Monday, November 08, 2004

Welcome to the ZZ, Bitch!

I was going to make a joke about how the season premiere of The OC was more disappointing than the presidential election, but obviously that's not true. Pretty close though. I mean, I was sooooo excited about it, and it was maybe the lamest, most boring episode ever.

Dealing with summer (the season, not the character) has always been the bane of high school-based dramas. Not like it was the paragon of quality television, but Dawson's Creek usually handled it by compressing the break into an episode or two, or sending the characters off to Paris or the ocean and then never speaking of it again. On The OC though, a lot of things apparently happened over the summer, and while none of them were very interesting, the writers thought we needed to hear all about them. I guess they're also appealing to new viewers who realized too late that they were missing out on the latest TV trend, but wouldn't reruns have been a better way to handle that than an hour of cringe-worthy exposition?

At the end of that hour, I didn't even understand half of what had gone on. The Cohens are distraught over the departure of Ryan and Seth so they're...having the house redone by a bunch of ambiguously gay contractors? Sure! Seth set sail for Tahiti and wound Portland with his ex-nemesis and his (the nemesis') gay dad? And they just took him in? Okay! Marissa and Summer (the character, not the season) have really done that much nothing all summer (the...oh never mind)? Why not?

Also, what's up with the teen characters all looking 30 all of a sudden? Is it an attempt to make Micsha Barton, who actually is 17 but looks older than the actress who plays her mom look better? Adam Brody and Benjamin McKenzie (who, inexplicably, became "Ben" in this season's credits) are both 25 or so, but they've never looked so much like adults on the show before. Even in the world of TV teens these two were looking weary. Someone make these boys shave!

And then there's Chino. Mythical, ghettolicious Chino from which Ryan must escape at all costs, even if it means his girlfriend has to lie about a miscarriage. Looked pretty nice to me. I mean, it's not The OC (bitch), but Theresa drives a pretty nice car, and her house looked very comfortable and had a lovely kitchen. Sandy wasn't afraid to park his car outside Ryan's construction job, which he seems to enjoy as much as Scowly Boy ever enjoys anything. I mean, what's the big deal?

Okay, enough ranting. It's not like I won't be watching again this week, so why bother?

Speaking of unrealistic teenagers, I've actually gotten into life as we know it (why is that in all lowercase in print, but all caps in the opening credits?) against my better judgment. These guys all look 25 too, but since they take their clothes off a lot more than Ryan and Seth I actually prefer that. It's kind of like MTV's Undressed (down to the casting) meets Dawson's Creek. Kevin Williamson really did kind of ruin anything. Not only are these "teenagers" over-articulate and absurdly self-aware, but they talk directly to the camera to share their inner monologues. But did I mention they get naked a lot? Of course, the "nerdy" one is the cutest in my book (the theoretical lead looks too much like Tom Cruise for comfort, it's a little bit creepy) and he's the only one of the three actually having sex but he has yet to take his shirt off on camera. What's up with that?

As for his sex life... it's with a teacher, but the age difference between the actors is unnoticeable. At least Ms. Jacobs was a bona fide adult. Also, I missed the pilot, but from what I've seen the teacher pretty much just went after the student, and so far she seems to be feeling no guilt or shame or, y'know, fear that she might go to jail at all. At least Ms. Jacobs had issues.

Kelly Osbourne also has issues. She's not a terrible actress but her diction makes me absolutely crazy. And the fact that she's, y'know, Kelly Osbourne. Reality TV (especially home-based reality TV like hers) is a bad launching pad for real acting, I think, because we know way too much about her personal life. Or we think we do, which is maybe even worse. To the show's credit, they're not treating it as stunt casting, and have barely even publicized Osbourne, but I find it all just a little bit distracting. Plus, no desire to see her naked even a little bit.

I am, however, curiously drawn to a cartoon character. Comedy Central's new show, Drawn Together, is a take-off on The Real World featuring animated stereotypes. It's a low-brow mish-mosh of pop culture references, which of course makes it right up my alley. The reality TV jokes are obvious, but still fun (it's no Joe Shmo though), but the animation parodies are where the real payoff is. There's the Disney princess (complete with musical number about overcoming her racism through a lesbian kiss), the black Josie and the Pussycats girl (complete with musical number about vaginas), the frat boy superhero, and my two favorites, the flamingly gay fantasy video game hero on "a neverending quest to save [his] girlfriend" (complete with pan flute and Zelda music), and the Pokemon who speaks in subtitled faux-Japanese, who everyone thinks is the house pet but is actually a highly articulate and vicious killer. Like I said, it ain't highbrow. One of my favorite critics, Heather Havrilesky (clearly I've been reading a lot of Salon lately) called DT "a show so juvenile it could only appeal to dim-witted children and those who cope with life's little foibles by inhaling common household solvents. Featuring a random collection of cartoon characters who live in a house together, 'Drawn Together' stretches the limits of taste so far that using the word 'taste' at all to describe the show is pure folly." But she also liked the OC premiere, so what the hell does she know?

In the highbrow world, The West Wing is back! Sample dialogue: (CJ to Josh and Toby, who are bickering over duties) "Hey, I've got an idea. You be the communications director, you be the deputy chief of staff, and we can use the old barn as a stage!" In an episode as generally heavy as this one (Leo near death, Jed moping, peace talks on the verge of breaking down) it was nice to have some of the old Sorkin-esque zing back. (Spoiler alert:) Sad as I am to see John Spencer go, they'd sort of of written themselves into a corner with Leo (though, watching older episodes on Bravo I think it was a very natural arc and progression for the character and his relationship with Jed), and at least they've kept the option open for him to come back occasionally. Also couldn't help laughing at the many mentions of a curiously off-screen Mallory. I did a little happy dance at the announcement of CJ's promotion, which both made perfect sense in the storyline and made me happy as a fan. Maybe Allison Janney's role will get a little less thankless. The women on this show have been in a bit of a slump, but with Donna out of the hospital and Stockard Channing all over these last two episodes, maybe that's over. It was hard to watch the fantasy White House goings on the day after the real election, but also strangely comforting.

Speaking of which, what the hell is up with Jack and Bobby? They made a big huge deal about having shot multiple endings based on the outcome of the election, and then it was two lines that didn't matter to the story even a little bit. Oh well. It was a pretty good episode though, wisely focusing more on the teen angst than on parental flip-flopping and future politics. Made me a little sad though that Scott Foley has nothing better to do than 2 minutes in a role that almost certainly won't recur.

Higher-brow still is the latest PBS/BBC educational reality show, Regency House Party. At the moment the cast is a little too large and too similar-looking in their period costumes for me to really follow the "plot," especially with all the facts they're throwing at us about the period, but I'm into it. It must be such an intensely bizarre situation for the participants, since they're supposed to be all immersed in the period but of course there are cameras and crew people all over the place. I'm utterly baffled by two of the contestants (one of whom left the house by the end of the first episode) who keep whining about how hard it is. The man thought it would be more fun, all boozing and being a pre-PC lout, and the woman is having a hard time with being a second class citizen in the house. Um, hello??? Did you see Frontier House? You guys have it easy! And why on earth would you go on a historical reality show if you're not vaguely aware of and prepared for historical realities?? So sad. I'm in love with the old lady who is the party's chaperone. She gets it, has done her homework, and is totally hardcore. I can't wait til she eats one of these little girls for lunch. I'm also fascinated by the servants, who aren't part of the game but are everywhere. Are they actors? Professional servants in costume? Seems like such an odd job, and such a huge expense for the producers.

Back to the lowbrow, my favorite of the Manhunt boys got voted off last week. Small price to pay for also finally losing Rory on Survivor. So now I'm rooting for the gay guy on Manhunt (well, the openly gay guy) and the lesbian on Survivor. Sounds like a reality spin-off in the making!

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