Overthinking Everything: Epic Fail. NOW.

A while back, I wrote about three shows I wanted to see bomb this fall season.  One turned out to be simple, hokey fun, so I am okay with it.  One turned out to be the undeserved success I expected, managing even to pre-empt Fox's Animation Domination cash cow block of programming.  And the last one, regrettably, still hasn't been called on the carpet (except by the AV Club) for its naked plagiarism of Fables and the double-dealing back in 2008, and worst of all, has been considered a ratings success.  With the new fall season under way, I've learned that there is far worse.  Two of the worst of the far worse, The Playboy Club and the revamped Charlie's Angels, have already died deservedly quick deaths.  But there are more, just as bad, that need to go away.

Terra Nova (Fox): To somehow keep our future from turning out like the love child of ZPG & Blade Runner, a family joins a colony that goes back in time to set up Terra Nova during the time of the dinosaurs.  They have to put up with the eeeevil tribal "Sixers" (a seemingly failed colony), dinosaurs, and an entire flock of thoroughly useless & unlikable teenagers.
Why It Should Fail: Terrible family "drama", no understanding of time paradox, blithe racism
Allow Me to Explain: You promised me dinosaurs, dammit.  I have learned to love dinosaurs since someone decided that they had colorful parrot-like plummage - they're deadly and beautiful now!  But instead, we get occassionally-sloppy test figures from Jurassic Park.  But the dinosaurs aren't the biggest problem, oh no no no.  First, let's start with the premise - how does shipping vast quantities of a species that shouldn't exist yet somehow insure that your sucky future will be avoided?  How does irreparably altering the past not damage things more?  Not everyone in your audience will be completely ignorant of how time travel stories work, especially with a sci-fi series.  The series focuses most of its energy on the dynamics of the central family (I can't remember their names, so I'll call them the Dullsons) - father is a particularly dull cop, mother is a dull vaguely ethnic doctor with a slimy suitor at her work, son is a raging dumbass, daughter is obsessed with impressing her designated love interest, and little girl is a walking personality-free symbol.  There is nothing in this quintet that inspires drama.  Someone summed up the average plot arc thusly: "I hate you, Dad!"; "OMG, dinosaurs!"; "I love you, family!"  That's it.  When they try to introduce some conflict & mystery, they do it in a way that's blithely racist - the Sixers, who are pretty much the only non-white characters we see and have "tribal" trappings (dreadlocks, wearing leather, tattoos & face paint, etc.).  Seriously, except for Mother Dullson and maybe one other cop, everyone at Terra Nova is white, the "good" Sixer children who left were both white (the one was a blatant clone of Newt from Aliens), and all of the Sixer leaders we see are scary black people.  I know sci-fi as a genre isn't the most racially progressive, but c'mon!  We came for dinosaurs and time travel; we got bigotry and Seventh Heaven edits.  This needs to embrace its sci-fi-ness, shape up its diversity issues, and shove the family crap to the back burner, or it needs to admit failure.  It's already two steps away from being the next punchline a la Supertrain or Manimal because it's such a mediocre money sponge.

Two Broke Girls (CBS) & Whitney (NBC): Two dreadful "comedies" from stand-up comic Whitney Cummings, the first focuses on two girls working as waitresses at a New York diner while trying to save up money for a *sigh* cupcake bakery, while the second focuses on the least interesting couple in history.
Why It Should Fail: Stereotypical "girl" humor, unfunny romance, unfunny ethnic stereotyping, everything wrong with the creator's stand-up act in two convenient places
Allow Me to Explain: I have long argued that women's stand-up has deteriorated into two schools: either "it's hard being a mom" (which can occassionally still be funny but has been tapped out by & large) or "shoes/men/tampons" for the single gals ("Designer clothes are pricey!  My boyfriend is a guy and guys are gross!  I have a period!").  It's all part of the increasingly dire stand-up scene (which is the subject of my Nanowrimo impending failure story), and I would argue that Whitney Cummings is its poster model.  She's popular mainly because she's pretty, not because she's funny.  Her own sitcom showcases this - it's her "trials" with her incredibly bland boyfriend, and since it comes off as an entitled whiner complaining about an inexplicably loyal lapdog, it's even worse.  She tried to bait some controversy by using "vagina" as part of a punchline, but it came off less like an actual joke & more like an old Monty Python sketch about a snickering schoolboy who thinks he's a genius because he shouted "bum" in a newscaster's microphone.  When the ad campaign is built around her title character's lingerie pin-ups instead of her humor, you know you're in for a dire night of "comedy".  Her offering for CBS doesn't fare any better for her absense - in fact, it's the worse of the two.  At least her self-titled show keeps the terrible ethnic stereotypes off-screen and doesn't think that running a Ponzi scheme is inherently hilarious.  The vision of New York presented in 2BG looks like a throwback to the 80s, and the portrayal of both class differences & racial politics seems to predate the Lear revolution.  There's no real chemistry between the two leads, so even when the whole "OMG, I used to be rich" thing is set aside and the cringe-worthy coworkers are absent, the show feels like nothing but two unpleasant women bickering with a laugh track running inexplicably behind them.  Both showcase nicely that so long as women's humor is limited to "shoes/men/tampons" and the comely hacks that perpetuate it, we're gonna be stuck lumped with this kind of backwards, unamusing tripe.

Last Man Standing (ABC): After being forced to switch from writing for the catalog of his company for its (oh horrors) website and having his daughters move in with him, Tim Allen decides he must teach his young grandson how to be a "real" man in a modern world that seems to stand for everything he hates.
Why It Should Fail: Stuck in the 70s, reactionary & hateful, full of stereotypes, no sense of character balance
Allow Me to Explain: Yes, isn't it horrible how women have to hold down jobs, the internet isn't seen as a nerd-only niche market, and daycares don't encourage you to throw things at gay people or belittle foreigners?  I am convinced that this show was made when someone at ABC saw the audience that Glenn Beck had and decided they wanted a slice of that toxic pie, because that is the only logical explanation for this show's existence.  Tim Allen's character is never presented as being wrong, either - he's allowed to run rough-shod over his wife, daughters, and coworkers in his pursuit to shape his grandson into the next generation of swaggering asshole.  When Lear had a character who was strident in one way or another, he first countered them with an equally strident opposite, then countered both of them with more moderate & even-tempered figures - that's why his shows were so revoluationary, since they encouraged an actual dialogue both with the characters & the audience.  Now, though, since the dialogue has been replaced by "I can scream over you, so I win the debate", of course we aren't going to have that sort of subtlety.  But I never expected something so reactionary and hate-filled being used as the hero of a sitcom without any of the humanization that Archie Bunker got.  There's also the problem that the show has no conflict other than "I hate the modern world and think it is girlifying me" - Todd VanDerWerff of the AV Club describes the entire set-up of this series as symptomatic of "TV Writer Problems".  Sitcoms work better when there is a conflict of some sort, be it with personalities or economic realities (this latter one is why I would argue that The Middle is severly underrated and needs to be getting at least half the audience this horseshit is); the family is fairly well-off, Allen still holds a high position at his company for which he is entirely ungrateful, and like I said before, no one treats him like the asshole he is for his loud & proud hatefulness.  Unless this show is willing to give Allen a counter (who is not a total strawman) or soften him enough that his bullying a four-year-old boy in a dress can somehow be seen as a mere misstep instead of a defining character moment, it deserves to be relegated to the gutter with the people who are its target audience.

Somehow it's always worse after you see it.  I still think that Once Upon a Time needs to be sued into oblivion, but these four shows are worse than anything else I saw in previews.  They crawled from the slime and have been mucking up the TV landscape with impunity.  They need to go away, and the fact that all four have sizable audiences reminds me why it's a struggle for me not to be a total misanthrope.


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