Sunday, June 27, 2010

TV: That which shouldn't remain hidden

Many things are in plain sight but somethings shouldn't be.


In Plain Sight itself is a USA network TV show (click here for its Hulu page) about federal marshalls working witness relocation. The TV show stars Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon. It's a heavily populated show with, among others, Fred Weller as her partner Marshall, Lesley Ann Warren as her mother Jinx, Nichole Hiltz as her sister Brandi and, actually, a dozen other regular or recurring characters -- though we sincerely hope that will not again include Steven Weber.

Weber was once so promising -- and blond -- on the sitcom Wings. Those days are long gone. And after the disaster that was Studio Yada Yada, he's only gotten worse. The hair's dark now, the affect that of a drug addict in sore need of a fix. 2010 saw him bring two TV shows to a grinding halt every time he thought he was being cute, In Plain Sight and ABC's Happy Town. Watching him attempt sexy banter with Mary was actually more effective at inducing vomiting than Ipecac.

Staying on things that make you sick to your stomach: Steve Inskeep. The good news: He's off Morning Edition (NPR) for the next five weeks. The bad news? He's coming back.

Also under "bad news," you could put his appearance all last week on NPR's long running morning show. Wednesday was especially appalling. Before we can get there, we need to explain: David Letterman is not doing a talk show. David Letterman is doing entertainment. With very few exceptions, no one who goes on his show will ever steal the limelight from him. We say that because David Letterman is an awful interviewer. He does a s**t poor job and he does it for comic effect. You're in the middle of a story and he's cutting you off with some glib and stupid remark. That's fine, the TV audiences lap it up.

But what's fine for Letterman is not fine for NPR. Morning Edition is a public affairs show that presents itself as a news program. Last Wednesday, Morning Edition brought on the Center for a New American Security's CEO Nathaniel Flick and the think tank's celeb Thomas E. Ricks for a discussion about what Michael Hastings' Rolling Stone article on General Stanley McChrystal might result in (for any who missed it, the result was that McChrystal was forced out of his command). The two men spoke with Inskeep and Renee Montagne. Excerpt:

MONTAGNE: And Tom Ricks, you're there on the phone. Let me bring you into this conversation. What do you make of that? I mean, let's start with Marjah, the offensive that was touted as being, you know, a model for what was going to happen in Southern Afghanistan. Is it succeeding? And is its success or failure, does this - is all reflected in what we're talking about here?

Mr. RICKS: Well, clearly the situation in Afghanistan is troubled, but I differ with my boss, Nate Fick, on this - I respectfully differ. What I think is...

INSKEEP: Oh, you're not going to be making remarks in Rolling Stone about him, anytime soon. Thats what you're trying to say.

Mr. RICKS: Well, I'd be happy to.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: No, please go on. You differ. You differ with Nate Fick on this. Go on. Go on.

Renee asks him a question and before Tom can complete an answer ("What I think is . . ."), Steve's breaking in with a joke? That's how we discuss what actually was a very serious issue? It's, more and more, how Steve Inskeep behaves on air. We already noted that Weber comes across like a drug addict in need of a fix. These days, Inskeep constantly comes across as wired. And more importantly for a radio public affairs program, uninterested in what anyone is saying but eager to peel off a joke.

And his own destruction only emphasizes Morning Show's problems. Friday Steve did a really bad intro to a really bad report or 'report' by David Welna. Unemployment benefits expired because Congress doesn't know how to do their job. Now, a month later, the Senate Democrats pushed for a bill and the Republicans voted against it. Those are what is known as facts. Steve couldn't handle them and neither could Welna.

In fairness to Steve, he's somewhat tied (for his intro) in what Welna's decided to 'report.' So if Welna's hook is that this is like 1937 (the Democrat's talking points was also Welna's hook -- imagine that), Steve may have to carry it through.

But someone damn sure should have caught the problem. We did. At the start of the segment, Steve explained that the bill the Republicans blocked would have "added $35 billion to the national debt over the next decade." In the midst of Welna's report, Senator Dick Durbin shows up to declare, "We're about to repeat history. The Republicans come to us now and say, We've got to stop putting money back into the economy, it creates a deficit. Yes, it does. But if you don't get the 14 million unemployed Americans back to work, the deficit will get worse." And then Welna's off with an economist who wants you to know that federal spending can help an economy.

We agree with the last point. But did you catch what came before it?

14 million people, Durbin said, were out of work and needed unemployment.

But before you snarl, "Damn Republicans," take a moment to ponder another figure: 35 billion. That's the dollar amount.

What's going on? Unemployment's going to give over 2 million a piece to each of the 14 million unemployed?

Or did Democrats -- controlling the Senate (and the House) -- pack on a lot of pork?

We're all for pork. We believe members of Congress need to deliver to their areas.

But what we're not for, what we're never for is lying.

NPR presented a 'report' in which Republicans objections were treated as silly and you had to listen closely to gather what they might be objection to. Yesterday, Lori Manning (Washington Post) reported, "One day after voting to block Democratic legislation that would have extended emergency jobless benefits, a Republican senator urged Democrats to try again, saying she would support a stripped-down bill aimed solely at guaranteeing unemployment checks to millions of people who have been out of work more than six months." That senator was Olympia Snowe and the article is full of Jim Manley (what a name) deriding Snowe. Who is 'Manley'? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's Girl Friday. Manning reports that the bill rejected also covered Medicaid and tax breaks for business and for individuals and corporations doing research. If Democrats want to cover the unemployed, the need to do that.

Again, we're not opposed to pork. We are opposed to lying. Don't smear -- and NPR did this -- the opposition with lies. They're Republicans, for goodness sakes, you should never have to resort to lying to reject their logic. But that's how weak our Democratic leaders are. They lied. They painted Republican senators (and their own Ben Nelson) as hateful people who got their jollies from picturing America's unemployed starving and being denied shoes for their kids.

That's not what happened but that 'report'? That happens a lot these days. We were talking with friends at NPR about that this week and the reply usually went something like this: "I can't believe you two, of all people, would accuse NPR of liberal bias."

We're not. We're accusing it of power bias.

The problem isn't that they wanting to make the nation liberal. And, a few years back, it wasn't that they were wanting to make the nation conservative.

The problem is power. NPR always reflects the powerful, that is their bias.

And that's why we're so appalled by the cheering on it gets from the left right now. NPR didn't wake up and decide it wanted to be a Democrat because it shared those ideas and ideals. No, it sees a Congress controlled by Democrats and a White House with a Democratic president and it's all on board with whatever Democrats say.

We don't need that. We never need that. What we need from the MSM is objective information.

And that's what we should be screaming for more and more. But we're so thrilled that the media appears to have tilted left that we don't care that corners are cut and facts are omitted, we don't care that slanted stories misinform. We only care that our side is winning.

And by refusing to confront the very real bias NPR has and has always had, we allow it to work against us when Democrats no longer in power. Then suddenly, watch us show up shouting that NPR needs to be factual. And honest! But right now, we're happy with it, we love it because it's lying for us.

That's hypocrisy on our part. And maybe, sick truth, we get the NPR we deserve.

As always, its bias is right out there for everyone to see, in plain sight, but watch how few will call it out as long as our side is benefitting.

We call out the guest spot of Steven Weber but that's about all that's been wrong with In Plain Sight this season. In fact, a recent episode (still up at the Hulu page as we write) entitled "Death Becomes Her" was so perfect that we honestly wish it had been the series finale.

Mary does not make friends because Mary does not trust people because a number of people -- starting with her father -- have burned her over the years. Mary does not make friends with people in the witness relocation program because she must remain objective. In "Death Becomes Her," Laura San Giacomo -- excuse us, the Amazing Laura San Giacomo -- guest stars as a woman providing evidence against her own family -- mobsters.

She's answering Mary's questions when it comes up that there's a detail she hasn't shared with the feds. She asks Mary for confidientiality and, it granted, she explains she's dying from cancer. She doesn't want, she explains, everyone to suddenly start feeling sorry for her. Her refusal to play for the sympathy vote is something Mary can identify with.

And they bond over their mutual strength. When the feds drop the case because the woman's death might risk the outcome of the case and realizing that her health is nosediving faster than she had thought, she decides to go back home to speak to her niece. Mary objects to it, notes how dangerous it is (they've already take the woman's life once) but when there's no backing down, Mary goes along with her and uses her gun to hold the men in the family off while the aunt and niece speak.

That was a powerful episode and we get misty-eyed just thinking about it.

Laura San Giacomo is one of hell of a dramatic actress. Her years on Just Shoot Me demonstrated her comedic talents so well that some may forget how powerful she was in Sex, Lies & Videotape. On In Plain Sight, she had to get across so much in so little time and she was just amazing.

Equally powerful was Mary torn apart by the death and having to face her mother -- who needs a lot of hand holding. After her mother got down recounting her latest battle with self-esteem and drinking to ask about Mary's bad day. Mary says very simply that a friend died and it rips your heart out. It was a powerful moment and the entire episode was packed with them.

It was such a great episode that it was hard for us to watch the ones that followed. And though they couldn't live up to that episode (few things ever would), they were strong in and of themselves and In Plain Sight is one of the stronger shows Hulu (and USA) is bringing you this summer. You'd be a fool to avert your eyes.
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