Sunday, November 06, 2011

Allen Gregory and dislikable characters

Allen Gregory-The show features Jonah Hill as a 7-year old boy genius who, despite having lobbied for fuel cell technology on Capitol Hill and having a circle of friends that includes Sandy Bullock, quickly becomes an ordinary outcast when he transfers to a new school.

I tend to give a fairly generous bye to anything appearing on TV that either looks remotely entertaining even if it might have some rough spots. Even if a show isn't entertaining me in the moment, I might be intrigued because it has a solid enough framework. In this case, you can envision a network of characters or scenarios in the case that if the writing got sharper it wouldn't be very hard for the show to hit its stride. Anyone who has watched the woeful first season of either "Parks and Recreation" and "American Dad" would know what I'm talking about.

"Allen Gregory" is a very rare case of the opposite. Despite having the ability to knock jokes out of the park here and there, the show is held back immensely by its framework. These are  ultimately unlikable characters that we don't want to spend time with.

It's true that some shows succeed immensely behind unlikeable characters with few redeeming qualities, but that's because they're interesting or inhabit an interesting enough world.

Allen Gregory had promise to be interesting because of its tension. It would be like if Stewie on "Family Guy" were ever confronted with the reality that maybe he wasn't one of the world's smartest and most charismatic people and forced to deal with that reality alongside other kids who could see right through him everyday. "Gregory" doesn't capitalize on that because the main character rarely acknowledges reality and there isn't a strong presence of the characters on the show who stand to prove him otherwise.

For example, his teacher Gina Wintrhop (a faaaar more ideal love interest than the 60-year old Principal Gottlieb who induces more of a gross-out effect than anything else) is an excellent character and would be a great foil because she only cares about Allen Gregory to the extent that he interferes with her attempts to run a classroom. Unfortunately, the interaction between the two is very limited.

The end result? The main conflicts (and potential for comedic tension) aren't dealt with in any interesting or meaty way. A typical scenario on this show is Allen being given a swirlie, passing it off as something that he voluntarily chose to do and being enabled in his behavior by his dad and a school superintendant who appreciates the money from the Gregory-DeLongpree name too much. Not much fun.

Another major problem is that not only is Allen Gregory delusional and emotionally abusive to those around him, but so is his biological dad (voiced by French Stuart). The father character is so morally backwards that his back story (yet to be fully explained) is that he coerced a straight man with a wife and kids to be his husband (sex included).

The end result of this is that the scenes with the family of four have a sort of weird dynamic where two people are the family scapegoat and the dialogue just doesn't flow as well. It's not convincing that two people would be able to have so much power that they can intimidate the other two into into just being quiet scapegoats.

It works much better if you have three or more people and one guy who's the punching back. Most shows employ this method (see Meg on "Family Guy", Jerry on "Parks and Recreation", Kimmy Gibbler on "Full House", Roy Biggins on "Wings").

Will Allen Gregory be able to right its wrongs with a few character tweaks? It might not have enough time to do so. Besides, if it gets cancelled, it would be a deserving move. Still, while it's on the air, there's always a chance.

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