Sunday, February 27, 2011

TV: Another failed sitcom from Fox

Are you one of the people who've been missing Carpoolers? Or maybe you've wondered what Rules of Engagement would be like without Oliver Hudson (who's grown delightful in his role) and the two strong actresses (Megyn Price and Bianca Kajlich)? If so, Fox just knows they have a show for you in Traffic Light.


Traffic Light is the latest computer generated, soul-less half-hour from Fox and it replaces Running Wilde -- apparently because it takes Running Wilde's worst quality and multiplies it many times over. Running Wilde starred Will Arnett and should have been interesting for that reason alone. He played a rich, do-nothing, male socialite whose ex-girlfriend comes back into his life with their daughter. At that point, there was enough to play with to make for a promising show; however, that's not what the boyz wanted. They didn't want a romantic comedy, they didn't want a show about men and women, they wanted to niche program to the extreme and cast Keri Russell as Arnett's old flame because they didn't think she could do funny.

The joke was on creators Mitchell Hurwitz, Jim Vallely and Will because Keri could do funny (even we were surprised) and that only made the show worse. When the former Felicity-star is given nothing to do but is still wringing out laughs, it just makes the show's flaws all the more noticeable and it just really brings home how dated and tired the whole thing is. See Keri was supposed to be Mary Tyler Moore. Not Mary of the self-titled show, mind you, Mary of The Dick Van Dyke Show. For that one, Mary was hired to be the straight woman and look pretty. Funny would happen near her, sometimes around her, but she was just there to look pretty.

That's all Keri was hired for too. The reason The Dick Van Dyke Show ran for 158 episodes but Running Wilde couldn't even make it a full season has to do with the fact that Carl Reiner worships funny. And when he and the writers found that Mary Tyler Moore could in fact crack up the studio audience, that wasn't a problem, that was a gift and they made sure to give her more to do as a result.

Maybe if Running Wilde had been taped before a studio audience, the boyz would have been forced to stop creating all these intricate subplots for David Cross (Keri's boyfriend on the show), the butler and everyone else and actually figure out how to integrate Keri into the show as something other than Scold? Kerri's finest moments came in the episode where Puddle's boyfriend's father thought Will was coming on to him while Puddle's boyfriend thought Keri was doing the same to him. More episodes like that and far less about the missing Andy (Cross) who's gotten lost on the estate and the show might have had a future.

If Running Wilde never got going because it couldn't stop tripping itself, do you really think Traffic Light's going to be zipping down the comedy freeway?

The show has five regular characters and revolves around three. David Denman plays Mike, Nelson Franklin plays Adam and Kris Marshall plays Ethan. To prevent some viewers from being freaked out by all the longing glances the three men share with one another and the touchy-feely moments that never seem to end, Mike has a wife Lisa (Liza Lapira) and Adam has a live-in girlfriend Callie (Aya Cash). But come on, we all know Adam's dying to have his way with Mike.

The boyz met in college and you really do keep expecting Adam to blurt out a monologue, similar to the one Winona Ryder did when she guest starred on Friends, about making out with Mike in college. There's male bonding and then there's . . . well . . . bondage.


Had the show aired in the 50s or 60s it would have been a put-upon, like the sketch Fred MacMurray, Franchot Tone, Ray Milland and Lynne Overman do in Star Spangled Rhythm. On Traffic Light, the three men are forever getting together, planning to get together or on the phone with each other.

Marshall's Ethan is completely unbelievable as a ladies' man but, even if the actor could pull it off, you'd still be left to wonder when Ethan ever found time to hook up with women? The brothers on My Three Sons weren't this close and they shared a bedroom.

Cash and Lapira exist solely to play wet blanket and dampen the proceedings. The audience is supposed to be thinking, "If the gals weren't around, the fun those boys could have!" But anyone who thinks about that too long is going to be left with the feeling that what series creators Adir Miller and Bob Fisher really wanted to film was a same-sex love triangle but they didn't have the guts to go all the way.

That could have actually worked with the three male leads. Instead, we're supposed to buy them as just friends and that doesn't work at all.

Fox has a bomb on its hands. It's trying to pretend like it doesn't. Weeks ago we got four episodes. We took a pass because we had nothing nice to say about the show. Which led to messages and calls of, "So-and-so liked it! He called it a romantic comedy!' First off, anyone calling this show revolving around three men a romantic comedy isn't fit to review anything. Second of all, it really just strikes us as the usual Fox mid-season.

Each fall, Fox promises hits galore. It generally gets one show that over-performs in the ratings, one that's a critics' darling and under-performs and a lot that hit the chopping block. So when spring approaches, dragging mid-season program changes with it, Fox has pretty much worn out the critics and they'll praise just about anything.

It's worth noting that Fox's prime time line up started in the spring of 1987 with the network announcing it would build and become a full blown network but, twenty-four years later, it still hasn't made the transition. Back in those first months, Fox only programmed for Sundays and Saturdays. And, no, Saturdays wasn't Cops and America's Most Wanted. Twenty-four years later and they're still a net-lette unable to program three hours of prime time Mondays through Saturday.

Since they have to fill so much less air time, what they do put on should be so much better. Or that's what you'd think until you watch Traffic Light or Til Death or Do Not Disturb or Back To You or The War At Home . . . Need we go further?

Maybe we do need to continue because Fox keeps doing this. A friend who's involved with a Fox exec gave us some depressing news which indicates Fox will never get its act together. Last spring, she repeatedly pushed for Fox to try and pick up The New Adventures of Old Christine when CBS cut it and/or Ghost Whisperer. She pointed out that Christine was a sitcom CBS had not only tossed to another night but counted on to open that night and the show was averaging eight million viewers an episode when it got the axe. On Fox, for a scripted show, that is a mega hit. We agreed with her that Christine would have been the perfect match with Raising Hope this season. She argued that Ghost Whisperer -- which won its Friday night time slot every week -- would be perfect to pair with Supernatural since Smallville can never really grow up no matter how old Tom Welling gets. But she was shot down. CORRECTION By Ava and C.I., March 1, 2011: Supernatural airs on CW. Our friend wasn't the idiot. We were. She argued that Fox picking up The Ghost Whisperer would allow it to block Supernatural (thereby finally developing Friday night with a solid anchor) and that Smallville was not going to mature any further so Fox could win Fridays in the fall of 2010 if they would pick up Ghost Whisperer. She knew what she was talking about, we were the two idiots who didn't listen closely and thought she was saying Ghost Whisperer could be paired with Supernatural. Our apologies to her for not listening closer and our apologies to you for being wrong.

That Fox isn't smart enough to develop new programming doesn't surprise us, that it can't even raid other networks when hits become available is a whole other story and indicates that the net-lette may have long ago achieved as much as its destined to.
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