Tone Deaf.  That’s the phrase I’d been searching for (unsuccessfully) to describe Fox’s new teen dramedy Red Band Society, until I saw a blurb about a promotional poster for the show having offended people because it referred to Octavia Spencer’s character Nurse Jackson as “Scary Bitch.”  And it hit me – that sums up perfectly how deaf this entire show really is.

What an inauspicious start to the fall season.

Red Band Society wants you to think it’s one of those tear-jerking heart-warming teen-angsting dramas in the vein of The Fault In Our Stars.  But remember, this is serial drama television, except Red Band isn’t a drama, it’s a self-described dramedy, and what you get is less Fault In Our Stars and more like Glee:  Terminal Illness.

The humor feels like it’s in bad taste.  The efforts to lighten the mood (because no one wants to see sick people, right?) feel offensive and like a slight to all those teen kids out there who really are fighting life threatening illness.

Worse yet, the cast isn’t up to the challenge.  They don’t act like kids in a hospital, they act like they just won the Glee Project and they don’t want to let Ryan down.  It doesn’t help that they’re written as full-blown teen movies cliches.  There’s the bitchy rich girl, played by some girl who isn’t Emma Roberts (Zoe Levin), there’s the cool black kid (Astro) (Wait, who?  The dog from The Jetsons?  No, that cute rapper-kid from The X-Factor a few years back.  Oh, yeah, I remember him; he was cute.  Yeah, not anymore), and there’s the cool disaffected teen who rebels against authority (Charlie Rowe, who’s seen every Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie ever yet doesn’t realize that he’s just doing the 987,000th incarnation of James Dean).

Red Band Society, Astro

Really, the kid from the X-Factor? Yeah, him.

All of which adds up to completely tone deaf.  I know being a teen on television needs to be 100% cool and rebellious and awesome 100% of the time and that no one would ever watch a show about teens where their lives were ordinary and mundane (ahem My So Called Life) or were less than ideal (ahemFreaks and Geeks) or, for that matter, where even if they existed in a TV-ified artificially enhanced environment, their angst, at least, came from a real place in real teens’ lives (ahem Glee), but Red Band Society seems to be blissfully unaware of any of that.  What else would you expect from a show that opts for voice-over narration from a kid in a coma?

I’LL BE THE FIRST to admit, there was no chance I wasn’t going to LOVE IFC’s Garfunkel and Oates because I already love Garfunkel and Oates (actresses Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci) the Youtube funny-song singing sensations who’ve been steadily gaining visibility and popularity.  In fact, you may know them separately from recurring roles on The Big Bang Theory, Enlightened and Raising Hope or from a plethora of guest appearances on TV or small roles in movies.

But you’ll quickly conclude after watching even one episode of Garfunkel and Oates that their real talent lies in comedy, both in the form of funny songs and as writers and producers or their sort-of sitcom, which frequently uses one episode to highlight the funny they’ve found in one of their songs, capping it off with a music video.

Garfunkel and Oates, Kate Micucci, Riki Lindhome

Kate and Riki a/k/a Garfunkel and Oates

Maybe the best part about this show is that so much of the humor is self-deprecating and so little of it is self-entitled.  Garfunkel and Oates is the anti-Girls, meaning of course that it is consistently funny and smart without being condescending or drop-out hipsterish.

I’m doing a terrible job describing just what it is about Kate and Riki that make them so funny and so completely awesome.  I can only implore you to watch this show, which combines the pointed humor of Portlandia with the inherent silliness of a Weird Al Yankovic video.

Like I said, just watch one episode.  I know you’ll become a fan.  After all, I did after watching the girls perform just one three minute song in a guest appearance on The Nerdist.  I wound up searching the internet and watching every single one of their videos and laughing my ass off for hours.

FROM THE FOLKS (or the folks who know those folks) at Syfy channel who brought you the likes of Dinocroc, Sharktopus, or the casting genius of Tiffany and Debbie Gibson in Mega Python v. Gatoroid comes Z-Nation, a campy, action and gratuitous gore-packed zombie fun fest.  It’s the dime-store knockoff version of The Walking Dead everyone!

Z-Nation

zOMG Scary!

Skip exhilarating dialogue like “I did what I had to do” and “Let’s kick some zombie ass” and fast forward right to the flimsy set up – ragtag band of survivors with nicknames like 10K and Doc lead some guy who’s the key to a cure across the country, guided by a techno-geek (DJ Qualls) who somehow still has internet and satellite access in a world where all of society has been overrun by the undead.

Z-Nation, Sharknado

zOMG Sca…Oh wait, wrong thing.

Z-Nation won’t be for everyone.  In fact, if you can’t giggle your way most of the way through one of Syfy Channel’s super schlocky made-for-TV monster movies, you’re REALLY not going to be down with checking in for a fresh episode of it every week.  For those who just can’t get enough z, however, Z-Nation does provide a weekly visit to the apocalypse, which on Friday night TV, is almost the same thing.

Quick Takes

Hats off, for about the zillionth time, to The Colbert Report.  This week, as a salute to/in collaboration with guest Terry Gillilam, a very Monty Python-ish animated sequence led Stephen to the interview desk.  It was spot on and, as usual, really, really funny.

Educational TV.  Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1)  Stephen Colbert only has a job because Jon Stewart is his uncle (The Colbert Report); 2) At Australian Pizza Hut, buy 10 large pizzas and get 1 free small animal! (@Midnight); 3) ISIS isn’t really coming to kill you, but Monsanto probably is (Real Time With Bill Maher).

Miss the days when MTV actually meant Music Television?  Then check out AXS TV Network, that brings hour after hour of unique and interesting music programming including shows like Live At Daryl’s House and Later With Jools Holland.  If you still enjoy watching musicians actually play instruments and sing live in front of an audience, this is where you need to be looking.

Reality Check:   My chief complaint about reality television is that it should be less like a game show and more like a movie documentary.  As if on cue, Starz Network presents The Chair, a thoroughly fascinating look at the independent film business, told from the point of view of two nominally competing film makers who are each handed an identical script and given a chance to make their directorial debut.  Youtube short comedy film star Shane Dawson wants to make a teen gross-out comedy a la American Pie.  Screen writer Anna Martemucci wants to make a coming of age romcom dramedy.  Both take widely different approaches to the script – Shane urging the writer to inject more “jokes per page” and strategically planning where to put his poop and vomit gags.  Anna rewrites almost all of the dialogue, but leaves the basic story structure intact.  Most importantly, The Chair is a frank and honest look at the artistic process, from an up close and personal perspective.  At one point, Anna grumbles, “Oh my God this is so fucking Truman Show!”   Exactly.  That’s reality TV the way it should be.

The Daily Show’s Michael Che will be taking over the Weekend Update anchor desk on SNL season, making him the first black anchor at the show.  Che was trying to deflect attention from that fact, without success, so he turned into his first laugh at his new job:  “I hope I’m as funny as I am black.”   Good start, sir.

Looking Ahead

The series premiere of Madam Secretary airs September 21 on CBS.

The Good Wife is back on CBS on September 21.

Gotham debuts on Fox on September 22.

The Voice and The Blacklist are back on September 22 on NBC.

Sleepy Hollow returns to Fox on September 22.

The season premiere of The Big Bang Theory airs on September 22 on CBS.

The series premiere of Scorpion airs on CBS on September 22.

Forever debuts on ABC on September 22.

The season finale of Under The Dome airs on September 22 on CBS.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns to ABC on September 23.

Person of Interest is back on September 23 on CBS.

The series premiere of Black-ish airs on ABC on September 24.

Nashville returns to ABC on September 24.

The season premiere of Bones airs on September 25 on Fox.

How To Get Away With Murder debuts on ABC on September 25.

The season finale of Garfunkel and Oates airs September 25 on IFC.

Scandal returns to ABC on September 25.

The season premiere of Parenthood airs on NBC on September 25.

Saturday Night Live returns on September 27 on NBC.

 

TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet.  Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on?  Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email:  [email protected].  I welcome your input!

 

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