Posts filed under 'The CW'

The More You Know: Cracking spine edition

It’s so bad, but it feels so good.

1 comment October 24th, 2007

America or Burst

Before I had really thought out this review, I thought I really hated Aliens in America. But I had this great intro:

What do Mother Theresa and the premiere of the new CW show Aliens in America have in common?

They both had good intentions and neither were very funny.

Well, I suppose that’s not fair. I have no evidence ole’ Ma Theresa couldn’t let fly a sizzling one-liner.

aliens_in_america.jpg

Since then, though, I’ve had a change of heart. The show that I initially thought was crass and cheap play on the “naive ethnic character” genre, turned out to be a somewhat funny (and somewhat preachy) show.

The set-up for Aliens, which debuts Monday, goes like this: Justin Tolchuk is an awkward social outcast in a suburban high school. Skinny and friendless, his well-meaning parents decide to take in a British exchange student, hoping that it will be a 17-year-old Jude Law who can impart social skills upon the lad. Unfortunately, when they get to the airport it’s not mini-Jude at all, but a gawky, Pakistani Muslim teen. Their surprise is demonstrated by a score of shrill, tribal ethnic wails. Apparently, the family Tolchuk is made up of racists, so they waste little time before conspiring to send him back. However, not before Justin begins to grow attached to him.

Upon a second viewing, Aliens in America wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought the first time around. Dare I say, it really didn’t deserve the 1 I gave it in the Fall TV Preview.

The reason why Aliens initially left a bad taste in my mouth was because it seemed to be playing on cheap ethnic stereotypes for laughs. At first, I hadn’t seen any of the press surrounding the show (before I tuned in, I thought the show could have conceivably been about actual aliens from Mars) and, therefore, didn’t realize that the entire point of the show is to spread a cheery, Up With People message. So, upon first viewing, it seemed like the parents were supposed to be the sympathetic characters — they wanted a suave Brit, but got a wacky, dark-skinned, achkan-wearing Pakistani. The character of Raja seemed familiar — like a 21st century Balki Bartokomous and his naive antics were played out.

I truly didn’t get it.

Upon a second viewing, though, I was able to watch it without balking at what I had initially perceived as Raja’s clownishness. The latte liberal in me took over for a while and I didn’t necessarily fully appreciate some of the funnier moments — particularly the classroom scene with the clueless teacher, the expressive performance by Amy Pietz (the mother character) and Raja’s reflections on tooth-brushing.

I haven’t made a complete turn-around, though. Once you realize what they’re doing, the show’s message seems a little forced. I’m not necessarily excited about tuning into a sitcom that serves as my overbearing weekly reminder to be nice to all the multi-hued people of the world. Furthermore, this Associated Press article talks about how “a small minority” of critics complained that the show makes Americans seem bigoted and stupid. I might be inclined join that tiny chorus, as I was shocked at just how mean and rude the mother was to Raja. In fact, around town the kid seemed to be universally disliked from the outset.

But I suppose that when you’re not used to hanging around stupid, racist people, you tend to think they don’t exist. Shrug.

Like almost all pilots, I’m curious to see how Aliens in America develops over the course of several episodes. The writers can’t rely on Raja’s sweet and naive misunderstandings week after week and, potentially, season after season without turning into the “What has that craaaazy Pakistani done this week?!” show.

PS – if I got to re-rate the show I’d give it a 3.5. You couldn’t do halvsies on that survey, but whatever.

3 comments September 25th, 2007

Gossip Girl: All up in my business

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Epigraph:

Girl I heard she eats one cracker a day
Oh well I heard the bitch was married to tim and started fucking with trina
I heard the bitch got hit with three zebras and a monkey
I can’t stand the bitch no way

So let’s say you’re hanging out with one of your friends and you end up going somewhere to meet up with some of said friend’s old college chums. Your friend didn’t go to the same school as you, but you figure that you’ll suck it up and try to be social and meet new people. However, once you get to the meeting place, you find that the new group is only interested in whispering about the scandalous affairs of other college people. People you’ve never met, never will meet and are way too far removed from to even consider caring about. Eventually, the social function ends up becoming something you have to endure, rather than enjoy. And, furthermore, from what you can piece together of these fabled schoolmates, they seem pretty lame.

serenagg.jpgThis situation pretty much sums up the feeling you get from watching Gossip Girl, which premieres tomorrow on The CW. The show is a rather tedious fusion of the dynamics of Cruel Intentions with the melodrama of Dawson’s Creek.

The show’s protagonist is named, I swear to God, Serena van der Woodsen. Blonde and sleepy-eyed, Serena’s return to her Manhattan prep school causes massive ripples among the student body for reasons that aren’t immediately clear (or, after having seen the entire pilot, still isn’t). What do we know about Serena? She’s a booze hound. She has a thing for her best friend’s boyfriend. She is portrayed as having much more profound depth than any of the other designer-outfitted teens.

The rest of the ensemble is made up of:

  • Blair – the former BFF with full-on mean girl skills.
  • Nate – Blair’s whipped, prettyboy boyfriend. Object of Serena’s affection.
  • Chuck – the Machiavellian (and slightly vampiric) friend of Nate’s. He attempts to rape no less than two women in the pilot. I’m not lying.
  • Dan – the new kid who falls in love with Serena at first sight. In both looks and behavior, he seems to be carrying the lovable, shmoopy, “good guy” torch that Ethan Embry passed on after Can’t Hardly Wait.
  • Jenny – Dan’s blonde, somewhat useless sister.
  • Isabel and Katy – the black girl and the Asian girl, respectively. So far, they have no function other than to chew the scenery while the white people fight.

The entire series is framed around Gossip Girl — ambiguously portrayed as a listserv-y, blog-y, PDA-accessible gossip column focused on this bustling private school full of jailbait-y uniformed teens. The biggest draw to this show, I’m guessing, for TiFaux readers is the presence of Kristin Bell as the titular narrator. Bell’s presence is really cold comfort for those of us missing Veronica, Wallace, Keith, Mac and the gang.

In fact, the Gossip Girl’s unctuous tone is slightly off-putting. You know how every once in a while on Veronica Mars, after our heroine tossed off a particularly caustic one-liner, you’d think “Man, is Veronica just kind of a bitch?” (but then she’d do something awesome and everything would be forgiven). Well, Gossip Girl’s tone recalls those moments and Bell’s presence does little to recall the joy of Veronica Mars.

So, don’t get too excited.

As far as the rest of the show is concerned, I think you probably know what you’re getting into. It’s a CW teen drama with rich kids fighting, flirting and doing other things that start with the letter F. The writing is tart, but not as crisp and witty as it thinks it is (which I kind of see as an ongoing theme in CW shows). By the end of the pilot, I found myself not really enjoying the show, but also weirdly engaged with it.

Not recommended, but you could do worse. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

2 comments September 18th, 2007


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