Sunday, February 25, 2007

TV: Aftermath leaves an aftertaste

Anyone will tell you
Just how hard it is
To make and keep a friend
Maybe they'll short sell you
Or maybe it's you
Judas in the end
-- "Jericho," words and music by Joni Mitchell, first appears on Miles of Aisles

The producers of CBS' nonhit soap opera Jericho could use some of Joni Mitchell's wisdom. So could the remaining viewers -- once a small flock but now they've pretty much split on the ugly proceedings. Jericho is an ugly piece of crap.

In fact, we think a realistic pitch meeting on this show would have gone something like this, "It's about crappy things that happen to crappy people and we're sure some crappy audience will wallow in it."

They could be "sure" like that before American Idol came along to kick its ass each week. Who knew we'd one day find ourselves grateful for Fox's high school talent show?

The show stars ugly and its name its Skeet Ulrich. He's called Jake Green and that may just be because in the decade since he was (wrongly) compared to Johnny Depp, he's taken on a bloat that's left the face with some awful angles. (Teeny bops, we warn you again.) For reasons unknown, though we suspect vanity, acting has never been a skill Ulrich has sought which is why, at 37, he finds himself still stuck playing little boy lost.

Jake Green is lost among the wilderness of nuclear aftermath. It's no On The Beach. But then it's message isn't against nuclear warfare. It's flying it's anti flags all over the place, but No Nukes isn't the message.

What is? How about No Women?

A friend who writes for episodic television and gets lost in the intricacies frequently, when hitting the sauce heavy, wonders about The Lone Gunmen and the episode where a plane almost flew into the WTC and whether that was supposed to prepare the American people for what was to come on 9-11? We'd be more concerned about what Jericho is supposed to prepare us for.

Apparently, come the nuclear attack, all good and bad women are supposed to make like Bonnie Tyler and start rasping, "I need a hero, I'm holding out for a hero . . ." Since the best that fictionalized programming can offer up is Skeet, we'd suggest women learn to be their own heroes and strongly suggest you study just what uses Heddy (the always amazing Jennifer Jason Leigh) can find for a pair of stilleto heels in Single White Female.

The producers of this show know no Heddy, know no woman who can do a damn thing other than stand on the sidelines nervously while waiting for the men to do.

Consider us optimists but, in the aftermath of a nuclear attack, we would have thought a survival instinct would kick in. On Jericho, the women grab the pom-poms.

Gerald McRaney shows up, largely as a cautionary tale to Skeet on what happens when the looks are shot to hell, and Pamela Reed's left to spend all her time trying to get people to save him in one way or another. After this happens repeatedly, you're left wondering if Reed has ever thought to put half that energy into her own life instead of being the woman behind the man?

Lennie James plays another ugly. His name is Robert Hawkins and we're supposed to be hot on his mystery and trying to figure out whether he is an FBI agent and whether he is working with the people who planned the mass bombings across the United States or whether he was attempting to stop them? After seeing Robert order his wife and kids -- who appear to have had a restraining order against him prior to the bombing -- around repeatedly, you start to wonder if wife Darcy shouldn't look through her shoe collection for a sharp heel?

When China Beach aired on ABC in the 90s there was at least KC, a con artist with a heart of silver, if not gold, and a desire to profit (to put it mildly). No such woman exist in Jericho largely because no women exist in the town. It was apparently a test village for Stepford Wives before the bombing.

That's the only explanation for the women who do nothing and seem happy to do nothing. The most action a woman ever takes part in is stalling some harm while waiting for the man or men to arrive who will save the day.

It's really that pathetic and that sick.

If there's a need for a television show about American cities being bombed (and we're not sure that there is), it should be so that Americans can see how resourceful they might be. Instead, viewers are told that fat, stocky men will do whatever needs doing and woman, if they're lucky, may breed.

Jon Turteltaub, a creator and one of the show's three producers, is fond of making statements that seem high minded such as this to Reuters, "Most of us are pretty wonderful during the good times, but our true character comes out when we're confronted with tragedy and disasters. True leadership appears, and really hard choices have to be made."

That sounds really good until you watch even one episode and grasp that "true character" (like True Grit?) is something for males and there's no interest at all in women. Hard choices will be made by and for men and women just go along with them.

In the same Reuters interview, Turteltaub gets closer to the truth with these statements, "If people had no fear of nuclear bombs, then this show would kind of suck. But if America was in a panic over nuclear bombs, we probably couldn't make the show." The show doesn't "kind of suck," it sucks completely and its statements like these that have many wondering if the show exists to turn nukes into a video game and lower America's opposition to them?

Turteltaub would probably argue, "All will be revealed in time." But, as one actor working on the show told us, it's all so damn murky that intent remains a mystery.

What's not murky, what's right there to see plainly on your TV screens, is that women do nothing and should do nothing. That message doesn't need to emerge, it's been at the forefront episode after episode where 'active' for the female characters has meant a 'damsel in distress' moment or two while we all wait for the men to arrive such as when ex-cons posed as cops and tormented a farmhouse.

Presumably, a nuclear aftermath produces a ton of dust and the women have all busied themselves with housework because, otherwise, we can't image what they do all day when not making cow eyes as they fret over the men of the town.

We think that's a really ugly message and hope that, should something like the show ever happen, women would embrace their inner Xenas and Gabrielles and come out fighting. Love her, hate her or be left indifferent, Hillary Clinton's running for president. Ditto the qualifer and note that Condi Rice is currently Secretary of State (and Anger as Wally and Cedric point out quite often). Ourselves, we'd love to see a guest spot by Gloria Steinem, Maxine Hong-Kingston or Robin Morgan where the women are gathered and questions about identity and wants and needs are explored. But, probably, such a scene would play out with Pamela Reed and the other women stalling throughout the attempted consciousness raising for the men to rescue them before any self-awareness set in.

In times of crisis, Jericho tells you, natural leaders emerge and that's based on something other than the ability to lead, it's based on whether or not you've got a Y chromosome. We don't buy into the belief that the dangling Y means extra intelligence or natural leadership but, come the nuclear aftermath, women should keep in mind that the heavily worshipped area, in this society, is also a very sensitive one. Aim the stilleto there as well.
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