I Speak TV: Kings, Castles and…uh…Teds
Ahh, midseason: when half the network’s fall schedule has been decimated, and it’s up to a scrappy band of shows that weren’t ready in September to head once more into the breach, for queen and country, stepping over the corpses of ‘Knight Rider’ and that Jerry O’Connell hotel show as they charge.
My belief that there absolutely should be nighttime soap operas is generally tempered by my acceptance that I am not the audience for them. I mean, honestly – what the hell do I care about the problems of the impossibly rich and good-looking? Their issues, as dramatic as they may be, ultimately don’t matter. They treat it like a matter of life and death, but…c’mon.
That’s a lot of why I’m so impressed with “Kings,” for tackling the problem head-on and creating a world where rich people’s problems actually ARE a matter of life and death. The central conceit – a place that looks a lot like Manhattan, only it’s under a monarchy during wartime – is a pretty bold way of making you care about the patriarch character’s decisions, and his relationship with his snooty son. Because now they’re an embattled king and the heir to the crown. Minor change, and all the change in the world.
Not hurting at all is the casting of Ian McShane as King Silas. I’m fairly certain that if McShane came up to me and told me he was going to rule the fair burg of Royersford with an iron fist, I would be the first to kiss his ring. There’s power in that man’s voice! (And the writers know it – McShane gets more uninterrupted, pondering monologues than any other character, as it should be.)
Oddly enough, also not hurting (to me, at least) is the fact that it got murdered in the ratings. Apparently, people are more than willing to watch a brain-damaged Katherine Heigl have an affair with a ghost, but the idea of a big city with a royal family is just too “out-there” for most American viewers. But that’s fine – that means the show will complete its initial run and then be over – a network maxi-series with a beginning, middle and end that can go for broke because it doesn’t have to worry about setting up plots for a second season.
I like it when shows have endings, and honestly, a lot of shows aren’t built with long runs in mind. There is nothing wrong with this, it’s only our American viewing habits that make it a problem. “Kidnapping” (go Netflix it) tells a complete and riveting story in 13 episodes, and is considered a failure because it got cancelled. The original BBC “Office” ran only 14 episodes, and it’s considered a crowning achievement.
So while there’s a very good chance (given NBC’s not so hot with the new shows lately) it’ll be shelved after a couple more episodes, it will surely be an upcoming DVD release well worth netflixing.
“Better Off Ted”:
Speaking of sure-to-be-cancelled shows, “Better Off Ted” is a single-camera series about an all-purpose R&D company. Watching only five minutes of this show will tell you, “Oh, this show isn’t gonna make it.” And it won’t. But for four more glorious weeks (13 episodes were made, but ABC’s only airing the first six as a try-out ‘season’ – which, I’ll point out again, is the same as many BBC comedy seasons), you can enjoy lines like:
Veronica: Your department is using too much creamer. It’s not Katrina… but it is a problem.
Commercial voiceover: “At Veridian Dynamics, we can even make radishes so spicy that people can’t eat them, but we’re not. Because people can’t eat them.”
Linda: Hey, what’s up?
Ted: We’re talking about growing meat in a lab, without cows.
Linda: Oh, that’s creepy!…Right?…Oh, I see, we’re doing that.
Phil: Blobby. Like ‘Bobby,’ only with an ‘L’.
Lem: Don’t name [the meat-blob], or you won’t want to eat it. Remember Chester the Carrot?
Phil: Yeah…I miss him.
Taste tester: It tastes…familiar.
Taste tester: Nnnno.
Linda: Chicken? We’ll take chicken.
Ted: What does it taste like?
Taste tester: …Despair?
Ted: Is it possible it just needs salt?
If these lines are not funny to you (and before you ask, no, context is not really needed), then “Better Off Ted” is not the show for you. I’m not offended – I’ve spent years fighting “Arrested Development”-style pushes, and I’ve come to accept that certain phrases that are balls-out funny to me (for instance, “balls-out funny”) get absolutely no response from other people. But if you DO find those lines funny, and also maybe the idea of a man who, after being improperly defrosted from cryogenic hibernation now screams at inopportune moments, then you will enjoy the remaining four episodes of “Better Off Ted.”
(On the upside, you will also enjoy “Andy Richter Controls the Universe,” newly out on DVD, which is basically the same premise, but with the more immediately likeable Andy Richter in the lead, and James Patrick Stewart as, basically, Don Draper from “Mad Men” without all the existential crises.)
Oddly enough, I was also asked to comment on “Castle,” ABC’s new show starring Nathan Fillion. Devotion to “Firefly” means I love all those actors enough to watch them in whatever they show up in next. Sometimes, this works out okay (Adam Baldwin in “Chuck” is a delight), and sometimes…there’s “Castle.”
It’s not that it’s a bad show – it’s…pleasant. But the high-concept – a hacky crime-fiction writer (who, in a complete leap from reality, is handsome and not socially inept) works with the police to solve crimes – is actually its weakest aspect. Fillion is surrounded by a flamboyant former actress of a live-in mother, and a teenaged daughter who, in spite of her upbringing, is responsible and level-headed. By itself (in part on the strength of the actors), this might make for an amusing light dramedy. Which makes the writer-solves-crimes-by-spotting-storytelling-tropes aspect that much more of a chore. Because it asks the audience (okay, well…me) to accept that real crimes are usually like sensationalistic fiction, when that’s not at all the case.
Since most violent crimes are perpetrated by IDIOTS, not brilliant, creative murderers whose patterns can only be spotted by an experienced writer, Castle’s interaction with open cases comes off as silly and artificial (and also makes the cops seem dim for not chasing down hackneyed plot-points they’re well within their rights to ignore). If they can reduce that aspect, in favor of his simply hanging out with cops as a means of research (which would be both more realistic in terms of ‘writer gathering research,’ and a better use of both Fillion and Stana Katic’s abilities), it would be a better show.
Of course, without Fillion, it would be an excruciating show, but the man can bring knowingly-sleezy charm to some absolutely terrible lines. So not nearly appointment TV, but I wouldn’t judge you for tuning in.