Sunday, November 22, 2009

TV: The excellent and the nutty

Last week, TV finally got something right as Heather Locklear returned to her role as Amanda Woodward for the revamped Melrose Place (second hour of prime time each Tuesday on the CW). While Ella (Katie Cassidy) and Caleb (Victor Webster) waded through another scene the writers had written twelve times to many, the camera kept cutting to a pair of legs walking through the office.


As the legs finally arrived in Caleb's office and it was revealed to be Amanda Woodward, the show actually had life -- possibly for the first time since it began airing September 8th. And we're not the only ones who thought so. An actor from the original series, one who does not plan to join the revamp, pointed out to us how badly written so much of it was, but how "she just makes it work."

And indeed she does.

"And why are we spending so many man hours on a denim campaign?" Amanda asked Caleb. "And I think we both know what I mean by man hours. You could have been a leader, Caleb. But your focus shifted from your client's assets to your client's ass. You're fired."

Yes, Amanda was back.

And Heather didn't coast.

She also pulled everyone in her scenes up a level. Katie Cassidy is not a bad actress but her Ella's not been the diva or the bitch the show has long promised. A lot of the blame for that falls on the writers who constantly undercut the character's motivations. But some of that has been Cassidy's fault. Working opposite Amanda jazzed Ella up and, opposite Heather, Cassidy turned in some of her finest work so far on the show.

Early on, Amanda told her, "Good work, Ella. Maybe you're not as useless as I said." Cassidy made the choice to play the scene in a slow dawning of the insult that was just uttered and it worked perfectly making the bare moment on the page much more vivid.

There were things that worked in full and in part throughout the episode. And there were, of course, things that didn't work at all.

Connoisseurs of bad acting should be informed that the feast ends in two episodes. That's when Ashlee Simpson-Wentz departs from the show. Despite the circulating rumors, the final episode will not reveal that Violet is a robot -- though that would certainly explain the performance Simpson-Wentz has given. "Wow, cops really messed this place up," Simpson-Wentz decared last Tuesday in a voice that offered neither surprise nor life.

As we watched Simpson-Wentz struggle with pronouncing the word "totally," we remembered she had the Jessica Simpson stamp of approval. Of course, big sis's big claim to acting fame is making Catherine Bach appear to be an actress of Meryl Streep like dimensions. It was only after America saw Jessica struggle (and fail) to play Daisy Duke that Bach's skills were truly appreciated.

Simpson-Wentz has been fired. So has Colin Egglesfield who plays Auggie. And while the first firing makes perfect sense, the second's a head scratcher. Egglesfield is actually convincing in his role and he's also attractive. Shaun Sipos, by contrast, is as bland as a Ken doll. He's playing David (son of Dr. Michael Mancini). The part's an embarrassment on the page so it's hard to judge how awful Sipos is or isn't.

David's supposed to be the bad boy but, as with Ella, the writers repeatedly undercut the character by inserting soggy little moments that do nothing but weaken the character.

Weak characters? Disastrous performances?

Did someone say Raed Jarrar?

Everyone's favorite air lifted coward was still out of Iraq last week and, as usual, talking it crazy with fellow loon Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!

It was a conversation so factually challenged, it took two lunatics to pull it off.

Wednesday, Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi had vetoed the election law. Nut job Raed (click here for our previous online history with Nutso) had no knowledge base to speak from so he repeated a lot of accusations and charges and generally made calling him "dumb ass" seem redundant.

For example, take this statement from Raed:

Now, the real reason behind Mr. al-Maliki's veto might be the fact that all of the parties in the presidential council -- Mr. al-Hashemi, the Sunni; al-Hakim, the Shiite, and the two Kurdish parties, Talabani and Barzani -- they have been very vocal against this new law because of internal reasons in Iraq. They are against the open system that allows Iraqis to vote for individual candidates, rather than the old system that allowed these four parties to take a free ride on the expense of other big coalitions.

If you nodded along in agreement, we beg of you, "Put the bong down!"

"Now, the real reason behind Mr. al-Maliki's veto"? Who vetoed it? It was Tariq al-Hashemi who did the veto, Raed.

And then there's this curio: ". . .all of the parties in the presidential council -- Mr. al-Hashemi, the Sunni; al-Hakim, the Shiite, and the two Kurdish parties, Talabani and Barzani . . ." Does Raed not know that the presidency council has only three members? He's listing four. Barzani may refer to Massoud Barzani who is the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government. We say "may" because who can solve a riddle like Raed? Massoud Barzani is not a member of the presidency council. There are three members: al-Hashimi, Iraq's other vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Talabani is of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) while Barzani's political party is the Kurdistan Democratic Party -- the two are bitter rivals and, no, Talabani does not represent the KDP on the presidency council. We could delve deeper into this passage but there's so much nuttiness Raed was spouting that we have to try and note just a little more.

For example, Jabbering Jarrar went on to say, "Other speculations indicate that these four parties in the presidential council are actually using this issue to try to sabotage the plans of the US withdrawal. These four parties, the series and Shiites and presidential council have been against the US withdrawal. These four parties -- the Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds -- in the presidential council have been against the plans of the US withdrawal."

Four parties?

The presidency council is composed of three people and, repeating, the president of Iraq is not a member of the KDP. The PUK is a bitter, bitter rival of the KDP. (Only more so after the July provincial elections in the KRG.)

But Raed continues to repeat his false claims and Amy Goodman's apparently too busy attempting to decide whether or not she should get a teeth cleaning (YES!) to notice that she needs to correct him.

As for this claim that all 'four' members opposed a US withdrawal, al-Hashimi has long advocated for a withdrawal and stated that just the announcement of one would help lessen violence somewhat.

Raed foolishly declared of the Status Of Forces Agreement, "That agreement has two major deadlines. The first one has already passed successfully. It required all combat US troops -- all US combat troops to leave Iraqi cities and towns and villages by June of this year. So this did already happen." June 30th, Raed. For reality on that 'successfully' met deadline, we'll go to Dahr Jamail:

We have passed the June 30 deadline that, according to a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on November 17, 2008, was the date all US forces were to have been withdrawn from all of Iraq’s cities. Today, however, there are at least 134,000 US soldiers in Iraq -- a number barely lower than the number that were there in 2003. In addition, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified on June 9 that the United States would maintain an average of at least 100,000 troops in Iraq through fiscal year 2010.
The SOFA is a sieve, and the number of US military personnel in Iraq is remaining largely intact for now. Add to the 134,000 US soldiers almost the exact number of military contractors (132,610 and increasing), 36,061 of which, according to a recent Department of Defense report, are US citizens.
While the military and most corporate media would like you to believe that from now on no US soldiers will step foot in Iraqi cities, US military patrols in them are ongoing and will continue.
In addition, there has been an assumption that all US military bases within Iraqi city limits would be moved. For example, US Army Forward Operating Base Falcon, home to 3,000 US troops, is clearly within the city limits of Baghdad. But US military officials, working with Iraqis in the US-supported Iraqi government,
have other ideas. "We and the Iraqis decided it wasn’t in the city," a military official told the Christian Science Monitor. Thus, city lines are redrawn, to the convenience of the US military, to render certain bases and forward operating bases "outside" of Iraqi cities.
While military commanders claim to have handed over 142 military outposts around Iraq to the Iraqis, US troops
will continue to occupy 320 other outposts around Iraq.

But Raed hails it as a success. Poor, stupid Raed. We could go through more of his errors, lies and spin but doing so leaves us feeling as cheap as Raed looks. (Click here for Thursday's "Iraq snapshot" which notes other of Raed's insanities.) Raed lives in a pretend world and he's due back any minute, just as soon as he can bounce off the padded walls.

Banging her head against the walls is what we assume Stephanie Jacobsen has spent the last weeks doing. If you ever doubt how bad the writing's been on Melrose thus far, look at Lauren. Last week's episode, the tenth of the reboot, found Lauren sweet on David, just like Riley (Jessica Lucas) claimed to have always known! OMG! And it was off to Lauren returning home after David texted her. He'd decorated her apartment (that she shares with Ella) to look like fall.

And as you watched all leading up to that, you may have had to ask yourself, "Wait, Lauren's the one turning tricks, right?"


Lauren, a medical student with tuition problems, was forced to become a prostitute. And, in fact, still is one. But the writers remember that detail and forget that detail repeatedly.

In less capable hands, Lauren would be another Violet but Jessica Lucas actually can act. Michael Rady can also act and he plays Billy Campbell Jr. or, as the scripts say, Jonah Miller.

Can the bad scripts be overcome? Heather and Katie Cassidy managed to do so last week and Lucas and Rady do it every week.

What apparently can't be overcome is hair and wardrobe. As we watched the last half of the episode, a big party that was supposed to prove Riley was a fashion model in the making, that Ella could handle p.r. and that Amanda was back, we puzzled over the decision to outfit Ella in what appeared to be a costume from Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! From the ugly silver fabric, to the tying off on one shoulder, the dress screamed: "Don't take me off the hanger!" But someone did. Someone stupidly thought this was what Ella would wear to make a (favorable) impression.

And that's when it hit us how this Melrose still hasn't managed to differentiate the characters in looks. Everyone dresses the same. And when they do go for something different, it's a huge mistake. Like Ella's party dress. Or David's decision to wear a shirt in his romance-Lauren-scenes that had the collar ripped out. Tip to wardrobe: When the actor already has overly narrow shoulders, you don't draw attention to them.

Amanda's back. She's planning who knows what but, whatever it is, it's big. She hired a woman to make out with Ella and offer her a job to test Ella's loyalties to the company. What she's up to will unfold slowly and, hopefully, give viewers reason to be patient a little longer.

The first nine episodes did not offer much for viewers which is why ratings sank each week and Melrose was coming in the last week with less of an audience than the cancelled TBL. Heather Locklear (whom we know) is amazing. She's one of the most underrated actresses on TV. And she can work miracles and has many times before. If she saves Melrose this year -- well it wouldn't be the first time.

But we worry that for some viewers, Heather's return comes too late and we especially worry that the show lacks Darren Starr's touch. Specifically, Michael Rady needs a stylist real quick. But more importantly, they're hauling a weak actor out of mothballs to play a love interest for Amanda. A weak actor who was already looking long in the tooth (and sick) back in 1999.

If you're looking for a reason to watch, Heather Locklear's offering plenty but one thing about the shows Heather's saved in the past: They brought her on as they got better. Amanda's return has people talking. If the show runners are smart, they'll serve up the best they can offer during the period of this renewed interest. If not, they'll not only have wasted a lot of money, they'll have wasted Heather Locklear and, to us and a lot of other TV watchers, that's a felony that should come with hard time.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }