Jonathan Downard photograph

Praise and Malaise

by Jonathan Downard
Sept. 2005

Praise to It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, another one of FX's great new series. Centered around three Philly guys who own a small bar and their one employee, this is a sharp and witty, yet silly comedy. Between accidentally turning the bar into a gay club for awhile, one of the characters pretending to have cancer for a day's worth of sympathy, and a coffee shop love-that-can-never-be, the meat-and-potatoes of this show is the snappy conversation and zany personality riffage between the principal characters. Full of sarcasm, ironic misunderstandings, and drunken episodes, this show is a rarety: an intelligently conceived sitcom.

Praise (and a little Malaise) on Starved, another new series on FX. The show centers around a handful of quirky characters who suffer from eating disorders and all attend the same self-help meetings. With well-written dialogue, it takes you through all sorts of ironic situations and poetic justice. The bulemic police officer makes unnecessary traffic stops, blackmailing delivery drivers for pizza or chinese takeout, then throws it up in an alley. The anorexic singer, in a fit of jealousy, exercises for hours on end at the gym, trying to reduce her body fat percentage to that of an ailing cancer patient. The chronic overeater hears of a liquid in, liquid out diet and starts putting cheeseburgers and pizza into a blender. And our main character, an obsessive-compulsive eater, has various escapades including eating chocolate cakes out of a trash can, getting jealous of his colon therapist's other clients, and comparing all of his female interests to the girl on an English tea-biscuit commercial. Although it is an extremely smart, funny, and engaging half-hour, this show is, at times, very depressing and sometimes a bit too painful to be called a comedy.

Praise to the Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken. If you are a child raised with television, comics, or toys, this animated series will tickle you. Your old He-Man, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, and A-Team action figures come to life and interact with Playskool toys, Barbies, clay-mations, and well-modeled figures of celebrities. Created by Matt Senreich and Seth Green, the entire Toys R Us family is put to use satiring the famous, shameless, and lamest. No pop-icon, politician, movie, series, new story-- nothing is safe on this show, not even the actors voicing it. With regular voice talent like Seth McFarlane, Seth Green, and Mila Kunis, there are also crazy cameos by numerous personalities like Ryan Seacrest and the great Phyllis Diller. If you miss the toys you should have kept and don't mind some crude humor, you've absolutely got to see this show!

Malaise on Being Bobby Brown. As much as people seem to like this show, it is sometimes hard to endure the personalities being depicted. I used to think Bobby was a bit of an asshole, and I still do; but that is much overshadowed by the domineering diva attitude of his wife, Whitney Houston. If this reality show depicts reality at all, the reality is that the only thing sweet about Whitney is her singing voice from ten years ago. Everyone loves to see a train-wreck, and I suppose that is the appeal with Being Bobby Brown. If you want to see arguing spouses, goofy entourage personages, children being ignored, and frivolity, then you've got it with this show. Much like with The Surreal Life, Celebrity Fit Club, and Minding the Store, it's the pathetic side of us that likes watching the pathetic sides of these people. I couldn't help watching some of it, but I still feel like shit about it afterward.

Super Praise to The Food Channel and Emeril Lagasse, the channel's best-known work horse, for his appearance on their new show, All-Star Kitchen Makeover. Emeril decided to go to the Children's Storefront School in Harlem, N.Y, to lend a much-needed hand to the cafeteria facilities there. The small, inner-city school's kitchen was in poor condition, and Anthony, the cafeteria supervisor, was doing the best he could to feed 170 students a day with an oven, two burners, and one spatula. Many of the students have their own survival stories to tell, and the chef decided to try to make lunch a better, easier part of their days. With the Food Channel budget behind him, Emeril assembled a team of kitchen and construction specialists, employing local artisans and artists to help with the design. Adding water-proof, non-slip flooring and new granite, anti-microbial tables to the dining area was a big step. But then came new ovens, new fryers, a full stock of utensils and cooking apparel, new sinks, a massive fridge, a truckload of meats and vegetables, and a refridgerated salad bar unit. A wrought-iron specialist put beautiful new designs in place of the institutional old bars on the windows. Artists created tile mosaics on the walls featuring the children's heroes, like Martin Luther King, Jr, and Rosa Parks. Cartoon food characters and musical notes decorated the walls, and several unique designs incorporated elements from the surrounding area. During the last day of construction, Emeril kept Anthony and all the school children busy by bussing them to his studio for a special taping of Emeril Live, where he cooked up a menu of finger foods and dishes requested by the children. When the children, the parents, and Anthony were finally back to their amazingly remodeled kitchen and cafeteria, it was hard to suppress a tear at the sight of all the happy faces, the hugs and gifts being exchanged, and the humility and grace Emeril has around these kids. BAM! On a show where other chefs are helping one family or fixing up a kitchen that peaks their own interests, Emeril "kicked it up a notch" and (BAM!) made a difference in entire neighborhood. O.K.-- one more-- BAM!

copyright 2005, Jonathan Downard

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