Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don’t you think this Outlaw bit’s done got out of hand

The news that NBC has given the go-ahead to full season “pick-ups” of new shows The Event, Chase, Law & Order: Los Angeles and Outsourced was met with a mixture of bemusement and bewilderment here at Rancho Yesteryear, because while I’m certainly not your go-to guy when it comes to choosing great television (I watch reruns of Mister Ed and Gilligan’s Island—what does that tell you?) I’m curious as to what special qualities these shows possess that will allow them to finish out the rest of the season. My first guess would be that the network doesn’t have anything else in the lineup to replace them—but I know that’s not the deal in the case of Outsourced, a sitcom for which they moved Parks and Recreation off the schedule. According to NBC, all of them have performed pretty well…and at first glance, I thought: “Hell, you had five nights of Jay Leno on last season—any show’s bound to be an improvement.” (This article here sort of proves me wrong on that score, however.)

I don’t watch much new television as a rule, but because of this nifty On Demand service provided by CharredHer, I’ve been able to keep tabs on favorites like Community and 30 Rock in addition to checking out some of NBC’s new talent. Truth be told, I’ve not seen anything that has really gone towards knocking my socks off—and as for the one show that I actually did like a lot, they’ve decided to pull the plug. So while it’s a little out of character for the blog to talk about “the new stuff”…well, I don’t have anything else prepared at the present time, so I’m going to go with this.

A little more than three weeks ago, I dismissed NBC’s new sitcom Outsourced as “a huge stinking turd in TV’s punchbowl,” and a couple of friends assured me that because everyone in TV Critic Land felt the same, the series was not long for this world—which meant the inevitable return of Parks and Rec, and with that, sanity to television. Unfortunately, it’s the people with the ratings boxes who influence these programming decisions, not television critics—you could put on a show featuring a guy taking a crap for a half-hour and if it was doing the same numbers as Dancing with the Stars nobody would think twice about leaving it on.

But I’ve taken the opportunity to watch a couple more installments of Outsourced…and while I still feel the individual who made the decision to air this as opposed to Parks should seek psychiatric help, it has improved slightly. The recent episodes are starting to focus on character-based comedy, which is always a tremendous plus in my book (not that I don’t enjoy a good one-liner now and then). Outsourced’s lead, Ben Rappaport, is a likable actor, managing to avoid the smarm of, say, Matthew Perry…and nobody does clueless like TV vet Diedrich Bader. (Bader’s character figured prominently in last week’s episode, in which he helps several members of Rappaport’s call center team prank some customer support rivals.) But the main reason why I still continue to drop in on Outsourced every week (apart from the fact that it’s 20-22 minutes, and gives me something to watch while I’m eating lunch or supper) is actress Anisha Nagarajan, who plays my favorite character, the timid Madhuri. She is too adorable for words…and on the off-chance she happens to be single, my number is 634-5789.

“If 24 and Lost had a baby, it would be The Event,” crowed a glowing review of NBC’s new series The Event at the New York Post—which would indicate to me that reviewer Linda Stasi is smoking rope.  (Personally...I would demand a blood test.)  The series juggles two stories—in the first, a computer slacker (Jason Ritter) races to rescue his fiancée (Sarah Roemer) from the clutches of…well, some shadowy group who’s taken her hostage to force her pilot father (Scott Patterson) into crashing a plane into the White House in an assassination attempt on the president, played by TV series veteran Blair Underwood. (Seriously—Underwood’s been on how many shows since L.A. Law?) Underwood’s character, who is clearly not meant to resemble in any way another black U.S. President currently in office, is the focal point of Event’s other story thread, the discovery that our government has been keeping on ice a group of ninety-seven individuals who are mysteriously not of this planet’s origin and who are led by a woman named “Sophia” (Laura Innes). The assassination attempt is foiled (stay with me now) when the plane vanishes into thin air at the last minute and winds up in the deserts of Arizona. (The two stories also connect because Ritter’s character was on the plane, trying to talk Roemer’s pop out of crashing into the prez.)

I’ll confess that my motivation in tuning in Event was because I had glimpsed a promo featuring Innes’ character and it was driving me nuts as to where I had seen her before (yes, I supposed I could have looked it up on the IMDb—but sometimes I do irrational things). Sure, she played Dr. Kerry Weaver on ER (and directed a few installments of that show, as well as The West Wing and Brothers and Sisters) but because I was always a Chicago Hope partisan I always remember Innes more as Bunny Mather, the nymphomaniac wife of mechanic Lowell (Thomas Haden Church) on Wings.

The Event is half a good show; I like the material dealing with Ritter’s hunt for his kidnapped girlfriend (it plays like a ramped-up version of The Fugitive), but when the focus shifts to the government-and-aliens stuff I start to lose interest—and pretty much did so from the first episode, because I don’t quite understand how a race of people who can make a plane disappear haven’t managed to escape their government captors in that same period of time. Anytime you have a premise of government-vs.-extraterrestrials it’s sort of hard to bring anything new to the mix because it consists mainly of either people arguing that we should trust the otherworldly beings or individuals quarrelling that we need to kill them dead, dead, dead (this last group is represented by Zeljko Ivanek, another TV vet whose character's bloodthirsty zeal to eliminate the "enemy" appears to have been borrowed from Dick Cheney). Besides, aliens are supposed to have crooked pinkies in order for them to stand out easier, if I’ve learned anything from The Invaders.

I’m also not too wild about Ritter as a lead, though I have to admit the only other things I’ve seen him in are a Law & Order: SVU episode and the films Happy Endings (2005; he’s good in that) and W. (2008; which pretty much stank to high heaven so it wouldn’t matter much if he was good or not). Ritter’s chief handicap is that his character bears a strong resemblance to actor Ethan Hawke, a thesp who’s the male equivalent of a Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan around Rancho Yesteryear. (Maybe I’d like Ritter better if he did some pratfalls like his old man—or sang Rye Whiskey like his grandpap.)

Event’s primary saving grace is that it’s not quite as bad as Chase, which precedes it on Monday nights and which I watch mainly to enjoy its sheer cookie-cutter awfulness, filled to the brim with cardboard characters and cliché-ridden plots. Each week, a team of U.S. Marshals—headed up by no-nonsense Annie “Boots” Frost (Kelli Giddish, the only bright spot in the show)—go after a really bad person who’s done mean things to innocent bystanders and needs to be separated from the decent elements of society. Chase’s main deficiency is that because each episode is self-contained and only forty-four minutes long, there isn’t any room for character development—so the “heroes” and “villains” are presented as stereotypes, and the moralizing is something right out of a Dick Wolf production. The series might work better if each pursuit of the “criminal of the week” were stretched out to two, three, even four episodes. I’m also not too thrilled about Giddish’s co-star, Cole Hauser—who has apparently got as far as he has in the business because he’s the son of B-movie great Wings Hauser. (I wish they had cast his old man in the role—you can always count on Wings to stir the batter, and viewers might get a kick out of wondering who is crazier, the good guy or the bad guy.)

My favorite installment of Chase was an outing in which a seriously disturbed woman (Jennifer Morrison) kidnaps a young five-year-old girl (Bobbie Prewitt), believing her to be her own daughter—but the twist is, the daughter was never born; Psycho Mom lost the baby in a car accident caused by her fiancé. She takes off with a little girl who she's convinced is hers (driving a honkin’ big semi, which she just so happens to know how to operate because her old man was a gearjammer) and ends up trying to cross a bridge that’s out…she’s run the truck off the bridge and is precipitously hanging by a slender truck thread over the waters below. The Annie Frost character, who’s like a female version of Lawman's badass Dan Troop, rescues the little girl via helicopter…but Psycho Mom isn’t so lucky, and says adios as she meets her grisly, waterlogged fate. I couldn’t help but think of both how unsubtle the whole climax was (it’s like they cribbed it from a Hitchcock film) and why they couldn’t have secured a second helicopter to rescue Crazy Lady, demented though she might be.

I asked Mom the other day if she had watched the new Law & Order: Los Angeles and she replied that she has no intention of ever doing so. I can’t say I blame her—I wasn’t too impressed with the first episode but the show has picked up a little and improved; I think my main beef with the series is that it’s a little incongruous watching a program whose NYC backgrounds were every bit a major character as the cast—seeing these “dedicated professionals” in the sun-bleached environs of L.A. is a little incongruous.

LOLA’s strength is, of course, in the casting: you have some first-rate performers in Rachel Ticotin, Alfred Molina and Terrence Howard (it’s hard out there for a deputy D.A.) present and accounted for—sadly, I’ve only seen Peter Coyote (who plays the district attorney) in one show but he’s no Sam Waterston. The two detectives are Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and Tomas Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll)—or as I refer to them around Rancho Yesteryear, “Johnny Depp” and “the bald guy”; while I find Jaruszalski a charmer (rolling a doobie for a cancer patient, who compliments him on his technique, he responds that it’s due to a “misspent youth and three years in Vice”) I’m not sold on Winters because I’ve never been a big fan of Ulrich’s (I know it’s not his fault he looks like Depp but does he have to be so sullen about it?) and because in the second episode, he tells Howard’s character that his wife (Winters’) is “a good cop” despite the fact she coerced a suspect into confessing to a crime she didn’t commit. (Yeah, she’s a peach.)

NBC has cancelled the Jimmy Smits legal drama Outlaw—not officially, it’s more like cancellation by a thousand cuts. But when you announce that production on the series has ceased and then you’re moving the show to Saturday nights…well, it’s all over but the crying. Which is a shame; I was starting to like this one—Smits plays a Supreme Court justice who resigns from the bench to get back into lawyering and takes on controversial cases (why? Because he’s an outlaw!) with the assistance of a team that includes a partner (David Ramsey) constantly at odds with Smits’ political and legal philosophy, a preppy clerk (Jesse Bradford) and a cutie (Ellen Woglorn) who declares her love for him in the pilot episode (this is the one thing I find disturbing; you’d think someone would get fired for that) and the prerequisite tough gal (Carly Pope), who in this instance is the babe who does the investigative legwork and is prone to saying outrageous things that make the others blush with embarrassment.

The pilot episode was pretty good but my favorite so far was an outing in which Smits takes on a car company whose vehicles’ tie rod defects are responsible for a spate of automobile crashes—Kyle Secor, an actor I liked even before he played Detective Tim Bayliss on Homicide: Life on the Street, was in this one as the skeevy attorney for the car firm. The most recent one I saw was also entertaining—Smits is hired to defend the daughter (Ashley Rickards) of his Senatorial nemesis (Richard Portnow) when she’s arrested for a felony murder rap (she was driving the getaway car when her boyfriend broke into an apartment and killed a policeman in the process). (The twist in this one was a nice surprise.) Created by John Eisendrath, who wrote for the likes of Felicity (or as my sister Debbie used to call it after that WTF "spell-casting" storyline, Mendacity), Alias and Beverly Hills, 90210 (hey—we’ve all done things we’re ashamed of), Outlaw utilizes unconventional plots (in one story, the team defends a woman who croaked her kid by leaving the baby in the car on the grounds that such a statute is applied unfairly from state-to-state—hey, what are you gonna do…they’re outlaws!) and a lead character who, to be generous, is a bit of a scumbag (he gambles and sleeps with married women—but that’s because he’s an outlaw!) to put Outlaw a cut above your run-of-the-mill dramatic showcase. I’d trade off any of the aforementioned shows for the opportunity to see it become a bigger hit.

Unfortunately, Outlaw is destined to have a few troubles of its own outside of being dismissed from NBC’s lineup. This blurb here says that real-life attorney/weasel Larry Klayman is planning on suing NBC because he claims he submitted a similar idea for such a legal drama, even titling it with the same name. (And lawyers wonder why they’re held in such low regard, only a real wanker would kick a show when it’s down.)

Bookmark and Share

No comments: