Sunday, March 16, 2008

TV: Nothing-ness

Sunday night on Fox, Unhitched aired its second episode. The sitcom's focus was the dating scene (as it will be most episodes) and the main plot was about Jack (Craig Bierko), newly divorced, meets perfection only to discover she had a skin flap, shaped like a large shrimp. on her back. As much as she seemed the right person for him, he wasn't sure he could handle the whole package.


Watching television last week, we felt him, we really felt him. Amy Goodman elected to put George McGovern on the air (March 11th) and if you're thinking "Hillary supporter at last!" . . . Don't be so naive.

Amy Goodman's made her show all about Bambi-Love. It's made her crazy, crazy. So if McGovern's on the show, you should know something's up. Something was up.

Goodman ignored her other guest -- failed politician and book author Jim Hightower -- and pressed McGovern. For those not old enough to remember, McGovern can't stand up. Never has been able to and many women suffer the war wounds from Miami 1972 to this day when he demonstrated just how craven he could be.

So there was McGovern, who endorsed Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, gushing over Barack. He would offer excuses that he endorsed early ("Well, I endorsed Hillary last October"). He would say he only endorsed out of friendship. He would claim he couldn't take back an endorsement. In fact, that exchange ran like this:

GEORGE McGOVERN: I would stay with Hillary. I don't change my mind on things like this in the middle of the battle. I made the decision to back her, and I'll stay with her. I don't want to be jumping around from one candidate to another. And as I said, we've got two excellent candidates here, both well qualified. And I'll be out campaigning for whichever one wins. Am I ducking your question? Yes.
GEORGE McGOVERN: Because I want to stay with the person I chose six months ago.

If it was shocking to see the dottering old fool who disappointed so many back in the day (a story Goody never tells), it's only because you weren't paying attention. If you were paying attention you might have been reminded of how Goody had Hillary supporters on three times prior -- only three times. They weren't solo guests, unlike the Barack groupies who have even gotten the full hour ("Barack Groupies for the hour!"). They were all asked about the illegal war while Bambi Groupies never had the question raised to them about their candidate (whose then-foreign advisor revealed to the BBC two weeks ago that Bambi's 'pledge' of withdrawing combat troops from Iraq, if elected, in 16 months wasn't really a pledge, a promise or anything binding outside the cult grounds). Jim Hightower (brought on for no known reason other than possibly so people could laugh at the ridiculous mustache and accent) wasn't pressed to find any good in Hillary and volunteered none.

It's called 'journalism' -- if you're extremely idiotic.

It's similar to the crap The New York Times pulled last week. No links to trash. Head Docker Boy took his mini-van to town to confront Jim Downey on the 'bias' shown towards Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live. Jim Downey has never had favorable bias to any Democrat with the possible exception of Joe Lieberman before he was finally forced out of the closet and had to stop pretending to be a Democrat.

But it was working the refs and it works because, frankly, so many are so stupid.

You saw it at play in the two post-Tina Fey Saturday Night Live's as the few pro-Hillary sites on the left got tickled over the sketches and laughed at them, posted the video clips and thought they were seeing something wonderful.

They weren't. They were seeing the way SNL regularly tears apart Democrats.

Amy Poehler may confuse things because she still can't do a Hillary impression and still plays the character as she does every other one. To zoom in on just one of the skits the program had to offer, they did a parody of the who-do-you-want-answering-the-phone-at-3:oo a.m. advertisement the Clinton campaign ran in Texas and Ohio.

That wasn't funny. It was sexist (a hallmark of the really bad show these days) and it played into ever stereotype imaginable.

No pro-Hillary site should have ever been taken in but some were. The skit was the commercial and the thrust of it was that Hillary would say anything to be president. Obama's flubs and nervousness was not meant to capture Barack as he is. It was intended to portray Hillary as manipulative. If you missed it, Hillary's in cold cream and curlers and if you didn't find that offensive, maybe you'll be rushing out to buy a boxed set of The Donna Reed Show shortly. If so, prepare to be shocked because Reed's 'domestic goddess' (who does get a job in the later episodes) was far ahead of the portrayal of Hillary that SNL served up.

Saturday at Iraq Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier Investigation, Abby Hiser testified during the panel on Divide To Conquer: Gender and Sexuality in the Military. She explained that rumors were spread about her when she tried to be friends with all of those serving with her (rumors that she must be sexually available):

So I learned my lesson and I kept to myself; however, now I was labeled again -- as rude, mean, snooty or a witch. Or the b-word, I should say.

[. . .]

Another issue, that there needs to be more respect and professionalism in the training field. I was disrespected by an ROTC soldier during a summer assignment where he inappropriately patted me down during a training exercise.

He was supposed to be searching me as I was playing the role of an enemy . . . And he [grabbed] my chest with both hands and like patted me down inappropriately and he walked away laughing like it was a joke. And he just laughed with his buddies, "Oh look at her, she really enjoyed that, she liked it." Like it was just no problem.

That should be horrifying but, as was noted on the panel, that attitude's all around, even in the peace movement.

And if you caught Saturday Night Live last night, you saw it on full display because what is Saturday Night Live post-Tina Fey but a stinking cesspool?

A little nothing actor (who has no name value at present but apparently Willard Scott's enjoying his retirement so that's all SNL could scare up) played host and was in one sexist sketch after another including a game show with three female contestants where he specialized in asking 'questions' such as, "What's your situation?" Meaning, are you involved. One (played by Amy) wasn't interested and was dubbed a lesbian. One got taken to the isolation room. It was supposed to be cute and funny but it was pretty damn appalling. (Appalling just on the THEY HAVE NO IDEAS LEFT! meter was that they again substituted an opening monologue with a singing host -- it didn't work the week prior either and they seem to be raiding Studio Yada Yada Yada.)

We thought about Abby Hiser's testimony during Weekend Update as well. That's when they lashed out at the woman married to a man who was caught in a sex scandal last week. That scandal with a prostitute was apparently so funny that they had to make it an opening sketch where a governor forced out of office in disgrace was nothing but a sleezy pervert chaser -- again, SNL's Jim Downey is no friend to Democrats. Oh Really, the name of the Weekend Update bit, is never funny. Really. But that wasn't what had us thinking of Hiser.

It was Tracy Morgan, character actor and non-star on 30 Rock.

Tracy was on as a rebuttal to Tina Fey and we're sure the Docker Boys of The New York Times and sexists everywhere were amused by his screeching rant.

In a world that didn't find sexism funny, his tired ass would have been booed off the stage.

While Fey offered up a pro-woman statement that was also very funny, Tracy Morgan just wanted to yell and rip apart.

We really think he represented the Bambi Groupies (of which he is one) accurately. We don't think it was funny, but we haven't been laughing this campaign season at the Bash The Bitch games. Games? At this point, we may need to refer to them as the Olympics because they are non-stop.

Apparently unable to find anything positive about his candidate of choice to say -- a chronic condition of the Bambi Groupies -- he lashed out at Hillary (ditto) repeatedly and even went so far to state she wasn't qualified, that she was just the wife of and that Robin Givens wasn't the heavy weight champion of the world just because she was once married to Mike Tyson.

The only thing sadder and more offensive than the sexism was hearing so many in the crowd eat it up. Hillary's an attorney, one appointed to a national post by then-president Jimmy Carter. She's done corporate law, she's done the legal clinics. She's been a US Senator for seven years now which is four years longer than Barack and, yes, she was First Lady for eight years and maybe the smears about her from that time period only work so well because a Stepford Wife's been First Lady for seven years now?

It was offensive to listen to him bark out one sexist remark after another and it was offensive to grasp this really was all the tired show had to offer anymore. But intent upon reaching a new low, the almost forty Morgan had to refer to Tina Fey as "my girl" and call her a bitch.

For the record, Tracy Morgan, Tina Fey's not a "girl" -- yours or otherwise -- and you're far too old to be pulling off the young punk/thug act you insist upon recycling. For the record, you're damn lucky NBC didn't fire your ass last fall when you showed up on the set with your ankle bracelet -- your court-ordered ankle bracelet. Many minor characters have been dumped from a show for far less. You're damn lucky that Tina Fey can write a character you can play and write it in such a way (largely via other characters) to make it seem so much more complex than it actually is because your acting 'technique' can basically be boiled down to vocal volume.

We didn't like the bit when it aired and we certainly didn't enjoy hearing about what was said by Morgan to get 'pumped' for that bit before going onto the set.

But, as we watched the shouter busted for drunk driving and who faced charges of sexual harassment, we thought back to all the attempts to run women off networks for so much less.

The behavior wasn't just televised live from New York over the airwaves, it's been encouraged for some time.

We saw Seth and Amy, two losers not fit to do the Update, giggle over it and treat it like it was funny. Without another woman present, Amy didn't have an ad-lib. She just disgraced herself yet again. (Like when she screwed up the Brita Water Filter joke that should have Lorne pulling her from the Update.)

And we thought about the pro-Hillary sites and wondered if they caught the bit and, if they had, did they grasp that it's been anti-Hillary all along? Tina Fey's monologue was Tina Fey. The opening skit of that episode, the debate, was supposed to have pot shots at both candidates but was undercut by the fact that Amy Poehler can't create a character. SNL was working up to this moment and didn't need The New York Times to push it there. The joke about where Bill Clinton was at three in the morning two Saturdays ago should have been a tip-off even for the slow.

We thought about Unhitched and wondered if we could just flick off Jim Downey from Saturday Night Live, the way the skin flap is flicked off near the end of Unhitched, and, if that happened, would it mean any real improvement or is the sexism so deeply ingrained into the show now that it doesn't really matter who's in charge?

We thought about Washington Week on PBS Friday and all the nonsense it offered and who the skin flap would be in that broadcast? We decided it would have to be Time's Michael Duffy who really was an embarrassment of mental poverty. At one point, he was informing Gwen that caucus participants (not voters, Duffy) had to tear off strips of paper in Texas to 'vote.' ("They're tearing off strips of paper and voting.") No, Michael, they weren't. They signed a sign sheet for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. (In Fort Worth, the sign in sheets are missing for one precinct. Know your facts before you try to gas bag.)

Duffy was the skin flap and, if you flicked him off, what were you left with? Gwen, she must be taking vitamins, was actually on the ball enough to note that caucus results in Texas are not final (despite the Bambi Wins! headlines) and ABC's Martha Raddatz must have shimmered and fluffed in the green room because she got straight to the point during her designated time gas bagging. She noted, "I think the administration is pretty much thrilled with the way things are going." That would be in Iraq, and, yes, the administration is thrilled -- partly due to a compliant press and partly due to rubbing themselves raw against a mattress of denial. Friday, Cameron W. Barr (Washington Post) reported that General David "Petraeus, who is preparing to testify to Congress next month on the Iraq war, said in an interview that 'no one' in the U.S. and Iraqi governments 'feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation' or in the provision of basic public services." Raddatz offered that this "tells me things are not going well." (It's sad that the increase in violence didn't tell her that, yes, but corporate reporter.) Mainly, while noting the forced outing of Admiral William Fox Fallon, Raddatz repeatedly made the point you don't generally hear from ABC News staff -- that the military is under civilian control. She seemed confused on the issue of endorsements for those retired from the military (retired generals have made endorsements or not as they see fit in any political campaign) but we were glad to know that at least one person at ABC grasped the military was under civilian control. "The military does not set policy," she stated firmly. "They execute." We wish she'd carry that wisdom to the White House.

And then we were back thinking of Democracy Sometimes! and how Goody is so obviously the skin flap of that show. On Friday, she decided to finally note IVAW's hearings. They started on Thursday. She had other things to do. Primarily, last week, to turn her allegedly national show into As New York Turns. Even with a prostitution angle, it did not make for riveting TV.

Neither does Unhitched. It wants really bad to be this decades Seinfeld With Fart Jokes. Thus far (we've seen three episodes and read two more scripts), it's not working.

The only thing that is working so far is Rashida Jones who plays Kate. Sprung from The Office, she's given more airtime but less of a character. In last Sunday's episode she thought she was dating a musician (who "looks like an underwear model," gushed Tommy). Turns out he 'plays' air guitar as she found that out, to her mortification, while attending a 'concert' with her friends. There were no funny lines written and it's a testament to Jones' onscreen likability and her talent that viewers may not have noticed that. Unhitched thinks she's Elaine but Julia Louis-Dreyfus was given funny lines.

After Jones, the only thing positive to say is that Shaun Majumder may develop a character. He currently plays Dr. Freddy Sahgal and is offering a great deal more than what's on the page. Were the writers able to tailor a character around what he's giving, they might have an interesting character. Instead, they saddle him with George Constanza moments that will never work.

Tommy doesn't work period and that's partly due to the bad writing and partly due to Johnny Sneed giving a really bad performance. He's supposed to be the Kramer but there's no writing there. If there's a gross-out joke (and this series is the brain child of the Farrelly Bros.), he gets it. Whether it fits or not. He moves surprisingly slow onscreen for a man not in his seventies. He's also too laid back for the frenetic and frantic character the writers think they're creating. It's Kramer after two years on Maui.

And then there's Craig.

Bierko, Bierko. We're hard pressed to think of another talented actor who's been so miscast so often. Watching him in this role is finger nails on a chalk board. He's the lead character, Jack, and he's supposed to be the Seinfeld (Jerry) of the bunch. It's not going to happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not even if actual talented writers were hired.

Johnny Sneed might have been able to play the part. The Jerry needs to be laid back. That's how Jack is written. Throwing Craig Bierko into the part is like asking him zip up the Pacific Coast Highway with his parking brake on. It is not an enchanting sight.

Bierko has achieved greatness twice on the big screen. The Long Kiss Goodnight used his edgy intensity very well and allowed for a memorable villain. The hideous Sour Grapes was only watchable due to Bierko. The latter was written, directed and destroyed by Larry Davis who was one of the driving forces behind Seinfeld. With no commercial breaks to create pacing, Sour Grapes largely provided no laughs. But it did provide some strong moments for Bierko and, if anyone had paid attention to that film, they would have grasped why Bierko could never play the Jerry role. Even Davis, who knows the role better than anyone outside of Seinfeld himself, didn't cast Bierko in the Jerry role (it went to Steven Weber).

Craig Bierko is too on, too intense and too mercurial to be the reflective character. It's against type and it would never work. So you get the actor doing a lot of little things in scenes where he should be standing still and mouthing the (bad) dialogue.

Watching the show, you have to wonder if the writers were ever in the room with or even introduced to the cast. Nothing in the scripts suggest that they have any idea who they are writing for.

The skin flap would be everyone but Rashida Jones.

And as we thought about skin flaps we thought back to the song "Perfection" on Cher's self-titled comeback from the 80s. "All my life I've been driven by perfection, pushed it to the limit every day and night, Wooh-wooh-wooh, I've been driven by perfection . . ." And we realized that the biggest problem continuing to plague television -- entertainment or public affairs -- isn't a drive towards perfection but an acceptance of apathy. That's what all the shows we caught had in common. None inspired or informed last week, none even tried to entertain. They just sort of sat there, convinced they were so much more than they were -- like some photo-negative of existensialism where each individual subtracts the essence of life until nothing's left and the people in charge of this nothing-ness expect the viewer to add facticity and round out their own non-work.
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