Thursday, April 13, 2006

You can't do that on television

(Haven't seen "Lost" yet, so this entry will present comments, in order, on "The Loop," "South Park," the "American Idol" results and "House.")

Why is "The Loop" first in the batting order today? No particular reason, except I liked that picture the best -- and it wasn't even from last night's episode, or even last week's. I'm capricious; sue me.

With only one episode to go and ratings so bad that it's almost certainly not coming back, I've realized that I'm really gonna miss this show -- not just because it's often funny, but because I remain in awe at the shit they're able to sneak past the censor. Two weeks ago (the episode pictured above), the writers set up an elaborate scenario where one of Sam's friends had to give him a hand job (off-camera, but still) to save his real job. Last week, they figured out an excuse for Mimi Rogers' character to stick her hand up a dog's ass (off-camera, but still). Last night was fairly mild in comparison, but it did have Sam getting his pubes disintegrated (semi-off-camera, but still), not to mention one female roommate referring to the other's snooch being visible (to her, not to us, but still).

Matt once had a long talk with the Fox censor, specifically about why "The Simpsons" seemed able to get away with so much. His response was along the lines of, "If I think it's funny, I'll let it slide." The thing that separates "The Loop" from your standard tasteless Fox comedy is that it's a smart tastless comedy, not a stupid one. The writers earned that hand job joke, just like they earned the dog joke (which also involved a wireless thumb drive that could still transmit so long as Sam kept his laptop right next to the dog's butt), etc. They put in the time and thought to set them up properly, so it wasn't cheap. (Well, the snooch joke was a little cheap, but I'll give it to them.)

Tonight's season (series?) finale -- titled "The Rusty Trombone," don't forget -- features a Very Special Guest Star who would have been a lot more special a year and a half ago (if you want to know, Google "Brett Harrison" and "roommate"). It's no "Arrested Development," but "The Loop" deserved better than Thursday burial.

Over on Comedy Central, "South Park" pulled off the double-switch. Since everyone was assuming they would do another Terrance & Philip stunt like they did with part two of "Who is Cartman's father?," they did it again, and after a minute or so of that to scare away the most gullible, they got back to "Cartoon Wars."

Not sure this needed to be a two-parter, though. Most of the points got made last week, and the only new touches were the presence of Bart Simpson (and he's done things much worse than decapitating Jebediah's statue) and Trey and Matt's acknowledgement that "Family Guy" may have some advantages over them: "At least it doesn't get all preachy and up its own ass with messages." Oh, and were all the people in the Al Qaeda video supposed to be recognizable? Dubya was obvious, and I spotted Carson from "Queer Eye," but it was late and I was too tired to freeze frame and study carefully.

Not much of a stunner on "American Idol." Bucky wasn't going to win, but inside his own unchallenging box, he's been more entertaining than Ace for a while. But we're now in that stage of the competition where the middle-of-the-pack contestants are in bigger danger than the awful people. I wouldn't be at all stunned to see Elliot and Katharine go before Ace, followed by a Paris boot before the inevitable Chris/Taylor/Pickler final three. Then again, Elliot and Kat seem better-equipped than most to kick ass on Great American Songbook Night (featuring the dessicated remains of Rod Stewart), so maybe they'll snare enough casual voters to hold off the latest object of Paula's obsession for a week.

And then, there's "House" (or "Maude," I forget). Good to see the doc and friends all clean up nice -- House's double-take at Cameron in the red dress was a nice touch -- and seeing House playing cards in that tuxedo, I couldn't help but wonder how much more fun "Casino Royale" would be with Hugh Laurie sipping the vodka martinis instead of Daniel Craig. ("The Gun Seller," the Laurie-written book I mentioned a month or two back, is basically a James Bond parody, which may have also put the idea in my head. The Bond movies are practically parodies of themselves, anyway.)

So of course, I make a comment in yesterday's blog about John C. McGinley generally getting more dramatic material to play than Laurie on a night when Laurie gave his most interesting performance since "Three Patients." House's patients have occasionally died in the past, but it was always because he found out too late what was wrong; to him, the unsolved mystery is worse than the unsaved patient.

After last week's Foreman-centric episode, this one started off looking like a House vs. Chase dynamic, with the cock-blocking at the party and Chase's bitching about House's Esther obsession. But they dropped that theme about a third of the way through, which is a shame; Chase's petulance and his longer history with House usually brings the funny. My eyebrow raised at Chase's reference to House having assistants before him, which made me wonder: what exactly is the chronology of House's time at Princeton-Plainsborough? It was unclear to me in "Three Patients" exactly when House suffered his leg injury, and as I recall, the episode implied that he wasn't on staff there at the time, but got the job out of pity (or to stave off a malpractice suit). I could be wrong, but the fact that Esther was his patient 12 years ago and someone who worked with both Chase and House knew about it started the mental gears turning.

Like I said, I'll get to "Lost" later today, and I'm annoyed that I gave up on this season of "Amazing Race" in the very week that I hear there was finally an episode with some good challenges and suspense. Meanwhile, links: Wednesday's column, in which I detail the stunning way by which ABC turned "Commander In Chief" from a show that was going to be around for years into something that likely won't be on next year's schedule; and today's column, where I revisit "Everybody Hates Chris."


Vance said...

I can't believe how fast I've gotten to love The Loop! It's fricken hilarious and hopefully comes back next year, but probably unlikely (and will fall into another death with Andy Richter Controls the Universe or The Tick).

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on Hugh Laurie and "The Gun Seller," it's a book I've pushed on many people over the years.

But I've got to tell you, it's Plainsboro, not -ough. It's a real place--I lived there for 13 years, and even went to HS along with exec producer Bryan Singer. I couldn't say for sure, but I suspect he contributed the name for the hospital.

Of course, it's always amusing to see the establishing flyover shots of the hospital and knowing exactly what buildings they really are, or seeing other location shots that bear no relation to anything in Princeton or Plainsboro...

Alan Sepinwall said...

Sorry 'bout that, David. I don't know how it is in south and central Jersey, but up north we tended to be very geographically ignorant. If you knew your town, the immediate surrounding towns, the location of two malls and/or movie theaters, and the best route into Manhattan, you were probably ahead of the curve. The town I live in now is maybe 20 minutes from where I grew up, and I had never heard of it until we started house-hunting.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you just accused the Loop of being smart. I watched part of the 1st episode when it was shown in place of the "War at Home," and i was actually missing the "War at Home", and which has to be one of the top 30 or so worst tv shows ever. The Loop's first episode was so dumb, that i just can't watch any more of it.

First, they ate pickeled eggs at a bar..does any bar in the world actually have those, or was that supposed to be a "Simpsons" homage? whatever it was it was supposed to be, it was dumb, and they've eaten the eggs on the simpsons before, so it was a dumb recycled joke.

2nd, everyone in the airline office was telling the guy, "didn't you get the email in your outlook express?" I hate to tell the writers, but companies use outlook, not outlook express. Outlook express is the free version, and corporations have to pay. anyways, that was either the worst product placement ever, or really bad writing.

3rd, the kid takes off his shirt in the board meeting to illustrate his idea for a new airline. "Office Space," and to a lesser extent "The Office" have shown that realistic office interaction can be funny, so why fall back on something so unrealistic and stupid? they should have finished with a slow clap, to make sure we got that it was supposed to be victorious moment for the guy.

the pilot was so dumb they shouldn't expect people to hang with it until they put out a decent episode, so cancelled is what that show deserves.

anyways, i think the censors allow such things is they know only like 4 people are watching, so they just let some things slide.

Anonymous said...

I love The Office, and it's a much better comedy than The Loop, but not every show has to be as mundane as that. The trick is to find a tone that works, and stick with it, whether it's the comedy of realism or complete absurdity like on Arrested Development or even Earl.

The problem is with those many, many sitcoms that try not to be either one; they're vaguely realistic, but that's sacrificed whenever the writers need a cheap visual gag or punchline.

Do I believe in the professional world of this show? Not really; every week Sam seems to be put in charge of a new project that, in the real world, would keep him busy for months or years. But within the logic of the show, I believe that Sam needed a friend to give him a hand job, or that he could get arrested for public masturbation on an airplane (even though he was innocent), or that he speaks fluent Mandarin. And that's really all I need.