Sunday, November 30, 2008

TV: Rosie and Other Bombs

It's become something of a pattern that each year at this time we review the music specials. We marvel "What were they thinking?" (here, here and here) and note the few that actually worked (Faith Hill). Not this year and we had to wonder, "Did we kill off the musical special?"

If so, allow us to kill off another genre: The variety special.


Although, NBC appears to have already done that with Rosie O'Donnell as the assassin.

Wednesday night, the network offered Rosie Live, a 'variety' 'special' hosted by Rosie, the lone gun woman. We wanted to enjoy the special but were already having doubts two or three weeks ago when the promotional spots started airing.

You may have seen those. Rosie's standing before 'reporters' holding a press conference. They ask her about Tom Arnold and she explains Roseanne was married to him, not her. They go on to confuse her with both Oprah and Ellen. The promo wasn't funny. It needed to build and it never did. Ro went in with one energy level (lukewarm) and maintained it throughout.

The commercial needed zany not Rosie acting bewildered and sedated. Bewildered and sedated described the special. If anyone knows variety shows, it should have been Rosie so we have a hard time believing she didn't see the problems long before the live broadcast.

Problems? We expected some sort of set. Maybe a state of the art set or, more likely, a throw-back to the groovy sets of the sixties. We could see Rosie wanting some sort of plexi-glass set with multi-levels or maybe some homage to the set Dean Martin used on his old show. But, we knew, whatever the set was, it would scream Rosie!

It didn't. In fact, it didn't appear NBC even created a set for the special. It looked like they just threw her on a stage. On a stage that looked like your basic gymnasium. Hint to NBC, a 'special' needs to look like a special.

Somewhere around the time she and Alec Baldwin were all excited about the mystery guest that turned out to be Conan O'Brien -- who came out with about half the sparkle Joey Bishop might have offered -- if you studied Rosie's eyes, you could tell she was done with the special (which still had about 15 minutes of live TV to go).

Who could blame her? But the shapeless mess continued broadcasting (live in the Eastern and Central time zones).

A lot of the blame goes to NBC which insanely thought you dressed up a special by allowing it to open a night of normal programming. You build to a special, you don't burn it off. A lot of the blame goes to Rosie who was executive producer.

At some point, as one guest star after another walked across the stage, you may have grasped that she had populated her special with enough people to qualify as a small village -- a small village suffering from a humor shortage. The jokes (not funny to begin with) had to be 'rationed' apparently and the bulk went to Rosie which just struck us as rude manners and far from 'hostly.' Around the time, Rosie went into a Sarah Palin joke, we were reminded of Rosie's stand up in 2001, when she was calling Hillary the c-word and screaming (yes, screaming) on stage that she (Rosie) thought Hillary would have left Bill and the fact that Hillary didn't leave him after getting into the Senate meant Rosie had no use for Hillary.

It was an ugly bit, an infamous bit and, really, the end of Rosie's stand up. It was completely inappropriate and self-defeating. When you're the woman who lied to daytime viewers for a decade, pretending to have a crush daily on Tom Cruise, maybe after you finally come out of your big, old closet, you don't try to build an act around, "How dare she love that person!"

No one ever wanted political comedy from Rosie and, until this decade, she never tried to offer it. She can't do it, she doesn't have the flair but that she would even attempt it on a holiday special goes a long way towards explaining why no one wants to watch her on TV anymore. Did she think she was sitting in for the boys of Comedy Central? NBC isn't niche programming and the network was hoping for the largest audience possible. Rosie just wanted to rant and didn't give a damn which viewers she ran off.

Judging by the ratings, she ran off pretty much all of them.

And she can blame herself for that. The special offered Liza Minnelli early on in the only moment that worked. Liza, being Liza, came off like a full bodied person and an hour of the two of them singing and dancing, offering holiday memories, could have added up to something worth watching. That was not to be.

Instead, it was Rosie and her cast of thousands. Many of whom you didn't know, many of whom you forgot years ago, and many of whom you wouldn't open your door for today. While Liza is an actual living legend, Alanis Morissette is nothing but a failed performer. There are no tricks left in her Felix the Cat bag. She's already taken her one claim to fame -- the mid-90s Jagged Little Edge -- and redone all the songs acoustically for a CD sold at Starbucks. The only thing in her immediate future is the announcement that Warners is dropping her from the label. There was Alanis singing another one of the banal, twelve-step diary entries passed off as lyrics and bumming out the entire nation. In that regard, she actually fit on the special.

What it really reminded us of was those embarrassing webcasts Rosie does from time to time. She likes to think she's keeping it real as she rants and raves while looking like an institutionalized patient refusing their meds. And that takes us back to the promo as well as the special. Ro can't put on a little make up? The promo was her looking tired and that 'look' was captured in the special as well. But on her webcasts, she doesn't worry about hair and make up and apparently she believed that, with her TV special, she's pioneering a new wave, one that will have the average viewers saying, "Oh, look, it's Schleppy The Tired Clown! Quick, let's sit down and watch the performer who couldn't even bother to dress for the evening!"

At least the webcam offers a close up. Which brings us to the third problem, Alan Carter, alleged director. In May of 2005, we offered a warning:

The "creative geniuses" behind the camera included Alan Carter (director), Paul Flattery and Stephen Pouliot. Though some of you may not know the names, you need to learn them so that in the future when they flash on screen you'll know to either flip the channel or get the hell out of the living room. This trinity last teamed up for Nick & Jessica's Family Christmas. When you see those names, run, run for shelter and don't look back.

Our mistake was advising you to run when you saw those "names." You need not wait for all three to evacuate the premises, just one name is more than enough to have you sounding the disaster sirens. Alan Carter offered 'direction' in his usual manner: none at all. The huge stage NBC plopped Rosie on was apparently too much for Carter to navigate which was why the cameras were never where they needed to be and always arrived where they should have been about ten seconds late. If Rosie had some funny lines and some actual charm, Carter was no help in allowing viewers to find them.

While Rosie was was laying her nuclear egg, Brendan Blethyn and Jane Curtain stopped over at CBS for The New Adventures of Old Christine and Gary Unmarried. Blethyn, in this year's best episode, played Old Christine and Matthew's mother in an episode that was an instant classic and should be repeated each Thanksgiving while the show airs. The New Adventures of Old Christine has been on a winning streak for some time now and this episode took it even further.

Gary Unmarried was less successful and it may have been suffering from Rosie-itis -- attempting to pack too many guest stars into one broadcast. We're waiting to review Gary Unmarried but do recommend it. We do not, however, recommend Martin Mull coming back on the show ever.

One of the shows we always planned to review (but always had Jim asking us to grab something else) was Still Standing. Still Standing was actually a funny show and it got better each season. Early on, the biggest problem was Judy's parents which were nothing but the dorks from Yes Dear!'s parents with different names and faces. Oh, your stinky feet! Oh, your griping! It wasn't funny when Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence were doing it and it wasn't funny when it migrated over to Still Standing. It was tired, it was boring. Still Standing wisely ditched the characters, Judy's father just vanished and her mother was now played by Swoosie Kurtz and written as something other than a 60s sitcom staple.

Jane Curtain was her usual amazing self Wednesday night on Gary Unmarried. Her lines were sub-standard fare but she made them seem so much more than they were, she zoomed in on co-stars, immediately establishing relationships not in the script. She's one of TV's best and most underrated actresses. Martin Mull is the parody actor who never has a character but always manages to be corny. As sad as it was to see the two of them paired, it was worse to grasp that we were back to Helen and Gene on Still Standing or Yes, Dear's Tom and Natalie with all the tired carping of don't eat/drink that and your feet don't go there and blah, blah, blah. That's not sparkling, that's not new, and it's not funny.

It's the kind of cheap guffaws UPN was built on and we all know the pot of non-gold at the end of that rainbow. Gary Unmaried is having a real problem with casting. Two weeks ago it also brought on a nemesis for Allison, someone allegedly pretty, exciting and a real threat. The character was played by Jean Louisa Kelly -- forever the piss-pantied fish-wife Kim from Yes, Dear. She was no threat from the beginning and it was the worst casting of fall 2008 until Martin Mull showed up Wednesday. If it's not clear to CBS, they need another Yes, Dear about as much as NBC needs another Rosie Live. Translation, the turkey belongs on the table, not on the TV screen.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }