Sunday, October 17, 2010

$(#@ My Dad Says and Outsourced

3. #@)$*() My Dad Says on CBS:
Hook: #@$*( My Dad Says comes from a unique source in the form of a guy on Twitter who started blogging funny things his old-fashioned dad was saying. That doesn't necessarily mean the show will be good, but it gets my attention because if the show is created by an outsider, I'll probably get a fresh perspective. Also, it is a perspective that is pretty relatable: Most of us have at least one elderly relative who casually says things in the privacy of their own home that would get us in a lot of trouble if those words came out of our mouths.

How it delivers: William Shatner, who can be easily pigeonholed in our heads as that caricature of his Captain Kirk character he's been doing for years, is delightfully fresh here. Thanks to the writing, his character is a relatively unique comic creation. The show has heart as well. When the father and son are dancing at the end of the pilot, it's an earned moment. The best indication, however, that I wanted to see more is simply that the show made me laugh. Numerous times.

What the detractors say: One reviewer (TV Guide) sees Shatner's character more as a "shallowly conceived grouch belching trite punch lines." Alan Speinwall and Joel Keller of AOL's TV Squad both think Shatner's character is too crude to solicit empathy although Keller thinks Shatner showed potential in one scene. There was also some criticism that the rest of the cast is somewhat weak in comparison to Shatner.

My defense: First off, the cast includes Will Sasso and Nicole Sullivan who might be taking a while to find their chemistry but they certainly have the talent as evidenced by their work on "Mad TV." Jonathan Sadowski was a last-minute replacement and he's the straight man to Shatner's funny man so he doesn't have to be the show's strongest link. The major question here is whether Shatner is convincing and it's just a matter of me buying it whereas others didn't.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this show is on CBS. The network's bread and butter is mediocre middle-of-the-road comedies like "Everybody Loves Raymond" "Yes Dear" and "Two and a Half Men." Admittedly, "Raymond" has more pathos, but none of those shows were innovative in anyway, whatsoever. At best, they were good for a few laughs in a familiar setting. If it can get past the initial torrent of negative reviews and survive its first season, there's no question "#@$* My Dad Says" could at least deliver at the bar set by the other shows on the network.

4. Outsourced on NBC:
The Hook: Outsourcing is interesting. An article on what life is like for an American middle manager transplanted to India would be intriguing so a TV show set in that world would naturally be intriguing as well. It’s not just because I was a geography major in college but because it’s relevant and has affected people I know.

How it delivers: Outsourcing has a natural go-to place for its humor in the form of culture clash jokes and the writing seems competent enough that they know how to mine it. Culture clash humor is going to rely more on the relationships between the characters than the "Hey, you guys are wearing funny hats" type of observational shtick. In that category, potential is developing in the network of relationships that’s being established. The protagonist has an American colleague (Diedrich Baker) who’s kind of boorish, a passive-aggressive assistant manager and a team of subordinates with whom he’s having several awkward Michael-Scott-like moments. There’s also an flirty Australian love interest but she’s been kept in the background so far.

Criticism: Todd van der Werff of the A.V. Club declares this is the end of NBC Thursday night's glory days. According to him, the show's scenes between Americans feel like they're on a different show than the ones portraying American-Indian culture clash and neither are executed particularly well. Some critics found the characters boring like the blogger from Film School Rejects who named this show the failure of the season. James Poniewozik acknowledges "satire is a dangerous zone" but says the show is a disappointment with cheap jokes that insult the audience.

My response: Again, it's a matter of placing too much emphasis on the pilot. Characters might be one-dimensional in the pilot because there's not enough screen time to develop everybody and give exposition in 22 minutes. The show's breakout characters in Parks and Recreation, Ron Swanson and Tom Haverford, seemed like dumb one-note characters in the pilot too. Swanson gave a speech about he preferred Chuck-E-Cheese to government and it seemed like the writers were trying too hard to inject the characters with quirks. Over times, his quirks formed part of a fully-fleshed personality that strengthened because it stayed consistent over several episodes. I could see three or four of these characters as pop culture stalwarts like Ron Swanson or Dwight from "The Office." In addition, there were only a few one-line gags in the pilot which is an indication that the show is going to be going for broader situational laughs.

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