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Praise and Malaise

by Jonathan Downard
Jan. 2006

Praise to BBC America for running The Mighty Boosh. This crazy comedy, set in a zoo, revolves around two zookeepers, Howard Moon and Vince Noir, who seem like polar opposites but operate like best friends and partners-in-crime. With humor that runs from the wittiest turns of phrase to the goofiest slapstick, there's a bit of everything good about British comedy on this show. Written by Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, who play the principal characters, it's been compared to Vic and Bob, Monty Python, and a really wierd acid trip. Both Fielding and Barratt are musicians, and each episode features an off-the-wall musical number; dancing gene-spliced mutants, mod wolves, a mouse that listens to techno... it's all funny and/or ridiculous.

Equal parts Praise and Malaise on Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy. Yet another in a long string of reality shows that leaves me feeling dirty, this one takes you to new levels of intolerance, hurtfulness, disrespect, hypocrisy, and ignorance. Two families from different areas and backgrounds trade mommies for a week. Each family gets $50,000 for their trouble-- the catch is that the visiting mom gets to decide how the family spends the money. Among the most disturbing episodes is when a devout "Christian" mom is traded with a mom from a new age sort of family who has interests in astrology, etc. The new age mom has no real problems with the Christian family, but the other mom will not listen, participate, or even relax around the new age family, calling them "evil" and "dark-sided" because they don't go to a Christian church. She flips out and does a lot of scary screaming and eye-bulging, and it is deeply disturbing to watch her narrow-minded rampages. Another neat-freak mom from a yuppie family with a constrictive hold over its kids finds herself in a home with a do-nothing dad, where the oldest son and daughter work more to support the family than the parents do. The lazy mom finds herself enjoying some activity and exercise, but she's skeptical about the stoic, yuppie father pushing his eldest son too hard through activities his dad seems to care more about than he does. A well-to-do, white family from Connecticut trades moms with a black family from Harlem, and what ensues can be summed up in two words: fear and racism. The Connecticut father treats the black mom like a servant while his daughters curse and disrespect the lady, him, and each other. The father of the Harlem family virtually ignores everyone but his rapper son, whom he calls Cash Flo, while pushing the young man to become his little entertainer/star/prima donna/meal ticket. Praise goes to this show for being educational, showing the differences between family philosophies and pecking orders, along with regional and religious differences. The Malaise is for showing just how ugly everyday people can be, and the pathetic feeling induced by allowing oneself to be riveted and entertained by the heartbreak and injustice in their everyday lives. It still doesn't make me as sick as watching Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown verbally abusing each other on Being Bobby Brown, though.

Praise to My Name Is Earl. One of the most inventive sitcoms to hit American TV recently, this is the story of Earl, a guy with a somewhat criminal and addictive past who has decided to go straight and launder his karma. When he is hit by a car seconds after scratching off a winning lottery ticket, Earl realized that his life is going in the wrong direction. He makes an extensive list of all the ways he can remember ever having wronged anyone and sets himself on a mission to right every one. In a role that couldn't be more perfect for him, Jason Lee shines as the bumbling anti-hero, proving that his acting career isn't dying after a couple of romantic comedy movie mistakes left us with doubts. With the mightiest mustache in post-Magnum, P.I. years, Earl struggles to give back what he's taken, fix what he's broken, and apologize to everyone he's hurt... all the while making a few more mistakes and additions to his list. The ironies and mishaps are hilarious. Surrounded by an excellent cast playing their characters to their redneck best, Earl looks for what we all want: redemption and friendship.

Praise to The Soup. It is the only show I recall on the E! channel that doesn't devote it's time and energy to fluffing celebrities and pointless gossip-- save for a few of the 'True Hollywood Stories.' The show is a mish-mash of criticism, commentary, and jabs directed at A to D-list celebs, news, movies, and all the other crap that's on television. Host Joel McHale leads you through wonderfully sarcastic takes on everything that they've/you've seen all week. In a segment called 'Chat Stew' you are shown the most outrageous clips from talk shows-- lately Tyra Banks' constant, rambling self-glorification is a winning topic. All of the reality shows are ripped on, as well as the latest blockbusters in parodies such as "Brokeback Kong" and "Memoirs of a Geisha Kong." The real appeal is all contained in the clever editing and McHale's genius timing and deadpan.

Malaise on FOX's The War at Home. Michael Rapaport does some really good drama and comedy work in movies but fails to deliver on the small screen. The writing is pedestrian, the acting is choppy... This show works all the same old Archie Bunker-Al Bundy-Bill Cosby fatherhood themes. About the only thing I see attracting viewers to this show (teenage male viewers, that is) are the female characters. You watch it. See if you can figure out why it's still on.

Praise to any of the channels which ran a couple of hours of footage of the burning Yule Log. I don't have a fireplace in my house, so it was nice to be able to have a virtual one for a couple of hours. I think I'm going to fill an entire video tape with a continuous loop... hmmm... if only I could dub over that obnoxious Christmas music with some realistic fire sounds...


copyright 2006, Jonathan Downard

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