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Zero Hour Zeroes in on Nazi Devil Clocks of Doom

What can I say, I like this.

Anthony Edwards is underrated and he’s effortlessly charming here. The story is goofy, but the whole thing has a certain charm to it. Do I have any real expectations for it? Probably not. This isn’t a marketplace where this show can survive. But then again the National Treasure movies were unexpectedly popular and people like conspiracies. Movies about exorcists and the supernatural also unexpectedly catch fire.

On paper mashing up the Da Vinci Code and National Treasure and putting Anthony Edwards out front as a more sympathetic Mulder with a less abrasive Scully could work. But ABC has tried something similar before and it didn’t. The producers on this thing are interesting and Taken director Pierre Morel is directing. Not to mention Prison Break’s Paul Scheuring.

It’s charming, the pedigree is good, but I’m not convinced of the momentum or that audiences will jump on board. If they do ABC will have one idiosyncratic hit.

Three Numbers on Park Avenue

Forget the three numbers the real sell here is the Park Avenue part and the 1 percenter porn of the good life with some supernatural things thrown in to give people a way to rationalize watching it. From the Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars people for their viewers who are hitting twenty and want a “grown up show” to watch.

The “Haunted Building” drama has been done on TV with no success. Stephen King had a haunted hospital. But here the haunting is just providing forward momentum for the soapy elements that would otherwise have to be created by introducing more nefarious characters plotting things. It’s why Dark Shadows became well… Dark Shadows, because doing the supernatural is easier, it adds drama and you don’t have to explain things.

Daytime soaps may be vanishing, but prime time soaps are still proliferating. And a bonus of a supernatural soap is that some men may tune in thinking it’s a scares and chills series.

I’m not sure whether to feel sorry for Terry O’Quinn or not. It’s a better part than showing up on Hawaii 5-0 in his old standby as “military guy”, but it’s not that much better. It’s just different. Which might be good enough. He should have been able to nail a series after Lost, but instead he’s wandering around as a sideline on other people’s shows, delivering exposition and making sly remarks.

Weird ABC Mashup #1 = King of Queens + Third Rock from the Sun

King of Queens and Third Rock from the Sun were both successful sitcoms so why not combine them into something that looks a bit like ABC’s own canceled No Ordinary Family, but funnier.

I’m not going to hate The Neighbors out of the gate. It has a bit of a Victor Fresco, the Better Off Ted and Andy Richter shows, feel, and a little bit of Galaxy Quest. It’s also hard to hate anything that prominently features Doug Jones. And Dan Fogelman has an interesting track record.

…but I see this going the way of most sitcoms that hit this angle. And this is an area that has been strip mined already by everything from Mork and Mindy to Third Rock from the Sun. There’s not much you can do here except make a few weird alien jokes and a few alien learning moments and that’s not all that entertaining in the short run, it’s harder to manage in the long run.

Third Rock from the Sun was only funny when the jokes depended on John Lithgow acting like a lunatic. See Robin Williams and Mork and Mindy. Doug Jones has to fill in for Robin Williams and John Lithgow as a drier British alien, more Hitchhiker’s Guide, less zany lunatic. Will that work?

NBC’s Post-Apocalyptic Revolution

A few thoughts.

1. After J.J. Abrams’ string of high profile TV failures, why do networks still keep throwing money at him?

2. Can S.M. Stirling sue for this? What about the creators of Jericho? Maybe they can file a joint suit?

3. In a world without electricity… Manhattan is a jungle. Neat. Do they realize that most of Manhattan was built without electricity? We didn’t actually use electricity for everything. We used it because it was more convenient than the alternatives.

We might not have iPods, but we would have cities. And the United States predated electricity. It actually managed to keep together in a Civil War… without electricity.

4. 15 years later there are warlords and everyone is living on farms, but they look exactly like wannabe actors and models in LA.

5. What’s with all the bows? Are you telling me that all the firearms in the country stopped working too?

With all the caveats this still looks better than Terra Nova, but so does a dog yawning in the sun.

Breaking In What?

Few shows get a second chance at life after being cancelled. Many that do probably shouldn’t. Case in point, Family Guy. But the relaunch or reboot or rewhatever of Breaking In has to be the most baffling butchery of a TV series ever. Or at least in the last few years. Sure what FOX did to Human Target was inexcusable, but at least there was some way to understand it. Take a producer and some people off your other action series, even if that action series is as lame as Chuck, transplant them to a series like Human Target that seems to have potential, and let them work their magic by ruining it, and then going back to Chuck and killing it too. But that still makes sense.

But take Breaking In, a show with lots of young attractive people who break into places in a wacky security company run by Christian Slater. The show had some potential, its humor was edgy, but not really streamlined and the cases weren’t that interesting. It needed some tinkering. FOX canceled it. Business as usual. Then Breaking In comes back after having added Megan Mullally to the cast, but not just to the cast, but as the central character, while playing the most annoying possible character that you can imagine Megan Mullally playing.

To make this move just that much more insanely baffling, the show has been redesigned as an office comedy. That’s right, Breaking In, an action show about wacky young people who break into places, is now a really annoying version of The Office (except The Office, Parks and Recreation and a bunch of other NBC shows are already really annoying versions of The Office). To get how this works, imagine adding Stanley from The Office to the A-Team and rebooting it as an office comedy.

The only way to understand this is like a fox chewing its own leg off to escape a trap and then wondering if life after that is even worth living. Breaking In got to second two through the most ridiculous means possible. Cut the budget, add Megan Mullally, pretend this thing is now an office sitcom. It doesn’t work, it makes no sense, it’s unwatchable, but everyone involved collects a paycheck for a bit longer.

The Breaking In website with a poster that looks like it was salvaged from a 90’s NBC sitcom gives you some idea of what happened. “BREAKING IN is a half-hour workplace comedy that takes office politics to the next level of genius.” Genius might not be the word for it.

Did this horrible and desperate move work? Nope and nope. Breaking In has been canceled again after apparently five episodes. Those episodes had a third of the viewers that the old series did on average. But here’s the thing. Overall Breaking In had pretty good ratings in Season One. Something happened in its season finale, it may have been the rescheduling, but overall it was running decently for a TV series today. The YAM demos for it were not spectacular, but it was beating its competition. Shockingly adding Megan and turning it into an office sitcom broke the YAM ratings completely.

That’s the strange part of this whole thing. Most networks want a show to go younger. Breaking In went older. Sure there was a mandate to win over female viewers. That’s what killed Human Target. But Breaking In could have added more female cast in a less crazy way. Did FOX really think that airing an office comedy was a good idea when going up against The Voice or Dancing with the Stars?

You can blame some boneheaded network moves on known factors. Terminator’s cancellation on FOX’s relationship with Joss Whedon, his fanatical fanbase, Eliza Dushku and her boyfriend who happened to produce half the cartoon crap on the schedule. But understanding what happened to Breaking In is so much more difficult.

Happy Endings

Happy Endings is Friends refracted through Modern Family, a single sitcom turned multicamera, a gay man and a black man thrown in for diversity, and most of the comedy cut out. Only in a comedy starved environment could Happy Endings be anointed as a great comedy. It’s not. Occasionally it’s a sharp one. And sometimes even smart. But that’s buried underneath all the pandering.

Happy Endings does one thing well and that’s write twenty something women on the cusp of growing up. It’s something you don’t see much on TV. But it does everything else badly. Happy Endings writes men as badly. Which is a problem because that’s half its cast. Its male lead is a one dimensional manchild. And the ensemble is filled out with a gay man and a black man. The show is so concerned that you realize that one is gay and the other is black, that those are the first words out of their mouths. Seriously. Maybe there was some reason why audiences needed to be told a character was gay instead of just showing it, but did they really need to be told that a black man is black. Maybe the writers did, because on the page the character is a complete blank.

Again Happy Endings writes the female side well. Better than most shows on network TV. And that’s something. Had the show stuck to it without the three guys and three girls ensemble format, it might have worked. But networks fear losing the male audience too much to let something like that happen. So for the occasional pointed comment and realization by a female character, the male characters go through sitcom antics. It’s a contrast and not a good one.

Hipsters Hating on Outsourced

There isn’t a show this season that has been more relentlessly and undeservedly hated than Outsourced. It’s a successful series that was bullied out of its timeslot by the same people who are now trying to push it into cancellation. Because NBC isn’t supposed to have anything but Office/30 Rock/Parks and Recreation/Community and the same bunch of yuppie hipster oriented TV.

Most of the hatred coming Outsourced’s way comes out of the entitlement of that audience, whose own fave shows rate poorly, but resented Outsourced because it took the mediocre Parks and Recreation’s timeslot. And did better in it than Parks and Recreation had. Outsourced was pushed into a death slot, but the hate still continues.

Outsourced isn’t a great show, but as a half-hour comedy, it’s decent. It’s not stocked with SNL trash like Amy Poehler or Chevy Chase or hipster fave comedians. Its cast is mostly non-white. So are its writers. It was an attempt by NBC to do something different and it worked surprisingly well. Outsourced is light on its feet, tells stories easily and actually takes you somewhere different than another office full of awkward white people and their minority sidekicks. (Office, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock.) So of course it must die.

Read through the attacks on Outsourced and they’re irrational. Accusations of racism by people who admit they never watched the show. But you know what’s not racist. Killing the only minority centric TV show on NBC to make way for another Office clone.

Person of Disinterest

The sheer amount of money and talent thrown at Person of Interest makes it all the more inexcusable what a waste the show is. But New York location after location and attempts at topical issues can’t give the show the veneer of authenticity it needs. Or the originality.

Every plot element in the expensive pilot is a cliche and you can guess what happens next every few minutes, except for the one twist in the middle. Which would be defensible if the whole thing wasn’t painfully slow, if the exposition wasn’t thrown at the screen and if there was any reason to care about what is going on screen.

Even the basic elements are off. James Caviezel’s makeup in the opening is surprisingly terrible. Odd for an episode that probably cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million. And Caviezel’s acting is equally terrible. The promos implied that Michael Emerson would get more screen time, but instead it’s Caviezel trying on his best tortured act and then smirking his way through the rest of the show.

Watching Person of Interest, I felt like I was watching a subpar version of The Pretender with worse acting and a weaker concept. All the meditations of national security and surveillance are about a decade too late and a cop bashing show that also tries to exploit 9/11 is barely even worth sneering at.

What Person of Interest really shows is that networks have completely forgotten how to make action shows. The reboot of Charlie’s Angels, Person of Interest, the reboots of Knight Rider and Bionic Woman all come back to the same thing. Add on the bastardization of Human Target and it all adds up. Networks just can’t make an action show anymore. They don’t understand that it has to go someplace.

Person of Interest combines the pace of CSI with the plot of a generic 80’s action hour overlaid with a whole bunch of meditation on surveillance for something that fails on every level. Its writing fails. Its acting fails. Even its makeup fails.

The End of the Office

The Office isn’t off the air yet and its ratings are good and NBC is desperate enough that it will keep on paying money to keep it on the air. When the competition is Parks and Recreation and Community, shows that no one outside LA and New York even watches, then it doesn’t have too much to worry about, but the season premiere is a reminder of how completely the show has been ruined.

Seasons 1 and 2, the Office was funny without being a sitcom. It was exaggerated but it also had the reality of the workplace, the senseless misery and lack of control, the awkwardness of the people you work with whom you’re around all day but don’t really know or like, and the sense that you would rather be doing something else if you weren’t being paid to do this pointless thing.

Then the show let go of the reality more and more, and just let the characters run wild on a collision course with each other. It was close to a sitcom but it was still unexpected, awkward and felt grounded in a workplace. Year by year that changed, and then this is the season that it became a sitcom. A sitcom without a laugh track, but with all the lameness.

The Office was always going to become a sitcom, the more Michael became Homer Simpson and Dwight was allowed to run wild, and Jim and Pam became smug parents, the closer it got. But nothing cliched it like a show digging up a plot that almost every office sitcom has toyed with, the boss dividing the office by turning them against each other, and the moment where Andy walks in to deliver a sitcom cliche of standing up for his fellow workers that is determined to make viewers feel good, without earning it. It’s the end.

Holmes and Yo-Yo

What do you get when you create a parody of Dragnet using classic slapstick and set around a SciFi premise? You get Holmes and Yo-Yo where Joe Friday is a bionic robot named Yo-Yo with a Polaroid camera in his mouth and a tape recorder in his chest. A bionic robot played by John Shuck.

Holmes and Yo-Yo was an experiment six years before Police Squad and ten years before Sledge Hammer. Like them it did badly. But unlike them it didn’t go for the surrealism. Holmes and Yo-Yo was pure slapstick. It didn’t bother setting up a leading man police officer to mock the way they did. Holmes and Yo-Yo were both aging, overweight and out of shape. Their rapport was natural and the comedy was pure vaudeville, without the surrealism that Police Squad and Sledge Hammer added to their physical comedy.

Holmes and Yo-Yo wasn’t great television, but it was entertaining, especially if you thought that everything else on television was just as dumb, but didn’t know it. Which might be why Holmes and Yo-Yo was hated so much. You won’t find a TV critic then or now with a good word for it.

In the year of Baretta, Welcome Back Kotter, Kojak, the Bob Newhart Show, Chico and the Man, and the Rockford Files, there was no room for a show that mocked the cop show and the blandness of television. It was a little too close to mocking the viewer. Police Squad and Sledge Hammer got by on including the viewer in the joke. Telling him that he was intelligent if he watched it. Holmes and Yo-Yo didn’t pretend to be smart. Like a clown they were ridiculous. Shamelessly ridiculous, gloriously lame and enjoying every minute of it.

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