Note: the original date of this post has been misplaced. I tried datestamping it as best I could, but the date may be off by a couple days.
Tuesday night was a two-VCR night… and even so, The Lovely Lara seemed a bit disappointed that I hadn’t taped the Michael J. Fox guest appearance on Spin City as well (even though we weren’t watching the series at the end when he was on it, due in large part to the presence of comedic void Heather Locklear.)
Sitcoms seem to break down into two camps: those that come from the humor of a character’s ridiculousness seeming real (say, All In The Family or Frasier) and those that come from the character’s reality seeming ridiculous (Get Smart.) The new show Emeril has no real characters to be interested in, so it would have to tend toward the later camp, but the ridiculous stuff isn’t funny enough to qualify. Note to TV followers: Robert Urich is in this series, in a supporting role. He’s had new series in ’98, ’96, ’93, ’92, ’90… and then you get back to the point when he was in successful series — one that ran ’85-’88, oh okay his ’82 series was a flop, but then we have one that ran ’78-’81, one that ran ’77-’81 that he left at the end of the first season, a ’77 flop, a well-remembered ’75-’76 series, and a ’73 flop. If you can name them all, I pity you. But you gotta respect the man’s ability to get work.
SPOILERS FOLLOW: UNDECLARED The sitcom Undeclared is firmly in the real-seeming camp. This one comes from Judd Apatow of Freaks & Geeks fame, so I was predisposed to like it. It’s about the kids on one floor of a freshman college dorm. Some kids are freaking out about it, some are vibing on the groove, and our central character is dealing with his own illusions that he is suddenly no longer a geek — as well as dealing with his mother’s sudden plans for divorce and his father’s embarrassing ongoing presence on campus. The cast on this one has a couple interesting folks: Seth Rogen, who was great as the odd-voiced freak on Freaks&Geeks, is here, and the father is played by musician Loudon Wainwright III.
This is the best show I’ve seen in the new season, by a long shot. The embarrassment, the excitement, the awkwardness, I remember it all, and it was all like this.
(For those of you who watched it, I’m registering a prediction now: Lloyd, the student with the girl-winning British accent, who was wearing the British flag shirt? My money says that within the first six episodes, it will be revealed that he’s American. Why do I think that? Because the accent gets the girls, because wearing the flag shirt was showy, because he’s a theater major… and because I pulled something very similar one year at school, when I was there among a floatilla of new freshwomen.)
PHILLY is set mostly in Philadelphia’s city hall, where I’ve been quite a few times (mostly in the courtyard and pedestrian walkways that pass through the building, but a couple of times on the inside.) So I want to like it. And I do like the casting — anyone who casts Tom Everett Scott, the eerily Tom Hanks-like lead from That Thing You Do, gets my support. But this lawyer show is supposed to be a serious drama, and yet the court room scenes are at best as real as those on Ally McBeal. The lawyers and the judges are all acting in ways that seem ridiculous even to that lay eye (and from what I hear, the legal eye echoes that even more strongly.) I would not be watching another episode of this… if it wasn’t for the fact that the L.A. Times review says that episode 2 is far far better.
I really wanted to like THE GUARDIAN. A couple months back, I was having drinks with a couple of the series stars and the director (who also showed up in one scene), and they seemed such nice folks, and I know that they’re talented. And the concept is okay. But when people first appear here, they don’t tell you their name, they tell you their agenda. And they are all harsh and unreasonable and frequently unethical in their pursuit of causes good and evil. This is a series about a high-priced corporate lawyer who is tried on a drug charge and is sentenced to probation and 1500 hours of community service working for a group of child advocacy lawyers. The sentencing judge actually tells him that he’ll be taking his experience from corporate law and using it to help these kids. Excuse me?!? You don’t have to be a legal expert (which we will politely assume the judge to be) to realize that corporate law and family law are about as far apart on the law map as two categories can get. Sure, if the kids need to set up an accelerated depriciation of their assets or set up proper bond authorization, this lawyer might be useful, but beyond that?
I’ll probably look in on this one a few episodes down the road, see if they’ve gotten the bumps out of the concept (and if the supposedly Pittsburg-born lead can keep from letting his Australian accent leak out.) But I cannot recommend it.
I actually missed the pilot of DEAD LAST at some point (which is not the biggest surprise I’m facing — tonight I discovered the existence of a returning series that I had never heard of before, UPN’s Special Unit 2.) They did give enough expository, however: the three members of a small-time traveling rock band gain the ability to interact with ghosts. Most folks who gain this ability want to help the ghosts settle their problems, so that they can move on to the heaven or whatever. This series from Steve Pink, D.V. DeVincentis and our own Patrick O’Neill (okay, probably a different one) reminds me of some self-published black and white comics: amateurish and awkward and yet with an enthusiastic energy, not firing on all cylinders but getting some interesting sparks from time to time. It could be a lot tighter, and probably would be more effective in a half hour. Not something I can actually endorse, but something that I would look in on from time to time, if I thought it had any life in it. However, it’s airing in the timeslot that Smallville takes over shortly, which ain’t a good sign. Worse yet, the WB’s website listing for the show, in the area where it lists what show is coming next, says “The next episode of Dead Last has yet to be determined.” That can’t be good.