Saturday, April 11, 2015

Spring 2015 Roundup Part II-Schitt's Creek, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Librarians

The Librarians (TNT)-This show is reminiscent of the syndicated series I grew up with like "Sinbad: The Seven Seas" and "Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" but times have changed and the show's attempts at building some grand mythology pale in comparison to the kinds of fantasy and historical fiction that TV is producing these days. 

The plot of "The Librarians" is so vague, it almost seems as if it was was created by a pair of hyperactive 9 year olds who were stuck in the library one day with nothing to do but let their imaginations run wild.  "Oooh, and let's pretend the librarian has a magical sword that flies!" "Oooh Oooh  and they have a secret portal to the minotaur castle!" 

Even the level of character development seems like it was written by kids. The thief character has absolutely no development beyond being a thief who lives thieving. He also has a cockney accent which is as lazy a characterization as you can get (Rattling off awful action films that use this trope: "Mortal Kombat", "Fast and Furious", "LXG" and "Tomb Raider"). We also have an exotic looking bad girl with a British accent and an inexplicable willingness to hurl herself at the good guys expecting different results along with henchmen that come straight from the "Mighty Morphing Power Rangers" school of attack. It similarly takes a special lack of competence to put Rebecca Romaijn alongside someone like Noah Wyle and produce so little sexual chemistry. 

If there's any fun to be had,  it's watching pros like Jane Curtin and John Larroquette dive into such inanity as if it's Shakespeare. To the show's credit, it has some self-awareness of its cheeky nature, but there's no harm in actually making the show good on its own merits.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)-There’s an old saying that comedy is tragedy from distance. Distance, however, can refer not just to the passing of time but the closeness of the viewer to the bad event in question. Wile E Coyote falling off a cliff, for example, would be a lot less funny if there were realistic close-ups of his blood splattering across the desert floor. 

Likewise, one has to wonder why Tina Fey and Robert Carlock made the odd choice to give the central character in this “Naïve Midwesterner Strikes out in the Big City” tale such a traumatic backstory. To recap, the titular Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) is a woman who was kidnapped as a young teenager by a psychotic pastor and trapped in an underground bunker for 15 years and subjected to “weird sex stuff.” This isn’t too much of a problem considering the talents of the writers to sidestep the whole probable PTSD issue and keep the tone comic. As the story arced toward the trial at season’s end, one just has to wonder why the season chose such a bleak starting point as the baseline.

Other than that and a highly irritating theme song (which I realize was deliberately annoying, but still), there’s little else to complain about here. Casting Ellie Kemper (the only actress who seemed like she was trying in the latter seasons of “The Office”) as the spunky and naïve lead is a no-brainer but the selection of Carol “Mrs. Latka Gravas” Kane and Tituss Burgess are both strokes of inspiration. Burgess previously appeared in “30 Rock” as the one-notiest of oharacters in flamboyant fame seeker D’Fwan on the show-within-a-show “Queen of Jordan.” Although the D’Fwan character’s flatness was part of the joke, it’s still surprising to see Tituss’s new character follow the same outlines as the old character and be expanded so richly.  Similarly, Carol Kane has never been on 30 Rock, but her comic gifts have always seemed like the perfect fit for the Tina Fey world as a batty old woman with clear Ashkenazi Jewish leanings whose paranoia and shady past are optimized for some of the show’s best quotes.

Credit: GeekBinge

Similarly, Fey and Carlock continue to mine humor out of the absurdly rich with Jane Krakowski as the polar opposite of financially normal.

If anyone’s given short shrift on this show, it’s the love interests (oh, and also the teenage daughter).  Love was never taken seriously on “30 Rock” beyond a superficial plot device that was always acknowledged with a playful wink. Jack Donaghy cycled through love interests in a way that rendered nothing beyond his courtship relevant, and I’ve never been convinced that Liz ended up with Kris for any reason other than that was who he happened to be with when the show ended its run. Similarly, Kimmy cycles through approximately three boyfriends with the first one getting shipped on a bus and the third one (one of the few interracial Asian/American pairings on screen) lacking in chemistry although they did get a lot of mileage out of the dong jokes.

The first season had a number of endearing plot lines as Kimmy found a place, a best friend, and a job in fairly short order.  

Schitts Creek (POP TV)– A fish out of water story between an absurdly rich family stuck in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Co-created by Christopher Guest staple Eugene Levy and son Dan Levy, the series is highly watchable and gets a lot of mileage out of a winning premise.

What’s odd, however, is how little of the world is fleshed out. Part of this is intentional (like Springfield with “The Simpsons” or Camden with “My Name is Earl”, Schitt’s Creek could be a stand-in for anywhere) but specificity couldn’t hurt in a small-town comedy like this.
Similarly, the Rose family has a lot of blanks that no one seems to care about filling in. 

Credit: Variety
They’re not just wealthy but wealthy to the point of absurdity. The unrealistic arrested development of their kids is reminiscent of “Step Brothers” where there are expectations that you’ll suspend your disbelief about how people can get that old and know so little about the world. When Dave needs to get a job, he asks if there are any openings in this small town for art curating. 

An effeminate brat who’s likely gay but is restricted to asexuality at the moment (possibly because sex would get in the way of his daily sulking rituals), Dave is the weakest character on the show in that we know only what he doesn’t like (being around his sister, the town, daylight) and not what drives him. He would be more at home in the bratty teen comedies of the late 90s than he would in Doc Hollywood. The only thing that interests him is the equally sarcastic hotel worker (Emily Hampshire, MVP of the show) who bonds with him through their mutual love of being jaded adolescents (which, again, seems awkward considering he’s over 30).
Alexis makes out a little better as she transitions from a rich boyfriend to a local love interest gives her some reluctant interest in blending into the town [Ed.note: She now has a second local love interest which indicates that she might just be capricious and easily attachable].

Chris Elliott finds his footing here as the kind of oddball sitcom character that would only exist in a quirky world like this. Maybe it's just me because I saw more Chris Elliott in the '90s than any other decade, but I would have trouble seeing Elliott in a comedy without that old-school quirkiness as opposed to something set in the present day. On the whole, it's still an entertaining show and I'd be on board for a second season.

No comments: