Which overhyped show should you watch? In Showdowns, Defamer's Beejoli Shah and Gawker's Rich Juzwiak tackle the tough issues: Which show each night this week sucks the least during the premiere season of this "Golden Age of Television."
Last night, Rich watched CBS' The Crazy Ones, while Beejoli watched NBC's The Michael J. Fox Show.
Rich: OK. So first, let's set this up as what it is: The TV return of two TV icons. Whose status as TV icons has been replaced with greater celebrity, but are returning to TV because it's no longer seen as slumming it. Not inherently, at least.
Beejoli: Agreed. I don't even know if I want to debate the shows as much as I do whose return was stronger as a person. As a person? Maybe not as a person. That came out wrong. You know what I mean.
Rich: I mean, for Robin Williams, there is a sense of: here he is again, doing that spastic Robin Williams thing in a medium that's different than the one we've been watching him do it in for about three decades. This doesn't feel like a triumphant return so much as a, "Well, I guess I'll do a show now why not?"
Beejoli: Michael J. Fox is still as adorable and earnest as ever, just shakier. (THERE, I SAID IT.) The problem is I don't really get...why? The show isn't that funny so I'm constantly left wondering if this is a PSA for how to handle delicate subjects with grace and humor.
Rich: I mean, yeah, that's what his public profile amounts to basically. But god, at least that's something.
Beejoli: Don't get me wrong, I love, love, love MJF because he is hot and sweet and all the things I want in the boyfriend who won't date me, but the show is just so earnestly "I have Parkinsons and that's okay!" And like, I get that they have to address it, I do, it just feels so uncomfortable and odd, how much it's being forced down your throat to just laugh at it.
Rich: Were there straight up Parkinsons jokes?
Beejoli: Like, instead of treating Parkinson's delicately (which would be supremely annoying) they've gone to the opposite length of "Let's make as many marginally funny fairly offensive jokes about shaking as possible!" "It's okay because HE HAS PARKINSONS!"
Beejoli: There is a point in the second episode (one hour premiere), where they can't find him hidden in a ball pit, but then are able to locate him because of all the vibrating balls.
Rich: That's funny!
Beejoli: In the first episode, where he is trying to spend more time with his family, he is very slowly and shakily serving food to his children, his wife snaps "Okay let's not make this a personal victory, we're all starving," and grabs the spoon away.
Rich: I like that too!
Beejoli: Which isn't unfunny, per se...it's just that they have 80 of those jokes per episode.
Rich: This show seems unconcerned with political correctness.
Beejoli: I don't mind that. It's not that they're making these jokes. I'm no prude. It's that the WHOLE SHOW is "Look we can joke about Parkinson's" You still have to be a show! With a story! And a point! Not a string of "Parkinsons meds give me weird dreams" runners, tied together.
Rich: Yeah It sounds like it's protesting too much or something.
Beejoli: It's just trying too hard to be irreverent and funny, without actually being irreverent and funny.
Rich: It's one thing to address the elephant in the room, it's another to rhapsodize it to the point of ignoring everything else.
Beejoli: Yes! It is the most rhapsodized elephant. Also, Michael J. Fox did a weird promo with an elephant that was also not hilarious.
Anyways, okay so this SHOW. MJF has Parkinsons, which is pretty hard to figure out if you don't pay very, very, very close attention, so you know, there's that. His wife (who I am compelled to say was on Breaking Bad even though I do not watch that show and could give 2 fucks about it) Annie is a woman. She has brown hair. He has three kids: a son who dropped out of college to start a startup but just sits at home (Lol! Startups!), a teenage daughter, and a young son. He also has a crazy sister or sister-in-law...sisterly person...who is always dropping by. First episode: Mike has retired to be a stay-at-home dad and also maybe sort of deal with his Parkinson's (he had a very embarrassing on-air anchor incident in which his chair rolled away from the newsdesk because he shook so bad, LOL PARKINSON'S). By the end of the episode, he is back at work. The house is a zoo of people and noises. That is literally the whole show. I watched it again 20 minutes ago and that is all I can tell you that was remarkable.
Rich: Yeah, that sounds bad.
Beejoli: It was just FINE, was the problem. I'm sure it will get funnier - I did think the second episode was very slightly funnier than the first, except that all the situations were so overdone and seen before on every other sitcom ever. MJF has a hot neighbor he has a crush on, his wife isn't jealous but she wants to sexy up their marriage more. (Fun surprise in that it wasn't a surprise at all, the only surprising thing is they waited till Episode 2 to do it: the hot neighbor is played by his real life wife Tracy Pollan.) Their daughter thinks her new schoolmate is a lesbian because she dresses like she's from Portland, in a lot of backward baseball caps and Cobain-esque open button flannels. This girl is a lesbian because she dresses like it's the 90s. Miscommunications ensue, the entire family ends up in a ball pit. The end!
Beejoli: I don't know what bothered me more: the lack of actual humor, or that it was just "We're soooo okay with autoimmune disorders, just watch!" Kind of both. I have hopes for it to get funnier but even MJF isn't funny in it. There are no laugh out loud moments, good OR stupid.
Rich: I like the idea of converting his disability into comedy. Because that is a way of coping And look, everyone has a THING. Everyone has a thing that makes them funny. That makes them them (and humans are inherently funny). But if it's only jokes about that shit, if it's only outlining his character instead of filling it in, it's kind of pointless. Kind of dehumanizing when they are clearly going for the opposite.
Beejoli: I agree, I just wish it was ONE of the jokes. Like, this is a forced example, but New Girl isn't SOLELY based on Zooey Deschanel staring at every thing with crazy eyes. She has a whole host of other toxically annoying characteristics that they totally flesh out!
Beejoli: Michael J. Fox is no longer a person, he is just a Parkinson's. Okay. How was The Crazy Ones?
Rich: It was a 30-minute commercial for McDonalds. The whole episode was about making a commercial for McDonalds and getting Kelly Clarkson to sing on it. Her line readings were surprisingly natural. She's come a long way since From Justin to Kelly.
Beejoli: I once highlighted my hair like hers in From Justin to Kelly. My dad looked at me and said "Hey! Your hair went to community college!"
Rich: Your dad rocks.
Beejoli: My dad is everyone's favorite dad, except mine.
Rich: Kelly also spoofed herself. She said she was looking to rebrand. "I want to sing about sex!" So she was lampooning that whole diva rite of passage. I thought that was smart.
Beejoli: Sarah Michelle Gellar can have my dad since she seems so upset with hers on The Crazy Ones.
Rich: Sarah Michelle Gellar is an unlikable shrew on that show. It's a total disservice to her.
Beejoli: REALLY? I love her, and that makes me sad.
Rich: She's uptight and unfunny.
Beejoli: She made being a bitch perfection on Buffy.
Rich: It's not her, it's the character. Killjoy.
Beejoli: Women are always so underwritten on television. (That's the end of my feminist rant, because I'm a bad feminist.)
Rich: Killjoy "I'm about to watch America's sweetheart orgasm in front of my father!" Ay! Ay! Ay!
Beejoli: Kelly Clarkson is America's sweetheart? LOL. I'm pretty sure Clive Davis would have a novel to say abut that. (The joke was that Clive Davis already wrote a memoir maligning Kelly Clarkson, in case you don't get jokes.)
Rich: Yeah, since when is she Julia Roberts or Rihanna? "Dad, there's a roomful of McDonalds executives waiting for you and you're playing with toys!" Also, she looks like Suzanne Somers in her opening-titles shot.
Beejoli: Okay but that's not a bad thing. I have a Thighmaster I still use. It was purchased before my birth.
Rich: She looks airbrushed to the point of 60. Meanwhile, Robin Williams is coping with his own disability: comedic tourettes. I mean, talk about being un-PC, he did a bit where he was a "tribal elder" advising his daughter in an American Indian acccent.
Beejoli: That actually makes me feel bad for Dads.
Rich: It felt very out of touch. You know, not hateful, just like, this comedy is outdated. LOL, diversity.
Beejoli: I just really am reminded of how many lazy jokes comedy writers go for these days. This comedy writer, Alan Kirschenbaum, who was the head writer on Coach for years, and then created other sitcoms always had this rule I thought was brilliant: You can't use pop culture topics to make jokes.
Rich: Oh, well that's been since forgotten. For sure.
Beejoli: Mainly the rule was so that if your show goes into syndication, 20 years later the kids aren't wondering who Dudley Moore is when you meant to have your hair cut like Demi Moore.
Rich: If only we made that into law, Family Guy would never have existed.
Beejoli: But I think it also really helps the comedy. It's SO easy to make jokes about things like Justin To Kelly, or YouTube viral videos, but it's lazy. Jokes used to be based on everyday situtations.
Rich: Hence the term "sitcom"
Beejoli: I mean don't get me wrong, South Park and Family Guy blow that rule right up, and they do it beautifully, but I think a) you can get away with it in animation, and b) their shows are ENTIRELY based on doing that very well.
Rich: I agree with your assessment of South Park.
Beejoli: This is a room of 25-55 year old writers trying to pick whatever phrase is zeitgeist'y in the moment because it's easier than writing a real joke. If you want to do that entirely, then write a show entirely based on skewering pop culture. Don't go halfsies on "We're a sitcom...that sometimes makes these jokes when we can't think of anything else!"
Rich: Yeah, although this may be sidetracking the original point of Robin Williams making a joke suggesting that native peoples stereotypes are funny. Which is just dumb.
Beejoli: Oh sorry, YES. That. End TV rant.
Rich: Haha, it is a good point. I'm not disagreeing. I don't think this show went overboard with the pop cultural references. But anyway, James Wolk is very attractive.
Beejoli: Oh my god so attractive. Also, he is friends with people I know (I have once sat in his presence but I do not "know" him as our mutual friends have agreed it best to no longer introduce me to famous people), and he is legitimately the nicest guy ever.
Rich: Is he gay? He's got a twinkle in his eye. But that could just be from good grooming.
Beejoli: He is not gay.
Rich: Is he bicurious?
Beejoli: I would break the rule on not talking to him and set him up with you if I thought he wanted to dip a toe. I will do some more investigation.
Rich: He can dip whatever. Doesn't have to be a toe. I'm real easy.
Beejoli: He is a big UMichigan fan so maybe you can get into Big Blue for football season?
Rich: Haha, no thanks!
Beejoli: All you have to say: "Fuck Ohio State." That's it!
Rich: I don't even know what those words mean.
Beejoli: Shhh just say them. I'm digressing again.
Rich: It's ok. But yeah, I will not watch this show again. I feel like he's Robin WIlliams playing Robin Williams and that stresses me out.
Beejoli: I still can't tell if Robin Williams is funny or if he's going to annoy me.
Rich: Did I mention that it was prone to sappiness? The father daughter thing is gross. "My daughter. Sometimes when I look at her I still see my babycakes. My piglet." That turned my stomach. His daughter is bacon and/or a Winnie the Pooh character.
Beejoli: Oh god. My dad very rarely waxes nostalgic on the days of my youth. I once spent a summer working at his office and he fired me. Twice. You really would love him.
Rich: Yeah, he seems to have all the right ideas.
Beejoli: I wouldn't watch The Michael J. Fox Show again either.
Rich: Fuck these shows.
Beejoli: The daughter has odd eybrow shaping, to top it all off. And you KNOW that I value eyebrow game above all. As both an Indian and a woman, it's kind of the big thing.
Rich: So do I! Did you know that I felt that they're the most important features on a man's face? I can't say the same for women, because I don't know. But they are CRUCIAL for dudes.
Beejoli: They are DEFINITELY the most important feature on a woman's face.
Rich: I wish mine were thicker. Mine look sculpted. I don't touch them.
Beejoli: I like yours! They have a good shape.
Rich: Thanks, I wish they were a little less shapey. But they're part of what makes me me.
Beejoli: I get them threaded every two weeks. Literally the only compliment I get is on my eyebrows. I am a walking pair of eyebrows.
Rich: No, you're pretty.
Beejoli: Thank you! I will take that. It's all about the eyebrow game. One of these shows should hire a good brow sculptor. Until then can we just crown no winner? Save your Thursday nights. Reconnect with your family. Milton Bradley Family Game Night!
Rich: Masturbate instead.
Beejoli: Cards Against Humanity Thursdays for anyone who lives in LA and wants to hang out with me. I never lose. Do NOT masturbate AT family game night. Other than that, enjoy your night away from the TV.
Rich: It depends on what you consider "family." Maybe some people don't have a family and their jerk-off buddies are their families.
Beejoli: Modern Family. (That's what that show is about right? God I hope so.)
Rich: Yeah, from what I can tell it's a bunch of straight people jerking off and a bunch of gay people who look like a Ken doll down there. El fin.
Winner: NEITHER, save your Thursday's for game night, masturbation, or watching more people get Final Destination'd on Grey's Anatomy.