Lunchtable TV Talk: Forever & Second Chance

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TV is saturated with shows that tell some variation of the immortality/reviving someone from death story. Some are better than others. The two most recent (at least that I bothered to watch) – Forever and Second Chance – couldn’t be more different. (Penny Dreadful crossed into this category to some extent, but it is an entirely different… monster. And it suffered greatly from a huge buildup that led to a rushed and unfortunate, low-satisfaction ending after three unhurried seasons.) Like Dreadful, both Forever and Second Chance ended up prematurely cancelled – in their cases, after a mere single season.

Forever, starring the charming Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd – who made a star turn in the latest season of UnREAL – in the lead and Judd Hirsch – who has recently made his curmudgeonly mark in The Goldbergs and Maron –  in an excellent supporting role, actually had the story and the writing to make the idea of a man who can’t die – and keeps “reanimating” after every death. In the form of flashbacks we find out how he got immortality as well as piece together his relationship with Hirsch and so on. Flashbacks can be the most grating part of many shows, but they were effective in Forever because they helped give us a piece of the puzzle. The show was engaging enough that we wanted those pieces.

Second Chance, though, apart from the presence of Tim DeKay (of White Collar fame)… did not deserve a first, let alone, second chance. It was this improbable concoction of improbable stories and people. Loosely crafted around the Frankenstein theme, it was all over the place. I would describe how except that it is not worth my time or yours. Especially since it’s over before it really began.

What fascinates me is the constant urge to resuscitate this idea of bringing the dead back to life or creating some form of immortality, especially when all the cultural works about everlasting life show that it is often more painful than anything else.

Photo (c) 2010 James Adamson

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: unREAL

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If you had told me that I would fall flat-on-my-ass in love with original programming from Lifetime, well, I would sooner have believed that I would win the lottery. Lifetime has done something unexpected by offering us unREAL, starring Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer. I like Zimmer a lot anyway but did not know Appleby before. The two together make the show. Some of Zimmer’s dialogue is a bit over the top but she pulls off even the witchiest of bitchiest. I read somewhere that the role was originally slated to be played by Megyn Price but I cannot imagine anyone in the role but Zimmer.

Appleby as Rachel, though, is a revelation: Tough, vulnerable, strong but put time and again into compromising positions that challenge her conscience. Even with the moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding Rachel at every turn in her work, this is not a preachy, moralizing show. Instead it explores the grey areas of human relationships and manipulations and the extremes people are willing to push themselves to. And asks at what cost – and can a person come back from the edge? Can they really feel or trust again after certain soul-crushing experiences? What better place to do this than a fictionalized behind-the-scenes look at the backstage machinations of a reality show like The Bachelor? It’s dark but not devoid of human emotion. People all live in grey zones. It’s people being ruthless even though they do, on some level, seem to care about each other. But wouldn’t it be easy to go full-on cynical after living in this world populated by artifice? In fact because the show is deeply human, it skewers without ever turning into a parody.

As often happens, I came to the unREAL game a bit late – the entire first season was over by the time I watched (all the better to binge on, my dear). I’d read glowing reviews and heard the accolades but the Lifetime stigma and the one-sentence premise about a reality-show setting screamed, “No!” I gave in, though, and I am beyond glad that I did. Let’s free ourselves from bias – creativity can come from anywhere!

Apart from showering the stars with praise – richly deserved because they breathe the life and humanity into this show – the real thanks should go to the show’s co-creators, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who made the brilliant Sequin Raze, the inspiration for unREAL, and the prolific Marti Noxon, a TV veteran and apparently a fellow baking aficionado who owns a flour mill. How can I not be in love with these women? (I am.)

It sounds pretty cheesy, but the long-heard Lifetime tagline, “Television for Women”, has always been condescending and limiting, but I think they finally got it right here. Television for, by and about women that should engage and entertain everyone.