Sunday, December 30, 2012

TV: The New Conformity

If there was a word for the fall 2012 television, it was "conformity."  Or maybe 'the new conformity'?

And, no, that's not a good thing.


For women, it especially wasn't a good thing.  The '00s are over and, apparently with them, the lone female fighter (someone warn Anna Silk in case the trend spreads to Canada and threatens Lost Girl).  No Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Garner, Patricia Arquette, Jill Hennessy, etc.  And while team Nikita continues on the CW, Fringe wraps up with three episodes next month and Fox's 'ideal' replacement for the Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson series appears to be The Following starring Kevin Bacon.  So low have expectations fallen that the idea of making the sidekick for  Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock Holmes a female Watson is seen as an "advancement."  (Miller and Lucy Liu work very well together and Elementary is the only promising drama CBS offered this fall.)

Sitcom women fared even worse.  Where was NPR?

Fall 2011, they were talking the 'trend' story that wasn't and how the season was all about men losing jobs and women having them.  Fall 2012 was all about women losing jobs.  While The Middle used the plot twist to illustrate the economy and not to demoralize Frankie (Patricia Heaton -- who continues to be amazing in this role), New Girl and Up All Night used unemployment to humiliate the female characters.

If that didn't make sense to you, your mistake apparently was expecting the shows to make sense.  For example, what kind of school waits until the start of the fall semester to tell a teacher she's laid off? Before you say "only on Fox!," hold on a moment.  Up All Night was just as ridiculous and demonstrated that there were no brains behind the sitcom.  Ava (Maya Rudolph) and Reagan (Christina Applegate) worked on Ava's daytime TV talk show last season, remember?  This season opens with the show cancelled.

How embarrassing.

Emily Spivey's a piece of trash out to damage women.  In the process, she can't stop revealing just how ignorant of her own industry she is.  You may remember Yvonne Encanto bought up the Ava talk show near the end of last season.  Why?  Because it was a hit.  So how did it get cancelled in the fall?

If most TV viewers don't get it, that's fine.  But Spivey's supposed to be in the industry and chose to write about a daytime TV talk show.  What we're getting at is Ava was syndicated daytime television.  It does not just vanish.  Remember Roseanne's ratings bomb of a daytime TV talk show.  Even though no one was watching, the show stayed on the air for two seasons.  That's because of contracts various stations signed to carry the show.  Near the end, some stations were burying it at 3:00 in the morning, but they still had to carry it.  Point being, Ava's show would have had to be in trouble in the ratings for some time (over a year) to go out of production.

The smart thing to do would have been to have had Ava's contract expire and she (wrongly) thinks she's got  a film career in the offing (because she's just done a bit part in an Adam Sandler movie).  So she walks out on the show which means the show ends.  But that would have required work and thought and Emily Spivey's capable of neither.

Thought would have informed her that this wasn't the time to mess with the show and it especially wasn't time to revamp the character of Chris.  But there's Emily Spivey deciding that Reagan will stay at home and Chris will go back to work.

A smart person would have realized you shouldn't juggle or jiggle Chris.  See, between seasons one and two, Will Arnett ended his marriage to Amy Poehler (and also began dousing himself in Man Tan For Douche Bags).  He's not really sympathetic.  You don't leave Amy (and the kids) and get to be sympathetic.  If he'd continued to play the Chris that the audience had seen in season one, they probably wouldn't have been as bothered.  But now he wasn't the Will they thought they knew offscreen nor was he the Chris they thought they knew onscreen.

Ava's become a blithering idiot -- the way so many male critics saw her last season.  She's lost all strength and her core.  Reagan's an idiot who can't handle anything and Christina Applegate isn't cute doing that crap.  Lucille Ball wouldn't be cute doing it today.

In addition to having the women unemployed and making Chris the 'manly' worker (though an attorney, he now works in construction), they added the hideous Luka Yovetich (because he'd stunk up Best Friends Forever?) as Applegate's brother and Chris' business partner.

While Up All Night is forever trying to figure out how to get Reagan into the kitchen (they apparently missed season one's Christmas episode), NBC's Whitney is bad in other ways.

In fact, maybe Whitney should be called "Whore"?

Season one ended with Whitney and Alex unable to get married due to a series of mishaps.  Season two opened with them in bed, thrilled with the tatoos they had gottten instead of getting married.  Fine, we don't believe marriage is the end-all, be-all for everyone.  By episode two, Whitney's getting a joint-checking account with Alex and his money and her 'money' suddenly becomes "their money."  And Alex tells her she should work on her photography.  Yet in all the episodes that follow, we see Whitney spending money, we just don't see her doing anything with her photography. We also see her fighting with Alex in every episode and, when she's in the wrong (more often than when she's in the right), she's offering sex as the make up.

Again, maybe it should be called Whore this season.

What happened to the independent woman of season one?

Or what happened to independent Liz Lemon.  Tina Fey was never a friend of women.  She thought she was pathetic when she was single, she thought her life was a waste before she had a baby.  She's decided these are biological laws and they must be imposed on all women.  And it's really destroyed 30 Rock.  This season was no exception as a Liz seemed determined -- on her wedding day -- to out-girly-girl season two's Whitney.  Each episode finds a new way to insult women.  Including "Stride of Pride," written by Fey herself.  That episode takes the claim by sexists like Jerry Lewis that women can't be funny.  You might think a show that stars a woman, was created by a woman, in an episode written by a woman would have no problem demonstrating that the claim was wrong.  Instead, Tina Fey chose to endorse sexism.  While Tracy thinks women are hysterical, it's because he completely misunderstood the (unfunny) skit Liz pulled out of mothballs for her and Jenna to do.  (In the skit, Liz plays a doctor -- Tracy thinks that's the joke: That a woman can be a doctor.)  It's as if 30 Rock's last gift is in ensuring that no one will miss it.  (Like Fringe, 30 Rock wraps up next month.)

The only real bright spot for women this fall came from The Mindy Project.  The Fox sitcom is honestly funny and Mindy Kaling has created a show that actually lives up to all the praise 30 Rock (wrongly) received.

If women had it bad this fall, gay men had it even worse.  Partners was a funny TV show and it was pulling in viewers on Monday nights -- a night CBS is starting to lose viewers on.  It revolved around two best friends, one gay (played by Michael Urie), one straight (played by David Krumholtz) and their love interests (Brandon Routh and Sophia Bush).  The actors were wonderful.  The show was funny.  Did the issue of gay marriage really lead to the show getting the axe?  After the suits viewed "My Best Friend's Wedding Ring," they got really nervous (there was no same sex marriage in the episode but it is talked of).  There were a series of meetings called and, the same week, CBS quickly announces the show is cancelled and off the schedule as of the announcement -- no more episodes will be broadcast.

Then there's NBC's The New Normal which sinks in the ratings almost every week and seems to exist to ask, "Would Will and Grace have been as funny a sitcom if the viewers couldn't stand Megan Mullally?"  Ellen Barkin is supposed to be the Karen of the show -- if Karen was angry, hateful and a bigot (as opposed to a smart mouth).  Overly preachy and not very funny, the sitcom plays like the worst Norman Lear-rip-off.  If Lear demonstrated anything during the seventies, it was that you have to be funny to address issues.  It's a lesson, The New Normal really needs to learn.

With CBS axing Partners, The New Normal forgetting the humor and NBC benching Smash (the same sex couple is played by Christian Borle and Leslie Odom Jr.), that really only left one show and one character.

But what a character.  Yes, we mean fan favorite Nolan Ross of ABC's Revenge.  But a funny thing happened on the way to season two, gay Nolan became bi-sexual Nolan and Gabriel Mann's character got a girlfriend.  Squint your eyes and Mann looks like Al Corely and it's as though we're watching Stephen Carrington struggle with being gay all over again on Dynasty.

As if that wasn't bad enough, they've added Barry Sloane to the cast this year.  Sloane's wonderful eye candy and probably the best male actor on the show but let's not pretend that the writers don't seem much more interested in him than they do in Emily VanCamp's character.  When you're sidelining the lead character, it means you're trying to parcel out a storyline.  Here's a suggestion for show runner Mike Kelley, get some new storylines and do so quickly or Revenge will get the axe in May. 

(For those wondering about Malibu Country, we've already covered the homophobia of that show.)

Characters of color?  Other than Mindy Kaling, did fall find any breakthroughs?  NeNe Leakes has great comedic talent and timing.  It's just a shame she's stuck in another 'sassy Black gal you work with' role that TV seems to forever put African-American women into.  (This time the role's on The New Normal.)  The CW's hit (yes, they really can call it that and be truthful) Arrow features David Ramsey as John Diggle, Green Arrow's sidekick.  That's certainly more than Smallville ever offered in all of its seasons on The WB and then The CW.  Guys With Kids has yet to hit its stride but Anthony Anderson and Tempestt Bledsoe are delivering strong co-lead performances.  (They play one of three couples on the show.)  The show is about similarities (in parenting) and so the two actors also get to offer something different than what TV traditionally allows an African-American performer on a sitcom.  If they're lucky, that will continue and they'll be able to do what Damon Wayans Jr. does on Happy Endings, play a multi-dimensional character each week and not a TV stereotype.  ABC also offers Toks Olagundoye on The Neighbors -- an African-American actress playing an alien from outer-space who has taken on human form and goes by the name of Jackie Joyner-Kersee.  Though always hilarious in the role, her best moments yet were when she attempted to be a 'Real New Jersey Housewife' including turning to a (non-existent) camera to provide narration and commentary.  It also bears noting that ABC's  Last Resort provided Andre Braugher with the chance to carry an hour long drama.

While the audience dried up for Last Resort, there was a show that offered a lead character of color, that offered a strong gay couple as supporting characters and that actually managed to be a success in the ratings.  In fact, ABC's Scandal is the success story of fall 2012.

Kerry Washington is the first African-American actress to successfully carry an hour long show.  Scandal has a strong cast but Kerry is the star as surely as Ted Danson is the star of CSI.  In the seven episodes last season, a show was sketched in.  Season two, has been about deepening the stories, such as providing more details about the conspiracy that put Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) into the White House.

It's an ambitious show that constantly surprises.  Yes, with plot twists like implicating Huck (Guillermo Diaz) in the shooting of President Grant. (He's innocent but now a victim of the Patriot Act.)  But also with dialogue.  White House Chief of Staff Cyrus (Jeff Perry) is talking to Olivia (Washington) about how he knows his husband James (Dan Bucatinsky) is cheating on him, how James is younger and now James is going to leave him.  When Olivia tries to reassure him that's not the case, Cyrus declares he's right because "before he met me, he was a bit of a slut."  Then adding, "Which I found very sexy and I shouldn't have."  Cyrus is so straight-laced (and only recently out of the closet) that it's a very funny moment.

The show constantly surprises.  Shonda Rhimes is TV's person of the year for what she's doing with this show -- forget about the fact that she's also the show runner for Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice.  She's also TV's person of the year because while everyone else goes for conformity, she's stretching and expanding and surprising and delighting viewers every week.  For those who don't remember, that's what TV is supposed to do.

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