Sunday, October 02, 2011

TV: The perverts still drool over Shirley Temple

This fall, three sitcoms center around young, unmarried women and we've watched with amazement the same Water Cooler Crowd that didn't say peep for years and years as one fat-man-skinny-woman combo after another waddled across their TV screen. Unlike that bizarre coupling, young, unmarried women actually do exist across America. If the census is to be believed, they do so in large numbers.


But three shows offering different takes on womanhood show up this fall and the critics work themselves into a panicked frenzy. It takes feminists to notice that the reception to these shows from the Water Cooler Set says a great deal about the ingrained sexism that's so much a part of today's press.

NBC has Whitney, CBS has 2 Broke Girls and Fox has New Girl.

The critical favorite is New Girl which tends to remind you of another work. The Water Cooler Set insisted it was a reverse Three's Company. Really, cause it feels like a remake of 1961's Snow White and the Three Stooges.

In this bad and unfunny show, a woman breaks up with a boyfriend she catches cheating and moves in with three guys. Pay attention, Montreal Gazette and other idiots, for it to be a reverse Three's Company, the woman would have to be trying to bed all of her roommates. Or has everyone forgotten the first season of Three's Company?

That's not the only puzzler. Far more confusing was whether series star Zooey Deschanel is supposed to be a Shetland pony or just a big, old collie named Lassie? When we got past her shiny coat, we realized she was Shirley Temple and that, while no one's bothered to write a character for her to play, she'll grin and wince and show all the range of a pre-pubescent child actress if not that of a functioning adult.

Hannah Simone gets a little (very little) airtime playing Cece, best friend of the lead character. That's your second clue that you're watching crap. This isn't a story about a woman, it's more stale wink-wink, hanging with the boys from the woman who wrote the alleged romantic comedy No Strings.

The audience will catch on and the 'bright spot' for Fox (which they've already given a full season pick up) will droop a bit here, droop a bit there and, eventually, be so low rated that the Water Cooler Set which has been raving over it, will back away and pretend to have never watched.

Fox knew they had to get people to watch the first episode. And that's why they made it available for free on iTunes long before it aired on TV. They knew this was the only episode that would be talked up positively and they wanted to expose as many people as possible to that episode. The writing wasn't really that much better in the episode. But what made it, what carried it through, was the character Coach wonderfully played by Damon Wayans Jr. Coach is one of the three male roommates.

Woops, for Fox, on that episode Coach was one of the three male roommates. Only on that episode. Now Damon's back on ABC's Happy Endings and Lamorne Morris is attempting to become an actor as the third roommate but coming off very much like the game show host he so recently was. Max Greenfield is playing something. No one's quite sure what. Generally, he plays gay characters. Here he's supposed to be offensive talking to Cece about "tea bags" and seeing her "party hats." The tone's never consistent and it's obvious that Greenfield doesn't know what he's doing, nor do the writers. Jake Johnson has an appeal that shines through the bad writing. Three or four years from now, America will discover him on another sitcom and marvel over his abilities. On this show, he's stuck being Bill Robinson (without the tap shoes) to Deschanel's Shirley Temple.

It says a great deal about the sexism of the Water Cooler Set that a stunted, asexual female is their idea of the ideal woman.

Whitney is too much for them to handle. While New Girl has had nothing but roses thrown at it by the Water Cooler Set, they can't stop hissing at Whitney. Even Hulu's toothless Morning After showed fangs recently by going after the NBC sitcom.

We've seen four episodes, it's funny. It's often hilarious. What's the problem here? That Whitney (played by creator and producer Whitney Cummings) has sex?

Yeah, that is the problem for the Water Cooler Set. Watching Whitney reminded us of the Saturday Night Live skit "Colonel Angus Comes Home" -- specifically of the sad little audience in the studio when the skit was broadcast. Though Maya, Amy and Rachel have some of the funniest lines in this 'racy' skit (say "Colonel Angus" fast) including Rachel's "I'm always happy to see your shining face," the audience gets silent on those while laughing at every line the men say.

Whitney is a comedy about relationships and that makes the Water Cooler Set uncomfortable. You've got to realize this is the same group that never objected as Pam was little more than a dish rag and walk-on role for the first seasons of The Office. The idea that Whitney might have sex is just too much for them. Couldn't she just embarrass herself by getting naked in front of her boyfriend only to discover him with another woman?

Relationships are tough on the Overgrown Boyz of The Water Cooler Set. And tough on the little girls who back stab to fit in -- take Gazelle Emami and Mallika Rao. Gals, you're so good at hating women, you've practically developed jock itch.

Stopping long enough from scratching their phantom balls, the two penned an attack on the show for Huffington Post which included this lament, "Within the first five minutes of 'Whitney,' the show's M.O. asserted itself and would not go away: relationships, love, sex and the lack thereof in this terrible modern purgatory we call singlehood."

This terrible modern purgatory? Aaahhhhh, they're almost as pathetic as Zooey Deschanel's character. No wonder Gazelle and Mallika fit so well in the male locker room that is The Water Cooler Set.

Whitney lives with her boyfriend Alex Green (Chris D'Elia). A neighbor in their building is Mark (also Alex's friend, played by Dan O'Brien). Whitney's best friends are Roxanne (Rhea) and Lily (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Lily's fiancee is Neal (Maulik Pancholy).

Negative criticism? Chris D'Elia could stand a shave. If he's going to have a beard, give him a beard. If not, give him a shave. Zoe Lister-Jones was erratic in the first show. By the second, she'd found her comedy rhythm and episodes three and four confirm that she'll be a strong asset to the show. Maulik Pancholy needed a big laugh early on and didn't get it. And doesn't in the first four shows. He's amusing. He's not bad at all. But he needs a moment that's not being provided and he especially needs that moment because everyone's thinking, "There's Jonathan from 30 Rock." They'll continue to think that until he gets his big laugh.

Other than that, we have no complaints. We think the show's wonderful and could be a standard bearer for NBC, the show that, if given space and time, could return Must See TV to NBC Thursdays.

Remember how we said sex was making The Water Cooler Set uncomfortable?

If you ever doubted that find your fave Water Cooler Setter and look at their reviews of the first episode of 2 Broke Girls and then at the second episode.

You'd think, looking at, for example, Entertainment Weekly, that Andrew Dice Clay wrote the first episode while Treva Silverman wrote the second, so disparate were the reactions to them. There was no major change in the two episodes. (The pilot was written by Whitney Cummings, Michael Patrick King and Molly McAleer. "And The Rich People Problems" was written by Michelle Nader.)

What was the real difference in episodes one and two? Max (Kat Dennings) wasn't making out with live-in love Robbie (Noah Miles) in the second episode because they broke up by the end of the first episode and her co-worker Caroline (Bath Behrs) moved in.

That really is the only big difference in the two episodes.

Let's come back to that. Kat Dennings is amazing. The sitcom genre seems to have been created just for her and her offbeat delivery. Beth Behrs has already found a way to maintain her own comedy rhythm while managing to mesh with Dennings. The show is set in a diner where Max is a waitress and Caroline, a socialite with a family scandal, just got hired on. The two young women have completely different personalities and outlooks but end up being friends in spit of it.

Like Whitney, this show is also co-created by Whitney Cummings and is also damn funny. We'd like to give it a full review later in the season. But instead we have to lump it in with another strong show (Whitney) because of the unrestrained and unhidden sexism at play.

Whitney is being attacked. By the same people who have applauded one non-funny sitcom after another. Whitney's actually funny. But it's being punished because it takes place in a world where women actually have some say in their own lives. See, the only way The Water Cooler Set tolerates a woman being prominent is if she's Shirley Temple-ing it through a variation of Dimples or Wee Willie Winkie. There's not one honest laugh to be found in New Girl. And Zooey Deschanel could never be as adorable as she thinks she is. But let her be the stunted girl who doesn't get any while she dispenses advice to men and acts as their helpmate and life guide and watch her be hailed as if she's some sort of breakthrough.

The reactions to the three shows say a great deal about how women are seen and how they are judged in our society. The less mature they are and the less control they have, the more they're loved by the male critic mindset. Surround them with men, toss them into another of what we long ago dubbed the Deanna Durbin One Hundred Men and A Girl syndrome and the critics love it (and never notice it's one woman surrounded by men).

Here's reality, when Marlo Thomas starred in That Girl, it was a step forward because she was playing a single woman living on her own and living her own life. But if That Girl aired today, we'd be the first to complain that Ann Marie's entire existence and universe was male defined. It would be as though The Mary Tyler Moore Show never aired, as if Mary, Rhoda, Phyllis, Sue Ann and Georgette never existed.

In other words, New Girl has nothing "new" to offer. Its stale, its not funny and its audience will drift away. You can call that 'just a prediction' and dismiss it or you can remember that we've been very good about zooming in each season on the over praised offering and telling you it was a dud while The Water Cooler Set insisted otherwise. Anyone remember the critical darling Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip or, more recently, Mr. Sunshine? They burnt out so quickly, didn't they?
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