Sunday, June 18, 2006

TV Review: There's always a platform for some

While we were doing the edition last week, Ty told us that two people had e-mailed requesting that we review an FX show. We weren't interested. Many of the readers do not have cable or satellite, so we stick to broadcast TV. Ty informed us that the show had a "special" airing on Fox (broadcast TV). Two requests and a one time airing on broadcast? [Added: Fox aired it again tonight.]

Was it bending the rule or breaking it?

As requested we watched. It's called It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Yes, and the White Boy view will always have a place on television.

We hit up a friend for copies of episodes from the first season.

Because we liked it?


There's a strain, we'll call it Libertarian Boy, that's gotten a lot of play on TV. It's an ugly strain that parades itself and attempts to pass as comedy. Sometimes it comes in animated form, sometimes it comes in the form of a three slackers who own a bar together.

This has been going on for some time now. A lot of times it will hide behind the fact that it's a "gross out" comedy when, in fact, it's just gross. The humor is, supposedly, in how "daring" they are. Isn't it interesting that the daring looks always come from White Boy eyes?

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has "tackled" the "issues" of abortion, same-sex sexuality, racism, you name it. From the perspective of three White straight males. And we're all supposed to feel enlighted by it. When they parade one stereotype after another, we're not supposed to be offended. It's "funny."

And besides, it's "free speech."

We don't see "free speech" as something only one segment gets to utilize.

So we don't (and didn't) buy the argument that it's "okay" (as well as "funny") that Stephen Colbert trades in Asian stereotypes. Nor do we credit the audience watching that crap (and laughing at it) with taking it to the level of, "See, we're laughing right now because he's playing a right winger and, as a right winger, he's putting out hate speech." No, they're laughing at his stupid stereotype.

We've seen Comedy Central offer The Man's Show. The White, though not in the title, was ever present. They'd never offered The Woman's Show. They'd never offered much beyond The Man's Show, whatever they elected to call it.

If the gross comedies aren't offensive, if they're just free speech, why do they all revolve around the White Boy point of view? (White Straight Boy point of view.)

The shows never revolve around women, people of color or non-straights. In most of those shows, as with It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, it's apparently important that we grasp that White Boys have problems too. Viewers really can't grasp the "too" because only the "too" is ever shown. (Grasping the "too" would require us to have first seen the problems effecing the non-White, non-Boys, non-straight -- but they don't get show after show about how tough life is for them.)

What is shown, repeatedly, is an attempt by reactionairies to whine about the evils of affirmative action or that gays won't run back into the closet.

South Park recently won an award. One of those prizes from a liberal group. South Park?

We know a woman who self-identifies as feminist in odd years only. (We didn't realize that until we were discussing this review. We knew she was a feminist, some years and others not, but when we tracked it, it did work out that she only identifies in odd years, or, if you prefer, non-election ones.) This being an even year, she's again one of the loudest champions of South Park. She's in TV and that's all we'll say because she agreed to go on the record with why she enjoyed the show provided she wasn't indentifed. (She was warned, and already knew, of how we feel about South Park.)

"It's funny, that's just it," she explained to us, this White woman, self-identified "independent" voter who voted for Al Gore in 2000 and Bully Boy in 2004.

Was she bothered by the the portrayals? (She is, after all, in programming. Woops, that slipped out.)

"Not at all. We need to hear all sides."

What sides does your network offer, what sides does any network offer, other than White Male?

"Well, there are lots of shows."

Name one.

"Well, I can't think when I put on the spot."


A talking piece of feces was offered as "innovative, you've never seen that before!" No, we certainly hadn't and didn't feel we were any better off for having seen it.

But that's the mentality at play. It's easier to get a talking feces on the small screen than it is to get the point of view of a person of color, female, GLBT, ect.

The episode broadcast Sunday on Fox wasn't that offensive. (Watch the abortion episode or when the bar the three own is turned into a gay bar to really see offensive.) It just wasn't funny. There was a lot of hope that a dead man being a Nazi would be funny, it wasn't. It wasn't even shocking.

Have we all been so exposed to the "gross" comedy that even Nazis fail to inspire a giggle? Or was it that, for all the talk of how 'cutting edge' these programs are, they always revolve around the same dogfight over a woman the audience is left to evaluate soley on her looks because no one involved in the show gives a damn about what women think?

They're happy to tell you, over and over, onscreen what little White Boys think women think. Because apparently, you can't flip the remote without coming across one female dominated show after another. Probably, they're wetting their pants that The New Adventures of Old Christine is treading on the predominately male turf that was CBS Monday nights. ("She's not married! And she works!")

But the White Boy view isn't just onscreen. Possibly all the White Boy views (all the time) have done so much damage that it's now possible for some to 'represent' and not even get how offensive they are?

Last week, we (Ava and C.I.) read a review that Common Ills community member Lynda had stumbled upon in disgust. She was outraged by it. Veronica Mars is a good show, the review argued. Great for the left, for women, economic realities and, no doubt, the ozone.

Why was it great?

The reviewer offered a synopsis of the show and little reviewing. But he praised it for its committment to exploring the issue of the haves and the have nots.

That was the selling point.

Veronica Mars, the character, is a have-not. She's talking about being a have-not. She's talking about how it's her versus the haves.

It's gritty, it's real!

Yes, it is -- if you believe that the class war will be costumed by Nordstrom Brass Plum and Neiman Marcus. For the record, that is where many of the outfits the actress wears on the show are bought. (True of the first and second season. Some might need to do a little research before they synopsize again. It took us only one phone call.)

The haves and the have-nots?

Want to reconsider that?

When Peggy Lipton was playing Julie on The Mod Squad, there wasn't a need for designer clothes. We think Julie said more and showed more about the haves and the have nots in one episode (any episode) than Veronica Mars has shown in two seasons.

We love it when Ty tells us of an e-mail that accuses us of playing 'identity politics.' We believe it Laura Flanders on RadioNation with Laura Flanders who recently asked, of that oft leveled claim, which part of myself am I supposed to identify with and which parts am I supposed to ignore?

We aren't playing 'identity' politics. We're offering a feminist point of view ("a," not "the"). Our view is a great deal more encompassing than any one wanting to push their single issue.

For the reviewer pushing the show, his single-issue was "class conflict." Class conflict lessons from the woman whose high-fashion has long been noted. Viewers going to message boards drool over the character's wardrobe (and love life). If you think the hypocritical "class conflict" speeches are registering, you're kidding yourself.

But you have to kid yourself, at the end of season two, to heap praise on a show that sold the lead character as someone who cried false rape. That might be the only detail his over long synposis left out. But it remains a key detail.

He's all jazzed and excited because he turned on the tube and some woman was talking about the haves and the have-nots. The fact that the character was presented as raped in the first season and then not raped in the second isn't mentioned. The fact that she's all about the boys isn't mentioned. She's surrounded by men. Maybe that's how he likes his women?

There are so many problems with that show but he heaps uncritical praise on it (well, it's a synopsis, not a review) because every now and then, between wardrobe changes (exactly how big is Veronica Mars' closet?) she tosses in a little speech that apparently 'keeps it real,' even though the wardrobe never does. (For the record, a frequent guest star on the show clued us in, after our first review of the show, on the hair. Attempts to do much with it make the actress look her age, as opposed to the high schooler she plays on TV. Hence the hairstyle.)

But, despite her wardrobe, she's a 'class warrior.' Remember guys and gals, the next class war may be fought on the breadlines, but first stop will be the fashion lines.

How does it tie in? Though the show's largely young audience can't stop talking about the pricey wardrobe, White Boy comes along and just hears what he wants to hear. He can't be bothered noting that Veronica cried false rape (season two development). He can't be bothered by the fact that there are countless high school males eating up air time but the show sold as "empowering" provides her with one female friend, a dead one. (Dead before the first show airs.) Those aren't issues on his radar as he talks his supposed progressive talk.

Who's playing single issue? Who's playing identity politics?

Possibly, if TV worked a little less hard to ensure that the playing field wasn't tilted in favor of White Boys and actually attempted to level it (even some), these issues would be addressed?

As it is a "progressive," grown man can babble on about every event for two seasons (except the whole rape storyline which, again, is how the show was sold: Victim Mars Overcoming!) and not even explore the reality of what's hanging on her body as opposed to what's (occassionally) coming out of her mouth. We wouldn't wax on about the class war supposedly playing out on TV in this show with a high school setting because we're perfectly aware that if it really wanted to address class war, they would have done a show long ago where a military recruiter targets the kids from families with struggling incomes.

We're still waiting to hear of the the multitude of commentaries about Neela's storyline this year on ER.

Ty told us the right-wingers wrote in laughing at the left (and the 'left') who didn't even bother to note that storyline. They're sure that they've noted it enough at their sites that ER will be cancelled. (Presumably, they mean after next season. It is on the fall 2006 schedule.) Instead of getting giddy over dead pan performance (they're not really dead pan, they're just acted by limited performers), we've explored the reactionary positions of Law & Order (in several of the franchises) and CSI (ditto).

That may be what's so offensive about so much of the TV "criticism." There are things worth watching. (We've praised some shows here.) But they don't get the 'heat.' They don't get the attention.

A White Boy decides to write about TV for the first time (in that magazine at least) and his pick is a show that's not only offensive, it's two years old and has already had more than enough uncritical coverage.

We know people who work on ER and we know the hard work that went into Neela's story (and in a just world, it would garner Emmy nominations for writing and acting). But we've noted when other shows, 'heat' or not, were worth watching as well (Everybody Hates Chris, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Medium).

We were speaking with a friend who has a pilot picked up by one of the big three for the fall. He's smart. He's politcally aware. And his show is, frankly, offensive. What the hell happened?

'Heat' happened. He needs to be more 'water cooler' were the networks notes.

Once upon a time, a few critics stood up and actually defended shows with merit, actual merit, not water cooler talk. When someone tries to pass of "It's cool!" as a critique, they don't just hurt themselves, they hurt others as well. They create the environment in which art won't be attempted because it's far more important that you have 'heat.' Those following the herd (or, in the White Boy progressive's case, trailing it) make it that much harder for art to ever grace the TV. (Or "TV art," if you prefer.)

You hear a great deal about how media consolidation has hurt TV news (and it has) but it's hurt the dramas and the comedies as well. (We would say "entertainment," but what is TV news now but entertainment?) The drive for 'heat' has put a lot of talented people out of work because they're thought to be too old to write something that could get everyone talking. (About clothes and scatology apparently.) When those who want to pass themselves off as critics waste time heaping praise on badly written, badly acted shows just because they're the flavor of the month (FYI, Veronica Mars was the flavor of the month about twelve months ago), TV has lost its last line of defense. When even the critics, who are supposed to be thinking people, rush to push crap because 'everyone's talking about it' at the mythical water cooler, there's no argument someone attempting to sell a show can make when asked, "Who's going to watch?"

"Who's going to watch? No one's going to care. It's never going to be a hit."

That's the song and dance when people actually attempt to sell a network on something other than the same crap currently airing on countless channels. In the past, they could respond, "Well it will build. It will build slowly. It's the kind of show that critics will embrace and get the word out on and the audience will build." That doesn't play today.

Not when supposed critics act as though they're writing for fanzines.

So you get more of the same. Which brings us back to our sometime feminist friend (remember, it's an even/election year so she's not identifying as a feminst today). So, if these gross comedies are "funny" and she's comfortable with them, has she fought for any gross comedy starring women or people of color? She hasn't seen any. Well feedback, surely she could give a promising sitcom feedback that if the creators changed it to a gross comedy, the network might be interested?

The thought's never "struck" her. She does admit that she would be more likely to "root" for a gross comedy with males because "Everyone's got one." She's running with the herd. So are too many TV critics and that, along with media consolidation, is the reason TV is so unwatchable.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a really bad show. We could break it down for you bit by bit but there's no real point in that. If you watch TV, you've already seen it, over and over. Get used to it because when the White Boy phase passes, there'll be a new White Male format, there always is. Once upon a time, people demanded more from TV. They got a lot of crap but they got a few shows worth watching in any time period. The bar's being lowered and lowered. White Boys onscreen or sitting at their computers aren't doing anything to raise the bar.

[Note: We've used "gross comedies." We have nothing against "gross out comedies" and a few have actually been hilarious. That's not what a "gross comedy" is. There's no talent to shape a joke or plot development, it's all aim for the low road -- people will laugh because it's so gross!
We've used "White Boy" because, quite honestly, what we see -- and read -- strikes us as far too immature to be given the status of "adulthood."]

NOTE THAT WILL DISAPPEAR THIS EVENING: Everyone's tired. We're going to bed. Editorial will go up this evening. Ava and C.I. wanted to do a quick read of this before posting but knowing the e-mails that would come in if we didn't have it up, they went along with posting it now.
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