Television

Last Comedy Standing

Three seasons in and Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing is still one of the funniest comedies on television. You read that right. A Tim Allen comedy about a father whose jokes come at the expense of his wife, socialists, hippies, Democrats, racial stereotypes, progressive family structures and big government is one of the funniest shows you’ll watch on TV. Not to mention one of its most rebellious. It’s traditional in every sense of the word; it still boasts a laugh track, the seemingly long lost “this show was filmed in front a live studio audience” intro and of course, many cranky old and traditional values and beliefs.

So why does this make it funny? Because the show isn’t afraid to be unpopular in its ways, and it has no qualms about being tuned in to the seemingly unhip demographic of Middle America; the constant butt of redneck Bible Belt jokes. The show runs against the grain of 2014’s vast landscape of politically correct, progressive and undeniably modern brand of comedy and for it, Last Man Standing should be given some credit for being the lone survivor amongst TV’s PC police. Through its history, the genre has been both a barometer of safe and wildly revolutionary and as time moves on, comedies are seeing a progression in the characters they portray and the stories they tell. Ellen was a landmark moment for Gay and Lesbian acceptance on mainstream television (at least one of its starting points) while shows like The Cosby Show and The Jeffersons broke down stereotypical racial barriers. The success of shows like Modern Family proves that audiences were ready to progress alongside and as the audiences continued to embrace real life characters in 20-30 minute sitcoms, we’re able to see that television is better for it.

What about the show that rebels against these principles but does it without the sneer of hate or discrimination?

Duck Dynasty on Last Man Standing? Of course.

Duck Dynasty on Last Man Standing? Of course.

As political correctness and progressive ideology become the norm for success on television, Last Man Standing has somewhat quietly stood back from the forward pack and have cut themselves a piece of traditional amongst the vastly left-wing agenda of modern comedy (in this brief interview, Tim Allen speaks about the show “pushing buttons”). Is left-wing comedy unfunny? No, of course not, but there are times when Last Man Standing seems to be the only comedy on TV unafraid to make a joke firmly at the crossroads of Barry Goldwater and Hillary Clinton (in a recent episode Tim Allen’s character Mike Baxter responds to his wife’s quip that “Hilary Clinton used to be a Goldwater girl in 1964”, with “so, Satan used to work for God, what’s your point?”). Their continued mocking of big government, communism and free handouts side by side with light misogyny, sexism and stereotypes certainly is not progressive, but in the show’s writers seem to do so with a big tongue-in-cheek.

In a way, Tim Allen’s character is a self-parodying anecdote of traditional versus progression. He’s your average, successful American entrepreneur who believes in working hard for yourself and your family. He loves football, guns, fishing and hates free handouts. Yet, he’s surrounded in his home by the four women in his family who are a mix of left wing to right, from deep to shallow. Much of his chagrin comes from this- not in a negative way- in a contrasting one. The once popular traditionalism of his kind has become the minority in the new America and while he’s not struggling with it, he won’t back down from a good jibe.

It’s rebellious yet harmless, old school but relevant. And who is to say that one can’t enjoy the comedic touch of popularly acclaimed shows like Parks and Recreation or Community, but at the same time enjoy some good old fashioned laughs in Last Man Standing?

Progressive comedy can be draining, and with CBS often relying too much on hyper sexualized fare, it’s great that there’s a comedy that is self-aware of its place in society today. Last Man Standing is proof that funny works both ways.

(It’s also always funny to make fun of hippies and socialists)

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Television

Lacking Intelligence?

Over the course of five seasons, Chuck was the kind of science fiction dramedy fitting of a premise as ridiculous as it presented. An underachiever in life, Zachary Levi’s Chuck Bartowski is given near super powers when he is accidentally implanted with a super computer that houses intelligence and encoded data. With his new found upgrade, Chuck was able to learn martial arts, hack into spy secrets and gain access to information reserved for those with only the highest of clearance. Surrounded by sidekick buffoonery, easy-going humour and a great cast, the show was able to breeze along its more paramount subjects without being burdened by the weight of taking itself too seriously.

Fast forward two years after Chuck’s final sign off and we’ve got CBS’ latest science fiction entry in the Josh Holloway (Lost), Marg Helgenberger (CSI) starring Intelligence. The show’s premise? An overachiever in life, Holloway’s Gabriel Vaughn is given near super powers when he is purposefully implanted with a super computer that houses intelligence and encoded data. With his new found upgrade, Vaughn gains access into spy secrets and information reserved for those with only the highest of clearance. His advanced martial arts, weapons and combat come courtesy of his years in the military.

The crux here however, is that Intelligence is a very serious show about serious things. We learn in the pilot that Gabriel Vaughn’s spy wife has been missing for 5 years and is feared turned into a jihadi sympathiser. This provides much of Vaughn’s angst and drive to accept the responsibilities of having the world’s most intelligent computer in his head. While Vaughn is Chuck Bartowski 8.0, he is still given a guardian of sorts, someone to keep an eye on him and protect him much like Yvonne Strahovski did for Chuck. Meghan Ory (Once Upon A Time) plays Riley Neal, the Secret Service Agent assigned to the task. She’s beautiful, smart, skilled, and has a past (just so she’s got some sort of edge). While she’s great, she seems a little out of place next to Vaughn’s seemingly indestructible self, posing the question as to why she needs to be there in the first place.

Helgenberger’s turn as the director of US Cyber Command (which, it turns out, is a real thing) is your textbook inner antagonist amongst the so-called “good guys”. She’s the brains behind the operation but you can’t help feel that maybe she’s not showing all her cards just yet.

The first two episodes plod along nicely, with much of a muchness we’ve seen in current shows like Person of Interest and Almost Human. We’re given advanced overlays of what is happening in Vaughn’s computer charged head on the screen. We travel to exotic locations and we’re given the kind of friction between male-female leads we’ve seen countless times before in such well-to-do fare like Bones and Chuck.

Yet, it’s hard to come to terms with the silly premise without thinking of Chuck Bartowski. Why? Because it’s just so damn dumb that it seems even more ridiculous without the abject silliness that surrounded the colourful characters of the Buy More. The plot twists in the first episode of Intelligence alone are quite silly, and while much of the show is done well and by the books, it rarely does much to stand out amongst the current palette of successful science fiction.

The route its producers/creators have taken saddle the show with the burden of having something real to say, and in an age where cyber intelligence continues to be on the forefront of discussion, you’d better have some real gravitas to it.

Intelligence airs Monday nights on CBS.

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Television

Is Almost Human the best new show on TV already?

Two episodes in and FOX’s science fiction series Almost Human could very well be this season’s best show already. Sure, two episodes is a small sampling of the entire season, but the opening stanza has been so strong that only a truly catastrophic nose dive in quality could railroad this already positive showing. Yes, that is a possibility, but with the team involved in its production, it’s hard to see something so dramatic happen.

We profiled the show on the eve of its premiere and Tariq brought up an interesting point regarding the show’s arcing storylines and insular episodes;

“it is possible to straddle the middle of the road somewhat, using the individual episodes to build up characters and the larger story in the background, and then dropping in a ‘bigger picture’ episode here and there (usually before mid-season breaks to act as a cliffhanger or dangle a carrot of future events). On the surface, anyway, it would appear that Almost Human has what it takes to flourish in such a setting.”

And true to that point, we have gotten an inkling that there is something bigger in the works as the show progresses (Karl Urban’s character’s ex-girlfriend and her involvement with a crime syndicate), but have been rewarded with interesting and compelling episodic arcs as well. The second episode featured sex bots, a futuristic take on human trafficking and our need for artificial sexual gratification. It was a rewarding plot that featured everything you’d want in a science fiction piece; great tech, beautiful settings and half naked robot women, and a sense of urgency to it that didn’t leave you feeling … unsatisfied … upon its conclusion. It’s not a rarity per say, but to have all the elements seemingly gel together in such fluid fashion certainly is.

There’s a scene in the episode where Urban’s character and Michael Ealy’s terrific Dorian are discussing Urban’s current deficient sex life and how his “testicles are full” and in need of “draining”. Yes, it all sounds very coarse on paper but the interaction between the two proved hilarious and uncharacteristic of the more common robotic/human interaction we’ve come to know in such settings.

Unlike the seriousness of recent science fiction fare like Battlestar Galactica and the follow-up Caprica, Almost Human has a less pained feel to the venture. Even in shows like Alphas, where there was a point of relation to our present world, it often felt a little too consumed by its own psyche, trapped in trying to be a revelation in both television and storytelling- whereas Almost Human can be serious but not serious enough it can’t make toilet humor work for it. There’s a weightlessness to all the gadgetry and imagination, and sometimes you need this for a show to succeed in gaining an audience outside of its niche target.

minkaComplimentary to the Urban-Ealy chemistry, we’re given some great supporting roles from Lili Taylor (playing Captain Sandra Maldonado), Mackenzie Crook (playing the show’s resident tech support) and of course, Minka Kelly (oh where have you been Lyla Garrity?). Kelly’s character is as of yet, underdeveloped but we’re given an inkling there may be something in store between her and Urban (after that disastrous turn as an Angel, it’s great to see Kelly back in a role that doesn’t stink), and her character has bee written and performed, thus far, with suggestions she’ll be playing a bigger part in it all very soon.

Can two episodes be enough to say you’re sold? Ratings suggest that Monday night’s isn’t the best time to watch (there’s football!), as Almost Human lost 29% of its Sunday viewership of its two-night premiere. It is perhaps, looking for traction now, but on the strength of the quality alone, there is much to look forward to as the season progresses.

If there was ever a show FOX needs to invest in for the long run, it’s Almost Human. There are characters and story lines here that have the potential to cover the spectrum of science fiction that movies take years to tell. But if there was ever a network that could screw this up, it’s FOX. So for now, it’s about being excited about the potential and the already high level, but weary not to get too invested until at least, the halfway mark of a full season.

Can we start the petitions already?

 

Almost Human airs Monday nights on FOX.

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Headlines, Television

Why aren’t we watching The Michael J. Fox Show?

A few days ago I read a piece claiming the inevitable demise of NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show and was saddened by the prospect of it ending so quickly. While ratings seem to have somewhat propped back up after the Chris Christie guest-starring episode (at least in the 18-49 demo), there is an air of weariness to it that indicates perhaps, the full season pick-up it received was a little premature.

It’s a shame really, because while The Michael J. Fox Show trades contemporary humourism for a more classic, older comedy routine, there is still a lot to like from it. Mostly because it’s Michael J. Fox (playing one-time NBC anchor Mike Henry who returns to the network as a reporter) and there is still something about him that captivates the screen. His vulnerability and charm come across sharper than its ever been and in reality, much of the show’s humour hinges on him being on screen (which thankfully, is for the majority of the show).

There are some struggles of course, the Modern Family-esque mockumentary narrative leaves a lot to be desired and would benefit the show greatly if it were written out completely. Secondly, some of the characters struggle greatly to really come across as appealing; namely Michael J. Fox’s on-screen sister (played by Katie Finneran) and his eldest son (newcomer Conor Romero). Both are unfunny and unfortunately, so unbelievably unbelievable the only ground they break is that of one dimensionality. Anne Heche’s guest starring role as Mike’s office spoil? Like a throwback to Murphy Brown except without the cantankerous Candice Bergen charm … leaving it more of an annoyance than anything else.

What does the Fox say?

What does the Fox say?

So what’s good about the show you ask? Well, Michael J. Fox. He’s that good that he’ll make up for the rest of the show’s shortcomings and awkward humour. He’ll play a Parkinsons joke and you’re about the burst out laughing before you stop and question your moral ground… then you see Fox light up on screen and laugh along with the joke and you know it’s okay.

There’s a sense that the show wants to find middle ground between the humour of the day (shows like Parks and Recs, Community) and remain relevant, and the humour Michael J. Fox did so well in both Family Ties and Spin City. Perhaps this writer is showing his age when he says that it would probably be advantageous for the show if it didn’t bother trying to be like Modern Family, and that there is a good family dynamic in this show that needs further exploration.

The show doesn’t need to try and be hip and contemporary, and it certainly doesn’t need to be a Parks and Recreation. The Michael J. Fox Show has one of the most enduring and well-loved personalities to have ever graced the small screen and it would be a mistake to try and cast the light on this show around anything, or anyone else. 22 episodes is how long it has to prove to NBC that its worth keeping around, and while the numbers will probably be less than stellar come season’s end, the show has a core that needs some time and life to breathe. Something sadly, doesn’t exist in the world of television.

Let’s start watching.

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The Michael J. Fox Show airs Thursday nights on NBC.

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One of the most talked about shows on television will make its return in the coming months, and while this weekend is Breaking Bad weekend, Showtime’s Homeland is making its case for September.

Picking up where the events of season 2 left off, the trailer for the new season gives us a glimpse of what is in store. What will happen to Brody and Carrie as they begin their lives as fugitive and possible accomplice? What of Brody’s daughter? And will Brody survive season 3? Set to the sorrowful tones of The Cinematic Orchestra’s “To Build A Home”, the trailer paints a fluctuating picture through the spectrum of emotions we are all sure to see in the new season.

Starring Damian Lewis, Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, Homeland Season 3 premieres September 29th.

(Spoilers ahead)

Everyone’s favorite serial killer is back for its 8th and final season. Dexter returns to television this June and Showtime has released the first full trailer for the new season. Following on from the events of last season, we jump ahead 6 months and find that Debra Morgan has taken to LaGuerta’s death with difficulty; and spirals out of control. What new problems does this present for Dexter? And someone new at Miami Metro may cause ol’ Dex some problems too.

Dexter Season 8 premieres June 30th.

 

 

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Few words are needed really, but Michael J. Fox is back on TV. After his humorous cameo stint on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Michael J. Fox returns to network television with his first show since Spin City in the aptly named The Michael J. Fox Show.

The show is part of NBC’s new line up for next season. It’s great to see Fox back on TV in a starring role.

 

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