Sunday, December 01, 2013

TV: A lot of stuffing, a lot of bluffing, not much entertainment

What a week for TV it was.  You could say it kicked off with a stunt and ended with a slump.  And somewhere in between was the reality of the never-ending slow death of the industry in all of its forms.


Family Guy decided to 'kill' Brian off.  He's not gone.  Maya Rudolph will play a woman he falls for in an episode later this season.  The death is a stunt. Part of the shock and outrage stems from the fact that it was a throwaway.  On The Simpsons, when Maude Flanders died, that was the episode.

Here, viewers were (falsely) told Brian was dead and instead of focusing on that, it was time to get a new dog, Vinny (voiced poorly by Tony Sirico) who was about as needed as Poochie -- only when The Simpsons introduced Poochie, viewers were in on the joke.

When the audience realizes it was punked, it will be interesting to see how they take it because they are taking it very seriously right now, expressing outrage, threatening Fox that they will stop watching, signing petitions.

Will they just feel foolish when Brian re-emerges on the show or will they also feel angry?

And if they do feel anger, will they take it out on the show?

If they do, Seth MacFarlane picked the wrong time to tick off his fan base.  The Cleveland Show got the axe.  American Dad! rode to a giddy high with the friendship-rivalry of Hayley and Roger but then walked completely away from that story line and has become boring and yet another cartoon like every other Seth cartoon:  Talking animal/alien teams up with boyish male.

It's tired, it's boring and America's yawning.

That explains both the ratings and the fact that Fox has cancelled the show.  (TBS will air at least fifteen new episodes after it leaves Fox.)

Seth has destroyed his own shows.  They lack storylines -- instead repeatedly ripping off movies (including Tootsie and Crimes & Misdemeanors).  It's because, more and more, the episodes aren't based on recognizable life or real experiences.  Instead, the writers offer their copy of a film.

When you plant the same crop in the same field over and over, you strip the soil of the nutrients.  After awhile, nothing will grow there.

We fear Seth is approaching that point.

Fox execs told us they (a) now regretted axing King of the Hill (one said, "We thought Seth was the future but now we realize he does the same exact show over and over and we've stupidly paid for it."), (b) were looking for more Bob's Burgers type shows that pleased the audience because they had real storylines and (c) they were feeling "iffy" on Seth's Bordertime (new animated series to debut next fall on Fox).

"We're lucky," one exec said.  "We didn't give him a Michael J. Fox."

That's in reference to NBC's lowest rated sitcom The Michael J. Fox Show -- the show NBC would love to take off the air already but can't because they gave Fox a full season commitment for the show.  By contrast, Fox has only guaranteed 13 episodes for the show.

And this is the time he wants to piss off fans of Family Guy?

His career has never been shakier and he needs goodwill because he's following up his directing of the hit film Ted with his directing and acting in A Million Ways To Die.  When the film comes out in May, will the Family Guy stunt have tarnished Seth's fading glow?

Faded glow, faded glory.

Garth Brooks, one-time country recording artist, walked away from it in 2001.  In the last years, he's returned to concerts.

CBS got him for a live concert on Friday night.  There was little in terms of visuals as Garth performed on a Las Vegas stage.  For about 20 seconds, at the start, there were some nice shots of the city from a helicopter, then we were backstage with Garth beckoning us to "Come here."

Clad in ratty jeans, a jersey pull over and a baseball cap, we thought he was going to tell us we needed a new engine or that our tires were out of alignment.  Instead, he rushed on stage ("Boom!") -- in that outfit.

It was all very casual.  If you didn't grasp that he wasn't going to put any real effort into the TV broadcast, you missed that he didn't even bother to learn new phrases (he was stuck in the nineties, for example repeatedly exclaiming, "That's what I'm talking about!").

He tossed out a song (for two minutes) then went to pacing the stage (nervously) and telling his life story in a manner that honestly reminded us of an informercial.  We kept waiting for him to pitch a juicer.

He never did.

He didn't do much singing either.  When he did perform a song, it was done in three minutes in most cases.

He spent about five minutes waxing over his sexual attraction to James Taylor.

Who knew Garth was into cadavers?

The sexual attraction was so great that he would go on to claim "Sweet Baby James" had to be vague because that was lyrics in the sixties.  The album track was released, on the album, in 1970.  Sort of spoils Garth's musical 'analysis' of the sixties and seventies.

Watching the special, we kept waiting for him to shut up.

He nervously paced around the stage, as though he were wired on drugs, and telling stories over and over.

An eight minute segment, for example, found boring stories and, in the segment's final two minutes, Garth strummed his guitar and sang the first 13 lines to Don McLean's "American Pie," got the audience to start singing the chorus and CBS went to commercial.

Did anyone plan this?

Was there any rehearsal?

Maybe of his non-stop mockery of Elton John.  He should have spent more time on his bit about The Graduate.  Most men see Anne Bancroft sleeping with Dustin Hoffman as a wish fulfilled -- the action was used to sell the movie.  But for Garth, her character "devoured" Hoffman's character.  How scared of sex is Garth Brooks?

This was a lousy special.  And we're all for live programming.

Every now and then you got Garth on stage with his guitar and maybe the audience took up the song when Garth had tired himself out with a verse or two.

The real point appeared to be that Garth wanted money but didn't want to do a concert.

As awful as the special was, there was something even more awful.

Garth won the night for CBS.

People skipped Barbra Walters interviewing US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

This was supposed to be 'event TV.'

The beleaguered politician, his support cratering, was going to reflect.

ABC promoted the interview by noting Barack was already thinking about life after the White House, where to live, staying in DC for an additional two years so that the youngest daughter could finish high school with her friends, and more.

When you're planning your escape route in the first year of your newly elected term?

It really is over.

And maybe that's what the ratings demonstrated as well as people chose Garth over Barack by a clear majority?

Other low points?  The endless, never-ending repeats.

Are specials really special if they're forever trotted out?

CBS aired Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special from 1964 yet again (to record ratings) while Democracy Now! went with Yip Harburg the Red Nosed Songwriter.  This 'holiday classic' is one Goodman's been broadcasting since 1996.  We don't know which is worse, CBS' inability to create new animated holiday specials or Amy Goodman -- getting millions from Pacifica Radio -- airing 17 year old broadcasts instead of pre-taping a new episode ahead of time.

As we were saying earlier, when you plant the same crop in the same field over and over, you strip the soil of the nutrients.

It's a shame so many are so willing to chew on the bones of the past instead of addressing the present.

The entire  week wasn't a slump.

CBS' Hostages, for example, aired a new episode on Monday and it only added to the complexities and drama.  The same night last week in which Brian was 'killed,' The Simpsons aired "The Kid Is All Right"  Eva Longoria guest-voiced Isabel Guiterrez, a new friend of Lisa's who challenges Lisa's perceptions and beliefs when Lisa learns her great new friend is a Republican.  Though Eva Longoria embarrassed herself in interviews (she declared playing a Republican was a huge step for her -- who knew acting was so beyond her reach?), she did a great job on the show.

As Den of Geek noted, "This is shaping up to be a classic season on The Simpsons."  It is and wasn't it about time that someone told Bart the meaning of his catch phrase "Ay Caramba!"

Lisa:  I just can't believe someone like you would be a Republican. I mean, isn't your last name Gutierez?

Isabel:  What exactly are you saying?

Lisa:  I'm just saying that people of your heritage, which could be any one of many heritages. I'm not pigeon-holing. Is it a Catholic thing?

Open-minded Lisa, so serious about being fair, is baffled and falls back on stereotypes.

The girls run for the same office but put friendship ahead of everything.

A lot of Americans -- especially talk show hosts posing as journalists -- seem to be working overtime to divide the country.

Leave it to The Simpsons to try to calm down the waters when others work to pitch the country into a blood feud.  We all have to live together.  If a cartoon can grasp that, maybe others can.

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