Sunday, April 27, 2014

TV: Bad Sitcom

How quickly can a TV show die?


We ask that because CBS' Bad Teacher died 19 seconds in.

That's when they showed Ari Graynor's face.

The body had already been displayed and was nothing to get excited about.  In fact, two brief scenes later, you'd see Graynor in a black tank top with bra fat spilling out of the top's arm holes.  Wiggly, wavy bra fat spilling out the sides of her tank top.

The TV show is based on the 2011 film Bad Teacher which starred the always funny Cameron Diaz.

She's a teacher who hates teaching and does is poorly.  She doesn't care because she's getting married to a very wealthy man.  But, oops, the engagement doesn't take and she's forced to return to teaching.  Diaz is hilarious as a mercenary on the prowl for a man with a really large bank account.  And she's funny quarreling with this person or using that person or sleeping with this guy or . . .

In other words, she's funny for all the things they never let you be on TV.

Ty passes on questions all the time from readers asking, "Why didn't you review ____?"

Three shows have prompted that question the most in the last nine months.

One was Fox's sitcom Enlisted. The show starred Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell and Parker Young as three brothers in the army who end up stationed on the same base.  The low rated show does have its fans.  For example, March 21st, The Army Times offered "EDITORIAL: Army Times calls on Fox to give 'Enlisted' better time slot."  The editorial board argued that the show was needed as, basically, a public service announcement and that, "The writers have doubled down on their commitment to accuracy and relevant jokes."

Accuracy really isn't that important in a sitcom.  And where were the jokes?

The fact of the matter is a sitcom has to be funny.  This one wasn't.  It wasn't offensive, it didn't insult you, it just didn't make you laugh.  We watched the show.  We were asked to review it.  We said, "Pass."  After we watched, we said, "Pass."  A week or two later, we were offered more episodes.  We watched those as well.

We've noted before that Geoff Stults is good looking and we certainly enjoyed each and every shirtless scene he did for Enlisted.  Lowell and Young are also good looking guys.  But the mild scripts did nothing for us and if eye candy could keep a series alive all on its own, Fox would have already renewed Almost Human.

The Army Times' editorial board insisted "the show has come a very long way since" the pilot.  (Italicized "very" is in their editorial.)  We disagree.  Enlisted is the same basic show with the same basic problem:  It can't be funny.  It's the modern day military and the creators have rubbed every corner round in an effort to command-proof this TV show so that it never upsets anyone.

It was lifeless -- just like Private Benjamin.

No, we're not slamming Goldie Hawn's 1980 classic film.

That was hilarious and Goldie more than earned her Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.  That film was daring and provocative and, most important, hilarious.

The sitcom?

Judy Benjmain, in a film, can take on Captain Doreen Lewis (played by Eileen Brennan in the film and in the TV series).  But in the TV show, Judy really can't (unless you consider Judy wanting to use Captain Lewis' bathroom 'taking on Captain Lewis')  and all those great moments from the film can't be carried over either.

The film wanted to be daring and hilarious.  The sitcom wanted to be as cuddly as Snuggles (the fabric softener bear).  So for 39 episodes nothing ever happened.

That was the problem with Enlisted as well.

Private Benjamin, the series, had another problem.

Goldie's character was a spoiled, sheltered, daughter of wealth who goes into the army as a widow and finds herself -- then loses herself when she falls in love before catching herself again -- Judy rescues herself.  The princess in the film fairy tale rescued herself.

Lorna Patterson was given no character to play in the TV show.  And the height of entertainment was supposed to be food fights in the cafeteria.  This show was even milder than Enlisted (because it starred a woman and aired on CBS).

There was no point to it.

And there's no point to Bad Teacher.

We feel bad about that.

We like Hillary.

Hillary Winston is a hilarious writer.  She did a pretty good job with the pilot.  (She's also a producer of the show.)  She failed with regards to the child actors, but otherwise she did a pretty good job.  She did a much better job with  her book My Boyfriend Wrote A Book About Me.  But we can't recommend you watch Bad Teacher.

Cameron Diaz's character has been given a different name, stripped of a male roommate and softened and softened to the point that she makes Snuggles look like a bad ass.  And you might be able to live with that if the actress now playing the character (Elizabeth in the film, Meredith in the TV show) was right for the part.

Ari Graynor is not right for the part.

You can slap all the make up on her that you want, she's not going to be beautiful.  With her looks, she should be playing the wife in Elaine May's Heartbreak Kid. Why do looks matter?

Looks are all there is to Meredith.  It's how she gets ahead, it's what she uses.  And the looks aren't Raquel Welch.  They're more all-American girl, Cheryl Tiegs beauty.  The looks ensure that she's seen as sweet, kind and innocent.  That impression is how she snared the fiancee to begin with.

"A water buffalo cannot play a gazelle."  That's what a CBS exec told us regarding this show and insisting it would not see a second season.

Graynor does tend to lumber onscreen which gives her the appearance of carrying a large amount of weight.  But what really dooms her is the fact that she has nothing to project.

She was a washout, a muted pastel, on Fringe as Olivia's sister Rachel. Though this series keeps the camera on her constantly, she's even less visible.

The real mystery of the show is how she got cast?  No one wants to take credit for that.

(If the show were a hit, everyone would be falling over themselves to insist the casting was their idea.)

It's awful watching the actress lumber around and then suddenly stop to stand like a statue each time she thinks she's got a funny line to deliver.  You have to watch for that, her stopping to stand still, because otherwise you won't know the line was supposed to be funny since she delivers every line exactly the same way.

It was even worse watching the supporting cast.

As surely as Graynor fails in every scene, David Alan Grier, Kristin Davis, Sara Gilbert and Ryan Hansen soar.  They are playing characters who first appeared in the film but they have made those characters their own and fleshed them out.

Davis especially deserves credit because she's so good that it gnaws at you while you watch but it doesn't hit you until after you're done watching, "Oh, Kristin is so much prettier than Ari Graynor.  She should have been cast in the lead."

Some will say, "You're dwelling a lot on looks."  TV is a visual medium.

Also, we're pretty much socialized to believe that a gold digger requires beauty.

Watching Ari Graynor try to land the wealthy fathers of her students required more than suspension of disbelief. There is no way in the world that Graynor would be first choice for any good looking, wealthy playboy.  And what she really looks like is Tori Spelling in the first season of 90210 -- before all the surgery.

That season, Tori's Donna was a virgin and, let's remember, there weren't a lot of men rushing after her.

Again, some of you may feel this is unfair to Graynor, this attention to her looks.

But we had to watch her rather small breasts supposedly be ogled.  And we had to do that in episode where her character mocked and humiliated a 12-year-old girl by dubbing the girl "water bra" in front of others. We had to watch her insult the 12-year-old  kid repeatedly with "water bra."

When your series lead is attacking the looks of children, we think your lead better be drop dead gorgeous. We kept waiting for the young girl to point out that her (still growing) breasts were practically the same size as Graynor's not-all-that rack.

The actress didn't write the script, some might argue.

She acted in it.  She could have demanded a line change.  But she was comfortable going after the looks of young girls.  Graynor's an adult so we're more than fine pointing out that her looks are nothing to brag about. In fact, from certain angles (especially with that nose), she's down right ugly.

E-mails have asked why we haven't covered Eva Longoria's Mother Up! series on Hulu?

We had planned to.  We found Eva's turn on The Simpsons this season to be worthy of praise.  But then she went around to every outlet she could explaining how hard it was for her to play such a bizarre character (Isabel was a Republican) and we got really tired of her really damn quick.  We're talking about Longoria playing the voice of a little girl in a 22 minute animated episode, not performing the lead in The Elephant Man on Broadway.  We should note that we especially got tired of her whining in Spanish language outlets because she really took it to them.  If you just read English language outlets, you were left with two basic stories.  There was so much more in the Spanish media.  As she kept babbling on about her difficulties, we kept waiting for her to claim playing Isabel gave her Post-Traumatic Stress. It was a cute little part in a cartoon episode about the need to look beyond the surface.  That apparently was too frightening of a prospect for Eva.

We watched three episodes of Mother Up! and didn't care for the show.  We weren't sure how much her nonsense to the press bothered us and how much it was the show itself?

Allen Gregory is a show we loved.  We think it was the best new animated show in years.  And Eva's Mother Up! shared a lot with Allen Gregory in terms of tone and temperament.  What it didn't share was a likable adult.  Without Jeremy, Allen Gregory wouldn't have worked.

You needed at least one adult in the cast to root for.

Mother Up! failed to give us one.

The third show e-mails focused on was Crackle's Cleaners.

Ty told us there was this whole subset of e-mails from people who believed that, because we consider Courtney Cox a friend, we were ignoring this show that starred her ex-husband David Arquette.  We love Courtney but we also love the Arquettes.  We really didn't think of David when we passed on this.

We were watching the first episode and noting how poorly it was filmed, how shoddy the lighting was, how everything looked like crap and then Gina Gershon came on as the boss of everyone.  We honestly stopped right there.  When a show can't properly film Gina, it's a show that's never going to get its act together.

In a visual medium, visuals matter.

Bad Teacher was doomed the moment they cast the role of a hot, desirable, sexy woman with Ari Graynor who only managed to accurately fill in the gender requirement.  That the people behind this show think that adults making fun of 11 and 12-year-olds qualifies as comedy may be the saddest thing about this show.

We don't remember Cameron insulting the looks of children in the film Bad Teacher.  It's too bad that Hillary and others have decided to go with that for the TV show.  But, happy thought, it won't be with us long. It lost two million viewers from the lead-in (Two and a Half Men).  It will most likely lose two million more this Thursday when the second episode airs.  Which means about five million will have watched it.  And if that happens, Bad Teacher will, in week two, have had the lowest rated new episode of any CBS Thursday night sitcom this season.   Not a big surprise.  Like we already said, Bad Teacher died in the first 19 seconds.

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