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Hump Days: A Mid-Season Review Parts 1 & 2

Lost and Jericho are gone for now and they've been replaced by mid-season shows that don't have many obvious synergies with their predecessors. A pair of comedies are on in place of an ultradramatic show about grim, grim survival. Meanwhile, a time slot where viewers have come to accept nuclear armageddon is now all about a gun-toting midget.

The first in a planned series of TV reviews as the "mid-season" unfolds until, like, March.

Part 1: Hump Day Humor
So ABC has decided to replace its vacationing Wednesday night stalwart, Lost - a show that routinely features images of torture, forced labor and mutilation by the effluvial hand of some vengeful island god - with two "quirky" down-on-their-luck comedies, The Knights of Prosperity and In Case of Emergency. Allowing for the fact that most pilot episodes of half-hour comedies spend most of their run time on exposition, neither one of these shows is very funny.

The Knights of Prosperity runs first and shows some vague promise of future amusement. The marginally-irritating but impressively committed Donal Logue stars as Eugene, a down-on-his-luck janitor who somehow decides that robbing Mick Jagger is the best way for him to get the money to open the bar he's always dreamed of owning. He assembles a rag-tag crew of predictable down-on-their-luck odd-balls, including the sex-obsessed Indian cab driver, the hot Latina waitress and the giant black guy. There's also a non-descript schlub and a dorky college kid recruited as an intern. If you ask me, they blew up the intern joke way too early. I could've gotten into a running gag about the many ways they find to keep him out of the loop.

Anyway, the most important thing is that none of these characters are likeable. None of them are really characters besides Eugene, and he's sort of a turd. The rest of the crew just spouts one-liners that want desperately to be edgy, but instead come up crass and derivative. If you lobotomized Arrested Development, you'd probably get something close to Knights of Prosperity. I cracked a smile exactly twice, at the follow two lines:

"I was born with a plastic spork in my ass, just like you."

"Bitch broke my heart."

Uh huh. The laughs didn't come so much from the humor of the situation as from two perfect line reads. There are likeable actors on this show, but with the exception of Logue they don't seem particularly excited about the material. When Mick Jagger consistently steals the scene, you have a problem.

Not nearly as big as the myriad problems plaguing In Case of Emergency. It handles the exposition better than Knights, but the concept behind it sucks. Four people who went to high school together - played by David Arquette, Kelly Hu, Greg Germann and Jonathan Silverman - magically reunite one night when they all realize they have no one else to call in an emergency. Actually, it's not that magical because two of the guys call the third guy who meets the girl at . . . you know what? It's not important. The point is that all four of them have pissed away their potential somehow and now find themselves down on their luck. And the creators decided to make the Asian woman a sex worker in a seedy massage parlor because that's exactly the type of guys they are.

I can't remember the names of any of the characters, except for Kelly Hu's because she's called Kelly. Oh, and I almost forgot; Lori Loughlin shows up as an emergency room doctor who seems up on her luck and has no chemistry with David Arquette. Since she's in the opening credits I assume she's going to be sticking around until this thing gets cancelled. I did not smile at all. Nothing was funny. If you lobotomized The Knights of Prosperity, you still wouldn't be close to In Case of Emergency. My VCR cut out the last couple of minutes. I do not regret this event.

I don't know why the ABC brass thinks that an audience addicted to the flash-backing skullduggery of Sawyer and Co. would be the slightest bit interested in these comedies. Surely a second run for The Nine or even Day Break would've been better than this. Well, maybe not Day Break, but still. I can't help but think someone decided Wednesday nights needed to be lightened up. It's Hump Day, after all. Who needs a bunch of gloomy plane crash survivors when there's still two days of work in the week?

- Natasha Julius

Part 2: Armed and Disingenuous
I'm going to say right off the top that I rarely, if ever, watch reality shows. I don't like their cheapness. It pisses me off that writers are being put out of work because of these things, which invariably pander to the worst in TV audience sensibilities. So I'll just say it: They lower the bar for civilization.

And now that I have said that, I also have to say that Armed and Famous wasn't nearly as bad as a piece of reality show art as I thought it would be. Of course I had no illusions that it would have anything of worth to say about police work, the cult of celebrity or the hardscrabble lives of the poor, mentally and physically disfigured Indiana drunks and drug addicts it so mercilessly exploits. In that I was not pleasantly surprised.

But from the advance reviews I had been reading, I was thinking that it would also be incompetently filmed as well. Not so! Armed and Famous was slick and very professionally done, and if you judge by those standards, it was a success. The directors have taken advantage of improvements in the evolution of the hand-held camera technique to raise the Cops-style shirtless-drunk-getting-cuffed ritual to new heights. Kudos to them for that.

In its mid-season role, it's replacing CBS' surprise hit Jericho, which, for some reason, isn't coming back until Feb. 21. It's a case of a once-fading but now returning genre, the reality show, replacing a fading-but-still-fading genre, the serialized scripted drama, a la 24 and Lost.. Jericho was one of the few winners in a fall season full of those suckers. I gave up on it, though, because rather than being the pure, spooky sci-fi/nuclear survival show I thought it would be (I was hoping Invasion), it turns out to be only half that, with the other half being that same old, tired CBS "family drama" we've all come to know and loathe. Basically it's about learning poignant life lessons from Dad as he helps puts down a panic run on the grocery store. In that respect, the mid-season thinking at CBS seems to be, nuclear war isn't "real" enough. La Toya Jackson wielding a Glock, however, is.

Of the Z-list celebs that take the police plunge in Armed and Famous - Erik Estrada, Jack Osbourne, Jason "Wee Man" Acuna, Jackson and Trish Stratus - it goes without saying that career survival is first and foremost on their minds, and seeing them each subjected to painful Taser-ings during their cop training was so sweet it was worth the hour of my life I used to watch this show. Like all reality show stunts, it appealed to something in me that I'm ashamed of. And yet, seeing someone as annoying as "Wee Man" writhe in agony for a few seconds gave me the distinct impression that even as they were ripping me off, the producers of this show sympathized with me for the countless hours of worthless celebrity culture crap I've been subjected to for years, and said, "Here, enjoy this, just to show you we're not all bad."

After one episode, here's my A&F celebrity scorecard:

Estrada - Still desperate to hang onto Ponch. This is just another infomercial for him, but one where he gets to say he loves cops and also gets to harangue "criminals" both because they recognize him and because they don't (while filming a future episode, he got into a obscenity-laden shouting match with a perp who kept calling him Emilio Estevez).

Jackson - The most telling scene with her is when she calls her brother Jackie on her cell, and putting it on speaker, tells him that, oh, by the way, she's joined a police force and she's going to put herself in the line of fire. After a stunned silence, Jackie sounds really concerned. Like the rest of us.

Osbourne - Jack really seems to have cleaned up. He looks completely sober and, Christ, he could really shoot a gun. I actually think he could make a decent real cop. I was encouraged for him; he seems like he could escape the fate of so many talentless show biz offspring. But then again, what's he doing on this dumb show?

Acuna - Judging by the way this "little person" stirs up trouble, it's only going to be a matter of time before someone flings him out the window of a monster pick-up. Please nip this in the bud before we have to hear about Wee Man's stirring comeback from Viagra addiction.

Stratus - She's a wrestler with a heart of gold. She also will probably end up being a real cop. More power to her because she showed she could actually sympathize with some folks who got burned out of their house and home at Christmastime. Could there possibly be a real person on this reality show?

- Don Jacobson


Posted on January 17, 2007

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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