In my continuing search for wheat amongst the chaff (what is chaff, anyway?), here are a few more observations on the new television season, now well and truly underway.
The big event of the week, at least in terms of hours of airtime eaten up (four freakin’s hours over two nights!) was The X Factor on Fox, the much-hyped return to TV of Simon Cowell’s t-shirts. The X Factor is a gussied up, much more expensive, somewhat tricked out version of American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and, for that matter, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. So, it’s hardly new. What’s ‘new’ is the production values are top notch, with the would-be superstars performing in front of large, loud, apparently entertainment-starved audiences. As usual, a panel of entertainment experts weighs in: L.A. Reid plays the role of Randy Jackson, Nicole Scherzinger (um, who?) plays the unnecessary fourth judge, an annoying limey with an extremely weird way of speaking plays Ryan Seacrest, and Paula Simon plays herself. With so much time to kill, we get lots of background stories on the singers, and dozens of clips of residents of Painfully Obvious, Ohio, saying how the $5 million prize would change their lives. (Just once, I’d like to hear someone say: “I dunno. I’d probably just go back to work at the cow spleen rendering factory if I won.”)
I didn’t, of course, watch all of The X Factor, and judging from the tepid audience numbers not too many people did. I sampled it just long enough to get the gist, and decided that it was not worthy of my time, and my time isn’t worth much. Here’s the thing with a show like The X Factor: in the unlikely event of a Susan Boyle moment, you can just watch it on You Tube without spending two hours watching delusional singers and a sprinkling of weirdoes belting out ballads. No thanks.
Moving on, we come to Revenge on ABC, a densely plotted soap opera about filthy rich people getting their comeuppance. While you can complain that typical network fare is short on plot, Revenge is awash in it. Emily VanCamp plays a mysterious young woman who is bent on revenge for what some filthy rich people did to her father. Madeleine Stowe, who screams “I’M EVIL” with every arched eyebrow, hilariously overplays the filthy rich woman. It’s all very slick and classy, but it’s still prime time soap opera trash.
Up next was Thursday night’s NBC comedy block, my favorite two hours of TV. Or at least, it was. After Community (a promising return to form), Park and Recreation (Emmy or no Emmy, this is the best comedy on TV), and The Office (a weak episode; it may be time to shut ‘er down), we come to … Whitney. The second of two comedies created by Whitney Cummings (the other being the uninspired Two Broke Girls),Whitney is unworthy of its lead-ins. Whitney herself is unpleasant and unattractive, her supporting cast is bland and forgettable, the script pretty much devoid of laughter. Or at least it was in the 12 minutes I watched. I have a very low tolerance for lousy sitcoms; if I don’t get at least a couple of laughs in the first 15 minutes, it’s game over for me. And so it is with Whitney. At least we have 30 Rock reruns to enjoy until NBC’s inexplicable infatuation with Whitney passes and 30 Rock returns to its rightful spot.
And finally, we turn our attention to Prime Suspect, a new cop drama NBC.
Much has been made of the fact that Prime Suspect is an American version of the British/PBS series Prime Suspect, which stars Helen Mirren. If you’ve never seen the original British version, as most people haven’t in that it aired on PBS, this fact is irrelevant. As is Prime Suspect.
Maria Bello plays a NYC detective just assigned to an all-male squad of detectives. The detectives are so old-school sexist, I kept looking for signs that the show was set in the 1970s, like that nutty Life on Mars show from a couple of years back. But no, it’s apparently 2011, and the hard-drinking team doesn’t think too much of having a skirt on the team. When the leader of the detectives dies, Bello makes a power play grab for his job, and gets it. She promptly solves a major crime, and becomes a colossal dick in the process.
Prime Suspect is as dated as the cheesy fedora Bello wears to show how tough and super cool she is. A lot of good actors and quality production values are wasted on this triviality. Ultimately, it’s just another cop show.
So there you have it. A week of new TV, and one show — New Girl — that is worth a second look. This does not bode well.