So much of what debuts on network television winds up being derivative – cable television, movies, other more innovative and successful network television, that it seems that any attempt to produce something original, even a reboot of a past success, should be met with some welcoming forgiveness.
Well, to a point.
There’s no replacement for quality, and a good carbon copy is still going to be better than a really bad original.
There is much to be considered with NBC’s miniseries The Slap, an ambitious project about family dysfunction with a strong character bent and an a truly impressive cast.
That said, there are also just too many flaws in this show to believe that many viewers will make it through to the end. Up front, let me just say that I am not a particular fan of The Slap’s storytelling style, which presents installment of the miniseries from the point of view of a new character. This is hardly a fatal misstep, however, and if the characters, themselves were a little more tolerable, the storytelling would not be an issue.
Alas, however, the characters, themselves, very much are the issue. This is such an unbelievably unlikeable group of people that the show might rightly be renamed The Slaps just to give viewers hope that a few more of these offensive little trolls got what’s coming to them. For the record, The Slap in question is delivered by Harry (Zachary Quinto, as a single minded rage addict Type A asshole) to the insufferable brat-spawn of Rosie and Gary (Melissa George and Thomas Sadoski). There are many ways I could explain to you just how intolerable these people are, but I will summarize it by saying that their parenting skills are so lacking that their still breast feeding 6 year old, who does not have any apparent developmental disabilities, is nevertheless so crippled by his own parentally infused learned helplessness that you can’t help but wonder how long it will take for the system to pigeonhole him as “special needs” just because his parents are incapable of teaching him even the rudiments of how to act. Sounds like a kid who needs to get slapped, right? Just not by Harry (remember, Type A asshole, etc.).
While these more one-dimensionally recognizable cliche characters more readily illustrate my point about unlikeability, there is no set-off on the other side. Civic minded and family peacemaker Hector (Peter Sarsgaard) is also having an affair (or about to be having one) with his underage babysitter. Successful TV producer Anouk (Uma Thurman) carries around a massive amount of personal baggage that informs her every life decision. Also her name is Anouk. The audience is left with no sideline observer with whom to identify.
In addition, I feel the ethnic family nature of this story (Greek immigrants/first generation Americans) is underemphasized more than you can get away with and still have the story make real sense. There are times when I felt like the family’s Greek roots were strongly informing character choices. Then there were other times when the characters could have been just anyone from anywhere. It doesn’t work like that in real life, and the failure to recognize that undercuts what remains of The Slap’s credibility.
Of course, it’s not all bad. With The Slap going to air, NBC has thoughtfully canceled Allegiance, and if there’s a show that Zachary Quinto needs to go on and start slapping people, it was definitely that one.
The Odd Couple
The 1970s was a golden era for the network sitcom, featuring numerous classics like All In The Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, and many more. I always felt that one of my favorites of that era, The Odd Couple, an early effort from Happy Days creator Garry Marshall and based on the Neil Simon play and movie of the same name got short shrifted by comparison.
Nevertheless, it would be largely impossible to attempt to reboot All In The Family or Mary Tyler Moore, but perhaps not so The Odd Couple, such is the nature of being a slightly lesser known quantity from the past.
I still felt that the problems associated with trying to update this show would overburden it, although I have to admit, after watching it, this is less true than I might have thought, although the finished product is still lacking.
The Odd Couple of course pairs finicky, neatnick Felix Unger (Thomas Lennon) with slovenly best pal Oscar Madison (Matthew Perry) who decide to share an apartment after their marriages fail and they find themselves middle aged and newly single. When this show was initially created in the 1970s, this was the actual basis for a storyline. In the computer age social isolationist 2010s? It feels a bit stilted, as if maybe this show should be, at best, set in the ‘90s. Despite this, and despite the rather obvious miscasting of Perry as some sort of comic slob, there are some positives to take away.
Lennon is gamely funny as Felix, recreating the hilariously OCD character in meticulous detail. Also, The Odd Couple, for whatever social issues it may have been about originally, is one of the all-time best depictions of friendship on a television show. While Lennon and Perry don’t quite manage to ramp up the emotional connection of the original, that sense of camaraderie still pokes its way through the material and leaves you with a bit of a warm and fuzzy.
And in the end, that is more or less what The Odd Couple left me with. A few mild laughs and a real sense of missing how the original show made me feel. So I turned to my trusty local classic TV station (these are popping up everywhere, I recommend you find the one in your area for occasional sentimental viewing pleasure). Sure enough, Fridays at 10:00 p.m. I can catch back to back classic Odd Couples, so I set my DVR to record a few. I’ll test out my theory and find out that you either can’t go home again, or old friends are always waiting to greet you.
I often find myself making excuses for network television shows, as if the mere fact that they are network shows means that they can’t possibly be held to anything resembling a standard. Well that’s silly. First off, networks continue to produce FAR AND AWAY the best sitcoms (Black-ish, Mom, The Mindy Project to name a few). In addition, there are many shows that week in and week out produce excellent television episodes. Stack up The Good Wife, Elementary, Gotham, Scandal or Arrow against whatever cable shows you are watching and I think they’ll compare favorably enough. When network shows stink it’s not because they’re network shows, it’s because they stink.
Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) College students and guns go together like peanut butter and accidental homicide (The Nightly Show); 2) A pig will eat a man. Many pigs have eaten many men (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia); 3) Bill O’Reilly being full of shit isn’t news (Real Time With Bill Maher).
Bates Motel returns to A&E on March 9.
The series premiere of The Returned airs on A&E on March 9.
The season finale of The 100 airs on March 11 on The CW.
The season finale of Banshee airs on Cinemax on March 13.
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!