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TV Trends

Brought to you by the Parents Television Council


The Fall 2010 Season

By Christopher Gildemeister


Fall means the start of a new season on broadcast television – and that means that once again, the entertainment industry will be deluging prime time with explicit sex, graphic gore, and thousands of instances of foul language. Based on episodes and live interviews with casts and production staffs seen at the Paley Center for Media's annual "fall TV preview week," this column offers an overview of the new fall programs...with warnings about what families might wish to avoid.


The most offensive new series is CBS' $#*! My Dad Says (Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. ET). This show tops the list for its title alone – a title which has already encouraged other networks to follow suit in using bleeped profanity in show titles, as witness Investigation Discovery's Who The [Bleep] Did I Marry?  Based on a profanity-laden blog and best-selling book by Justin Halpern, this show focuses on twentysomething writer Henry Goodson, who has tried all his life to please his grouchy, perfectionist father Ed – and always failed. When Henry loses his job, he returns home to live with his cranky dad, whose habit of spouting pithy sayings alternately irks and amuses his son. Also in the mix are Henry's older slacker half-brother Vince and Vince's pushy wife Bonnie. 


Drawing attention from its title, the raunchy blog on which it is based, and its star William Shatner, the program fails viewers in two areas. The first of these is good taste: Shatner spouts comments like, "I almost decorated my Buick with your balls," and "If you're gonna kiss my ass, at least put on a nice shade of lipstick," while Bonnie objects to Vince's invitation to Ed to live in their condo: "Think about our sex life! All that high-pitched squealing and crying – you couldn't do that any more!"


The second area of failure is even more crucial: the program isn't funny. On Boston Legal and various award/comedy shows, William Shatner has demonstrated that he has good comic timing; but that assumes he has something to work with. Shatner is the best thing on this program, but his dialogue is a disaster -- and without Shatner being funny, what's the point?


If the show were on HBO and contained all the profanity of the blog upon which it is based, the program might be shocking or explicit enough to generate a few dirty laughs for adults, even if it was unsafe for kids; if the show were a more traditional sitcom, there might be some warmth and characters for the viewer to care about. But by making Ed's wisecracks the entire focus of the show, and then toning them down so that they are inappropriate for families but not outrageous to shock adults, nothing about the program works.


With its tired premise, cardboard characters, and stilted dialogue, in spite of its offensive language, the show is a miserable failure.  Yet in one way, the show's title is nevertheless appropriate: this program is a piece of $#*!


Certain to rival this Shatnerian debacle in offensiveness is the latest sitcom from producer Chuck Lorre, CBS' Mike & Molly (Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET), a program which follows that producer's standard pattern. Lorre's Two and a Half Men is made up entirely of smutty sex jokes; his The Big Bang Theory is made up of smutty sex and sci-fi geek jokes. Unsurprisingly, Mike & Molly is made up of smutty sex and fat jokes, with dialogue including lines like, "You've got your father's genes. If you had a turkey leg in one hand and the other down your pants, I'd swear he's come back to life," and "I'd like to walk into a club without every queen there jumping on me like I'm a Gay Pride float." Stars Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy have a sincerity which makes Mike and Molly genuine and appealing; it's a pity their sweet romance is surrounded by non-stop "fat" put-downs and raunchy sex.


CBS' other new dramas, Blue Bloods (Fridays, 10:00 p.m. ET) and The Defenders (Wednesdays, 10:00 p.m. ET), while likely not of particular interest to children, are unlikely to be offensive either. The first is about the Reagan family, which for three generations has been involved in New York law enforcement. The series stars Tom Selleck as police commissioner Frank Reagan, and seems likely to focus more on family conflicts than on crime. The Defenders centers on Las Vegas-based defense attorneys Nick Morelli and Pete Kaczmarek, who will do anything to help their large and eccentric list of clients. Pete pushes the limits and plays fast and loose, both in the law and in his love for fast cars and faster women, while Nick is more sedate, torn up over his separation from his wife and child; but when driven by his passion to see his clients get justice, in the courtroom he's totally fearless – and more than a little creative. Nick, played by Jerry O'Connell, is a womanizer, with occasional scenes showing him bedding various women, and there is some discussion about a new law associate's past as a stripper; but at first look, the series seems to be more concerned with legal drama than with sex or violence.


NBC's new sitcom Outsourced, (Thursdays, 9:30 p.m. ET), is knock-off of The Office with a mild exotic/foreign vibe. Todd, a manager with Mid-American Novelties, is transferred to India to run the company's call center. The clash of cultures and quirky characters serve as the show's source of humor. Characters include Rajiv, the assistant manager bucking for Todd's job; horny Manmit, beautiful Asha, klutzy Gupta, and quiet girl Madri, his call-center employees; and hot blonde Aussie Tanya and fellow American Charlie, who work in the same building and befriend Todd. Most of the show's humor looks to be character- and culture-based, but occasionally a bit raunchy: Todd laughs at Manmit, whose name is pronounced "man-meat," saying things like, "It must be hard chatting on the Internet with a name like that." Charlie warns Todd not to eat Indian food: "Do you like your ass? If you eat that, you'll be crapping for five days." Language was fairly mild, including uses of "ass," "bastard" and "bitch." Viewers also see novelties things like "jiggle juggs" (plaque-mounted breasts that wiggle to music), coffee cups shaped like toilets, farting garden gnomes, a toy dog who humps legs, fake blood, poop, and vomit, and a mistletoe belt buckle --- which forces Todd to explain the concept of mistletoe and oral sex to his employees, though not in graphic terms. "And using this item is how you worship the birth of your God?" one employee asks. "Americans can be religious and have fun at the same time," Todd replies.


Continuing its theme of copying other programs (as radio comedian Fred Allen noted decades ago, "imitation is the sincerest form of television") The Event (Mondays, 9:00 p.m. ET)is the fourth-place network's attempt to create its own Lost, complete with mysterious characters, random happenings, and a unbelievably convoluted and disjointed timeline, with the scene constantly jumping between characters and time periods: each segment begins with a character's name, then is followed by scenes "23 minutes earlier," "eight days earlier," "13 months earlier," and the like. While there is potential for violence, at first glance the program seems more interested in creating a mystery than in depicting sex or violence.


NBC's Chase (Mondays, 10:00 p.m. ET) is little more than another crime procedural with a team of mildly quirky/bickering detectives, ala CSI, though marginally less violent and disturbing than that program, while Law & Order: Los Angeles (Wednesdays, 10:00 p.m. ET) offers yet another spin-off of the venerable franchise, this one more salacious, with an emphasis on (faux) movie stars, sleazy affairs, entertainment industry types being killed, and the like. JJ Abrams fans will genuflect at his newest series Undercovers (Wednesdays, 8:00 p.m. ET), a not-so-subtle return for Abrams to his glory days on Alias. Here, happily retired CIA agents Steven and Samantha Bloom find they've missed their life of globe-hopping adventure, and return to the spy game. The show features ridiculously over-the-top action: fistfights with brutal, bone-crunching sound effects, after which the fighters get up completely unhurt; gunfights with thousands of bullets fired, but with only bad guys being hit; rocket launchers being fired into nuclear power plants resulting in spectacular explosions, which only succeed in knocking the chief bad guy down. While possessing leads with charm and a large degree of charisma and Abrams' trademark dense, fast-paced plotting, the show is an entertaining diversion for adults and Abrams fans, but some parents may find the action too intense for the very youngest children.


Finally, while not outright offensive (save perhaps to politically conservative viewers), Outlaw (Fridays, 10:00 p.m. ET) is undoubtedly the program with the most far-fetched premise: after undergoing a grueling confirmation hearing and having attained a position of power and prestige which he holds for life, womanizing and gambling-addicted right-wing Supreme Court justice Cyrus Garza abruptly resigns his position on the highest court in the land and renounces his life-long, deeply-held beliefs in order to join a law firm and stick up for progressive causes. While actor Jimmy Smits is charismatic as always, the unbelievable premise is the show's undoing, causing the show to be panned by critics.


Lest too much reliance be placed on the opinions of TV's professional critics, however, Fox's new sitcom demonstrates that the entertainment industry and its shills are still convinced that crudity makes for the best comedy. Raising Hope (Tuesdays, 9:00 p.m. ET) consists of yet more over-the-top trailer-trash hijinks from My Name is Earl creator Greg Garcia, with the lower-class Chase family a bunch of losers: Father Burt, son Jimmy, and live-in cousin Henry do yard chores to make money, while mother Virginia scrubs toilets for a living. Also at their home is their demented great-grandmother. Jimmy has a one-night stand with a woman who turns out to be a serial killer, and keeps resulting baby Hope despite family pressure. While learning to cope with his infant, Jimmy also has eyes for a sardonic grocery store clerk, Sabrina. Crude remarks and physical shtick is on display on this program: After his one-night stand with serial killer Lucy, he visits her in prison and learns she's pregnant. "This is the best thing that ever happened to me!" Lucy enthuses. "They'll never kill a mother of a six-month-old baby!" The next scene shows Jimmy holding the baby, watching as Lucy is executed in the electric chair; the family's senile great-grandmother (played by Cloris Leachman) spends the entire episode in her bra, except for the last scene in which she runs into the street naked, and French-kisses and gropes her own great-grandson and makes sexual remarks throughout; and in the program's most cringe-inducing scene, Jimmy changes baby Hope's diaper, and both Virginia and Jimmy vomit on the baby. The vomit is explicitly seen spewing out of their mouths directly into the camera.Raising Hope received the single best review of any new show from TV Guide, and has gotten good notices from critics, while the "sophisticated" crowd of TV professionals at the Paley Center preview laughed uproariously when Jimmy and his mother vomited on the baby – which should tell everyone something about the entertainment industry.


Immediately following Raising Hope on Fox is Running Wilde (Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET), a silly and absurdist but inoffensive comedy about a spoiled rotten zillionaire who selfishly indulges his every desire, his old flame, now an egotistical environmental activist; and her daughter, who convinces her mother to move from the Amazon rainforest so that she can live in the lap of luxury. A goofy, slapstick-filled program, Running Wilde is zany but inoffensive. Fox's final new show, Lone Star (Mondays, 9:00 p.m. ET) has a premise decidedly not for families: charming con man Bobby Allen is living two lives – with two wives. When he decides to go straight, he decides to maintain his double life, believing himself in love with both women. Series creator Kyle Killen stated that his goal for the show was: "We hope the audience begins to root for [Bobby] to keep both his wives. He is a bit of a sociopath." While not for children, the program also seems unlikely to involve much violence or graphic sex.


By contrast, ABC's No Ordinary Family (Tuesdays, 8:00 p.m. ET) is a delight, and is appropriate for families and children, given some explanation from parents about some of the characters' attitudes. Essentially a live-action version of Pixar's movie The Incredibles, this program involves a family whose members gain superhuman powers, and how they must cope with the changes in their lives. Filled with "superhero"-style action ala the X-Men and Spider-Man movies, the lead character is shot multiple times but is unharmed. Some minor discussion of teenage daughter Daphne's sex life (commendably, she is not ready to give up her virginity, but learns that her best friend is having sex with her boyfriend) and some nasty dialogue by Daphne ("dumbass," "whore" and "bitch,") are the show's only flaws.


ABC's Better with You (Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET) is a sitcom in the Everybody Loves Raymond mold: lawyer Maddie and her professional but uptight boyfriend Ben have been living together for nine years – a state which Maddie defends as a "valid lifestyle choice." When her younger sister Mia announces she is marrying her slacker boyfriend Casey – whom she's only been dating for a couple weeks – Maddie is shocked that her grumpy parents Vicki and Joel approve. Even the fact that Mia is pregnant doesn't faze them, as they make it clear they are delighted that at least one of their daughters is getting married and giving them grandchildren. The stage is sent for comic resentment and bickering between old and young, impulsive and careful, men and women. Some jokes mention sex, but romantic relationships form the crux of the show. With caution, parents may find this show acceptable for older children and teens.


ABC's My Generation (Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. ET) is clearly aimed directly at the twenty-something audience. A "documentary" following nine individuals who graduated high school in 2000, the drama follows them in their current lives. The program utilizes many Real World-style touches with which that generation has grown up, and the series also firmly roots itself in the events of the past decade: Bush/Gore, 9/11, Enron; but can a faux "reality show" compete with dozens of real ones?


Sexual matters are given a good deal of attention: a character goes to a sperm bank, noting that "I get excited thinking about all the women who will use my sperm," but learns he's infertile; a soldier in Afghanistan talks with his wife via Internet camera, and asks to "show me something, it's been six months" – she raises her top, displaying [pixelated] breasts, and he exclaims, "They really do get bigger when you're pregnant"; and other characters briefly discuss their prom night sexual encounter. Show creator Noah Hawley boasts: "We have the most nudity and profanity of all ABC's 8 p.m. shows. It's a big selling point. Some preacher was railing against our show's billboards and bus ads – 'This ring comes off, you know', and like that. I guess that's how you know you've made it – when they start burning your DVDs in church parking lots;" but perhaps he shouldn't flatter himself until he learns whether anybody will actually watch the program.


Based on the movie and subsequent cable TV series about a beautiful spy/assassin, the CW's Nikita, (Thursdays, 9:00 p.m. ET) is sexualized and ultra-violent, with the first episode alone featured a young woman ordered to sleep with a former dictator, (when she refuses, he beats her); forced abductions, graphic vomiting, repeated scenes of torture, frequent and brutal fist, gun and knife fights, and a gory shoot-out finale with several blood-spattered  corpses and a hero who murders the villain by shooting him point-blank in the face. And CW's college cheerleader drama Hellcats poses the question: can stars (and former Disney girls) Aly Michalka and Ashley Tisdale escape storylines involving catfights, drugs, and sex with football players? With CW home to Gossip Girl, 90210 and Melrose Place, don't hold the PTC isn't holding our breath.


And another TV season gets underway.



Fuller reviews of the fall's new and returning shows are available at www.ParentsTV.org


TV Trends: This column was compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff.


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