our review has treated the program with all the seriousness it treated the issues). A clip was shown of the Bully Boy stating "We're not leaving so long as I'm president" which led to Gwen questioning Janine about "what did the president's response tell us about what the president was really thinking?"

Damn determined to haul The Nancy Walker Show out of mothballs, Janine opened with, "He's really thinking that we're going to be there for a long time!" as she seemed to look around in anticpation of a drum roll or canned laughter. (Neither were provided.)

Gwen then turned to Helene who was so busy head bobbing and gesticulating that she must have lost her already loose grip on common sense. That would explain Helene's declaration that "so many American are getting tired of seeing these soldiers coming home dead." Seeing them where, Helene? Seeing them where?

There's a ban at Dover, so exactly where are most Americans "seeing these soldiers coming home dead"? Shortly after that, Helene almost inadvertantly struck Janine (who did flinch) while she was gesturing.

There were four guests and let's note the other two. Paul Singer (National Journal) and David Wessel (Wall St. Journal).

David, please, buy a suit that fits. He looked as though he'd borrowed David Byrne's suit from Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense tour. And let's point out the obvious, that beard doesn't convey maturity; instead it makes him look as though he's starring in Teen Wolf . . . Blitzer.

Paul would do well to learn that his body language must accompany his words. Not only did he demonstrate a lack of rhythm when he clapped his hands but he also illustrated some cognitive challenge when the phrase he was using was "snap the fingers." You do that with a finger and thumb, Paul, not by clapping together two hands.

Paul also suffered from an askew tie that looked like a clip-on and from a tendency to hold his breath whenever anyone asked him a question. (Considering how wordy they can all be, we feared Paul might pass out.) We'd also suggest that, although shaving isn't the requirement for Paul that it is for some males, he'd still be better off shaving before going on television.

If it seems like the guys aren't getting much focus, they aren't. And that's largely due to the fact that the segments they monologued in (each guest got one segment to monologue in) were the two shortest (together they didn't even add up to ten minutes). One of the segments was on the housing market and Helene felt the need to inquire: "So David, at the risk of sounding like I only care about what is happening in my neighborhood, is this localized or is it national?"

After David answers (the south's the only region that's doing well), Gwen can't resist the urge to prove that she's the Orson Bean of the newsy set by interjecting, "For the record, Helene really does only care about what happens in her neighborhood." It's those sorts of little bits that lead us to refrain from calling her a "moderator."

We're supposed to laugh, we're supposed to chuckle. But the biggest laugh was yet to come because David dared to ask, "And you?" To which Gwen replied, full of sarcasm, "No, I care about everyone."

Oh the zingers. Oh the wit. Oh the 'observations' which couldn't even pass for superficial.

The newsy show ended on a note that struck us as even more real than Gwen's laughable, facetious claim to "care about everyone." It ended with Gwen grabbing her glass as the guests grabbed their's. Gwen clinked glasses with Paul and soon everyone was clinking glasses. But, silly Gwen, no one took a sip because no toast had been delivered.

As the voice over plugs were going on, we could see Gwen giving a toast and, finally, they all took a sip. Seems as though everything got plugged except the most obvious one: "Jewelry provided by the Joan Rivers Collection." We fear she also scripted some of the zingers.

All in all, it was a very weak week.
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