Jonathan Downard photograph

Praise and Malaise

by Jonathan Downard
Aug. 2005

Praise to Denis Leary and Rescue Me. Centered around a group of tough-talking, hard-living New York firemen, the show hits hard with gritty drama and a sense of humor more realistic and edgier than anything else on TV. FX hit the jackpot when Leary co-created this show, and it's got his thinking man's asshole mentality all through it. Locker room style man-talk, rough-and-tumble rescue action, dirty sex, city politics, addictions, death, and a father's love for his children are all portrayed in ways that are as close to believable as modern television allows. Leary's character is also visited, in his mind, by the ghosts of dead friends and firemen-- and occasionally Jesus and the Magdalen, especially when fighting his own alcoholism. Great scripts, great direction, good acting, and an exciting theme song grab you and keep you watching. If I have anything negative to say about this show, it's that I wish people would stop acting like New York City is the only greatest place in the world. Also, I think the firefighters' involvement in 9/11 is overly glorified, because, to me, firefighters are heroes for going into any building that's on fire or collapsing to save people. The only thing that makes the Twin Towers a special job for them is politics.

Praise and Malaise on The Surreal Life. Sure, I'll admit that the first seasons were sort of fun to watch, but let's be honest: this show is just showcasing a bunch of has-beens trying to clutch to their old celebrity and riding their own meltdowns. This season features baseball great, ball-shrunk steroid by-product, and consummate weirdo, Jose Canseco; former (and I mean former) supermodel Janice Dickinson; Bronson Pinchot, better known as Balki from Perfect Strangers; Omarosa from The Apprentice; internet "sensation" model Caprice Bourret; Sandy (Pepa) Denton, of the rap duo Salt 'N' Pepa; and mild-mannered motorcross rider Carey Hart.

Canseco caused quite a stir when he entered the house, having assault and battery on his record. He appears now to be fairly well adjusted and mellow, but it's tough to say how many brain -ahem, and testicular- cells he's destroyed in his past. Janice Dickinson has taken the complete bitch image she started on America's Next Top Model to a whole new level. She's the cast member who causes the most disgust, still calling herself a supermodel every two or three minutes... She has her own hair and makeup damage control people come and hog the shared bathroom everyday; she threatens to quit every five minutes, or so; and she seems to be a person who's never worked, never been held accountable for her actions, and never had any concern for anyone else's feelings. Balki (let's face it, no one will ever know him as Bronson) is creepy in an undersexed-and-gropy kind of way, but seems otherwise harmless. Omarosa is not as mean as her reputation would lead one to believe, but lives up to the worthlessness and cluelessness the word diva suggests. Caprice is easy on the eyes, but still difficult to watch, seeming vacant and having the annoying Madonna-like complex of being unable to decide whether she wants to pretend she's American or British. Pepa is an enabler, cleverly playing up to everyone's shortcomings and doing her best to keep Janice from actually quitting the show. Thank you to the tattooed and clear-headed Carey Hart, not only for being the first guy to successfully land a backflip on a dirtbike, but also for being the only one in this crowd who seems to have no illusions about himself and a sense of comfort with reality.

Perhaps the worst thing about this show is how I feel after I watch it. I feel dirty, I feel pity, and I feel like there's something wrong with me for sitting there and enjoying this shit.

Malaise on Minding the Store. As much as it's a bit endearing to see Pauley Shore dealing with his sex addictions and his morbidly crazy mother, this show leaves me with the empty feeling that Jury Duty did. Each episode puts Pauly in a set of situations that seem more manufactured and acted than reality. I find myself disbelieving the dialogue and the scenarios constantly. As much as I love Pauley's perspective and semi-humble personality, it doesn't rescue this show from the fakeness of the cast. I hate to say it, but it's hard to believe that the Comedy Store was ever successful when run by Mitzi Shore, who doesn't seem to understand how to run a business. No one else on the show who's connected with the enterprise seems to have much of a clue, and they all seem to be dimwitted friend-of-the-family lackeys. Again, I see an "unscripted" show that inspires much more pity than admiration.

Praise to Stella, Comedy Central's best new show. Unlike the turd they are trying to replace Chappelle with, Mind of Mencia, Stella lives up to its promise and creates no false expectations. It, as the commercial says, is "dumb comedy dressed up in a suit," and it's hilarious. Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain give riotous perfomances in dumb, dumber, and dumberer roles as three roommates bungling their way through business, romance, and even an open-heart surgery. Full of one-liners, ironies, slapstick, and the occasional dance number, if you like Monty Python, dumb it down a little and you will love Stella.

Praise to So You Think You Can Dance. The creators of American Idol have devised a show that's almost as fun to watch and definitely easy on the ears. If you didn't like the huge amounts of negativity and embarrassment heaped on the Idol contestants by the judges, you will find this much easier to digest. Fairly unable to dance myself, I am much more impressed by the talents and acrobatics of these dancers than I was with the second-rate singers Idol treated as gods, a la country caterwauler Carrie Underwood. Much like the so-called singing contest, though, the judges on So You Think You Can Dance seem to put too much emphasis on aesthetic appearance, often accepting lesser dancers with better looks. Overall, however, this show delivers with more show, less fluff, and some amazing floor shows.

Praise and More Praise to HBO's Entourage for having delivered two seasons of smart and engaging drama/comedy in the traditon of Swingers. The relationships flowing between blossoming movie star Vincent Chase; his less talented older brother, Drama; his fork-tongued agent; his best buddy/manager; and all the other hangers-on are fairly believable and executed with wit and superb sarcasm. The difficulties they face dealing with the entertainment moguls, lackey leeches, egos, and high-maintenance personalities is fun to watch. Crazy, reactionary directors, the prostitutes next-door, and none other than Hugh Hefner contribute complications to the zany, surreal success of a star and his Entourage.

Have a good month! See you in September.

copyright 2005, Jonathan Downard

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