Sunday, October 06, 2013

TV: The Dull List

A woman asks her husband, "Those things I found under the floor, they're not yours, right?"  It could be a powerful premise.  Think Debra Winger as an undercover FBI agent in Costa-Gavras' Betrayed or Jessica Lange learning her loving father was a Nazi War Criminal in Costa-Gavras' Music Box.  Or it could just be good trashy fun like The Client List was before Jennifer Love-Hewitt started insisting her new boyfriend (and the father of the child she's expecting) be given a bigger role on the show (despite audiences hating his character) and turning a third season into a question mark.

Instead, The Blacklist is just boring.  Oh, so slowly boring.


The scripts are poorly written disasters.  Take this 'dinner conversation:'

You're a loner. You keep your distance.  You travel freely through foreign lands.  You're rootless.  You're very comfortable here with your glass of scotch but you're just as comfortable sleeping in a cave with rebels or sharing dinner in some hole-in-the-wall noodle shop.  You're closet friends are strangers.  You understand that tight bonds can make you vulnerable so you're careful not to have any.  And that's why you're so conflicted about me.  You need me.  And you hate that about yourself because it makes you vulnerable.

That's delivered by FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) to a wall of non-emotion known as "Red" (James Spader).   Red is Raymond Reddington and he's in a maximum security prison -- like the one that held Nicholas Cage in John Woo's Face/Off.  If only Nicholas Cage were playing Red.

Spader is a smug but strangely diffident sort of actor who, in an attempt to 'project,' frequently chews up the scenery like Joan Crawford in the last third of her career.  In other words, the Razzies should put Spader's head on their statues.  If they did, they might notice, as we did now that he's basically bald, how his head resembles Stewie's on the cartoon sitcom Family Guy.  What's cute in animation can be disgusting in real life.

Disgusting is Spader's acting career in films.  In the 80s, when the film medium was still strongly homophobic, they took Spader's diffidence and creepiness and cast him in roles meant to be read as gay.  He finally found success via Steven Soderbergh who used those qualities when he cast Spader as male eunuch Graham in Sex, Lies, and Videotape.  Surrounded by strong actors like Laura San Giacomo, Peter Gallagher and (in one of the 80s best but most underappreciated performances) Andie MacDowell, Spader's innate strangeness and inability to connect with others seemed like a dramatic choice and not his own personal limitations.

Part of the droning dinner conversation was to inoculate Spader against charges of bad acting.  'He's a weirdo,' audiences were supposed to say, 'not a bad actor.'

Sorry, he's just a bad actor.

And bad for Spader, he's paired with Megan Boone who couldn't cut it as a background player (extra) on The Young and The Restless.  This is the problem of the 'training ground' of Law and Order and its franchise, it does not turn out actors.  Established actors may appear and not embarrass themselves but actors needing to learn the craft?  They're out of luck.

She really needs to get a drama coach.  She's not pretty enough to have a career based on looks (even if you ignore the bumps on her lower face, she's not pretty enough).  If she's going to have a career after this show (which may not last as long as The Water Cooler Set thinks), she needs to work on her craft non-stop (acting classes in off time, a drama coach on the set).  Otherwise, she can have Patricia Richardson's non-career.  Richardson was about as 'pretty' as Boone is and about as important to her hit show (Home Improvement) as Boone is to The Blacklist.  While Tim Allen left Home Improvement for many films and now a successful sitcom, Richardson was day player on Law and Order and eventually part of an ensemble cast supporting Janine Turner on a basic cable show.   If Richardson had worked on her craft -- instead of  showing the same thin acting she demonstrated in a failed 1984 sitcom (Double Trouble) -- she might have a career today.  She doesn't.  To most TV viewers she's the "Whatever Happened To The Woman Who Played The Mom On Home Improvement?"

That's the fate that awaits Boone if she doesn't stop her futile attempts to look cute and instead focusing on learning how to shape a character.

She's being misled by The Water Cooler Set and their non-stop ravings over this bad show.

Stealing from just about everything, it adds up to nothing.  But we do love to laugh most at the questioning rounds which are supposed to be so serious but really play like a parody of Regis and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

The premise is this evil creature (Red) must be taken off the prison ship and allowed to loosely roam civilization with Elizabeth.  The plots are forever predictable and the guest casting follows the NBC Mystery Movie tradition where the biggest guest star (on McMillan &; Wife, Columbo or McLoud) is the villain.  So when Elizabeth is gushing over her hero, guest star Isabella Rossellini, you know Rossellini will end up being the baddie.

Plot aren't that important if you have a likable cast but there's no Susan Saint James in this cast.   They do have the woefully underutilized Harry Lennix.

Lennix appears to have been cast as part of NBC's new lack of diversity guidelines.  Boone's the only woman in the regular cast and Lennix is the only African-American.  What kind of world do the idiots who created this show live in?

And why, in the non-stop rip-offs that have followed Face/Off are all the bad guy roles going to Anglo White males?  Considering the 16 years of rip offs that have followed, and the prison population make up in the US, why is it that not one of these 'evil genius' prisoners has been played by an African-American actor or actress?

Lennix could have turned this show around had he been cast as Red instead of in the minor role of FBI Assistant Director Harold Cooper.  The best part of Doll House is also the best part of The Blacklist.  Too bad he's so misused on this program.  A few more scenes each episode and he could be an Emmy nominee.  They'll regret that stumble as the audience continues to drop.

Continues to drop?

James Hibberd (Entertainment Weekly) wrote the second episode was a hit in the ratings. Nellie Andreeva (Deadline) was calling it the "breakout new drama."  If you're only capable of talking ratings, at least get that right.  Hibberd did note that the first half-hour of The Blacklist had "a 3.8 among adults, 18-49 and the second is 3.3, so there's clearly drainage"  but at 3.6 overall (in that one target audience), he felt the show was a hit.   But it didn't have 3.6.  It's  overall was 3.3.  Hibberd, and many others, used the wrong numbers as Rick Kissell (Variety) explained.  The 'hit' is not a hit.   

It's a poorly acted, badly written, run of the mill show.  And when more stylish vehicles with great actors (say Fox's Almost Human with Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, Lili Taylor and Minka Kelly) debut later in the fall season, The Blacklist will find itself set aside by even  The Water Cooler Set. 

"TV has never been better," insists a new ad.  "This is Smart TV from Samsung."  While the unit you watch programs on has improved, the quality of TV has decreased dramatically in one season.  NBC is the biggest offender.  And as ratings continue to droop for the low rated network, NBC may begin to stand for NoBody Cares. 

We certainly don't.  For those who do, Elizabeth doesn't find gay porn hidden in the floorboard, women's panties or anything of real interest.  Her husband (or someone) has hidden "the gun and the passports."  That would be interesting only if you'd never watched TV before.

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