Bernie Mac, Beat the Geeks

There is no lack of shows on television which are basically
described as an earthy man dealing with his family. Everybody
Loves Raymond, My Wife And Kids, According To Jim all provide
repetitive half hours of uninspired and similar sitcommery
(yes, I know I will hear from the Raymondites. I am not one
of you.)

But THE BERNIE MAC SHOW, the last new series of the season,
feels different from those other sitcoms. The difference is
not that the show is a little more naughty (although it is).
And it’s not just that Bernie Mac (a black comedian played by
black comedian Bernie Mac, a Seinfeldian move) has legitimate reason to be
griping
about the kids in his upscale house — they aren’t his kids,
he’s taking care of them for his drug-addicted imprisoned
sister. As such, he’s earned his griping about the kids…
and while some folks will complain that he threatens the
kids (both directly to them and in his frequent monologues
directed at the viewer), there is no true vicious nature
here. His expressions of viciousness are recognizable as
merely expressions of frustrations and thwarted desires.

The feel is also different because it’s a one-camera
show, which not only gives it a more sophisticated feel,
but also allows them to make effective use of on-screen
captions that add to the humor. If you usually just
listened to sitcoms, try watching this one.

But is it funny? Maybe. Fox aired two episodes tonight
(the pilot being better than the second) and I was
entertained, but it won’t be for everyone. Some will
find it crass, some will find it simply unfunny, and
some will think that focusing on one character makes
it of limited interest (the kids in the show are
more obstacles than characters, and the beautiful wife
is just there to set up the situations when she goes
to work, it seems.) But while the show may not be great,
it has a flavor of its own.

I’m going to look away from my network fiction to take
a look at another new series, BEAT THE GEEKS. The
past couple weeks some “preview” episodes have aired
on Comedy Central. This trivia quiz pits three
contestants against four people with expertise in
pop culture: one in music, one in TV, one in
movies, and a rotating fourth slot for other topics.
(This week’s guest-geek specialized in comics, and
boasted a 9000 comic collection — small compared to
many folks I know. When he didn’t even know which
series Blade first appeared in, much less the issue
number, he quickly lost respect in my eyes.)

The reason this game show gets my attention is that it’s
hosted by J. Keith Van Straaten, who has for years
hosted an interesting late-night local talk show. What’s
so interesting about it? Well, it’s not on TV. It’s not
on the radio. It’s only in a theater. Famous and
semi-famous folks allow themselves to be interviewed
in front of an audience of 99. It has all the trappings
of a traditional late night show — the sidekick, the
band (well, Adam & The Chesters, which was really a guy
named Adam Chester with his keyboard), the running
gags (most notably provided by Wil Wheaton, who would
show up at the oddest and least necessary moments).
J. Keith has the host gig down cold, and it’s nice to
see him move into the bigger-time… even if a game
show does not exploit his many talents as well as
the talk show did. (The talk show is officially on
hiatus, with only one or two fundraising special
editions over the past year. J. Keith’s website,
http://www.jkeith.net , claims he’s planning shows
now for next year.)

The game itself is a watchable but not amazing quiz
game. One thing that has become apparent in just
the two episodes aired to date is that there are
a disproportionate number of questions regarding
shows that air on Comedy Central. There is one more
preview episode, airing on November 28th, and then
the show starts its every-weeknight run on December
10th.

And, with the season fully launched, I guess this is the
last of my review posts for a while. Most of the new
shows stink, thank goodness! I’ve had to watch a lot of
crap in this generally-lousy season. But thank goodness
that it is generally lousy; if I liked everything as much
as I like Scrubs, 24, and Undeclared, I wouldn’t have
time to do anything but watch TV!

So good night, and good watching to you!

Published in: on November 15, 2001 at 6:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Tick

The Tick has made an awfully long journey from being a
page-filling gag strip in the back of comics store
newsletter. Showing marked similarity to the Roach
character from Cerebus was a deluded man as superhero.
He is not deluded about being a superhero — he is a
superstrong (in a tensile sense, rather than a lifting sense) superheavyweight in a funky blue suit.
He is not deluded about whether danger lurks. And yet,
despite living in a world of supervillain chairs and
unlikely ninjas, he still manages to picture this
abstract world as odder than it is.

The new Tick TV series (the second attempt at one;
the animated series of a few years back became a cult
favorite) is quite true to the source comic books.
This comes as little surprise, as Tick creator Ben
Edlund is very much involved in the new version, writing
the pilot and filling an executive producer chair to
boot. And yet, the mundane scenes in the larger-than-life
world of The Tick are difficult to capture in a live
action show.

The TV show is an earnest attempt. They’ve spent the
money to get Patrick Warburton, one of only two
actors I can think of us being suited to the title roll
(the other being Bruce Campbell.) The pilot episode
was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, who has directed
two comics-based Addams Family films and two
comics-based Men In Black films.

I can’t review this fairly. I liked Edlund’s original
comic book so much that I’m judging this off of how well
it recreates that work, rather than judging it on its
own merits. As a recreation, it’s a good attempt,but
somehow off. I think it misses the big silences that
filled the air when I read the comic. It’s odd how
pacing can seem so real in a comic, when the passages
of time are all in the mind of the reader. This had real
style, a clear worldview, and lots of moments, but I
still missed the timing of the comics.

But I’ll still keep watching it, see if I can invest
myself in this version of The Tick. There is certainly
a lot to recommend this show… but the real star of
it is Arthur, Tick’s sidekick. An accountant who felt
that he needed to let loose his inner superhero,
Arthur is finding that its easy to elevate himself
to the level of hero, but disappointed because he
discovers that “superhero” is a lower rank of humanity
than he had imagined. Good casting, funny moments
as The Tick narrates his own life (not as a voiceover,
he’s narrating in real time), and Arthur add up to
a fair amount of worthwhile material here.

Besides, Fox has scheduled this at 8:30 Thursday,
filling the dead zone on NBC’s Thursday schedule.
It’ll give me something to watch.

Published in: on November 8, 2001 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

24

24 tackles something difficult — an action-filled novel-like
thriller, with action and intrigue, set in real time: 24 episodes,
a 24 hour story. The performances are quite nice, particularly
former teen-badguy star Keifer Sutherland as a grown-up good guy
federal agent. Capable and yet weary, he’s the man for the job:
in this case, precenting the planned assasination of the first
viable black presidential candidate.

This show combines the story depth that TV can have at its
best with at least some of the visual sophistication of
movies (shown most notably in the use of split-screen, used
to move between storylines, to show both sides of a conversation,
or sometimes just to show two shots of the same action for no
visible reason beyond making a cool visual.

But…

The show is so well made that it’s hard to forgive the little
stupidities, like the hackable database of “Internet passwords”
linked to phone numbers, or the rather extraordinary and
needlessly complex measures taken by an assasin in order to
commit the demonstratably-easy act of getting into the
United States.

Still, the irritations are small compared to the thrills of
the show. This one is definitely worth sampling, and it’s
best to start with the first episode, so you can invest
yourself in the story. The good news is that you have at least
two more chances to catch it before episode two rolls around:
Fox is rerunning it on Friday, and it will run on the FX cable
network on the otherwise lackluster Monday night.

Published in: on November 6, 2001 at 6:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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