As is the case every year, television rapidly becomes a wasteland of reruns throughout the holidays, and then attempts to return in the New Year with fresh fare to compensate for the dearth. The past week has seen the premier of several new shows, from Paula Abdul’s Live to Dance to NBC’s superhero drama The Cape. It is early yet in the year, so hopefully later additions to the television lineup will prove more robust than the ugly, anemic sludge that has graced the small screen so far. Not one of the shows that premiered in the last week did anything but inspire me to tongue a light socket to escape these horrible, horrible attempts to draw mid-season viewers. 2011’s television season opened less with a bang and more with a wretched mewling that failed to even inspire pity. Let’s take a look at each of these hideous creations point by lobotomy-inducing point.
The Setup – Paula Abdul joins forces with Michael Jackson choreographer Travis Payne, former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, and Australian Idol emcee Andrew Günsberg to make yet another talent hunt show comprised of three judges offering their “expert” opinions on the acts set before them. For abandoning their dignity, the contestants have a chance at a $500,000 grand prize.
The Good – The actual dancing is surprisingly entertaining. For the fifteen minutes out of the hour that is devoted to watching passionate performers do something they love, it is amusing television. They’ve found some acts that are very different from many of the other dancing shows that grace the airwaves. The mixture is fresh and very watchable.
The Bad – The judges, oh god the judges. The initial airing was much more about them than it was about the acts. There was some time spent with the idiotic buildup that is used during all the performance shows as filler and to create the illusion of “tension,” but much of the show was devoted to listening to the three judges speak, something that should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention. Paula is depressingly lucid, which just makes her a boring, pretentious glamor hog. Kimberly is mediocre eye candy in an appalling set of outfits and a Flock of Seagulls hairstyle. Travis is neither gay enough nor black enough to be really amusing. He either needs to be squealing in delight or throwing around ghetto derivatives for me to be able to endure his presence. Combine their painfully long, maudlin segments, and Günsberg’s Justin Bieber haircut and the show degrades into unwatchable.
The Setup – A clean cop in a corrupt system is framed by a masked super villain and then declared dead after an explosion in a train yard. He then goes underground to join up with a team of circus freak bank robbers and, using the tools of their trade, becomes a masked superhero aided by a technological genius with the moniker “Orwell.”
The Good – It’s reasonably good escapism. It doesn’t overreach with political commentary. It’s a passably entertaining way to burn an hour or two, if your gutters don’t require cleaning, you don’t need to get rid of unsightly discolorations in the shower, or do anything else more interesting.
The Bad – First, let it be known that I have a soft place in my heart for comic books and all of their sister media. So it isn’t hatred of the genre that aroused my ire. The first problem is the writer and creator, Tom Wheeler, is not Joss Whedon. The whole execution is hackneyed. From the subway dwelling circus folk, to the training montage, to the information-savvy character “Orwell,” to the emotive fire-escape scene, the entire production is a bad cobbling together of various elements that makes “Heroes” nigh Shakespearean in comparison. Most abominably is that the usually charming Summer Glau sleepwalks through the stilted performance. I like the idea of The Cape, and I like the preposterous, over-the-top premise, but television of this kind is a high-wire act. Tragically, in this case, it is going to require a hose for cleanup.
The Setup – A moronic animated family runs a burger joint.
The Good – It is only half an hour long.
The Bad – It is formulaic claptrap that’s been done, and done better by The Simpsons and Family Guy. It speaks to the worst in our natures, appeals to the lowest common denominator, and its bodily humor really has no place on television. It isn’t even offensive, just juvenile and low-brow. I could hear IQ points rotting away as I watched it, and if that is going to happen to me, I’d damn sure better catch a buzz off of it.
The Setup – A British couple is offered to remake their television show in the United States.
The Good – Also only thirty minutes.
The Bad – Dear Showtime, are you all right? Is there anything you want to talk about? We love you, and we’re worried about you. You were supposed to be the rock of entertainment. You and AMC were supposed to rise up to claim the brass ring as HBO wheedles miserably in its death throes. You had all the good series. You were there for us with Dexter, with Weeds, with Californication. Why, oh why are you making us endure this? What happened to you? The show is boring as sin and follows the same basic idea as Curb Your Enthusiasm, without the wit or the charm. It takes some clumsy satirical swipes at the alleged culture of Hollywood as seen through the eyes of the British couple suddenly thrust into the bombastic world of American entertainment. It has predictable characters including the comedic writer that is frightfully boring. The network liaison that is bubbly and sycophantic, and the network executive is ignorant and spoiled. It fails to entertain at any point and you care nothing about the people or the plot.
The Setup – A family of degenerates living in the housing projects of Chicago try to make ends meet while dealing with the specters of poverty, homosexuality, love, morality, addiction, and family.
The Good – So far, Shameless is the only show that I think I might watch again. That doesn’t necessarily make it good, but the depiction they reach for in Shameless is not entirely inaccurate. It tends a little too heavily toward comedy, when the scenario they are depicting (I can say from first-hand experience) is often about as far from funny as you can get. That being said, it is at least a somewhat entertaining caricature of the brutal reality that encompasses far too many people living in America today.
The Bad – No one that has ever survived as part of an extended family structure where money and children are ever present problems and every person was living almost literally on top of each other would feel that this show is anything but contrite, insulting mockery. It is playing peek-a-boo with ugly existence in a way that is very condescending. In turning the family into cartoonish drug abusers, drunks, and comically selfish assholes, they are ignoring the moral, ethical, and heart wrenching dilemmas that lurk around struggling families that are trying to dig any sort of joy or goodness out of a world that too often feels brutally abandoning, and indifferent to their survival.
So far, 2011 is a dog year for new series. Take heart. There is still quite a few juicy tidbits coming down the line. Just tonight there is the premier of Lights Out, which might prove to be the diamond in the rough (although in all likelihood, it is probably just going to be a case of more rough, but I choose not to be negative). As the year drags on, you can be assured that we will take a painstaking look at every new show that the great womb of television tries to push into our homes. Happy staring, everyone!