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Canned TV Shows #20 & 21: Allen Gregory and Napoleon Dynamite–Canned-imation Double Feature!

May 10, 2012 Leave a comment

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 airNope.  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 GuyThe 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!

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Canned TV Show #19: Life on a Stick

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.

America's Sweethearts

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: https://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.

Canned TV Show #16: Do Not Disturb

September 11, 2010 Leave a comment

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.

featuring the other actor who was replaced by Dave Franco

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.

Canned TV Shows #8, 9, & 10: Anchorwoman, Viva Laughlin, & Heil Honey, I’m Home!: A One-or-two Episode Extravaganza!

January 16, 2010 Leave a comment

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?

Canned TV Show #7: Stacked

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment

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.

Canned TV Show #6: Firefly

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Well fans, the hour is upon us.  Possibly the most beloved cancelled show of all time is here, and after five long entries, it is surely the moment you’ve all been waiting for.  For today, I will be reviewing the show most often mentioned when it comes to the idea of shows cancelled before their time: Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

Joss Whedon could have one of the most substantial pedigrees of anybody working in the TV medium.  He’s created numerous shows which have developed massive cult followings, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff, Angel.  His most recent show, Dollhouse, was recently cancelled by FOX before airing the rest of its second season, but will surely develop its own cult, most likely made up of the people who comprise the cults for his other shows.  Instead of it being his shows that have fan bases, Whedon himself commands a very large group of followers who will love and support pretty much anything he does, which is something very few TV show creators can say.  In fact, the work done by said fan base even lead to a comeback of sorts for this series, but more on that later.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of hype circulating Firefly, and so I had high expectations of the show.  I mean, an intensely loyal fan base, which included several of my close friends, must see something, right?  I entered my viewing experience expecting nothing less than literal TV gold, something that would change my life and the way I thought about it for eons to come.  Ok, so maybe that was a little high, but I certainly didn’t leave the show feeling disappointed.  I admit, it isn’t a perfect show, but it isn’t hard to see why so many people rallied so hard to keep it afloat, to see it return in some way.

The plot is really nothing too radical; but the characters, like any good series, are where the real reward of the show lies.  It’s centuries in the future, after the human population has grown to large for earth to sustain it, humanity leaves to terraform new planets and spread out over the galaxy.  There’s a central governing body called The Alliance, which is similar to your totalitarian governments of most future-set sci-fi, who represent a shadowy antagonist to our heroes, a ragtag group of outlaws who fly through the galaxy in a “firefly-class” spaceship looking for jobs of varying legality to sustain them.  They live outside of alliance rule, and frequently come into opposition with them.  Onboard the ship, the motley crew consists of captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the stubborn but intensely loyal leader; his first mate Zoe Alleyne Washburne (Gina Torres), who in turn is extremely loyal to him; her husband Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk), the ship’s pilot; Kaywinnit Lee “Kaylee” Frye (Jewel Staite), the ship’s bubbly mechanic; and Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), the hired muscle of the crew.  Also on board is Inara Serra (the gorgeous Morena Baccarin), a registered “companion,” basically a high class prostitute who is afforded almost royalty status, who rents out one of the smaller shuttles attached to the ship.  In the pilot episode, they also pick up holy man Shepherd Derrial Book (Ron Glass), who ends up serving as Mal’s conscience many a time, and Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher), who is carrying cargo which contains his sister River (Summer Glau), whom he rescued from The Alliance, which was performing experiments on her.

So if you managed to make it through that lengthy description of the crew, it’s not hard to see that the ensemble is really the heart of the show, and the characters’ conflicts with one another and with themselves is what keeps the show interesting from week to week.  Really, it’s one of the most interesting and entertaining ensembles ever assembled; everyone gets something interesting to do, and were all on their way to being very fleshed out, well-rounded characters before the show was cancelled.  The fact that even our heroes’ heroism is continually called into question offers a thought-provoking moral paradox to the series.  Each episode pretty much serves as its own adventure, and you don’t necessarily have to watch it from the beginning to get what’s going on at any given moment.  There is a larger storyline and some unanswered questions that carry over, but unfortunately the show didn’t get around to answering them before the ax fell.  What exactly were they doing to River?  Why does Shepherd Book seem to have such intimate knowledge of guns and combat?  Will Simon ever kiss Kaylee (there was a romance developing between them)?  Some things we’ll never know, and some things were cleared up a couple years later, in the form of a feature film called Serenity which gives some closure to the series.  I won’t really go into it, other than the fact that it has the awesome Chiwetel Ejiofor as the villain is reason enough to see it, but fans of the show can’t have a complete experience unless they watch it, and I’m sure pretty much all of them have by now.

One of the show’s central conceits is that the future is basically the same as the present; we’ll be dealing with the same problems we do now, just maybe on a different scale.  The sort of “future meets old west” look the show has going reflects this idea of the past and the future colliding, and it gives the show a unique and creative style.  Occasionally it doesn’t work quite as well, and the deliberate “blue collar” sound to the dialog occasionally sounds clunky coming out of the actors’ mouths.  Some can pull it off, but some sound a little awkward with the phrasing.  Also, the fact that the characters will occasionally slip into Chinese when they want to curse, because evidently the only two superpowers left are the U.S. (woot woot) and China (well of course), can be a little distracting.  I love the colorful ways sci-fi shows and movies get around not being able to swear, like the Chinese phrases here or the use of the word “frak” on Battlestar Galactica, with the excuse that “in the future there’ll be new swear words!”  But these are by and large nitpicky details to an otherwise massively entertaining series.

It’s hard to pick out which episodes are the best, since they all have great moments of their own.  If I had to choose, I’d say one of the standouts is the pilot, which introduces us to our crew and sets up the conflicts that will continue throughout.  The episode “Out of Gas,” in which a wounded Mal stumbles towards the back of an empty Serenity to replace a part which has caused her to break down, which is intercut with flashbacks explaining the origin of the crew and how Mal came to possess the ship we know and love, is another one.  The finale is also great, in which Richard Brooks (who would later reteam with Fillion on FOX’s Drive, which I covered a few weeks ago) plays a philosophical bounty hunter who subdues the crew and then tries to find River, not realizing she’s better at mind games than he is.  These are only a few, but really any given episode warrants a recommendation for some reason or another.  I enjoyed when the show was able to balance a scrappy comic tone and a heavier, more dramatic one, with Wash and Jayne providing a large amount of the comedy.  The closest the show comes to straight comedy would probably be “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” in which sexpot Christina Hendricks plays a con artist who tries to subdue the crew and take their ship, and it’s pretty hilarious.  Shepard Book warns Mal, who believes he accidentally married the girl during a recent celebration on an outer planet, “if you take sexual advantage of her, you’ll go to a special place in hell usually reserved for child molesters, or people who talk at the theater,” and later reiterates, “you were kissing, eh?  That sounds…special.”

So what caused such a beloved show to die an early death?  Probably the most obvious answer would be that FOX seriously mishandled the show.  They ended up not airing the pilot first, and instead aired the second episode, apparently concerned the pilot didn’t bring viewers into the action fast enough, which ultimately made the overall plot more difficult to follow.  More episodes were aired out of order as well, and FOX apparently didn’t believe keeping Whedon’s vision alive was a risk worth taking.  They also stuck the series in a bad time slot, and didn’t advertise it the way they should have.  While the series had a devoted following while it was on, it wasn’t enough to keep it on the air, even though said following sent in postcards and tried to get other networks to pick it up.  While they weren’t successful in keeping it on the air, their vigilance inspired Whedon to bring it back in some way.  I was probably still a tad too young to get into it while it was on, I’m sure had I been older I would have done my part to bring it back.  However, it makes me wonder if it’s better to be a short lived much much beloved show that will live a second life on DVD, to be continually rediscovered and relived, or to be on for several seasons and go without much fanfare.  If I made a TV series, I think I’d prefer the former.

For those who haven’t seen it, you can watch it all on hulu, though I’d recommend giving the DVD a look as well, as there’s some interesting bonus material on there.

So, should it be back in the air? I’m afraid I’m not going to break the trend here: yes, it most certainly should.  I think the thing I would’ve most liked to have found out about is Shepherd Book’s past; he obviously has some experience with fighting and possibly even killing, and it would’ve been cool to see where that came from.  Perhaps a prequel series could be arranged?

To send us out, here’s the kick ass opening title sequence with a kick ass theme song written by Whedon himself, and performed by Sonny Rhodes:

Come back next time when I’ll be reviewing the Pamela Anderson bookstore comedy Stacked!  Is Anderson’s ample cleavage enough to salvage the show?  Based on her acting skills in the past, I’m certain it might have to be.

Canned TV Show #4: Drive

November 13, 2009 2 comments

So far on Canned, I’ve reviewed shows that have managed to make it through one season, or in the case of last week, two whole freakin’ seasons.  After last time, which was torturous, this week is a breath of air in a sense.  Today, I’m reviewing a show that was, by contrast, extremely short.  Six episodes, in fact.  And only four of which were even aired on TV.  The show is Drive, a fast-paced actioner about various individuals drafted into an illegal, cross country road race (a fact they are gracious enough to remind us of almost every episode).

After the unfortunate failure of Firefly, star Nathan Fillion and co-creator Tim Minear decided to reteam for this, which would end up another unfortunate failure.  FOX promoted the show pretty heavily, and while the premiere of Drive racked up six million viewers, which isn’t great but not terrible, the rest of the episodes dropped off considerably, and after only four had aired, FOX pulled the series.  The remaining two were later posted online after it was made clear that FOX, which initially promised to air the final two episodes as a one night event, would not be airing them.  Though Drivewas on before the wildly popular 24, that connection wasn’t enough to keep it on the air.

The fact that FOX pulled the plug on the show so quickly leads me to believe they really didn’t have much faith in it to begin with.  It seems like other shows have started out with low ratings but were able to build up positive word-of-mouth and take off, but this one didn’t have that opportunity.  Fans of the show were just left with the frustration of not knowing who wins the race.

But how about the show itself?  Well, I’m pleased to report, I was thoroughly entertained by Drive.  While it wasn’t a great show and occasionally suffered from predictable plotting and inane dialogue, it was a fast-paced, entertaining, often exhilarating show.  It was twisty enough to keep you coming back, and a fair amount of the characters are compelling and interesting, not to mention well acted.  The plot goes like this: a diverse group of people are given mysterious cell phones and are brought to a location, and told that they are now part of an illegal, cross-country road race (see?  They repeat it a ton of times on the show, so I’m going to also).  The grand prize for winning this illegal, cross-country road race is $32 million.  However, some of the racers are not trying to win this illegal, cross-country road race just for the moolah; some, like Fillion’s character, have higher stakes.

The contestants in this illegal, cross-country road race (ok I’ll stop) range from interesting to, sadly, not so interesting.  First, we’ll run down the interesting ones.  Fillion is great as Alex Tully, a man driven to compete and win the race because his wife is being held by the people who run it.  He also has a dark past, one that his wife managed to “save” him from.  He’s riding with Corinna Wiles (played by Kristin Lehman, also good), a mysterious woman who wants a way to break into the race in order to take them down from inside, in revenge for what they did to her as a child.  Also in the race is John Trimble, an astrophysicist and his daughter Violet (played by Dylan Baker and Emma Stone, respectively).  John is suffering from a fatal disease and wants to go on this adventure with his daughter before he goes.  I enjoy Baker in almost everything I see him in, and here he shows a much sweeter side in contrast to the creeps he usually plays.  The scenes with him and Stone feel really believable, and they feel like a real father and daughter team.  In addition, there’s Winston Salazar (Kevin Alejandro), an ex-con who reunites with his estranged half-brother Sean (J.D. Pardo) and the two become partners.  Winston wants to know who broke him out of prison just to be in the race, and why.  Watching the two brothers form a shaky bond is enjoyable, and the actors pull it off reasonably well.  Last in the interesting pile is Wendy Patrakas (Melanie Lynskey), a new mother racing to help protect her baby, and also running from her abusive husband.  She seems like a nice, normal mother driven to do something drastic for her son, and Lynskey plays it well.

In the not so interesting pile are, luckily, only two groups, but with so few episodes, any time with them onscreen is time wasted.  First, there’s Rob (Riley Smith), an Iraq veteran who is officially AWOL after his deployment is hidden from him by his wife Ellie (Micrea Monroe).  This duo just isn’t as compelling as the others, and the actors sadly aren’t that convincing.  Ellie doesn’t wanna see Rob get hurt, but Rob is understandably upset when he finds out, since he’s now in a heap of trouble.  The end of the season sets it up that perhaps Ellie isn’t as innocent as she seems, but it’s really kind of stupid.  Finally, we have the least compelling trio in the bunch, three women who met during Hurricane Katrina and formed a bond.  There’s Leigh (Rochelle Aytes), Susan (Michael Hyatt), and Ivy (Taryn Manning).  While Leigh and Susan are boring, Ivy is straight-up annoying, and she eventually ditches the other two to join Wendy in her car.  This is upsetting, seeing as she’s the biggest part of the three being attached to Wendy, who is a much more interesting character.

Here’s a quick clip that shows the main characters and their reasons for being in the race (though be careful, there are spoilers):

So as you can tell, not everything in Drive works.  Which is a shame, since some of it works really well.  I admit some of the plotting is downright silly, and occasionally cliche.  Occasionally also, the dialogue is pretty weak, but just as often it’s surprisingly funny.  After being last to the first checkpoint, Wendy is forced to “eliminate” Ivy from her car with the bland twins.  When she admits she’d do anything for her son, Ivy decides she has a better chance of winning with her, and comes up with the idea that they ride together.  Upon entering the car and saying something undoubtedly annoying, Wendy pauses and then says “I think maybe I should’ve shot you.”  I’m not an advocate of violence, but I think the show would’ve been better off if she had.

Despite its problems, Drive was compulsively entertaining, and left me wanting to find out who won, and what happened to the characters.  The pilot was a really great 40 minutes of TV, setting up the situations and characters and featuring plenty of the car on car racing action that the premise promises.  It did make me wonder, however, just how long this race would go on.  I strongly doubt they’d be able to stretch it out for very long before it got ridiculous.  Luckily, the fine people over at tvseriesfinale.com shared some of what the creators said would happen had the show continued (read the article here, it’s pretty interesting).  According to Minear and co-creator Craig Silverstein, the show would have featured new contestants in subsequent seasons, with former ones taking on new jobs in the competition.  I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I’m also not sure I like that idea.  If viewers get invested in the characters, I have a feeling it’d be hard to uproot them and ask them to get invested in a whole new set.

So, should it be back on the air? I think so.  The series ends, as you can imagine, in the middle of things, with Violet and John stranded after Ivy steals their car, Wendy in the hands of her jerk husband, and Corinna in the hands of the puppet masters behind the race.  It left me wanting the loose threads to be tied up; did Alex find his wife?  What would become of John, who was dying last we knew?  What’s gonna happen with Corinna?  How about Wendy?  Will Ivy ever cease being annoying?  So much left unanswered.  Forever.  I think, however, the show may have worked better as some sort of miniseries, where it could’ve told the stories of this group and then ended, instead of starting over with a new group next season.  The article above answers some of those questions, but some will probably never be answered.

Check back next week, when I’ll be watching the one-season ABC Family sci-fi comedy The Middleman!  Wrong fit for that channel?  So I’ve read, but I’ll find out for sure.