In my last column, I talked about how summer is the perfect time to discover old reruns and catch up with the programs you missed last season. And thank God for that—there are so many wonderful shows to rediscover, like Extreme Makeover. In the past few years, summer has also become a television season unto itself: new shows premiere at the end of May or beginning of June and run until the fall season begins. And if fall is when the networks roll out their new concertos, then summer is when they clean the spit out of the clarinets.
So let’s take a look at some hits and misses from this craptacular festival of saccharine summery televisual delights. These are only a few shows that I’ve managed to watch lately—it is summer, after all—but I’ll try to stay home and sober in August in order to do more capsule reviews then. Here we go.
LAST COMIC STANDING
The same thing in my genetic makeup that prevents me from kicking wounded puppies also prevents me from roundly laying into the hopeful comics on Last Comic Standing. The show is hosted by Jay Mohr (Saturday Night Live, Action) and as far as reality hosts go, Mohr is an inspired choice. He can be caustic when necessary, but compassionate when someone’s ego is on the line. The comics, though, are on the level of that guy in your office who compulsively quotes Will Ferrell. And God help you, Anchorman just came out.
While the show is structured as if it were Survivor or The Bachelor, with immunity awards and contestants packing their suitcases before heading off to the showdowns, the comics aren’t your garden-variety reality-show assholes. They’re average folks, not hard bodies or conniving manipulators. When one of them is voted off, they genuinely care. Attacking the comics based on their personalities, as we do when discussing the corporate sycophants on The Apprentice, is about as enjoyable as driving the would-be comic in your office to the point of tears because he picked a bad time to hit you with his Austin Powers impersonation. But watching a group of moderately talented comics trying to outfunny one another can be painful. It’s the law of averages, right? At least one of them has to capable of giving you a post-laughing-fit stomach cramp, right? Right? Am I right, folks? Wocka-wocka-wocka. Someone get the hook.
THE ASHLEE SIMPSON SHOW
I think the best way to approach criticism of MTV is to take a note from George W. Bush’s handbook, Dealing with Any Form of Media that Criticizes Me: ignore the fact that this younger version of the Jessica Simpson doll has been given her own television show and then go out and clear some brush. Maybe some day I’ll write a critical piece about The Ashlee Simpson Show, but it will be written very late at night and you won’t know about it.
I LOVE THE NINETIES
VH1 has cornered the market on programming candy. I may grouse about how it’s way too soon for a nostalgia show about the nineties, and that the I Love the . . . shows are often little more than Michael Ian Black saying something pithy and deprecating about virtually everything that has ever existed, but if I come across an episode of I Love the Whatever, I’m not going to change the channel. And if there’s a marathon, then forget about it. I’m totally sucked in.
My big complaint about I Love the Nineties is simply that most of the topics being discussed haven’t yet faded from our collective memories as much as, say, the advent of roller discos. I’m not quite ready for the nineties time capsule to be dug up and rooted through. Nevermind is still hailed as the greatest album since your mom, and Bill Clinton blah blah blah blow job blah blah blah. And yet, I really want to know what Hal Sparks thinks about this stuff. Did you know he had a small role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman? I didn’t, but now I do. Thank you, I Love the Nineties.
While the oughts haven’t been very much fun, there’s still miles to go before all of us can sleep. Then again, maybe that’s the root of this series’ success. The nineties themselves were heavily rooted in nostalgia. The enduring fashion trend involved hitting up thrift stores for something godawful to wear with your dad’s vintage bellbottoms. That’s not really nostalgia as I’ve come to understand it. Nostalgia is more powerful than that. It’s feeling homesick for the past. So maybe we should crack open the time capsule. But the nineties just haven’t been over long enough for I Love the Nineties to stick. Rushing the show out before its time turns a successful formula into candy.
I’ll still watch it, though. I’m a sucker for VH1. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to feel a little icky after wallowing through the nineties again. It’s like hanging out with a friend from high school who only wants to talk about teenage glories because nothing really cool has happened to him since. In the future we have iPods, and iPods are fuckin’ rad.
I’m not quite sure how else to put this, so here goes: Quintuplets is a complete waste of time, money, eye lubricant and, most importantly, Andy Richter’s talent. Andy Richter Controls the Universe was a brilliant sitcom because it had no interest in being conventional. Fox’s Quintuplets forces an unconventional idea into a conventional space and then prays for everything to work out. Not to sound daft (seeing as how the show is named Quintuplets and hence features a cast of five children and two parents, duh), but there are simply too many characters to sift through. The designated child star of the show is the precocious Ryan Pinkston, whose previous credits include a recurring role on Punk’d. At sixteen, he’s already nursing a tremendous ego, which makes him smug and irritating. The length of time each story spends with him smacks of contractual obligation. Side characters become beloved because we rarely get to spend as much time with them as we’d like. They can bounce in and bounce out, stealing scenes as they go. But that’s summer.
There are many other shows out there that I haven’t mentioned. Summerland on the WB is The O.C.-lite, and Quintuplets has been miraculously renewed for a new season. Canadian Idol and Who Wants to Marry My Dad? are other staples of the summer season. The Grid on TNT is about a group of government agents working to prevent terrorist cells from destroying New York City. So we’ve got angsty people in swimwear, comedians pissing away their second chances, overly earnest pop stars, forced television marriages and terrorism. If only all these things could be combined into one show, I think we’d have a hit on our hands. As it is, most shows need a few seasons to really hit their stride. Even when this happens, that stride can turn into a lurch and then a stumble, but there’s a good life in syndication if you can last that long.