With so many procedurals, it would be nice to praise Kings, which at least has an original structure: It’s based on the Bible. Sadly, the show is carved out of pure phony gravitas—like The West Wing, only more sanctimonious. It’s pleasant to see Ian McShane, but that doesn’t outweigh dungeon-master dialogue like “Bad dreams, I’ll wager!” (And I know the show is biblical, but is it really this impossible to imagine women in power?) With so much blather about Manly Fate, Kings resembles the talkiest parts of Lost, minus the fun polar bears.
Mommyville and the Suburbs of Bile
Every one of the excellent sitcoms currently airing on the major networks is a workplace comedy (30 Rock, The Office, Scrubs) or a Friendsish ensemble like How I Met Your Mother: urban adult territory. This should make it, in theory, the ideal time to launch a new, truly great family-type sitcom, something warm, something smart, something less gross than the repulsive (and repulsively popular) Two and a Half Men—Roseanne redux.
Instead, we get Surviving Suburbia, Bob Saget’s rage-inducingly grim new series, for which there is no excuse. Remember back when everyone theorized that you couldn’t have a dislikable main character, that era before Larry David–alikes replicated across the airwaves? In place of Saget’s real-life comic shtick, which is genuinely outrageous and dirty, we get sour, rehashed Honeymooners, misanthropy without insight. As on any detergent commercial, Saget is the grouchy husband, Cynthia Stevenson the perky-tolerant wife. The suburb they occupy is a conglomeration of bilious clichés, where fat women are horny, men love strippers, and kids say darned things. When someone comments about a cigar, “I hear they’re rolled between the thighs of Cuban virgins,” the laugh track roars. When an overweight neighbor tugs house keys from her bosom, Saget snarks, “Straight from the treasure chest.” And when, during a house-sitting escapade, Saget and his pervy neighbor accidentally light the drapes in flames, I fantasized that all the characters died in the blaze.
In contrast, In The Motherhood, a lumpy, queasy sitcom about “mommies,” is a less repulsive failure that fortunately won’t be around long: After the premiere aired, the network cut its order to seven episodes. Still, to my knowledge, it’s worth noting as the first network series to be created not by a film-production company but directly by advertisers—Suave and Sprint, collaborating with our new branded-entertainment overlord, MindShare Entertainment. It’s a depressing trend we’ll be seeing more of (and while I’m raving about product integration, I’d also like to rescind half of my praise for Trust Me, which currently spends whole episodes shilling for Dove and Rolling Rock). Still, if series like In The Motherhood are designed as Trojan horses for product placement, they won’t have much impact if they’re as weakly written as this Frankensteinian mulch of mommy-war clichés and “Santa is dead” gags.
I had higher expectations for Sit Down, Shut Up, an animated series created by Arrested Development’s Mitchell Hurwitz, with a great cast including Jason Bateman and Will Arnett—an adult satire set in a high school, just like Strangers With Candy! Man, what a disappointment. While Strangers With Candy centered around Amy Sedaris’s wild, sick, truly original anti-heroine Jerri Blank, here we’re stuck with the usual L.A. TV writer’s avatar, the sardonic, smart-ass “nice guy” jerk lusting after a dumb blonde. Poor Kristin Chenoweth is stuck voicing a busty New Age idiot, a 1972-era stereotype who whines, “You maaaan, you rational man!” For variety, there are also menopausal-hag jokes, gags about “yam sacks” and “chesticles,” headache-inducing meta (a character says “I’m not going to test well”), and “edgy” gay and Muslim gags indistinguishable from actual racist and homophobic gay and Muslim gags. Also, can we have some sort of rule outlawing funny names for porn magazines (yeah, yeah, Pacific Rim, ba-bump-bump)? If this is edgy, please bring me some smooth.