Lunchtable TV Talk: Rosewood

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Rosewood is one of those shows. It’s one I could take or leave. My mom really liked it and encouraged me to watch. We don’t usually align on our favorite tv shows – this was no exception. But I like Morris Chestnut and decided to give it a go. (Sure, I preferred Morris in Nurse Jackie and even in the reboot of V… but I will take what I can get.)

This was a slow starter for me. I found the premise tired, the setting rather unbelievable, a lot of details thrown in just for the sake of drama, tension or diversity (i.e., nothing wrong with those things but they did not seem to flow naturally, which ended up being distracting). Characters felt artificial, showing up at strange times and just not fitting into the flow. I don’t know if this jarring effect was intentional (maybe it is more like real life to throw a group of unlikely random people together than other shows that cast for specific types of chemistry?), but for me, it did not work at all. I found myself annoyed most of the time by the female lead/detective, Annalise Villa, with whom Rosewood was constantly pairing up. Eventually, though, I warmed up to her and think she started filling the role more believably (that often happens on tv shows – actors and writers find their footing). I am still not mad about most of the rest of the cast and its characters, but Rosewood and Villa are a compelling pair.

The show’s premise is nothing particularly fresh – Rosewood is a private pathologist/medical examiner with whom the city of Miami consults on tough cases. And like all police procedurals that bring in medical examiners or psychics or writers or what have you, the non-police characters are still somehow woven directly into the daily investigative work of the police, which strikes me as pretty unrealistic. But how much would we watch otherwise? How much smoldering chemistry would you get between a detective and a pathologist if they each spent the entire show working in their own spheres? Yeah, exactly.

The show tries a few “hooks” – Rosewood is flashy, slick, arrogant (and with reason – he seems to be the best at what he does) and stubbornly unable to drop something once he has a hunch. But he is also riddled with a history of health problems and a stopwatch on his life – how much time does he have left? He imagines it might be as little as ten years. So… pack as much as possible – including crime solving?! – into the time that’s left?! I don’t know. That angle felt pretty weak to me from the beginning, and is often used as a convenient reason to introduce different characters and storylines that don’t always feel well reasoned otherwise.

For the first eight or so episodes, I watched but was disengaged, and would wander off to get coffee or something for minutes at a time. I am sure I missed something useful but it never really seemed to matter. Every episode felt like it was definitely much longer than 45 minutes. By the end of the first season, I was not hooked and could easily forget to watch the next season, but at least I was not leaving the room periodically while an episode was running.

Photo (c) 2010 Sergio Monsalve

Lunchtable TV Talk: Heartbeat

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I wrote a bit the other day about how there is a glut of medical drama on tv and wondered about why some of it works, hits its stride, gains an audience (ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Chicago Hope, Chicago Med, The Night Shift…) while other stuff fails (Monday Mornings, A Gifted Man, Off the Map and a bunch more…). There are other shows that fall into the medical category but I would not put them in the broad “medical drama” category, for example, Scrubs was a long-running and successful comedy; The Knick is an exceptional prestige period piece on Cinemax – an entirely different breed from the churned-out, regurgitated medical-drama-of-the-week delivered on network TV; House was less about medicine and more about a troubled man; Nurse Jackie was a lot like House – medicine was the backdrop but Jackie as a woman trying to balance addiction, work, family was what brought the house down.

Heartbeat is another one of these that absolutely didn’t work. I don’t even know how to count the ways it did not work. But here are some reasons:

  • Melissa George (in general in the role – beyond her reach; in the role – too over-the-top and trying too hard/overacting)
  • The love triangle
  • The head of the hospital: Not believable as head of hospital; it’s like casting decided that they needed a hot, young, non-white/”ethnic” woman in a leadership role and checked that box off a list. It’s not that the actress was bad, just that the whole setup was stupid.
  • The flashbacks: Added no value, tried to build some meaning but just wasted time.
  • The outlandish medical stories (this was meant to be the hook, I guess)
  • The outlandish scenes (dance party in the hospital, some kind of off-site race, a flash mob in the hospital, etc.)
  • Gimmicky
  • Poor writing and even poorer dialogue: It was abjectly stupid

I could elaborate on these points, but it would waste even more time (and I already wasted enough by watching the ten or so episodes of this that existed).

Lunchtable TV Talk: House – King of Misanthropes

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House is one of those shows with an egotistical, maniacal, damaged “genius” with special skills at the helm. It never interested me much, despite being a Hugh Laurie fan, as medical mystery procedurals don’t generally keep delivering punches after one season. They hold our interest when they are new because we like novelty – we like curmudgeonly assholes or mental cases (and I do recognize that lumping people into a superficial group like “mental cases” is insensitive and a massive and unfair generalization). There is only so much we can take of assholes, racists, addicts on TV… from Archie Bunker to Adrian Monk, from Hank Moody to almost all characters Denis Leary plays on TV. Dr Gregory House is one of the biggest of all TV jerks, and completely self-involved, self-destructive and does not care how he hurts – or how much – the people in his life. That common thread runs, to varying degrees, through all these “lovable” (or not so lovable) jerks.

I realize it is a bit late to be writing about a show like House. It’s old – it ended ages ago. I was surprised when I watched the first season to see that it was more than a decade old already. I got sucked into House recently after a long, self-imposed foreign-film festival on the homestead. I just wanted some English-language entertainment to occupy my mind only halfway. What struck me first is: how on earth do we, with our short attention spans, manage to follow or care about serialized television shows that go on for 22 or 24 episodes per season? Particularly with these kinds of shows, they run out of steam fairly quickly and become predictable (even in their lack of unpredictability). It still remained mildly entertaining, but when you’re bingeing all eight seasons at once, all 176 plus or minus, it wears out its welcome really fast. I recently read an article in which a TV critic argues that binge watching enables a show to be created expressly for the binge in mind, which means we are less likely to pick out its flaws. This applies mostly to shows created for streaming that go for a max of about 13 episodes. I agree to some extent – nothing’s perfect, whether it’s too long, too short, or skimps on process that adds to plot. These things are designed to stream and ingest all in one go. But these longer shows that get churned out season after season feel churned out. A great slog through mostly mud before occasionally hitting a few smoother streams.

Second thing that struck me, of course, as I am sensitively attuned to these things, and which is not at all a surprise: addicts possess nothing but meanness, diffuse blame and spew denial and insult whenever they can. But House is not the best portrayal of how addiction works. It occasionally illustrates (although more with unrealistic storylines and hammer-over-the-head consequences for the people House works with – his “friends”) the bad parts of addiction. House is openly an addict, and the people around him openly enable it. It is a lot more interesting and realistic to see addiction (particularly in a healthcare setting) in Nurse Jackie. (You can incidentally get a lot better and more intimate view on the work lives of nurses from Nurse Jackie and Getting On than medical shows like House, which have nothing to do with nurses, in any case.) Addiction really only comes into stark focus as season five ends and season six begins, and House goes to rehab. I suppose the “party” could not go on forever.

Third note: I think I kept watching throughout because I like the cast. And for most of the cast, I like them in these roles. I have not really liked Jennifer Morrison in much other than in her role as Dr Cameron. I really have a growing hatred for Lisa Edelstein after suffering (forcing myself to suffer, really) through each week’s increasingly horrifying episode of Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, but seeing her in House makes her look strong, intelligent, thoughtful, insightful. Girlfriends Guide strips away every last bit of the humanity and compassion that Edelstein cultivated in House. I realize the point of acting is to… act, but the characters in GG2D are so distasteful that I can’t see why someone would want to stretch their “acting chops” to stoop so low. Robert Sean Leonard is a reliably good foil, friend and enabler for Hugh Laurie’s Dr House, and Omar Epps has carved out a career of being a doctor on TV.

While there are only so many scenes of close-ups of House’s brooding, thoughtful scowl a person can take, I appreciated the opening episode of House, wherein, as an introduction to his misanthropy, in which he explains to a patient who exclaims, after being probed, prodded and tested that she just wants to “die with dignity”:

“There’s no such thing! Our bodies break down, sometimes when we’re 90, sometimes before we’re even born, but it always happens and there’s never any dignity in it. I don’t care if you can walk, see, wipe your own ass. It’s always ugly, always….You can live with dignity, we can’t die with it.”

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 – Nurse Jackie: The walking dead

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Addiction is a hard thing to face for addicts – and even more for those who love them.

Science on addiction is evolving – Dr Carl Hart at the forefront of publicizing it, but many voices and study results are showing that addiction is not all about chemistry. Addiction is, in fact, not what we think it is.

Of course I’m all for discoveries that help us better understand the nature of addiction but would also appreciate knowing on an individual level: if addicts lack connections and relationships and a sense of community and connectivity – and that partially explains what they are doing – how can an individual help? How does an individual, the non-addict in the addict’s life, cope? Every study in the world, every book in the world that explains what addiction is does not change the day-to-day challenges of living with, loving or trusting an addict.

In the many seasons of Nurse Jackie, at once dramatic and comedic, we have seen a flawed but high-functioning addict in the form of Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco). Other than her hidden identity as an addict, we only know Jackie as a nurse, a wife and a mother – but mostly a nurse, and as we go into this final season, we can see her struggling against losing this key piece of her identity. She is willing to fight for it – harder and stronger than she ever fought for her family or her sobriety.

I have written before about Nurse Jackie, first with regard to the increasing difficulty of relating to or sympathizing with Jackie.

“I used to have a lot more sympathy for and interest in Jackie, but like most users – users of drugs and of people – Jackie has become extremely hard to like. Some of the antics in the hospital where she works are still interesting enough, and the cast is still a joy to watch, but it is painful to watch how people are affected by and duped by her lying (which grows worse and worse, despite a brief moment of sobriety). It’s hard to say where this will go in its next season, as last season ended with an unexpected revelation from her husband.”

At the time I had very little direct experience with this sort of thing. This changed last year. As someone who loved and cared for an addict, it was not like anything I imagined. But, as a recent article about Nurse Jackie described, the show is one of the few accurate portrayals of addiction. It’s rough, somehow unpredictably painful even if the pain and challenges are predictable, and it opens a door to caring unconditionally for the recovering addict even if never quite being able to trust them again. Addicts sometimes feel a bit like the walking dead.

And where the early seasons of Jackie offered a bit more comedy (the show was never necessarily designed as a comedy, even if it had its moments), showing unbelievable events with few, if any, consequences, each subsequent season has escalated with its drama and equally escalated consequences.

Taken as a whole, the earlier parts, where Jackie is managing the balancing act of nurse, wife, mother along with addict and girlfriend/affair partner with her hospital’s pharmacist (direct source to her poisons), show the “good part” where the addict thinks they can and will manage flawlessly. Every season, she takes bigger risks to maintain her high and continue to conceal her growing addiction. And things inevitably spiral out of control. In the background of Jackie’s personal travails, we also see the challenges of the American healthcare system, its understaffing problems, its bureaucratic problems, humanity versus automation and the general frailty of human relationships when strained by outside forces. I am sorry this is the last season, even if it feels like the right time for it to go.

Sweet TV

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The pre-emptive breaking of one’s own heart – not just on TV anymore

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