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Formative TV Experience No. 8: Fuzzy-Haired Creative Basketcases
My Cougartown Problem — and Ours

Static: Random TV Patterns

  • 10/5/09 at 5:00 PM

I spent last week in a state of ecstatic, nostalgic bliss, watching all six hours of IFC's upcoming documentary about Monty Python. I live a blessed life. And in total contrast to the SCTV excerpts I was watching Tuesday, Monty Python still makes me laugh so hard I almost fall off my seat. I'm trying to figure out why for my column next week.

I love Kristen Chenowith, but that last Glee episode was pretty much an homage to Strangers With Candy, no?

Checked out part of Wanda Sykes new stand-up for HBO. Some of it leaves me cold: There's only so much "black people do this, white people do that" comedy a person can take in a lifetime. (Although I admit that her impression of Michelle Obama with a metal rod in her neck made me laugh.) The wildest element of watching Sykes perform is sheer identity politics: It's ridiculous that it should still be thrilling to see a black lesbian making dirty jokes, and talking about interracial relationships and parenting with such authority, but it is. And it'll be interesting to watch her do late-night for Fox in November, in a talk-show berth which has for too long been the outpost of sardonic white guys, while daytime gets all the girls and the gays ...

Finally caught up to the season opener of Lie To Me, with its cornball multiple-personality disorder plot (featuring Erika Christensen squeezed into a blood-red bustier). I don't like this show anyway — it's slick phony-baloney, plus the science behind it is kind of BS. But the premiere truly hit the jackpot of procedural clichés, what with the slut personality talking dirty in the lab, the predictable grandpa-sexual-abuse monologue, and the eye-rolling showdown in which our hero bullies the witness into revealing her hidden "protector" personality (who is — special twist — a mute!)

Now that the spiky, thoughtful, stylized United States of Tara is covering multiple-personality disorder in a genuinely interesting way on Showtime, some sort of fine should be levied against writers who pull this crap.

Community is very sharp, but I do wonder how far they can ride the pop-culture-reference train into the horizon. The entire show is one cleverly contrived exploration of the possibilities and limitations of the smart-ass hero: that iconic Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Ferris Bueller, Hawkeye Pierce character, the trickster figure who also seems like an idealized self-image for the sitcom writers who create him. (He's the funny guy who wins over the girl with sardonic charm, or in the more unpleasant version, the lippy bastard whose sadism is woven together with self-pity.) The ensemble is really shaping up for me, though, especially the prickly ex-football hero and the Aspergian Palestinian dude ...

Which brings me to this other notable TV pattern I've been noticing: Asperger's everywhere. As far as I can tell, it started with the character of Chloe on 24, but then there was that model on America's Next Top Model, there's a contestant with Asperger's on the Amazing Race, and of course, there's the magnificent Sheldon on the wonderful Big Bang Theory (which I'm so happy has been getting attention lately). Any other examples?

This came to mind because I caught Penelope Trunk's fascinatingly blunt interview on CNN about tweeting her miscarriage. There's something to be said for Aspies as political advocates, with their tendency toward the sort of radical candor that cuts through the usual TV blah-blah fake politeness, and the same goes for fictional characters, who are capable of saying things out loud that other characters won't.

The second episode of Dollhouse was very affecting, more so than any episode I've seen recently, dealing as it did with Echo imprinted as a mother. (Read Joy Press's gorgeous recap!) Every plot wound together beautifully, and as a bonus there was the terrific new character played by Alexis Denisof, plus the return of the wonderful Miracle Laurie. This was Dollhouse at its best: Everyone felt like a villain and everyone felt like a victim.

Yet given the ratings (and the ambivalence of even many Whedonheads like me), I doubt that this will save the show. Truly, I'm not sure how I feel about that — of course I don't want creators I admire to have their shows canceled, but even this excellent episode had problems with the premise. (Why would that guy have Echo programmed to be a mother and a wife? Why not make her motherly but not possessive of her spouse? I wasn't tortured by these questions because the episode was so good, but it's disturbing that this problem still pops up with almost every mission the Dollhouse has.)

Random great link: For anyone interested in some insider conversation, here's a helpful list from the excellent Maureen Ryan at the Chicago Tribune of a selection of Twitter feeds from TV writers and stars of some of the most interesting shows ...