Sunday, August 27, 2006

TV: Make Room For Bully peters out

Some shows outlive their purpose, some never live up to their potential. On July 3 of last year, we (Ava and C.I.) reviewed the sitcom Make Room For Bully. Though it was a laugh getter, we did have concerns about where it was headed.

Somehow we screwed up our Tivo last week. We thought we'd programmed for MyTV's upcoming Fashion House but somehow ended up with Monday's episode of Make Room For Bully. Once again, we missed the opening credits.

The good news, Timothy Bottoms is still hysterical in the title role. At one point, as the Bully Boy, he delivered the following lines as a commentary on the continued chaos and violence in Iraq:

Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely suprised. Sometimes, I'm happy, you know. But war is not a time of joy. These's aren't joyous times.

Bottoms conveys the Bully Boy's total cluelessness. "Sometimes, I'm happy, you know." You expected him to break out an impression of Butthead and cry out, "Fire! Fire! Heh-heh."

At moments like those, the nightmare sitcom demonstrates it still has a few laughs in it. Such as when he stumbles and fumbles in this line: "We have a plan to help them -- them, the Iraqis".

But sometimes, the laughs just aren't there -- such as with these lines on Iraq:

We're not leaving so long as I'm the president. That would be a huge mistake.

You hear those lines, and Bottoms delivers them brilliantly with buffoon dripping from every syllable, and you realize, it's just not so funny anymore.

A large reason for that is that a cliffhanger has still not been developed for the show. Last year, we suggested an impeachment angle. The writers have yet to pick up on that storyline and they've also failed to provide Bottoms with a supporting cast to play off of. Make Room For Bully still presents static shots of the Bully Boy addressing a crowd or the press (Monday's episode revolved around a press conference) and, honestly, it's not very interesting.

The writers don't go for bravery. The most recent episode contained some of the worst sucking up of all time. We imagine real reporters were offended by the portrayals and are probably contemplating staging a protest over the way they were depicted: Free The DC Press Corps! They'd have every right to protest because the characters were, largely, stooges.

"It's the summertime East Texas county commissioner look," offered one 'wit' in a jovial mood that didn't seem to match the seriousness of the setting. Others shot back "As soon as you tell us!" which really does seem to capture the suck-ups of the DC press corps. But considering all the "thank you"s and flattery, wouldn't really brave writers stop having questions begin with "Mr. President, my question is . . ." and instead use "Your Christ, my question is . . ."?

Yes, the worship is implied but when the day players are so obviously panting and salivating, you really need to create a line for them that brings the house down. We think calling the Bully Boy "Your Christ" delivers that laugh and underscores the sycophantic nature.

But the show remains too static. Even with Bottoms jabbing the air like crazy, as though the Bully Boy were on a manic high or, possibly, drunk, the show lacked visual excitement.

And not only is there no supporting cast, there's still no one to root for onscreen. Bottoms deserves the Emmy and his shut-out surprised us when we scanned the lists of this year's nominees. When Kevin James can be nominated but Timothy Bottoms can't, where is the justice in this world? We don't think the shut-out was intended as a critique of the strong work the actor has done, but an indication of the general industry feeling that the show's tired and never lived up to the potential it seemed to offer.

We share that feeling and are hoping for a quick cancellation to this series. Like Joey, it's hung on far too long.

In Monday's episode Bully Boy was blathering on about Iraq and how "The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East. They were -- " Which led to a day player interrupting.

Day Player: What did Iraq have to do with that?

Bully Boy: What did Iraq have to do with that?

Day Player: The attacks upon the World Trade Center.

Bully Boy: Nothing.

It was a promising moment and the exchange appeared to be going somewhere. But then the writers had Bully Boy states: "Nobody's ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq."

We waited for the Day Player, or any of them, to challenge that assertion because, certainly, real reporters would, right?

We can remember two reporters challenging this link in September of 2003, Dana Priest and Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post:

In making the case for war against Iraq, Vice President Cheney has continued to suggest that an Iraqi intelligence agent met with a Sept. 11, 2001, hijacker five months before the attacks, even as the story was falling apart under scrutiny by the FBI, CIA and the foreign government that first made the allegation.
The alleged meeting in Prague between hijacker Mohamed Atta and Iraqi Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani was the single thread the administration has pointed to that might tie Iraq to the attacks. But as the Czech government distanced itself from its initial assertion and American investigators determined Atta was probably in the United States at the time of the meeting, other administration officials dropped the incident from their public statements about Iraq.
Not Cheney, who was the administration's most vociferous advocate for going to war with Iraq. He brought up the connection between Atta and al-Ani again two weeks ago in an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" in which he also suggested links between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks.
Cheney described Iraq as "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11." Neither the CIA nor the congressional joint inquiry that investigated the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon found any evidence linking Iraq to the hijackers or the attacks. President Bush corrected Cheney's statement several days later.

So certainly one of the day players should have challenged it. But they didn't. Which is why Make Room For Bully is so disappointing. It's easy laughs and no conflict. It's a half-hour entrance by Squiggy & Lenny (occupying one body) and it never goes anywhere.

A character as comically stupid as the Bully Boy is a rare thing, the writers have done little to provide anything to shape the laughs. He's left to offer his howlers to a brick wall.
While we eagerly look forward to the next role that Timothy Bottoms will tackle, we firmly belive that it's past time this show was cancelled.

For those who missed the broadcast, it (like so many other programs today) is available online. Normally, we wouldn't suggest you watch anything on a screen smaller than forty inches; however, the look of this show and the camera work are so cheap, we really don't think you'll be missing any details. One of the biggest surprises this week was how many shared our feelings on the need to cancel this show. It's not just the Emmys snubbing Bottoms, Progressive Democrats of America and After Downing Street are encouraging rallies on September 1st to call an end to this show. We didn't even know David Swanson was that into television, but he's created an entire web page devoted to cancelling this show.

When a sitcom has so many advocating for its cancellation, and has yet to offer a same-sex kiss or some other so-called controversial plot, we think that's a strong indication of how many have just grown tired of it.
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