Friday, October 15, 2010

The Tube (VI)

tv series reviews
A look at the latest seasons of some of television’s prominent sitcoms and dramedies


Cougar Town
Season 1
Cast: Courteney Cox, Christa Miller, Busy Philipps, Dan Byrd, Josh Hopkins, Ian Gomez, and Brian Van Holt
Director: Bill Lawrence
Genre: Sitcom
Courteney Cox returns to the small screen in Cougar Town, the story of a middle-aged divorcee Jules (Courteney Cox) venturing back into the world of dating while raising her teenage son Travis (Dan Byrd). The series starts with the cougar (older woman going out with younger men) premise, but soon switches gears as the protagonist’s interests land on her recently divorced neighbour Grayson (Josh Hopkins); her caustic friend Ellie (Christa Miller), Ellie’s husband Andy (Ian Gomez), giddy assistant Laurie (Busy Philipps), and ex-husband Bobby (Brian Van Holt) round up the rest of the gang. Aided by an impressive cast, and occasionally featuring guest stars such as Sheryl Crow, Scott Foley, and Lisa Kudrow, Cougar Town clearly has a certain charm about it. Yet there is something oddly frustrating about the show from its very onset, primarily rooted in the show’s premise. For one thing, there’s the whole thing regarding Jules’ neuroses about aging, which probably wouldn’t have been nearly as annoying if the character hadn’t been played by someone as gorgeous as Courteney Cox; if anyone else in their 40s had her looks and body, they certainly wouldn’t have been complaining about it. And then there’s the occasional whiff of creepiness that the sitcom gives off every now and then that might put you off. As summed up in the exchange in one of the episodes – in which Jules asks her son why he doesn’t laugh at her jokes; “because they make me sad”, he replies – unfortunately some of the viewers might have a similar reaction to some of the shows attempts at humour. Then again, it can be hard to resist Courteney Cox’s charms, so ultimately, what you feel about Cougar Town will largely depend on whether it strikes a chord with you or not.
Status: Picked up for a second season.

Season 1
Cast: Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Chris Colfer, Jane Lynch, Matthew Morrison, Dianna Agron, Amber Riley, Mark Salling, Jenna Ushkowitz, Kevin McHale, Jayma Mays, Naya Rivera, Heather Morris, and Jessalyn Gilsig
Genre: Musical comedy drama
Last season’s biggest hit (especially among teens with Twitter accounts), Glee follows the story of William McKinley High School’s glee club New Directions, as it struggles to return to its formal glory while the club’s members – a motley crew of divas, jocks, cheerleaders, and nerds – deal with personal issues; singing and dancing ensues as the underdogs prepare to compete on the show choir circuit. In short, the show comes off as High School Musical meets 90210 by way of Camp Rock, and while it doesn’t offer much in terms of smart, it makes up for this by offering heaps of mindless fun…presuming you can ignore the implausibility of its storylines (which you almost certainly can since you probably wouldn’t have turned to a musical comedy drama if you were in search of realism in the first place). The series also features guest appearance by the likes of Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Molly Shannon, Neil Patrick Harris, and Olivia Newton-John, and it’s mixture of pop music covers and teen drama will surely make some people absolutely love it…while the rest will hate it for pretty much the same reasons. You could look at it as a corny, predictable, over the top, tired mix of clichés, or you might see it as a show that in part lampoons teen drama and in part embraces it. But it’ll be hard to resist television’s newest guilty pleasure, especially if you fall in the show’s teenage target demographic.
Status: Picked up for a second and third season.

Romantically Challenged
Season 1
Alyssa Milano, Kyle Bornheimer, Josh Lawson, and Kelly Stables
Director: James Burrows
Genre: Sitcom
Never have I been more certain of the impending demise of a TV series than I was while watching the premiere of Romantically Challenged, a sitcom following the well trodden path of a comedy centred around a group of friends who often find themselves in a coffee shop exchanging banter as a laugh track provides instant gratification to their wit. The plot, somewhat like Cougar Town, revolves around a divorced single mom Rebecca (Alyssa Milano) re-entering the world of dating, guided by her sister Lisa (Kelly Stables), and friends Perry (Kyle Bornheimer) and his roommate Shawn (Josh Lawson). Unlike Cougar Town, however, Romantically Challenged lacks humour, chemistry, and just about everything that would make a sitcom appealing; in fact, it almost makes Cougar Town look like a masterpiece in comparison. The setting is bland; the characters lack charm; the humour is scarce and forced. The material they’re provided with does a disservice to the cast, especially Kyle Bornheimer who got rave reviews for his starring role in Worst Week. And while it was clearly going for the elements that made shows like Friends a hit, Romantically Challenged just comes off as an unoriginal and predictable mess that can more aptly be described as comedically challenged. Uninspired and forgettable.
Status: Cancelled after four episodes.


The Big Bang Theory
Season 3
Cast: Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, and Kaley Cuoco
Genre: Sitcom
The brainchild of Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, The Big Bang Theory, a sitcom based on a group of socially awkward friends, wrapped up its third season a few months ago. The series chronicles the lives of experimental physicist Leonard (Johnny Galecki), his theoretical physicist roommate Sheldon (Jim Parsons), their friends, aerospace engineer Howard (Simon Helberg) and particle astrophysicist Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar), and neighbour Penny (Kaley Cuoco). But everyone who’s been following it for the last few years knows that it’s actually the Sheldon Cooper show, and at the heart of it’s success lies Jim Parsons, who just won an Emmy for the role (and seriously deserved to win, even according to Sheldon’s nemesis Wil Wheaton!). Jim Parsons continues to be amazing in the third season, and Sheldon and his fellow characters continue to be powered by a unique blend of nerd humour and clever writing; you might have to be a bit geeky to relate to it, which is why this might not appeal to everyone, but for those who are willing to embrace their inner geek and tap into the shows unique hilarity, they will find The Big Bang Theory absolutely addictive.
Status: Renewed for a fourth season.

Season 6
Cast: Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven, Perrey Reeves, and Rex Lee
Genre: Comedy drama
Having been on the air for more than half a decade, everyone is likely to have made up their mind about Entourage, the HBO series about a young actor and his group of childhood friends as they try to make it in Hollywood. Some of us adore it; the rest can’t understand what the fuss is all about. But no matter which group you fall into, season 6 isn’t likely to change your mind. The show continues to satirize Hollywood, but the focus has shifted from Vince’s (Adrian Grenier) career to more individual storylines for the other characters – Eric (Kevin Connolly) tries to establish himself as a manager while trying to win Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) back; Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), who’s seeing Jamie-Lynn Sigler, starts college; Drama (Kevin Dillon) stars in a successful TV series; Ari’s (Jeremy Piven) frustrated when his friend’s domestic issues interfere with work. Yes, this shift brings the series down, but Entourage has spent the last six years making us care about the characters, and even if it isn’t as good as it used to be, we’re too invested in the characters to give up on the show now. And yes, Jeremy Piven is still brilliant, plus there are still many amusing guest appearance (Matt Damon in the season finale particularly stands out). So while it’s a lot more fun when it concentrates on Vince and Ari, for those who have stuck with it all these years, it’s still worth a watch. (That said, season 7 seems to be going even further downhill, but we’ll talk more about that in the next issue.)
Status: Seventh season currently underway; renewed for an eighth (and supposedly final) season.

United States of Tara
Season 2
Cast: Toni Collette, John Corbett, Brie Larson, Keir Gilchrist, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Patton Oswalt
Genre: Comedy drama
United States of Tara, the comedy drama based around a woman who has Dissociative Identity Disorder, returned for its second season with a more stable Tara, living without any visits from her multiple personalities, although predictably it doesn’t take long for her alters to return; this time Buck, Alice, T, and Gimme are joined by Shoshana Schoenbaum (her therapist alter) and Chicken (a representation of a 5-year-old Tara), making the gang a little overwhelming. As for the rest of the family, Tara’s husband Max (John Corbett) is on a mission to renovate a house he has bought; daughter Kate (Brie Larson) finds a job and then ventures upon an unconventional side project; son Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) struggles with his identity and tries to discover who he really is; and sister Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt) celebrates her engagement. There are instances when the banter feels too scripted or when the premise begins to crumble, and during these times, when even the viewer can’t help but echo Charmaine’s scepticism about the validity of her sister's disorder, a lot of credit goes to Toni Collette for making the character still feel interesting, and to their credit, the rest of the cast supports her admirably, because as outrageous as the show is, it’s strength lies is making the character’s struggles feel relatable, even though the setting might not be one that any of us are actually familiar with.
Status: Picked up for a third season.

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Magazine - Oct-Dec, 2010

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