Lunchtable TV Talk: Zoo

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I write often, recognizing the hyperbolic quality of my claims, that one show or another is the worst show ever. But you can trust me when I write here and now that Zoo is THE WORST SHOW EVER. It makes no sense, has the worst plot, terrible acting from much of the cast… it is just outlandish. This week, watching Billy Burke deliver the line, with all seriousness, earnestness and urgency, “We need that sloth” was just the final blow in declaring this the worst. I love James Wolk, but I can’t watch – not even hate watch – any longer. It is just too bloody stupid. And the worst part? It has been renewed for a third bloody season while really unusual and promising shows like BrainDead are on life support!

Photo (c) 2007 Jean-Marc Astesana

Lunchtable TV Talk: Parenthood

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In one of those lengthy periods in life when I am at best misguided and at worst in the throes of  losing my mind, I decided to watch ALL six seasons of the TV show Parenthood. Widely lauded during its run, I never saw it. And I continued to slog through all the droning, annoying seasons despite being almost perpetually annoyed. I hate watched it in the same way I hate watched the dreadful Brothers and Sisters. How can networks keep making these huge-family dramas in which every possible bad thing that happens happens to just one family? (Sure, the odds are greater when the family has four or more siblings in it, as these stupid shows both do. Parenthood was worse, though, because it also delved into more than just the siblings.)

I recently read an article about how streaming services like Netflix releasing entire seasons of bingeable shows allows the viewer to gloss over the weaknesses in the overall fabric of the show and its construction. We get the whole story at once, which might not be the most technically effective way to tell episodic stories, i.e., we have a 10 or 13-hour movie in some of these series rather than an actual serial. I don’t find that this weakness is evident in made-for-streaming shows… but I do see this weakness (and this might just be personal preference) in shows like Parenthood. I noticed, for example, that in every single episode, someone says (and sometimes more than once in an episode) some variation of “we need to talk”: “We need to have a conversation”, “Can we talk?”, etc. And all they did was talk – endlessly. You would think this would interest me because I loved shows like In Treatment, in which the entire show was just talking – a therapist and his patient in an office. Nothing else. But no. That was riveting. Parenthood is just a whine-fest of misguided self-righteousness. And it is from this starting point that I definitely saw major plot and writing deficits – all smooshed together with histrionic, self-involved characters (almost all of them – not just the dude who was supposed to be the “irresponsible younger Braverman brother”).

I cringe just writing the name “Braverman” down, remembering all of Craig T. Nelson’s toasts and boasts about the greatness of the almighty Braverman family. “He can get through it because he is a Braverman.” The show spins around this ridiculous premise. (Somehow TV families, especially large ones, like to rest on this idea… that because of their size and “complexity”, they are more interesting or special than all other families….).

From the whining and constant hyper-intensity of Monica Potter’s Kristina (it’s either “everything is crap because my son has Asberger syndrome” or “I have cancer”) to the whining “I’m not good enough and am a loser” mantra of the ever-annoying Lauren Graham’s Sarah, from the bitchiness of Erika Christensen’s Julia to the endless, endless, endless crying and whining about everything courtesy of the otherwise brilliant Mae Whitman as Amber, this show is… just such shit. It’s been over for some time, and as such should probably not *still* annoy me this much, but I saw the title in a list of things I had seen and felt irritated all over again!

I want to be able to write something better about it… that is, something more descriptive, at least devoting a bit more effort to making my analysis a bit more constructive. I realize that my view is unpopular, and that I am in the minority, but there is no way to fix this pile of dung.

Revisiting Girlfriends’ Guide…

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When I finished watching the first season of the asinine Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, I swore I would not return for more brain abuse. But then I did. I guess I needed, as I wrote previously, more reasons to roll my eyes. The first season had fleeting moments of poignancy in that it dealt on occasion with the sweeping themes of pain, loss and confusion after breakups. But the majority of the show was frivolous and shallow, and the second season largely continues to dredge the dregs. The attempts at evoking depth also come off as exceedingly shallow, trivializing real problems and emotions.

The only exceptions have been (in this order):

  • The appearance of Retta as Barbara. While her character is framed as a bitter and divorced managing editor, she is the only voice of reason/reality in this twilight zone of non-reality. I’d keep watching the show if it started following her.
  • The breakup confrontation younger-man Will forces once his heart is broken by Lisa Edelstein‘s Abby. While I still find the relationship unrealistic and have no clue, given what we’ve seen, why or how this guy imagined he was in love with the clueless and totally self-involved Abby, his reaction seemed spot on.
  • Finally and repeatedly exposing Abby for the self-involved, “it’s-all-about-me” asshole she is. While all the characters are a bit hollow and narcissistic, very rarely considering that there are consequences to their selfishness (they almost all, in fairness, do realize that there are consequences after the fact – the over-the-top acting always reveals these “shock-hurt” facial expressions when someone confronts them on their selfishness). When Will confronts Abby, and also when close friend, Jo eviscerates Abby more than once for her fair-weather-friend nature, these moments rang true.

But dear god, what a stupid show – redeemed in moments that expose the deeply flawed nature of these people.

 

Lunchtable TV Talk: Rosewood

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We’re not long into the new TV season, but there are already some things I really do not like.

Life in Pieces, which I mentioned in another post, is a disaster, despite the presence of Jordan Peele. Limitless, boring, formulaic and dead-end in only the way “gimmick” shows can be. Dr Ken – oh my god. I am not sure I have ever in my entire life seen something as bad, wholeheartedly, offensively and truly bad, as this. Code Black – flatline. Absolutely no chemistry among the cast, nothing is believable, and I think we have enough medical dramas already to last a lifetime.

Rosewood, which I wanted to like because Morris Chestnut (his V and Nurse Jackie characters outshine this by a mile even though he was not the lead in either of those shows) is eminently likable and nice to look at, does not hold my interest at all. I seriously struggle to sit through the 45 minutes of the show, and in fact skipped the last ten in the third episode. None of the characters possesses anything that makes me want to come back for more (or even finish what I start). Lorraine Toussaint, who has been in virtually everything in the last few years (seriously! The Fosters, short-lived Forever, Orange is the New Black, Body of Proof and countless guest roles in popular shows…) cannot even command interest. Should I keep trying?

The only upside to all of this is that my overstuffed TV schedule will be scaled back – and quickly.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Girlfriends Guide to Divorce

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The only things this show gets right are: 1. divorce is hard, 2. even seasoned, beautiful women, perhaps especially the experienced, who should feel accomplished and professional, feel vulnerable and unsure – especially when their footing is pulled out from under them. Those are important themes. Otherwise, nothing about this show rings true.

I like series creator, Marti Noxon, and wrote a love letter about her surprising series, UnREAL. I have always loved Janeane Garofalo, but Garofalo’s character was a psychotic caricature (and probably why she exited the show almost as soon as she started). Lisa Edelstein is someone I can’t make up my mind about at all. I caught her call-girl/law student role in the first season of The West Wing (my recent binge indulgence), and it didn’t do anything to tip the scales either way.

But bottom line, regardless of whether everyone in this show is wealthy and privileged, having had some kind of high-powered position (or being the recipient of major divorce settlements), it is not realistically presented. Edelstein’s character complains about money and how she doesn’t understand how she will make ends meet after she loses her writing contract and her husband (who was never earning money anyway, I guess)… but then everything seems to work out without any explanation or real struggle. And Edelstein’s character has two children – they are mostly invisible. Rearing children is hard with regard to time and money, and assuming there is not a nanny (I have not seen one – and supposed they could not afford one any longer), this is not a big enough part of the story to be realistic. Sure, it’s a fictional show – what does it matter?

Another gripe I have with show and most shows on television is the fluidity and ease with which people hit on each other, as if all of life is this smorgasbord. Maybe it is just that people don’t hit on me every time I go to the grocery store, my kids’ school, the cafe, at work, a casino, every party, etc. but somehow I don’t think things sail quite this smoothly in reality. Why else would people complain in reality about how hard it is to meet people? But we’ve got to flatter these actresses, I guess, or make up storylines.

I do not think I will be back for the second season unless I need something to roll my eyes at.

Lunchtable TV Talk: True Detective – It would take a detective to find something good about this

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What made the first season of True Detective delightful was its sense of coming out of nowhere with something unexpected. No pretension, no weight of expectation. Sure, some of the dialogue was out there, but the unexpectedly great Matthew McConaughey delivered even the strangest dialogue.

Under the heavy weight of expectation, the second season has been bogged down in a convoluted mess pushed further into laughable territory by the presence of Vince Vaughn. I suppose he and his handlers expected a career boost or surge along the same lines as McConaughey – maybe we had all been underestimating Vaughn all these years and he had just never been given a role that allowed him to sink his teeth in. McConaughey had been perceived for many years as a one-trick pony too even though much of his long career is studded with hidden gem performances, the likes of which do not fill out Vaughn’s resume.

Every scene with Vaughn was eye rolling. The script was not great to start with – he was asked to pull off some babble that no one would ever say. But a greater actor might have been able to do it without the viewer feeling the need to laugh. And the constant lingering of Vaughn’s character’s wife (played by British actress Kelly Reilly)… what was that all about? Throughout I was expecting that maybe she would play some larger role in the end game – otherwise what other point does her constant presence and artificial brooding play? If it was just to try to humanize Vaughn’s character, it didn’t work. Their conversation is so stilted, so fake, so forced. It looks like two people who joined an “intro to acting” course at a community college and are just fumbling their way through their first scene together. NO chemistry. And hilariously in the finale, Reilly states, “You can’t act for shit. Take it from me.” Haha. Guess what? Neither one of you can act, and the script sucks!

The season ended, and those questions about her role were not answered. What purpose did Vaughn’s wife really serve other than perhaps being some kind of glorified nanny/part-time mum for Rachel McAdams’s kid? Even if the plot questions were more or less answered, the bigger question – what was the point of any of this? – was not.

The end did not satisfy and ended up being just as stupid as the rest of the seven episodes preceding its unceremonious fizzling out.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Borgia v The Borgias

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A rich and varied tale and time period it may be, but the late 1400s and the rise to power of the Borgia family does not seem like material that would make for two (quite different) series.

The Borgias on Showtime went for a bigger name at the head – Jeremy Irons – and aimed for more salacious and sexual (although Borgia is not far behind). Not unlike the other period pieces Showtime has pushed. Like history won’t be interesting unless it’s presented with boobs.

Borgia is something different – it actually takes a bit more time to explain the context in which the story fits into the world. No huge names here – and it is hard to buy John Doman as Rodrigo Borgia. He’s really such a … cop or corrupt cop or bad guy, you know. He was central to The Wire, and in general is just so American that it is not easy to see past. He shows up everywhere and in a lot of different roles, but as a cardinal/pope in this particular time period? No. Jeremy Irons pulls this off, and while Doman’s a talented guy, he is a man out of place here. The rest of the acting is terrible – an international cast that speaks questionable English even though it’s an English-language production… heavens, please.

I cannot say, even though I sat through both series, that I would recommend either.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Outlander – Tha mo chas air ceann mo naimhdean

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A time-travel-based romance novel on TV is not really my thing. The time period in which Outlander takes place (1743) is equally uninteresting. I have an interest in the American Revolutionary War period, which is just a few years later and on another continent, and the slightly later French Revolution, which rounded out the 1700s. But the 1700s are otherwise not my time.

Outlander is no exception. Regardless of my love for Scotland and listening to the crazy accents there, Outlander gives me no pleasure. Each episode seems to drag on for an eternity, and its heroine is either a bad actress or has mediocre material to work with – or both. In fact the duo leading the cast, Irish actress Caitriona Balfe and Scottish actor Sam Heughan, is dismal. The acting here is a lot of overwrought facial expressions – really laying it on thick – and a lot of silences or very slow responses to build drama. I am sure some of this is the bread and butter of the genre, but some of it is just that neither of these two can act (although I am sure casting required a lot of finding two people who could perform nearly softcore porn on a weekly basis and look appealing doing it, in which case these two fit the bill). (Tobias Menzies is probably the best actor of the bunch in his dual role, but one of his characters is such a subhuman monster that his performance is painful to watch.) The mix of language/accent, the scenery and people’s willingness to get lost in the Scottish history, the romance, the time travel or some combination of all of it means that the acting doesn’t have to pass muster.

I slept through a few episodes but was awakened by some loud, gratuitous sex scenes – and I suppose that is one of the things that draws a fairly… ardent audience. Also, everyone loves the underdog – and is there a greater underdog (albeit a long, hard loss) story than that of Scotland versus England? (It plays out on the political stage to this day!)

What improbably caused me to continue watching is my fascination not just with unsubtitled TV (there’s plenty of unsubtitled Scottish Gaelic here, which may be the show’s best part) but also small and/or endangered languages. The show has apparently ignited an interest in the Scottish Gaelic language. Not by any means an easy or particularly accessible language to learn, I am heartened by movements and tools that encourage the learning and use of the world’s most unusual languages. If Outlander manages to create Gaelic-language awareness, well, then, more power to it.

Lunchtable TV talk – HAPPYish: “Everyone’s f—ed and they don’t even know…”

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Apparently, HAPPYish on Showtime was meant to be a vehicle for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s boundless talents before his untimely death. The usually entertaining (in that obnoxious, this-rubs-me-the-wrong-way-but-I’m-still-laughing manner) Steve Coogan stepped in.

I don’t think it’s Coogan’s fault that the material feels tired, overworked, too much overprivileged middle-aged man at odds with the changing world. Coogan’s character is a senior ad exec, and much like Don Draper in Mad Men, he finds that the changing media landscape and its youth-oriented sensibilities seem to be moving on without him – even if those movements are actually illogical, loss-making bullshit. Coogan is the voice of reason but no one is listening. He’s struck by malaise – unable to be effective at work and unable to be particularly effective in his marriage. He can’t sexually perform, he tells his eager wife (Kathryn Hahn) that Prozac has robbed him of his libido but without Prozac he’d basically be horny but a miserable prick. The first episode makes Hahn seem like she is not able to say much aside from some variation of, “Are we gonna fuck (or not)?” And we were led to believe that men had the one-track minds.

The second episode focused more on Hahn’s troubled relationship with her unseen mother and her internal struggle about whether or not she should return a giant package her mother sent for her grandson. Somehow the parental conflict we don’t see just feels petty and Hahn’s character petulant and self-indulgent because we don’t really know the context. I normally like Hahn (she’s great in both Parks and Recreation and Transparent) but the writing and story here does not suit Hahn and seemingly does not suit anyone who is in this show – and there are a lot of names popping up, but everyone seems awkward.

Part of the problem, apart from trying too hard, is that we have little pieces of this same show already done better in other shows. We have the ad man-out-of-time in Mad Men. We have the hilarious parody of an industry that often seems to be blowing itself and praising its own insular nature at the expense of reality in Silicon Valley. We have the married-life rut and suburban ennui done to perfection in Togetherness. Like most critics, I think we don’t need another TV show about a dissatisfied but mostly spoiled middle-aged white dude complaining about everything he doesn’t have.

Do yourself a favor and watch those shows – not this one.

“Everyone’s fucked and they don’t even know…”