Tuesday, April 15, 2014

TV Scorecard

Since almost every network has now decided to schedule all its best programs on Sunday night, I’ve had to become ruthless in my choice of what shows I decide to watch. If I don’t like it after two episodes, you’re out! After all, I’d gotten to the point where I was recording so many shows on my DVR, it had steam coming out of it! Plus, I recently signed up for a free month on Netflix. I’m so backed up on my TV viewing, I need a bottle of Kaopectate!
So let’s get to work, shall we?
Weeks of anticipation have been building (for some people) for the premiere of Game of Thrones. I myself had never watched it previously, so I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. I was quickly reminded of why there are entire genres of entertainment I don’t watch.
In short, Game of Thrones has every fantasy cliché imaginable: dragons coexisting with humans, made-up languages and, of course, an English cast. (Americans will buy anything if you say it with an English accent.) Somehow, Peter Dinklage manages to steal every scene he’s in. It’s as if there’s a little twinkle in his eye that says he knows how ridiculous this show is (or maybe it’s just my imagination, having seen his comedic performance in the movie The Baxter). Nevertheless, after two episodes, I still didn’t know what the hell was going on (I guess you have to have watched it from the beginning) and even the promise of male frontal nudity (cf. South Park) was not enough to keep my attention. Game Dethroned.
Similarly, I had heard a lot about Veep and I’ve always loved Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Seinfeld (and even in her recent movie, Enough Said), so I had high hopes for this one, too, even though the commercials made it sound like the characters were just saying things for shock value. (Those characters would never say those things in real life, at least not in public.) Unfortunately, when I watch Veep, I feel like I’m attending a long status meeting at work. The characters are constantly talking at each other but not really relating to each other and, consequently, I don’t feel anything. Furthermore, none of the characters is remotely likeable, and I really don’t want to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing a jerk.
At first I thought I didn’t like Veep because Washington and politics are essentially boring. But so is Silicon Valley, so why does Silicon Valley work while Veep doesn’t? The answer is because Silicon Valley is funny. I don’t think I laughed once during either episode of Veep.
Sure, all the characters are socially inept to the point that they seem autistic, but that’s probably how they are in real life, too. They also all speak in that annoying “upspeak” common to millennials but, again, that’s probably true to life as well.
Another early casualty of Sunday night was Mr. Selfridge (no Downton Abbey, that!). I just don’t like Jeremy Piven. Maybe it’s that whole Speed the Plow/sushi scandal. He’s like a black hole in the middle of Mr. Selfridge. Or maybe it’s because I just don’t want to see an American actor in an English show. Unless it’s Peter Dinklage.
One consequence of all the quality programming available Sunday night is that I’ve had to re-examine what I watch on other nights as well. I’m embarrassed to say that I used to watch a lot of shows on Bravo but, lately, it’s been banished from my viewing schedule. One guilty pleasure that might hang on, however, is Million Dollar Listing New York. Like every New Yorker, I’m obsessed with real estate, so this show, while ostensibly a reality show, functions on several levels. Of course what really makes this show (or any reality TV show) work is the casting. Why hasn’t SNL done a parody of this show? Luis, with his towering pompadour that makes him look like an ice cream cone, his obsequious smile and his inappropriate sexual humor; Fredrik, with his cartoon-like exclamation of “Zing!” every time he makes a sale and his Scandinavian aloofness; Ryan, with his smug self-assurance made tolerable only by his occasional self-deprecation. I can easily see Taran Killam playing all of those roles with relish.
Another show (on TV Land) that’s currently on life support (no pun) is Hot in Cleveland. I like a good three-camera sitcom as much as the next guy (OK, maybe more than the next guy) and it can be good when it’s well written but, more often than not, it’s a waste of talent.
Let’s hope that Mad Men (on AMC) picks up the slack.

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