Sunday, December 15, 2013

TV: Thursday's Problem Child

Thursday night sitcoms raise a number of uncomfortable questions so naturally The Water Cooler Set moves the water cooler directly in front of the elephant in the room in an attempt to prevent anyone from noticing the elephant.


Take the issue of lesbians.  It's the 21st century so in what world is acceptable to present a lesbian as "half man"?  For those who missed it (more than you might think judging by the ratings), Angus T. Jones -- who played Jake Harper for the first ten seasons -- is no longer the 'half man' for Two and a Half Men.  After an outburst last season about the quality of the series, Jones now does the occasional cameo.  Alan Harper's sex-obsessed son has been replaced this season with Amber Tamblyn as Charlie Harper's daughter Jenny.  Jenny is a lesbian and Chuck Lorre thought it was hilarious that the "Half Man" was no longer a growing boy but an adult lesbian.

As bad as the supposed TV critics of The Water Cooler Set staying silent, there is worse.

Yes, there is GLAAD.

Before the character premiered, GLAAD issued a statement proclaiming, "We applaud CBS' steps toward making their network reflect the world around them -- a world where 90% of Americans say they personally know someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual.  Two and a Half Men's new season premieres September 26 on CBS."

Well at least they got the last sentence right.

In what world should GLAAD be praising a lesbian being presented a "half man."

Maybe in the same world where Lorre's actions are presented as the actions of the network?

All CBS 'decides' at this point is whether the show gets another season or not.

Show runner and creator Lorre is the one calling the shots.

To be clear, provided Tamblyn's Jenny doesn't fall for Ashton Kutcher's Walden (as originally planned but supposedly now off because even Lorre grasps that would be found offensive), are only problem is the presentation of the character being half-a-man.

The smutty show allows her to be as smutty as all the male characters and she's hitting on as many women as her father Charlie (played by Charlie Sheen until Loree and Sheen has their melt-down and Sheen left the show).  The only really magical moment for her character was when Lynda Carter guest-starred as herself on the show ("Justice in Star-Spangled Hot Pants," written by Jon Cryer, Tim Kelleher, Jeff Lowell, Susan McMartin, Jim Patterson and Don Reo), had to endure Alan's open mouthed drooling and Wonder Woman obsession, was shot down by Walden and ended up spending the night with Jenny.  It had the zip and energy of a 60s French roundelay, a mood the show had only touched on once before (in the 2004 episode "No Sniffing, No Wowing" written by Lorre, Don Foster, Lee Aronsohn and Susan Beavers and guest starring Heather Locklear).

While 'critics' (and GLAAD) avoid the implications of promoting a lesbian as "half man," they ignore a great deal more.

Take NBC's new offerings.

They've treated The Michael J. Fox Show as a hit and Sean Saves The World as a bomb.

They couldn't be more wrong.

In terms of quality, The Michael J. Fox Show is a wretched show that plays like an old anthology series in that no episodes seem really connected to one another.  Most importantly, it's never funny.

As we (repeatedly) told you years ago, when The Water Cooler Set was celebrating the death of the sitcom, the sitcom wasn't dead and, most importantly, The Water Cooler Set doesn't know and doesn't like funny.  That's why they pimped My Name Is Earl, for example, as an excellent sitcom.

It wasn't even an okay sitcom.

A sitcom is supposed to deliver laughs.  That is its most basic function.

My Name Is Earl delivered whimsy, reminding us of  "But Seriously, Folks," written by Ed Weinberger, from season three of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where Mary's trying to get Wes (Jerry Van Dyke) hired to do a 'lighter side' spot on the newscast and Lou (Ed Asner) resists.

Mary: Well you got to admit it was funny.

Lou Grant makes a grimace and moves his head back and forth.

Mary: Well, alright, I mean it wasn't funny HA!HA! but it was certainly funny -- You -- Sort of --

Lou: Whimsical?

Mary:  Right! Whimsical!

Lou:  I hate that.

As do many people which is why My Names Is Earl premiered to over 15 million viewers and quickly bled them out like a stuck pig falling to four million as its final season played out.

And, to be clear, The Michael J. Fox Show does not have the quality that My Name Is Earl did.  Even when it lost all the humor completely (around the time Earl was in a coma), it failed as a comedy but succeeded as a light drama.  The Michael J. Fox is bad TV all around.  It's not funny, it's badly acted, it's badly written, no one on the show involves you, it's pretty much unwatchable.

And the audiences agree.

Though The Water Cooler Set can only trash Sean Saves The World, it's delivering more viewers than The Michael J. Fox Show.  Last Thursday, for example, the show delivered 3.4 million viewers and, airing right after it, The Michael J. Fox Show delivered 3 million.

No one wants to watch the awful -- but heavily praised by critics -- show.

It cannot get better.  It's basically Apple's Way without appealing performers like Vince Van Patten and Kristy McNichol or convincing scripts and that dramedy couldn't pull in viewers either.

By contrast, Sean Saves The World is actually funny.

It was funny in the first episode.

It was also very bad in the first episode.

Fortunately, Vik Sahay and his character of Howard were dropped after that episode.  He was far from the only problem.

Thomas Lennon had his character of Max down but his timing -- and the writing -- were off.  He seemed to be trying much to hard in the role.  He quickly found his rhythm.  Megan Hilty  also came off spotty as Sean's friend and co-worker Liz.  That had more to do with a poorly written character (which is why the original actress was let go and Hilty brought in).  Linda Lavin, like Hayes, was sure footed from the start.

For eight episodes, the problem has remained Echo Kellum whose performance a friend, an African-American director, has derided as "CBS Black male" -- in reference to all the awful Black male characters CBS has offered -- on Becker, on Gary Unmarried, etc.

Thursday's "Best Friends for Never" focused on a split between Sean and Liz (Hilty) and they ran with it, as did Lavin, resulting in a hilarious episode.  The minor storyline featured Max and Kellum's Hunter wearing chain mal pants.  It wasn't much.  But it was where Kellum found his footing.  He's had funnier on paper lines than in this episode, but this is where he pulled it all together and Hunter truly came to life.

Back in November, we noted of the series, "Almost everything about the show is finally starting to gel (if you've watched, you know which actor is not working)."

'How dare you insult Megan Hilty!'

Ty counted a number of e-mails coming in with that accusation.

We have to wonder why they'd go there since Megan Hilty is delightful in her role?

We didn't name the performer because sitcoms take time to develop.  Very few of them, in their first episode, have everything perfect.  They're fine tuned as they go along -- or, they are if they have a studio audience.  That allows the show runner and writers to see what's working and what's not and to make adjustments.

Echo Kellum has been promising in other projects and we had hopes that he would improve in the role.

He finally has.  He's found the character and now all the cast is doing amazing work.

Also the scripts are getting better and the show is getting funnier.  And while Lavin hit the show running, she's getting so good in her withering glances and body movements, that it's really time to stop referring to her as "TV's Alice" because Lorna is now her finest sitcom acting to date and one that should bring the Tony winner her first Emmy.

The Water Cooler Set repeatedly gets funny wrong because they don't know funny and they don't want to.

They didn't just announce "The Death of the Sitcom" in the '00s -- so stupid were they, they were unaware the same false prophecy had been made at the start of the '80s -- but they also slammed recorded before a live audience.

They thought they were so wise and so new.

They were so stupid and so behind the times.

Even as they were making those false claims, CBS' hit comedies (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, etc) were bringing in the big ratings -- sitcoms recorded before a live audience.

You need that energy.

Without it, you've got actors wondering if the line went over or not?

That energy charges performances.

It can also prevent sap.

Modern Family ruins so many episodes by offering 'deep insights' in the final minutes of the show -- lousy narration that's supposed to uplift but does nothing for the funny bone.  Were the show taped before a live audience, those voice overs would have gotten cat calls and been dropped long ago.

The Water Cooler Set doesn't know funny.

They know how to hop on trends and, in the '00s, the two big trends about sitcoms were (a) they're dead and (b) single-camera is the way!

Everyone seems to think they're smarter than Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.

Everyone is wrong.

Desi and Lucy used the multi-camera set-up and filmed before a live audience on I Love Lucy, the set-up was pioneered on that show.  Others did it differently. Others are not still on the air all this time later.  Not only does I Love Lucy continue to air non-stop over sixty years after it first premiered on CBS, millions and millions continue to watch the show -- loyal fans of many years and generations just discovering it.

The Water Cooler Set would never champion I Love Lucy.  It's before a live audience, it's funny and, possibly worst of all, Lucy is a woman.  In sixty years, many sitcoms have matched I Love Lucy but it's hard to argue any has surpassed it.

If you can't appreciate, you're never going to appreciate sitcoms.

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