Thursday, October 25, 2007

TV EYE--Vanilla Sitcom, Revenge of the Dorks, Alias Without Smarts

A large portion of the TV nitcrit posse has showered the new Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton sitcom, Back to You, (Fox, Wednesdays, 8:00 PM) with critical bouquets, and, after sitting through the first few episodes; I’m forced to wonder exactly why? It’s an old school, workplace comedy shot in front of an audience, created by two vets Christopher Lloyd (Taxi) and Steve Levitan (Just Shoot Me) that, while never delving into inanity or obviousness, seems both pre-packaged and trite. Grammar and Heaton are nicely cast as two local news anchors (alongside the crackerjack Fred Willard as the sports reporter) and the duo deliver their back-and-forth repartee effortlessly, yet none of it really registers, seemingly more like a time warped throwaway before Heaton discovered Raymond and Grammar reigned on Frazier. The talents involved may all deserve a wait and see, and it is more than possible that Back To You may need some time to hit its stride, but at this point its pure sitcom vanilla-you’ve had it before you’ll pass it by again.

Dorks, nerds, and geeks are all over the TV fall line-up, serving as a possible antidote to the grim-faced tough guys and sad-eyed avengers holding down the fort in the CSI’s and The Shields or 24’s or any other rough and ready procedural. NBC’s Chuck (Mondays, 8:00 PM) and CW’s Reaper (Tuesdays, 9:00 PM), share enough that it’s scary, down to likable slacker heroes (Zachary Levi and Bret Harrison), fetching love interests (Yvonne Strahovsky. Missy Peregrym), and comedy relief sidekicks (Joshua Gomes, Tyler Labine), big box workplace settings (one modeled after Best Buy, the other Home Depot) and an overall goofy suspense structure. Chuck’s premise is that the title character gets zapped by a computer downloading top-secret information forcing him to become a reluctant spy while the Reaper allows its reluctant slacker hero to discover that upon his 21st birthday his coddling parents had signed his soul over to the devil, and Satan (Ray Wise, stealing every scene he’s in) wants him to become a bounty hunter for escaped souls. Both shows traffic in a steady stream of wry one-liners, cartoonish close encounters, and an arch sensibility derived right from the pages of Mad Magazine parody. In a way it’s a relief to sit down in front of an hour-long comedy adventure and simply enjoy the flakiness on display, rather then being drenched in ennui and overwrought inner drama. Chuck and Reaper are fairly charming nerd fantasies, simultaneously bright and trite.

The new Bionic Woman (NBC, Wednesdays, 9:00 PM) is not so much a remake as a total rethink, a sleek and cliché-ridden TV actioneer that substitutes the dark shadows of paranoia and conspiracy bebop for the crayon glow of the original 70’s camp classic. It’s Alias without the in-yer-face costumes (and the mighty Jennifer garner), with Brit actress Michelle Ryan pouting and glowering as Jamie Sommers, the girl with the replaceable parts, an All-American hard luck bartender who, despite her wondrous IQ hadda drop out of college, keeps house with her bratty teen sister (Mae Whitman), and dates and is impregnated by a professor/scientist/government tool guy who looks like a male model(Chris Bowers), engages in disdainful dialogue with her officious handler (Miquel Ferrer), gets some old fashioned lethal training from the Asian expert guy (Will Yun Lee), and gets guided by the Bionic Whisperer (Isaiah Washington, slumming bigtime) all the while dodging the steely stare and deadly mambo of the bionic women before her (Katee Sackhoff, bound to be an immediate fanboy fave). It’s Alias without the smarts, the Bionic Woman without the dumbo charm.


skylolo99 said...

I'm a big fan of Reaper, Mr. Wise kills me every time he's on the screen. He delivers every line with relish and his smile makes me laugh out loud. I think he must be the first satanic father figure in TV history. He's like a bizarro Ward Cleaver who metes out worldly advice to the lovelorn Sam.
Then you have Bert (Tyler Labine - think of Jack Black in Saving Silverman)
One of my favorite scenes was when Bert gave Sam (Bret Harrison)a receipt and asked if he could get reimbursed from satan.
I make a point to try to catch this show. I hope it can keep it up.

Scotty D said...

One part of the show's sly charm is that Ray Wise as the devil is forcing the slacker kid to achieve and complete in direct contrast to his coddling (soul-signing-away) parents who approved of him leaving college because "it made him sleepy."