Hey folks, leave it to me to kick off a month-long event a week into the actual month. But that’s how I roll, not obeying those calendars and shit! Today, we’re gonna look at two back-to-back animated series, one that died an ignoble death, and one whose fate is uncertain; and examine if they’re both wastes or if they deserved more time.
First up on the chopping block is Allen Gregory, co-created by Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill (God, that’s a sentence I never expected to write) with Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul. The show premiered in October 2011, in that perilous timeslot on FOX’s Sunday night animation block that has claimed many a show, before being left off the midseason lineup and quickly vanishing after only seven episodes. The show follows the titular protagonist (voiced by Hill), a sheltered, pretentious, unbelievably selfish and manipulative seven year old thrust from his comfortable homeschooled life into public school. Predictably, things are not easy for Allen Gregory out in the real world; his upbringing has in no way prepared him for a world where maybe he’ll have to earn people’s trust and respect instead of immediately assuming it. Over the course of the show’s seven episodes, he never even begins learning that lesson.
One of the biggest problems with Allen Gregory is that the characters are unbelievably obnoxious and completely unlikable and unsympathetic. I have no problem with a show’s protagonists being self-centered and mostly unrelatable–both It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Arrested Development spring to mind–but they at least have to be likable in a funny way. One of the reasons Sunny works is that the characters bring out the worst and best within each other, and any normal character is steamrolled by the shear insanity of the central cast. Arrested Development features a relatable everyman at its center in Michael Bluth, who grounds the show as its other characters exhibit absurd levels of narcissism. Beyond that, both shows are insanely funny, which is not something you could burden Allen Gregory with.
It all wouldn’t be so bad if the show didn’t try to get us to like and sympathize with its horrible protagonist and his equally horrible father Richard (voiced by French Stewart), and actually root for them to succeed over the authority figures in their way. Not to keep dredging up those two other shows, but they end up working because, at the end of the day, the characters almost never get what they want, and therefore order is restored to the world. It’s damn near impossible to both laugh at the characters on this show and feel for them at the same time.
For example, When Allen Gregory tries to fire Guillermo, a student at his school, because he assumes he’s a janitor given his Latino heritage, he’s required to write an apology letter. In his typical fashion, he turns it into a much longer stage play which makes Guillermo look like the villain and him the hero for demanding this janitor do his job or get out. The crowd initially reacts with rightful vitriol towards the content of the play, and cheers when Guillermo gets up onstage and gives a speech about how racism is bad and we should respect working-class people. We then find out that they thought Guillermo’s speech was part of the play, and his teacher (voiced by Leslie Mann), is admonished for trying to convince the crowd that it wasn’t. And so, Allen Gregory walks away unscathed, free to go on being a racist, entitled douche.
On an unrelated note, the show does offer some reasonable voices in the form of Jeremy, Allen’s stepdad (voiced by Nat Faxon); and Julie, his Cambodian adopted sister (Joy Osmanski), and predictably, they’re the punching bags for Allen and his dad. There’s really nothing to justify Jeremy taking so much abuse, other than the backstory that he was worn down by Richard’s advances until he left his own wife and kids to move in with him, which still doesn’t give him any reason to stay beyond the fact that Richard has money. The show even brings this up when Jeremy temporarily leaves Richard and tells his troubles to a bartender, who can’t understand why he’s sad. I couldn’t either, and I cringed at the inevitability that he would go back to that hellhole. Maybe if the show had more episodes, they’d get to the heart of Jeremy’s feelings for Richard and Allen Gregory, but as it is, it offers no explanation why he should care about these people that treat him like crap. This might be a weird complaint against a show that features seven-year-olds acting like adults, but since Jeremy’s supposed to be our Alice for this wonderland, it’s jarring to see him acting so pointlessly unreasonable.
Here’s a clip of the actors talking about this relationship, and it seems like even they don’t understand why they act like they do:
This might all seem like I’m being unnecessarily harsh on what amounts to a silly little comedy that stretches realism an absurd amount in the first place, but Allen Gregory just isn’t funny enough at the end of the day to make all its mean-spiritedness okay. Allen Gregory isn’t a protagonist I can get behind, and nothing in the show even remotely convinces me to care. I really do like Jonah Hill’s other work, and the voice cast contains some majorly funny people, including Will Forte and the great Keith David (who is criminally underutilized), but the whole thing is just a major misstep in my opinion, despite its promising pedigree.
So, should it be back on the air? Nope. There are some interesting ideas at the core of the show, such as why Jeremy stays with Richard, and the fact that Richard was able to, in French Stewart’s words, browbeat a straight man into becoming his lover; and the fact that Richard seems to have adopted Julie out of his own desire to appear charitable. If the show wanted to be a smart satire, maybe it would explore these things, but it doesn’t seem to have much desire to be like that.
Allen Gregory was replaced on the midseason calendar by Napoleon Dynamite, an animated version of that seminal mid-00′s film that took the world by storm. FOX executives were undoubtedly hoping the nation’s infatuation with Napoleon and his awkward pals would have reached a fever pitch by the year 2012, a whole eight years after the movie’s release, so they ordered a show to give us a glimpse into the continuing adventures of its titular geek god protagonist. Pretty much everyone thought it was a horrible idea, and ratings and reactions declined as it went along. While it hasn’t officially been cancelled, it also hasn’t been renewed, and the numbers wouldn’t seem to justify a second season from the notoriously cancellation-happy FOX network. Is it unfair to post about a show that hasn’t officially been declared dead? You bet! If it does get renewed, I’ll print a redaction or something, but until that time, on we go! So is it as bad as it seems like it was destined to be?
Let me start out by saying that after all this time, I am still a defender of the movie. I think it got blown way out of proportion, but as a tiny oddity with its own sensibility and a poignant undercurrent of sadness, I think it’s pretty successful. And I don’t buy the criticism that creators Jared and Jerusha Hess were asking the audience to laugh at the sad sacks on display. Looking back, it’s funny to imagine how much of a pop cultural sensation this weird little movie really was. I can’t imagine the creators ever expected it to take the world by storm, and it was probably never meant to. I think a lot of the backlash towards the movie came from unnecessary over-hype, which is a shame. That said, do I really think the world needed to see more of these characters? Not really. The spouses Hess had seen diminishing returns on their films after their initial success, so no doubt returning to their original property seemed like a surefire way to get back in the public eye. After all, the world loved these characters once before, right?
That all said, I’m happy to report that the show was nowhere near as bad as I expected. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it good, per se, but it was surprisingly funny at times, and showed a willingness to leave behind its origins and embrace its own style of comedy. The Hesses developed the show with Mike Scully, a writer and showrunner who had success on Family Guy, The Simpsons, and Parks and Recreation, so I think he knows funny to a certain degree (though the consensus is that apparently his stint as showrunner on The Simpsons was the show at its worst). It mostly leaves behind the quiet, uncomfortable humor of the original film and leans towards a broader, more absurdist form of comedy that mostly works. It embraces non-realism, which allows Napoleon’s strange fantasies to come to life in a way that would’ve been jarring in the film.
One gripe I have against the show is, despite being able to rangle the entire original cast back into their roles, some characters aren’t really given much to do, and appear to be there simply because the fans expect them to be. Though he is a relatively prominent character, I was disappointed with Uncle Rico’s characterization on the show. He’s still an enterprising boob, but I miss his sleaziness and manipulation from the film. Here, he’s just kind of an idiot who doesn’t really mean much harm. Jon Gries was easily the funniest part of the film as Rico, acting as Napoleon’s main antagonist. The creators appear to want to turn the town of Preston, Idaho into its own world, much like Springfield, Pawnee, or to a lesser extent, Quahog. They bring back random recurring characters such as a gay Brazilian barber, a bizarre biology professor voiced by Jemaine Clement, along with more expected ones like Diedrich Bader’s martial arts guru Rex. However, Preston doesn’t earn a place among those memorable television towns, mainly because the characters at its edges aren’t quite as memorable or distinct as the ones in Pawnee or Springfield. But at the end of the day, I can’t totally fault a show that features moments like this:
Or this, for that matter:
So, take it with a grain of salt, but those who didn’t like the movie might be able to find something funny in the show. Or maybe not.
So, should it be back on the air? You know, maybe it would’ve worn out its welcome before too long anyway, but I would watch a short second season. The show seemed to be settling into its own style by the end, and I think if it were allowed to continue, it may have come up with something unique. Well, as unique as an animated show based on an eight-year-old pop cultural oddity can really be.
Tune in next time for more animated series!
UPDATE: Napoleon Dynamite has officially been cancelled by FOX. That was close, i was worried there for minute that I’d be wrong!
Ahh the 90s. When young people were content to have no ambition, hang out in malls, and wax philosophic in the food court. It was a fun, freewheeling time when the economy was up and people weren’t in a hurry to grow up.
But wait, today’s show was made in 2005…so why does it remind me so strongly of the 90s? Probably because its style, aesthetic, and content feels about a decade behind. Mall-loitering youngsters, goofy stoner-nerd pop culture conversations, even the pop-punk theme song and still-photos-that-sort-of-look-like-animation transitions exude another era.
Today’s show is Life on a Stick, the little-loved sitcom that aired for one season on Fox in 2005. Created by Victor Fresco, the man responsible for several short-lived productions such as Andy Richter Controls the Universe (which I’ve yet to see but have heard good things about) and the top-to-bottom brilliant Better Off Ted (Which I reviewed earlier and you can read here: http://cannedtv.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/canned-tv-show-13-better-off-ted/), it’s a comedy that, like its characters, seems content to not have much ambition, unlike the whip-smart corporate satire of Ted.
The plot is as follows: perennial slackers Laz (Zachary Knighton) and Fred (Charlie Finn) are employed at Yippee Hot Dogs, a mall corndog establishment run by the hilariously abusive Mr. Hut (Maz Jobrani, who would later show up on Ted). From the get-go, Laz is sweet on Lily (Rachelle Lefevre), and the show doesn’t waste much time with any will-they-won’t-they business. They will. Moving on. Laz graduated high school but doesn’t appear to have much drive to do anything with his life, and still lives at home with his dad Rick (Matthew Glave) and stepmom Michelle (Amy Yasbeck), who agree to let him keep living there as long as he remains a good influence on Michelle’s daughter Molly (Saige Thompson), a moody, rebellious tomboy. There’s also his half-brother Gus (Frankie Ryan Manriquez), though honestly, he doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time and isn’t really relevant other than spouting out a few wise-beyond-his-years bon mots. The show follows the trials and tribulations of this genial group of slackers, their love lives, and the things they do to maintain their relationships with one another. And really, that’s about it.
Life on a Stick is proudly multi-camera in an era where that style had already become pretty passe. It doesn’t have any real forward momentum, patching up pretty much every character relationship by the time the credits roll. It, like its characters, is all about stasis. While it makes sense on an analytical level, it doesn’t exactly make for exciting television. By the time we leave our characters at the end of Stick‘s thirteen episodes, they’re in exactly the same place they started in, and don’t really have much drive to change that. A lot of interesting potential themes exist at the heart of the show, such as the fear of growing up and gaining responsibility, the confusion of trying to piece together two halves of a family, or jealousy between siblings, but all of them are pretty much pushed to the side in order for the show to focus on the daily zaniness of its central characters. It even teases certain deeper issues, like the fact that Lily is working two jobs in order to pay her way through college while also helping out her disabled brother and recently laid off father. We hear about this, but we never see it. It’s in the telling mode, which makes it feel like a last-ditch attempt to add some depth to the characters. The same goes for Fred’s apparent lack of father and drug-addict mother. It might be poignant or even darkly funny if we saw it happening, but just hearing about it in between zingers just doesn’t work.
That said, Life on a Stick is a pleasant-enough experience, with a handful of funny lines in every episode. The laugh track, like always, is egregious, but there are enough funny moments to keep it moving along. I admire that the show skips the usual romantic tension of sitcoms and just has its two leads get together. The tension then lies in whether they want a relationship or just a casual thing, but that’s another issue. I enjoy the weird specificity of the exchanges between Laz and Fred, with Fred in particular getting the series’ best lines. Finn’s dry, slightly stoned delivery makes him the show’s comic MVP. I also enjoy Rick’s irrational fear of his own stepdaughter, and in general Glave is also pretty funny. The show doesn’t do much physical comedy, but there are some funny moments, like this one where Fred engages a jock in a fistfight impeded by extremely thick glasses (go about 40 seconds in):
It’s no Arrested Development, but it’s enjoyable enough. The show’s definitely surprising given Fresco’s other, much sharper work to come, but shades of it are visible. Much like Ted‘s Veridian Dynamics, this mall appears to have everything imaginable, and the scope of it is only hinted at. It strains credibility when people can seemingly come and go from their jobs as they please, and nobody seems to concerned about it, but I can accept it as part of the mall’s weird code of conduct.
Fortunately for the cast of Life on a Stick, they’ve all worked pretty steadily since the show ended. Knighton is on the current sitcom Happy Endings, which I haven’t seen but have heard good things about. Lefevre (who I developed kind of a crush on despite the mediocre surroundings) went on to appear in the first two Twilight movies (good for her?). Finn’s done some voice work, and Thompson’s been on a few other shows. I have to give props to Amy Yasbeck, who took this role as her first after the death of her husband, John Ritter, in 2003. It’s just a shame she couldn’t have been on something a bit more successful.
Ultimately, Life on a Stick lasted only a scant five episodes, with eight more completed and unaired. Ratings were extremely low, despite being on after American Idol. Hell, it even featured season 2′s winner Ruben Studdard and third-placer Kimberly Caldwell as singing fish restaurant employees. Apparently all Idol fans remembered to turn off their TVs immediately after the show and go to bed. Go to about three minutes in to see the once-relevant pop stars on a never-relevant TV show:
The rest of the episodes were aired in syndication, which I didn’t even know a short-lived show like this could get. It doesn’t exist on DVD, but someone has helpfully posted the whole thing on youtube if you feel inclined to watch it.
So, should it be back on the air? shocking, but no. Maybe if the show were on longer, it would be able to develop its characters more and expand their world. But if they show no signs of that in the first season, then it’s doubtful they’d do it at any other point.
As a bonus for you fellow Parks and Rec fans, Mr. Ron Swanson himself, Nick Offerman, appears in the last episode. Ah, before they were famous (again, skip to about 3:14) to see him:
Tune in next time when I review…I don’t know what the hell I’ll be reviewing! Hope to see you all soon.
Hello again readers. I know what you’re thinking: “so soon, after he just wrote a post? How is this possible?” Well, it’s pretty easy to finish up a TV show when there are only three 20 minute episodes to have to watch. Barring the one-or-two episode extravaganza, today’s subject has the shortest run of any show we’ve covered. It even edges out Kitchen Confidential by a whole episode. What show could be so undeserving of a full season? Why that would be 2008′s Do Not Disturb, a hijinks-filled comedy set in a posh hotel, featuring everyone’s comedic dream team, Jerry O’Connell and Niecy Nash. Also, Jason Bateman apparently directed the pilot, so there’s that.
Reading reviews for this show, I must say, made me even more curious and wanting to see it. It has a metacritic score of 22/100. It inspired so much vitriol from TV critics that they were forced to reach deep into their vaults for the most scathing of hotel-related puns. Some critics, such as Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, called it “A program so bad that it’s not only unpleasant to watch, but it makes you fear for the future of network television.” Wow. I don’t even have to tell you that sounds like some bad stuff. I had to see for myself just how bad it was, to see if it deserved the intense hatred which it received from pretty much everybody.
Here’s a quick promo. Notice how there’s no critic testimonials in it.
So just how bad was it? Well, I gotta say, I think Ms. Ryan and others were just a smidge too harsh. I mean, sure, it’s pretty awful, but is it so bad that it could signal the end of quality network TV as we know it? Not really. The show suffers from a debilitating problem that I like to call “the unfunny sitcom syndrome.” Now stay with me, because this is pretty complicated. This is when a sitcom aims to be funny, but is in fact…not funny. Are you still with me? To make up for this, laugh tracks are put in, to try and guilt you into laughing, sort of by saying, “look this studio audience is laughing, why aren’t you?” It’s a very common thing we’ve seen in more than one show on this blog.
The premise is as follows: it takes place at The Inn, a popular hotel in New York City, and documents all the “hilarity” going on behind the scenes. O’Connell plays Neal, the manager of the hotel, who has a reputation as a horndog who tries to screw every hot employee working there. Nash is his foil, Rhonda, the human resources director. There’s also Larry (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, so funny on Modern Family, and who actually manages to get a few laughs here and there), the head of housekeeping, Nicole (Molly Stanton), the pretty, bitchy receptionist, Gus (Dave Franco, James’ tooly younger brother), a horny bellman, and Molly (Jolene Purdy), who books reservations. They make up the main cast of stock characters who add to the standard lame sitcom wackiness.
With its disastrous reception and minuscule ratings, it was almost certain that Do Not Disturb would be cancelled before too long. But one thing sets it apart from other short-lived series: the creators actually took a gambit and sent out a letter to various critics which essentially said, “we’re sorry we put out such a shitty product.” Well, it wasn’t exactly that, it was more that they thought by airing an episode about work sex first instead of the actual pilot, which is, you know, supposed to go first, it didn’t accurately represent the show’s potential. They also enclosed a DVD of another episode which they felt was better. I’m not sure which one it was, but all three that actually aired (out of five total) none seemed to be one you’d want to show critics to make them change their minds. Despite this bold move, Do Not Disturb was the first cancellation of the 2008 season, and has not been released on DVD. At this point, I think it’s safe to say no one really wants it to be either. The show has some good actors on it; like I said, Ferguson manages to be funny despite the weak writing, and Franco gets in a giggle here and there, but it’s just not fresh of funny enough to make it worth watching week after week. At least Niecy Nash still gets to scold messy people on Clean House. O’Connell unfortunately will probably always be remembered as the fat kid from Stand By Me who’s not fat anymore.
So, should it be back on the air? not so much. Somehow, I don’t think airing the pilot first would’ve done anything for this show, even if it were the most hilarious pilot ever made (I haven’t seen it, so I really don’t know, but somehow I doubt it).
Come back next time, when I’ll be watching a show that actually was a critical success, NBC’s Kings! Is it as missed as everyone says it is? We’ll see.
Greetings readers, today on Canned, we’re going on a little journey. A journey to a distant, strange, and faraway place, with strange people, strange customs, and even stranger sense of humor. This is the land which was given the name “Canada” by the ancients, and so it remains today.
Yes dear readers, Canada, our neighbors to the north, produced today’s Canned subject, the short-lived sitcom Testees. Created by Kenny Hotz, who is also behind the popular (I guess) series Kenny vs. Spenny, in which him and some other dude do competitions or something. I don’t know, I’ve never really watched it, but apparently it’s a pretty popular show. Here, he moves into a more traditional half-hour sitcom format, with decidedly mixed results. In Canada, Testees aired on Showcase, but here in America, where it matters, it aired on FX for a single season in 2008, following a show with a similar tone, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. So why is it, then, that Sunny is entering its sixth season of following around a bunch of petulant, moronic Philadelphians, whereas this show only had one season of following around a bunch of petulant, moronic Canadians? Is it that we hate Canada? Maybe. But I think there’s one principal reason: Sunny is consistently funny, whereas Testees is most assuredly not.
The show follows two slackers, Ron (Jeff Kassel) and Peter (Steve Markle), who live together in a slobbish apartment and earn money by testing various products for a company called Testico (get it? It sounds like testicle! And the title of the show is Testees, which is similar to testes which is short for testicle! Are you laughing yet?) The show always opens with them testing a new product, and then follows them as they deal with the side effects, which are never good. They also occasionally hang with their even slobbier neighbor Nugget (Joe Pingue), and go to the bar downstairs run by cutie pie Kate (Kim Schraner). There’s also an older testee named Larry (played by Hotz himself), who’s a wannabe ladies-man, and an attractive receptionist named Amy (Shauna MacDonald), who Ron seems to harbor feelings for, though she has some kind of handicapped fetish (weird, I know).
Testees for the most part goes for the easy jokes involving whatever symptoms the duo start to show. There’s a lot of gross-out humor, and offensive jokes that aren’t really funny so much as, well, offensive. The show really makes no real effort to get to know these guys, beyond just using them as a canvas for all sorts of humiliation. To bring it back to Sunny, while the characters on that program are, when you get down to it, pretty unlovable, they’re still fun to watch every week, and are almost likable in just how unlikable they are. The main characters on Testees are, however, just plain unlikable. This isn’t to say that the actors are that bad, because they’re really not, the characters just aren’t interesting enough to want to spend time with. Also, (spoiler I guess?) they kill off the most attractive actor on the show, so there isn’t even that to distract you. What you’re left with, then, is a mostly unfunny comedy that leans too heavily on gross-out gags and offers little to no character development. The premise isn’t bad, but it does get a little repetitive after a while, in that it’s basically the same structure for every episode.
Though despite this, I have to admit there were some gags that did make me laugh. One episode involves the duo taking a drug that erases their memories, and then searching their apartment for clues to their identity. They then conclude that since there’s no girl hair in the shower and nothing even resembling something a woman would use, that they must be gay. Nugget, who wants to get back at them for getting him to unwittingly receive a lap dance from a male stripper, confirms that they’re gay, and tells them that they loved to make out in front of everybody. The episode actually manages some pretty funny moments. When Ron pulls a clod of hair out of the drain and points out that it’s all guy’s hair, Pete retorts, “that’s a ball of pubes, not proof!” I don’t know why this line makes me laugh, but it does. There are a handful of giggle-worthy bits scattered here and there, but unfortunately, the unfunny moments outweigh the funny. But hey, if you’re thirteen and love jokes about dicks and farts and handicapped people, you might laugh more than I did.
Here’s an interview where Markle and Kassel explain who would enjoy this show, and while they might be kidding, they’re also probably right:
In truth, apart from low ratings, I’m not really sure what tanked Testees. Maybe it’s one of those rare cases where the public decided it wasn’t really funny enough to keep watching. Though I wonder if maybe it had something to do with the fact that it followed Sunny. Since Sunny manages to stay on the air thanks to its devoted cult following, it’s possible that those people that stuck around to watch Testees afterwards just weren’t big enough numbers to keep it going. Whatever the case, I can’t say I miss its presence on my TV screen very much.
So, should it be back on the air? if you couldn’t tell from the above, no. It’s just not funny enough to warrant another season, and I really don’t think the show’s premise is enough to support it forever either. I haven’t seen much of Canadian comedy, but I know it produced some really hilarious comic actors (John Candy and Rick Moranis spring to mind). I’m not sure if Testees is indicative of the kind of sitcoms on TV in Canada these days, but if it is, I will not be tuning into those channels next time I visit Niagra Falls.
Come back next time, when I’ll be covering the super short-lived show Do Not Disturb! Hey, at least the misery will be brief.
So I know last time I said I was going to do a post on the 2005 ABC drama Invasion, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being a Weird Orange Fish Alien, and trust me, it’s coming soon. In the meantime, however, I thought I’d write up another show I recently fell in love with, only to watch it die a largely unmourned death and slide into the annals of canned TV history. I’m referring to ABC’s genius sitcom Better Off Ted, one of the sharpest and most entertaining shows of recent years. My friend and I had an inside joke in which any time he would say the kind of dumb title of the show, I would start a burst of mock uncontrollable laughter. Stupidly for me, I never actually watched the show to find out that there were plenty of genuine laughs to be had. Then I signed up for Netflix, and found myself watching four or five high-quality, gloriously legal episodes through their watch instantly feature. Why do I always get into these things too late?
Ted takes place at Veridian Dynamics, a technology company with no clear focus, that instead just makes all sorts of weird stuff for the government and for consumers. Examples range from a flesh-stripping remote device designed to peel an orange from another room, but is instead used “to peel enemy soldiers from the comfort of the Pentagon,” to lab-grown beef. At the center of all the silliness is Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington), a seemingly perfect executive who is largely the shows mostly sane center. Around him are a lovable bunch of workplace compatriots, from his boss, the intimidating, driven Veronica (Portia de Rossi), to product tester/romantic interest Linda (Andrea Anders), to socially-inept scientists Lem and Phil (Malcolm Barrett and Jonathan Slaivin). While they make up the core group, there are also a bunch of goofy extra characters to fill in the background (one particularly funny example is a very incompetent scientist named Dr. Bhamba, played by Maz Jobrani). It’s these characters, and the performers that play them, that make the show so darn enjoyable. While Ted is a handsome, well-groomed, confident guy who’s good at almost everything (plus he wears impeccably tailored suits), the show does a nice job of exploring some of the neuroses and insecurities behind his veneer. The same goes for the other characters, who are all varying levels of flawed. Flawed as they are, they’re all pretty lovable. My favorite, and probably everyone’s favorite, are Lem and Phil (you really can’t have one without the other), who almost always have some of the funniest lines and moments in a given episode. Plus, their bickering is priceless.
Pretty much every episode yields at least some good laughs, but I’d have to say there are a few that really stand out as being among some of the funniest half hours or television I’ve seen. Season one’s “Racial Sensitivity” is one of these, where Veridian installs new motion-sensors throughout the building that use light reflected off the body to detect people, which, as it happens, don’t detect black people. Lem, of course, suffers from this, and eventually joins forces with some other black employees to go to Veronica and demand a solution. They also use Phil as the requisite door-opener. In typical BoT style, the solutions the company comes up with get more and more ridiculous, including hiring minimum-wage white guys to follow around the black employees turning things on for them. This in turn proves more costly than just putting in the old system, given that in order to avoid discrimination, they need to continue to hire people to follow around those people, and so on and so forth.
Ted doesn’t always attempt corporate satire, but when it does, it’s pretty damn funny. Probably the episode with the sharpest corporate satire is “Jabberwocky,” in which Ted is forced to come up with a fake project called the Jabberwocky project to cover up for some money he took for Linda’s secret rooftop garden. Since none of the execs, including Veronica, want to admit they’ve never heard of that project, it spreads like wildfire throughout the company, and soon Ted and Veronica are presenting a project that doesn’t exist to a room full of excited people, which mostly features empty buzzwords and flash. But don’t take my word for it, watch it!
Plus, most episodes feature a fake Veridian commercial with some theme related to the episode. For example:
Luckily, ABC was gracious enough to put a bunch of clips of the show up on youtube, so many of these funny little nuggets can be viewed over and over.
So what sank Better Off Ted? Well, despite having solid critical reception, the show suffered low ratings during its whole run. So much so that ABC started burning off season 2 episodes pretty quickly, and didn’t even air the final two. Ted went off the air in January, and was officially cancelled in May. Recently, ABC tantalized fans with the possibility that they might air the final two episodes if the NBA playoffs didn’t need to go to a seventh game. Unfortunately for those fans, it did go to a seventh game, and ABC so far has not announced when they’ll air the last two. My guess? They’ll wait for season 2 to come out on DVD, and make a big schpiel about “two never-before-seen episodes!” or something like that. Its cancellation was recent enough that maybe a strong enough fan response could get it back on, but somehow I doubt it. Add it to the list of great shows cancelled too soon.
So, should it be back on the air? duh, generic question I ask at the end of every post. Ted is the kind of fast-moving, heavily quotable and silly sitcom we don’t see very much anymore. Sure, it had shades of The Office and Arrested Development, but it was original enough to stand on its own. While it may not be the most organic type of comedy, it was usually pretty sidesplitting and definitely worth watching on a weekly basis.
To send us out, here’s some more Lem and Phil hilarity for you:
So tune in next time when I promise I’ll be doing Invasion! Thanks for putting up with my tardiness.
Greetings loyal readers, and welcome to yet another look at a cancelled TV series. This time, we’ll be examining a more recent casualty of low ratings and poor promotion, 2007-2008′s Aliens in America. It’s a time-tested fish-out-of-water tale with a much more topical spin: namely, the paranoia that surrounds American’s perceptions of Muslims in the post-911 world. It sounds like a real drag, right? Well, the show looks at this hot-button issue from the slightly odd perspective of a single-camera sitcom. It seems like such a difficult issue wouldn’t really be ripe for laughs, but surprisingly, the show is damn funny.
The story revolves around the Tolchuck family, a typical midwestern family in small town Wisconsin, who decide to get an exchange student who they think is from London. Well, get ready…he’s not! He’s actually Raja Musharaff, a Pakistani boy. The show then goes on to explore the ignorance of Americans to Muslim culture, and the stereotypes which have emerged since 9-11. It also explores the relationship between Raja and Justin, his unpopular host-brother, who feels like an alien in his own right. Predictably, due to their outsider status, the two become close friends.
The show is not exactly groundbreaking on the sitcom front, but it’s funny, well-written, and occasionally thought-provoking. However, one of the things I liked about it is that the culture differences and American ignorance aren’t all the show focuses on, and it takes time to examine how much high school sucks for anyone, foreign or not. Sometimes, Raja takes a backseat to action that focuses on Justin or other members of the Tolchuck family. There is a strong family dynamic in the Tolchucks, who are all very likable even when they say very stupid things. The only one that’s not as likable for me is Claire, Justin’s sister, who never really moves much past her role as status-obsessed harpie, though even she has her moments.
Even outside the Tolchuck clan, the world of the show is populated with some very funny supporting characters. There’s Mr. Matthews, the high school principal/local car salesman, who often tries using his salesman tactics in his role as authority figure. There’s also Justin’s friends Dooley and Brad, who may be more of hopeless dorks than Justin himself. Then there’s the Palladino brothers, two dim-witted bullies who end up doing more harm to themselves than others. Here’s a quick clip that nicely showcases their idiocy and ignorance:
And so on and so forth. Each episode follows a similar pattern: Justin does something to piss somebody off, then through mounting ridiculousness manages to make it alright in the end. There are also plenty of B stories involving the other family members, in typical sitcom fashion. But a familiar technique isn’t so bad when it’s done well, and Aliens is done quite well. Some of the humor is surprisingly risque for a show on the CW network, who have never exactly been known for their envelope-pushing. For example, one episode includes a really dumb B-story in which Franny (aka mama Tolchuck) gets a gift bag from a bachelorette party containing a vibrator, and then becomes engaged in a battle of wills with Claire when she finds it, telling her “it’s my new potato masher from Williams-Sonoma.” It continues to escalate, neither one wanting to back down, until Claire buys one of her own to give to a retiring teacher, hoping that Franny will back down. It’s not exactly a plot you can get a lot of mileage out of, and it’s probably one of the weaker B-stories in the show. However, some of the bawdy humor is right on the mark, such as the following:
Justin and Raja walking up to a group of cheerleaders, Justin says to Raja, “I feel like I’m in a tampon commercial.” Then, Justin’s voice-over comes on and tells us, “for those who don’t know, tampon commercials are awesome.”
Or how about this one: Justin and his buddies are discussing what Justin could do with Anita, a popular girl with whom he and Raja are doing a science project. They postulate that Justin could give Anita a “Roman helmet,” to which Raja protests, “So, draping your genitals across someone’s forehead is not degrading?” “Not when two people love each other!” Dooley rebuttles. It captures perfectly the mindset of sex-crazed virgin nerds (trust me, I was one of them in high school too).
If I have one complaint with the show, it’s that it sometimes furthers a stereotype of midwesterners and ignorant, racist, hopelessly out-of-step people, which is such an easy stereotype to fall back on. Being from the midwest, I get slightly offended by this generalization. While I’m not denying that there are some of those people around here (quite a few, unfortunately), there are just as many smart, well-educated, forward-thinking individuals such as myself. Also, I haven’t spent much time in small-town Wisconsin, but do they really sound so much like they’re from Minnesota? Any Wisconsinites that read this, please clue me in. I know they say “bubbler” for drinking fountain though, buncha weirdos.
So what was it that sank Aliens in America after all? Well, like everything else, it was ratings. It failed to find an audience in its Monday time slot, and was then moved to Sunday nights, where it also failed to find an audience. They managed to film most of their episodes before the infamous writer’s strike (a reason for the cancellation of more than one show), so it probably didn’t effect them that much, as compared to other shows. So, it enters the canon of critically praised but viewer-ignored shows, which is a real shame. Honestly though, I’m not sure how long the show would’ve gone on anyway, or how they would’ve continued it after Raja’s time in the U.S. was over. It would’ve been interesting to see how they handled that, though.
Luckily, most of the cast’s careers have continued since it’s cancellation, for better or for worse. Adhir Kalyan, who played Raja, has gone on to appear in films such as Youth in Revolt, Paul Blart: Mall Cop (unfortunately), and the TV show Nip/Tuck. Dan Byrd, who played Justin, has a role on the most likely soon-to-be-canned subject Cougar Town. Lindsey Shaw, aka Claire, is on the TV version of 10 Things I Hate About You. Amy Pietz, who played Frannie, has appeared on some random things since the cancellation, including The Office and Nip/Tuck. And, last but not least, Scott Patterson, who played the Tolchuck patriarch Gary, has appeared in the last three Saw movies (unfortunately? You be the judge).
So, should it be back on the air? definitely. It’s a funny, often touching,well-made show with a likable cast of characters, what more could you want? I’m sure the idea of watching a show that makes light of cultural tensions that still rage all over the country might not be the most alluring for some people, but if we can’t laugh about it, I don’t think we’ll ever be okay to move forward. Unfortunately, the show is currently not available on DVD, which leaves low-quality copies online the only option, but I urge you to seek it out.
Finally, we’ll leave you with a clip that I enjoy, mainly because I don’t like RENT, and I find it hilarious how intentionally bad Byrd is playing the part here:
Come back next time, when I’ll be watching another alien-related show, this time of the extraterrestrial varitey: ABC’s Invasion! Is this early attempt at a replacement for LOST good enough to stand on its own? We’ll find out.
Canned TV Shows #8, 9, & 10: Anchorwoman, Viva Laughlin, & Heil Honey, I’m Home!: A One-or-two Episode Extravaganza!
Greetings faithful readers, I’m very sorry for my long absence from my usual posts. I’m sure the five of you who visit regularly have been feeling lost and depressed, waiting anxiously for the next post to brighten up your usually miserable day-to-day existence. Well fear no longer, dear friends! It’s a new year, and a whole plethora of cancelled TV shows to watch and share with all of you! And just to show that I missed you as much as you missed me, I’m going to cover not one, not two, but three cancelled TV shows in one fell swoop. Today, we’ll be covering shows that feature a former WWE diva’s stint as an anchor on a Texas TV news station, a musical dramedy about a driven casino owner’s quest to make his casino the best outside of Las Vegas, and a 50s family sitcom spoof featuring a cartoonish Hitler and Eva Braun. What do these three wildly different series have in common? They all only lasted at the most two episodes. For a show to have that short a run, it either has to be really terrible, or on at like 3 in the morning. Well let me assure all of you, these are all pretty terrible shows.
In lieu of my usual “should it be back on the air?” final conclusion, I’m instead going to evaluate these three shows based on “just how terrible are they?” I’ll tell you right now, friends, none of these deserve to be back on TV, and even if they had managed to finish their seasons, I don’t think they would’ve lasted much more than that. A show with such a painfully short run is an interesting canned subject to study. Your ratings have to be extremely low to be cancelled after less than, at most, four episodes, so backlash had to be pretty extreme. One of these may have had other motives for being cancelled besides just its poor ratings and general lack of quality, but more on that later. I want to alert you now, valued readers, there will be no dusty gems in this pile tonight, everything in here deserves to be here.
But enough about that, onto the evaluating!
Canned TV Show #8: Anchorwoman
The concept of an attractive blonde female trying to succeed in a world she wouldn’t typically belong is nothing new to this project (see Stacked if you don’t believe me). While Stacked was no one’s idea of a good show, it handled this a whole lot better than Anchorwoman, an obnoxious, one-note sitcom/reality show hybrid. The show puts Lauren Jones, former Barker Beauty and WWE diva, on the set of a TV news station in Tyler, Texas. As you might assume, some people are none too pleased about this, especially one girl who disapproves of Lauren’s lack of experience. She spends the majority of the episodes glaring at Lauren from the sidelines, with copious close ups to remind us that she does not approve of the situation. However, also predictably, Lauren proves to be a little smarter than everybody thought, but really no less annoying. It’s hard to feel sympathy for her when she acts like an idiot in the background of a shot and then cries when her boss very politely chews her out for it (you can see it in the clip below. Apparently people in the news industry find it a lot funnier than the rest of us).
Unfortunately, the TV news industry workers demographic wasn’t quite large enough, and Anchorwoman‘s premiere, two back-to-back half hour episodes, earned disastrously low ratings. So disastrous, it turned out, that FOX pulled the show the day after it started. It looks like we’ll never know if the people at the station accept Lauren or whether she’s ever able to acclimate herself to the hectic world of television news. Watching the first couple episodes, though, I had to wonder: does anybody really care? Jones is not a compelling subject to base a series around, and the show basically revolves around the same sequence of events over and over. Lauren messes up, the other girl looks pissed and complains, the boss wants to give her another chance, and there’s a fluffy dog that wanders around the station of his own free will. The whole thing got me thinking about the concerns of Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks’ characters in the wonderful behind-the-scenes of TV news movie Broadcast News, and how they were worried that pretty anchors would be taking the place of real journalists. I think that’s a valid concern, but apparently Anchorwoman does not.
So, just how terrible is it? Pretty freakin’ terrible. It’s an interesting mix of reality-style unscriptedness and sitcom-style stock situations and character types. Apparently they exist in real life, or at least the editors make it appear that way. Above everything, my biggest problem is that I really didn’t care. A show should make you care about its characters, and quickly, so you keep coming back week after week. It wasn’t even an endearing train wreck like some reality shows. It was just crap.
Canned TV Show #9: Viva Laughlin
For a much more interesting failure, let’s switch gears to sunny Laughlin, NV, where ambitious casino owner Ripley Holden is trying to get his gambling house off the ground, while facing investigation for the murder of his business partner. And there’s singing! And there’s dancing! And there’s Melanie Griffith acting drunk constantly! Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well, bad writing and mediocre acting sunk this admittedly ambitious but ridiculous American adaptation of the British series Blackpool.
Both Blackpool and Viva Laughlin owe a debt to British television writer Dennis Potter, who often blended stark realism with surreal musical numbers, to songs which would be lipsynched by the actors. Laughlin sort of does that, except that instead of lipsynch, the actors sing along with the song, which is also played in its original form. It’s kind of a weird choice, and it doesn’t really work, especially because it doesn’t disguise the fact that none of the leads are very good singers. Lloyd Owen plays Ripley Holden, the driven owner of the new casino called the Viva, and at the start of the series he has just lost an important investor. When that investor ends up dead in the end of the episode, Holden’s the prime suspect. A detective is hot on his trail, but we don’t come close to finding out who killed him, and we don’t really care. Owen’s really not very convincing in the lead, and Melanie Griffith, who plays his business partner’s slutty wife, is just plain terrible. No disrespect to Ms. Griffith, but she is really bad here. Maybe it’s the bad writing, but even so, she’s terrible. Hugh Jackman injects some smarmy menace into his role as a hotshot casino owner and rival of Holden, but he only shows up in one of the episodes.
The song numbers aren’t quite as terrible, but they’re kind of flat and repetitive, and the song choices are pretty obvious (“Viva Las Vegas,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” and BTO’s “Let it Ride” all are used). There’s also a lot of jumping on poker tables and strutting about, and some hilarious extras in the background. Ripley pulls a wad of cash out of his pocket to place a bet, and one particularly unnecessary extra asks her friend (and us) “did you see all that money?” That to me was funnier than any joke the show actually made.
So, just how terrible is it? Ambitious, but still pretty terrible. It’s not as bad as Anchorwoman, but it’s bad in its own ways. I haven’t seen the British version except for a couple clips, but I’ve heard it’s much better, as they often are. It seems more tongue-in-cheek on the British version, and also more interesting songs. It’s been pretty much forgotten by now, and isn’t available on DVD, but I doubt there’s much demand for it.
Here’s The Soup reporting on the tragic news of its cancellation. Do you think he’s sincere?
Canned TV Show #10: Heil Honey, I’m Home!
Now we come to the show that has the dubious “honor” of being the “best” of the three programs, 1990′s BBC series Heil Honey, I’m Home! which, as you may have guessed from the title, features Hitler and Eva Braun in a sendup of American sitcoms from the 1950s. Yes, you heard right. I know it sounds like a Family Guy joke, but I assure you it’s a full-fledged series. Gee, I wonder why that didn’t become a major hit?
As far as offensiveness goes, it’s really no worse than anything on the aforementioned Family Guy, but I can understand that certain people may not want it to be something that would be gracing their TV screens every week. I get the satire, and I don’t think the creators of the show were trying to offend anybody (Hitler’s pretty cartoonish, after all), but they had to imagine that people might be a little upset by seeing Hitler as a main character on a spoof sitcom. The whole thing almost feels like an elaborate prank, like they knew the show would get axed almost as soon as it went up. I have to wonder what they would’ve done if the show had continued. At best, the episode feels like an hour long MAD TV sketch, or maybe lowbrow SNL, but it doesn’t feel like a series. It has some funny moments and the actors are game, but over all it just doesn’t work.
The first and only episode involves Hitler and Eva getting ready for Neville Chamberlain to come over to discuss the matter of Hitler’s invading of the Sudetenland and the whole appeasement idea and all that, and introduces us to their domestic life, which involves dealing with two Jewish neighbors! How positively wacky! Because, you know, Hitler didn’t like those Jewish folk very much. Eva spills the beans that Chamberlain is coming over, and madcap hilarity ensues when the Jewish neighbors come over, get drunk, and make fools of themselves in front of old Neville, much to Hitler’s dismay! Oh how delightfully absurd! Ok, I’m being a little sarcastic here, but you get the idea. It’s a kind of funny premise that couldn’t possibly amount to more than a quick joke, and that quick joke wears off pretty quickly. There are a handful of lines that are funny in their cheesiness, but nothing really to warrant much of a recommendation, besides the obvious curiosity factor.
So, just how terrible is it? Not as terrible, but still pretty bad. I’m not sure what mindset the folks at the BBC were in when they greenlit this, but I have to hope they knew what they were getting into. Luckily, someone on youtube has preserved this for posterity, so if you’re looking to fulfill that curiosity factor, here’s part 1:
So there you have it. Three shows down in one not so concise post. Three wildly different shows, brought together by their tragically short lives, and then buried again, hopefully forever. Join us next time when we’ll be looking at the forgotten sci-fi series Earth 2! Did it deserve to be forgotten with years, or is it a dusty gem worth digging up?
Pamela Anderson is very attractive. Yes, legion of followers, it’s true. She’s a pretty woman and she has large breasts. One might even say she’s…stacked? Oh ho ho I crack myself up. But I can’t take credit for that one unfortunately; the creators of Stacked already beat me to it. In fact, that crappy joke pretty much sums up any reason anyone would want to watch this “Pamela Anderson in a bookstore sitcom” (wow, I never thought I’d say that phrase), since its worth otherwise is pretty limited. It’s all standard sitcom silliness, but hampered by a lead actress who possesses very little in the way of comedic talent.
Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself. Created by Stephen Levitan (who co-created this year’s hilarious Modern Family, quite the jump in quality there), Stacked is a standard fish-out-of-water, workplace situation comedy that happens to take place in a bookstore. The fish in this case is Skylar (Anderson), fresh out of the sex and booze fueled waters of dating rock stars and partying every night. She comes into a bookstore conveniently called Stacked, looking for a book on relationships in order to dump her cheating rock star boyfriend. The store is run by brothers Gavin (Elon Gold) and Stuart (Brian Scolaro), two hopeless dorks who’ve never even been near a woman of Skylar’s staggering beauty. Gavin’s a failed writer stuck selling other people’s books, after a divorce from his she-devil of an ex (Paget Brewster). Stuart’s a tad less well rounded (if you can consider Gavin well rounded), and is mostly just a stereotypical nerd who can’t find a girl. Also populating the bookstore is barista Katrina (Marissa Jaret Winokur), a frumpy tomboy who also can’t find a mate, and Stuart (Christopher Lloyd, yes it’s the one you’re thinking of), a retired professor who apparently has nothing better to do than hang out there spouting one-liners all day. Together, they get into all sorts of generic sitcom mishaps, but somehow everything works out in the end
And there you have it, that’s the general outline of the show, and you can insert your own lame plotlines and chances are the show will use them at least once. I really don’t blame the cast for this (except Anderson), they’re all pretty solid comedic actors (except Anderson), it’s just that their characters are all pretty lame and don’t have much to make them interesting. Lloyd is as funny as the show gets; his delivery is worth a chuckle here and there, but it’s not enough to salvage it. Since I can’t seem to figure out how to embed clips from hulu, here’s a link to one that pretty much sums up the humor.
So as you can see, it’s all pretty lame banter, and considering they run a bookstore it certainly seems like an easy job, given the amount of time they have to deal with personal stuff. In fact, the fact that the show is set in a bookstore doesn’t amount to much; they could pretty much set it anywhere and it’d be about the same. I’m not asking for literary humor, God forbid, but it just seems like a lame excuse to have that silly play on words in the title. Anderson would pretty much be out of place anywhere that wasn’t a rock star’s bedroom, so the setting is pretty irrelevant.
Despite it’s brief run time, the show managed to rope in some pretty funny actors for guest appearances here and there, including Arrested Development‘s Tony Hale, Reno 911‘s Thomas Lennon, and Freaks and Geeks‘ John Francis Daley, who can’t seem to find steady work these days. There’s also appearances from Jenny McCarthy, Carmen Electra, and Anderson’s real-life ex-hubby Kid Rock, who’s actually kind of funny as a creepy UPS guy. What was it that drew them to this show? Hale was still on Development at the time, and I’m sure many of the others had careers of their own they could’ve been focusing on. Maybe it was the chance to work with Pamela Anderson? I guess that must be it.
That could be one of my biggest issues with Stacked, it feels like it exists solely as a showcase for Anderson’s non-existent talent. We know she can’t carry a movie, Barb Wire proved that, so what made them think she could carry a whole TV series? Admittedly, she’s not as terrible here as she was in the aforementioned film, but she doesn’t have the timing to headline a series. A lot of comedians work for years to have the chance to star in a series, and the fact that Anderson produced a show that she could star in rings pretty hollow. Also, maybe it’s the fact that laugh tracks usually have an opposite effect on me, but the one for this show feels copious even for a series with real laughs. And do laugh tracks really make home viewers laugh more? To me they’re just distracting; I find myself thinking: why are they laughing so hard at this? At most it gets a chuckle, that’s about it. The funniest ones are ones where Anderson, surprisingly, takes a backseat to a story about one of the other characters, or offers some input in a plot that does not belong to her. If the series was more willing to do that more often, it might not have been so bad. But then again, Anderson is really the only reason anyone watched the show in the first place. It certainly wasn’t Elon Gold, who looks like a geekier version of Glenn Howerton from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Though he’s not a bad comedic actor.
One of the other sad aspects of the show is that no one, not even the funnier actors, has done much after the show ended. Winokur was on Dancing with the Stars one time, but didn’t win. Gold and Scolaro have had guest appearances in stuff, but nothing too solid. The fact that Scolaro went on to play a bit part in The Brothers Solomon is beyond depressing. Lloyd was recently in a video on funny or die that was pretty hilarious, but something tells me Stacked was his last real meaty live-action role. It’s a real shame, given that Lloyd is a legend for playing Doc Brown and Uncle Fester, but at least he has those to add to his legacy, hopefully to blot out this, Fly me to the Moon, Flakes, and a handful of other bad late career decisions.
So, should it be back on the air? Heavens no. I think nineteen episodes was plenty long for this vanity project to go on. The series ends on a really sour note that I won’t go into (if, for some strange reason you feel possessed to watch it), but it’s certainly not closure, especially considering the show introduced a couple possible romances for the future. Honestly though, I could care less.
If you feel compelled to see it, you can watch the whole thing, courtesy of our friends at hulu here: http://www.hulu.com/stacked
Come back next time, when I’ll be reviewing the recent canned series Aliens in America! I’ve heard good things, but we’ll see if it holds up to my scrutiny.
Hello legion of followers, sorry I’m so behind on my third post. You’d be surprised how little time a college student can have to sit on his backside and watch TV on his laptop. I thought I went to college for that sole reason!
Also, the show I reviewed for today is not exactly one that is easy to watch multiple episodes of. When I started this blog, I had no idea it would be quite so hard to sit through bad TV, but it really is people, it really is. Especially when it’s not so much bad as just bland and mediocre to below-average. A terrible show might at least be a noble train wreck or entertainingly awful, but one like the one I reviewed tonight is none of these things. I’m talking, of course, about The War at Home, the little-loved FOX sitcom that aired for two seasons between 2006 and 2007.
In doing the little research I do for this blog, I found that the show had a paltry 28 on metacritic, a site that ranks shows with a composite score out of 100. The general consensus was that it just wasn’t as funny or edgy as it tried to be, which is mostly true, but that’s not my only problem with this show. You’ll find out what those are later.
As for the plot, the show concerns the exploits of the Gold family, led by sarcastic, slightly bigoted father Larry (Michael Rapaport), equally sassy mother Vicki (Anita Barone), and their kids: attractive but snotty daughter Hilary (Kaylee DeFer), dorky, awkward son Larry (Kyle Sullivan), and smartass younger son Mike (Dean Collins). Basically, it’s a typical family sitcom setup. The only difference is, The War at Home tries to tackle hot-button issues like teen drinking, drug use, racism, homosexuality, masturbation, relationships, and a whole lot more, and handle them in a sensitive but funny way. Only one problem with this noble goal, and one of my chief criticisms of the series (which are the only important criticisms you need note). The War at Home is never subtle or sensitive, and it’s rarely that funny. It got a chuckle out of me here and there, but nothing that would make an entire series worth watching (it should also be noted, I did not watch the whole series, call me a cheating lying poopface if you will, but I watched enough from both seasons to get a solid impression of it). The setups seem edgy enough, but the show almost always ends it trying to step on as few toes as possible. The copious amounts of laugh track where laugh track need not go doesn’t help the funniness either. Instead, it reminds you that you could be getting actual laughs somewhere else. For an example of this general lack of subtlety, check the following:
For something that tries to be “edgy,” The War at Home feels stale right out of the gate. It feels like a retread of every other “edgy” family sitcom that came before it, especially the much better Married…with Children. The difference between the two? In this one, the actors break the fourth wall and spout their lame jokes at the audience directly! That’s creative, right? There are few things more infuriating in life than actors on a plain white background. For a show that attempts to derive so much humor from its dialogue, so much of it feels forced and unnatural. Maybe if it tried to derive more humor from its characters and situations instead of their inane banter, it would’ve been a lot funnier.
But what about the characters, you ask? Well, they’re all pretty unlikeable, but not unlikeable enough to be endearing (for an example of this paradox, look at the Reynolds family from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Mainly, they’re all just really mean to each other. Is that really how modern families are? A bunch of arch rivals who are willing to extort each other and stab each other in the back for their own gain? Maybe some households, but there are so few moments where the family actually feels like a family and not just a bunch of taglines sharing a house together for their dynamic to be believable. Don’t get me wrong, I think Michael Rapaport’s a likable guy and a pretty solid comedic actor, and Barone’s pretty good also. It’s just a shame that they had to have this sub-par fare as their showcase. As for the kids, really only one of them is likable in any way for me, and that’d be Larry. This is probably because I can relate to his awkwardness and cluelessness when it comes to girls. Wow, I just realized how sad that is. Mike and Hilary are both just obnoxious little jerks, and I really felt nothing for them but annoyance. This might also have to do with the fact that Sullivan is the funniest of the three kid actors. If anyone has a career after this, I hope it’s gonna be him. This isn’t the best example, but it showcases his goofy comic presence:
The show also features a slew of other recurring characters, including Hilary’s boyfriend Taye (a black guy! Hoo lordy! This would be a shocker if the year was 1958!) and his family, who are so carefully crafted to not feel like stereotypes that they essentially feel so anti-stereotypical that they make new stereotypes in some way (the dad went to Yale and attends a country club, that doesn’t allow Jews! What a twist of fate!). The big problem is that nobody feels real, and these smaller characters feel as fleshed out as anyone in the family, despite their lack of screentime. Seth McFarlane even shows up as a 30 year old dating Hilary! He’s as funny as he can be with the material, but sadly it doesn’t amount to much:
The thing that amazes me about The War at Home is that apparently, somewhere out there, there’s a devoted and adamant following that laments its passing just like I lament the death of Clone High. And really, when you look at it, there’s a fair amount of the show that actually got made. Sure, it only had two seasons, but they were both 22 episodes apiece. That’s some long seasons. Networks don’t seem to do that very often unless they have tremendous faith in a show. And when you look at The War at Home, you can see what potential FOX saw in it. It was a way for the network to appear to be putting forth another edgy family show, a sort of live-action Family Guy, while not actually running the risk of offending anybody. The show was even settled snugly in between two actually edgy (and actually funny) family shows, albeit animated ones: The Simpsons and Family Guy. For me, this made it seem even more alien and unnecessary. It was an unfunny oasis in the middle of a hilarious desert, an obstacle between the Family Guy fan who also loves The Simpsons and getting from one of their favorite shows to the other. Maybe that’s why the show lasted as long as it did, that people were just too lazy to change the channel for a half hour, a spot now occupied by the somewhat better but still middling The Cleveland Show. Can anybody lend credence to this? Shoot me a comment.
So, Should it be back on the air? Definitely not. While I admit it’s not the worst show I’ve ever seen, it’s pretty damn unremarkable. It just feels like it’s trying too hard to be both edgy and sanitary, and while this may be a good combination for a network to finance, it probably won’t feel quite that way with viewers, and even its apparently dedicated fanbase wasn’t big enough to keep it on the air. If for some reason you feel compelled to watch the show anyway, some episodes are on youtube, but the whole series can be seen on youku or megavideo (go to surfthechannel.com to get to the links).
I’ve decided I should probably get on some sort of schedule with these posts, so I’ll try to do one once a week, probably on the weekend. Because, you know, I have very little social life.
Come back next week, when I’ll be looking at the short-lived Nathan Fillion vehicle (oh God, what a terrible pun) Drive! It’s my shortest one so far, which will be a nice break from the almost painfully long one I just reviewed.