Sunday, June 08, 2014

TV: When comedy curdles

Summer is a time of heat, so why do two new comedies leave us so very cold?


Jennifer Falls is  TV Land's worst sitcom ever.  The series stars Jaime Pressly as a woman who was fired from her job due to anger issues.  She was fired from her high paying job which is supposed to make people laugh at her being forced to live with her mother and work at her brother's bar.

As humiliation after humiliation is heaped upon her (speaking to an old friend, her sister-in-law approaches to lecture her about work habits), we felt Pressly had suffered enough -- especially with her Andrew Rannells haircut.

And with Americans suffering as well, we just don't see a sitcom about humiliating someone trying to find work (she's mocked at her local work force commission when she tries to find a job) as very funny or anything America is waiting for.

During the Great Depression, hit films didn't mock the people trying to find jobs, the people trying to feed themselves and their child (Pressly's character has a daughter).

Maybe it still could have been funny if the tone had been so uneven and the cast so lackadaisical.  This is what happens when inexperienced comedic actors try sitcoms in the single-camera format, they flounder badly.  Pressly has talent, she just can't find the comedy in the role.  Jessica Walter is lost as Pressly's mother and that's true for everyone in the cast.

Everyone's off doing their own thing and there's no effort to create an ensemble or, for that matter, to create comedy.

Over on NBC, Undateable is stinking up Thursday nights.

It's failure is more shocking because only one element fails.

The cast is doing ensemble work and many are actually funny.

Brent Morin is wonderful as bar owner Justin and Bianca Kajlich makes the underwritten role of  Leslie work.  Danny's friends are fine and played by David Fynn, Rick Glassman and Ron Funches.

But one element destroys the show.

That would be Chris D'Elia.

D'Elia was only okay on Whitney.  He's far worse on this show.

Danny Beeman is supposed to be a tough guy.  D'Elia minces around and speaks in weird voices but never comes off as a tough guy.

Danny's also supposed to be catnip to women -- an idea that may make many laugh.

D'Elia's skinny.  That may be the only nice thing that can be said about his looks.

He looks in dire need of a bath and as if his clothes were last washed a year ago.

Chris D'Elia is a walking eye sore that screams "bed bug carrier," but things get even worse when D'Elia opens his mouth and tries to speak in one of his many fey voices.

That's when Danny offers advice.

D'Elia's Danny is supposed to be a master-teacher in getting laid for Justin and his three friends and he dubs Justin "Baby Bird" which is as creepy as the show itself and the network it airs on.

Back in October, we explained, "See, About A Boy isn't just the name of a new NBC sitcom, it was NBC entire premise for this fall season."

We explained that to you.

And did anyone else?


Let's break playground code, let's name names.

Alessandra Stanley (New York Times) didn't just praise the crap that is Undateable, she saw it as another sitcom about friends: "As the title suggests, the series revolves around a group of single friends in search of romance."  Maureen Ryan (Huffington Post) banged her keyboard to produce:

"Undateable" is essentially a bar-hangout comedy, with an "older guy teaches younger guy the ways of the dating world" element thrown in for good measure. Earnest Detroit bar owner Justin (Brent Morin) and his friends have well-developed friendships with each other but not much luck in love. Fortunately for them, Danny Burton (Chris D'Elia), Justin's new roommate, has ample free time and is willing to teach Justin, Shelly (Run Funches), Burski (Rick Glassman) and Brett (David Fynn) all they need to know about making the right dating moves. (Danny's advice is equal-opportunity: Brett is gay but, like the rest of Justin's friends, uncertain of his skills on the romance front.)
I approached the show with some wariness, given that the potential for douchiness clings to "Undateable's" premise like a cloud of Axe Body Spray. And in the six episodes I saw, the show did occasionally slide over into eye-roll territory (for example, a line about a woman's "cans" wasn't funny-sleazy, it was just gross). 

You don't have to be Ann Hornaday (Washington Post) to be bothered by media portrayals.

Or bothered by women who remain silent.

Undateable isn't about "friends."  The 7 member case includes Kajich as Danny's sister Leslie and Briga Heelan as Nicki.

We've already noted Leslie is underwritten.

She's really just supposed to be a one woman Greek chorus for Danny.

Heelan's Nicki is even worse.

She works at Justin's bar, for Justin, who is constantly scheming how to land her and who finally does.

Stanley and Ryan seem to think that's cute.

We wonder where 'cute' leaves off and sexual harassment walks in?

We wonder how a show with 5 men and 2 women is portrayed as like Friends by Stanley?

That cast was three women and three men.  It was also three well defined female characters.

The two women on Undateable are not characters, they're plot devices.

Stanley never grasps that.  Ryan seems to think this passes for analysis: "the female characters, not surprisingly, are underwritten and generic, though Briga Heelan is particularly charming nonetheless."  That little tidbit is hidden away in a parenthetical -- not even worthy of a direct statement, it's a whispered aside.

This is the reason we write about TV.  It's what it really does come down to.

Week in and week out, The Water Cooler Set fails at their job and does so repeatedly.  They can't be bothered with critique or analysis.  And when it comes to the way women are portrayed, it never occurs to the male members of The Water Cooler Set while the female members enable it.

The gender imbalance in the cast wasn't worth noting?

The underwritten female characters didn't bear scrutiny?

And typical scenes like this aren't worthy of pointing out?

Danny:  I gotta' go meet someone.

Nicki: Have fun with your friend.

Danny: Oh, it's not a friend, it's a girl.

Nicki: You don't have any friends that are girls?

Danny: Ha! Oh, you're not joking. Single guys can't be friends with girls.  Discuss.

Joey, on Friends, might have gotten away with that in the first season of the show.  But that's because the women did things, the women had lives.

Not on Undateable.

This fall, NBC will offer a new scheduled programming.

Fall 2014 and spring 2015 found NBC offering no new programs revolving around women.

That's rather shocking.

Or we thought it was and we noted it and explored it -- not in one article but in a series of articles.

And Ryan and Stanley, like their male counterparts, didn't say one word, didn't say "boo!"

That doesn't help anyone.  It doesn't help TV and it certainly doesn't help women.

This fall, NBC will offer four new programs that feature women in lead roles.  Sitcoms Marry, Me, Bad Judge and A to Z has them as co-leads with male characters while The Mysteries of Laura will actually revolve around a female character (Debra Messing) while women will lead the ensemble cast of State of Affairs.

It will be a dramatic change from last fall.

But readers of The New York Times or Huffington Post will likely be caught unaware because their leading 'critics' never bothered to notice.  These would be the same two who, let's remember, praised Undateable but let's pretend they're functioning critics.

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