December 06, 2011

TV: catching up on some new stuff

A bunch of new stuff I hadn't gotten around to posting about yet:

I Hate My Teenage Daughter (Fox, Wed 9:30)

(or: When Bad Sitcoms Happen to Good Actors, Part I)

Finally, we get what is officially the last new show of the Fall 2011 season, and what is certainly one of its least impressive efforts. Jamie Pressly and Katie Finneran star as best friends, both of whom were social outcasts in high school. They want desperately for their daughters to have a happier teenage experience than they did, but are horrified to see the girls becoming precisely the same sort of spoiled brats who made their own lives so miserable. Pressly and Finneran are both marvelous comic actresses, and my god, they're giving it everything they've got, trying desperately to pull laughs out of nowhere. But talent only goes so far when there's no material to support it, and there's not a joke to be found anywhere.

The Exes (TV Land, Wed 10:30)

(or: When Bad Sitcoms Happen to Good Actors, Part II)TV Land's latest attempt to find a companion piece for Hot in Cleveland is a step up from Teenage Daughter, but it only rises as far as amiable blandness. In what has quickly become TV Land style, the cast is mostly made up of actors you remember from previous sitcom work. Kristen Johnston stars as Holly, a divorce attorney who sets up her newly-single clients in need of new homes as roommates in the apartment across the hall from her own. As we begin, the apartment is occupied by ladies' man Phil (Donald Faison, getting to stretch the most from his old image) and inert lump Haskell (Wayne Knight, adding to his resume of vaguely creepy slobs).

They're about to be joined by new roomie Stuart (David Alan Basche, who's been playing second banana roles on flop sitcoms for a decade now; you'll know the face, even if you don't know the name), who seems to be a recent graduate from the Felix Unger School of Roommate Annoyance.

Again, the material isn't up to the level of the cast, though the characters are more likable than those of Teenage Daughter (but then, a crippling migraine is more likable than those characters). This one might be worth checking in on in a few weeks to see if it's gotten its bearings yet. (And I think the show's one relative unknown, Kelly Stables, will eventually go on to better things; she's got the charm and timing of a young Sarah Jessica Parker.)

Would You Rather? With Graham Norton (BBC America, Sat 11)

The British panel show is a distinctive genre that's never really quite caught on in American television. A host poses questions or discussion topics to a panel of celebrities, who are expected to answer in delightfully witty style (a touch of bawdiness is always welcome, too). The host may award points for the best answers, and a winner may be named at the end, but the scorekeeping is always distinctly secondary to the banter, the spontaneous one-liners, and the general sense of jolly conviviality. What's My Line and the early versions of To Tell the Truth had some of the spirit, but they weren't as witty, and they took the game far too seriously; Hollywood Squares had the right sense of humor, but everything was scripted, and the improvisational nature of the thing is a key factor. The genre's had more success here in radio, where Wait Wait Don't Tell Me is a fine example of the form.

As part of BBC America's first ventures into original programming for its American audience (as opposed to programming imported from the UK), we're being offered this panel show, hosted by Graham Norton, whose chat show is a staple on the network. Here, he has a panel of four celebrities -- that is to say, one person you've heard of and three B-level standup comics -- to whom he poses a series of "would you rather" questions, such as "Would you rather spend the rest of your life with the voice of Darth Vader, or with the voice of Alvin the Chipmunk?"

The best of these shows rely heavily on the interplay among the regular panelists, who learn how to riff off one another and how to set up one another's jokes. Obviously, in the early stages of the show, that chemistry doesn't exist yet, so the show's going to be heavily reliant from week to week on how well that week's guests improvise. Based on the first two episodes, it'll be a bit of a bumpy ride for a while, but Norton's a charmingly naughty host. Hardly essentially viewing, but mildly amusing if you've nothing better to do on a Saturday night.

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