Friday, February 29, 2008

Strike Survival TV Club: Cupid, "Botched Makeover"

And so we come to the end. Spoilers for "Botched Makeover," the final episode of "Cupid," coming up just as soon as I beat up some skel...

"Botched Makeover" was the final episode of "Cupid" to be produced, and as Rob Thomas mentions below, the cast and crew actually found out they'd been canceled while they were still working on it. It never aired on ABC, though it popped up in several foreign markets, which explains its YouTube-ability. (I've also seen a bootleg version of an Israeli telecast, complete with Hebrew subtitles.)

Like I was saying in the review for "The Children's Hour," this clearly wasn't intended as a series finale -- Trevor doesn't even make a match in this one -- but there are certain elements that make it a less-than-painful closing note. Specifically, I like that the final episode climaxes with Trevor and Claire swing-dancing. If, as Claire said many episodes before, she knows Trevor has a libido because she's seen him dance, then this is the closest they would ever come to sex, given the professional (doctors don't date patients) and mythological (sex with a mortal = no more immortality) barriers.

Claire spends a lot of time in this episode talking about the culture reverting to classic romantic standards -- "Dancing cheek to cheek, dressing up," etc. -- and the main plot of the hour is in itself a throwback. It's the famous, "Why, without your glasses, you're beautiful!!!!" story that you'd often see in films from the '30s through the early '60s.

Our not-so-plain Jane is Kristy Holbrook, a mousy writer's assistant on the ever-popular show-within-the-show "Sunset and Vaughn." Kristy's played by Laura Leighton, who was just coming off her stint as slutty Sydney on "Melrose Place." The wardrobe and makeup people did what they could to create Kristy's bag lady look, but it was about as convincing as that episode of "Gilligan's Island" where a homely woman stopped by the island and got a makeover that turned her into the spitting image of Ginger, you know?

That said, there are some interesting things going on in her story. Usually, the show would establish one guy and one girl and create an obstacle that Trevor would have to overcome to get them together. Here, Kristy has a couple of potential suitors: Josh, a junior writer on "Sunset and Vaughn" who encourages Kristy to move up the ladder to actually write for the show, and Tom, a handsome cad whom Claire throws out of the singles group after realizing he's just using it to find desperate women who will sleep with him. (Also, unbeknownst to her, he has a bet with a friend about scoring three girls in three weeks, which feels almost quaint a decade later. I imagine the same script today would have Tom trying to score three in three nights or something.)

So Tom is set up as the bastard that Trevor needs to save Kristy from, and Josh seems like the sweet guy she'll cease to notice once she's made over to resemble Laura Leighton, but this being "Cupid," things are more complicated than that. Tom begins to genuinely like Kristy, and not just because of how she looks (it's the "She's All That" plot, for you young'uns), while Josh tries to take credit for Kristy's script idea as his own. In the end, Kristy rightly kicks both guys to the curb, and even tones down the more boob-tastic aspects of her makeover while finding newfound confidence in both her appearance and ability to write. Trevor doesn't get his match, but he does help her.

While all of that is going on in the anthological half of the episode, Claire and Champ team up to try to take Trevor down a peg in a swing dance competition (yes, I know "Swingers" was two years earlier, but sometimes it takes TV a while to catch up to trends), and Trevor hustles his way into a guest-starring role on the increasingly "NYPD Blue"-esque "Sunset and Vaughn."

I've talked in the past about how Champ was a character the show rarely knew what to do with (he's the first thing I'd want to "improve" with the remake), but he and Claire make a nice combination in their rare bursts of shared screen time. As the two non-insane/godly members of the cast, they both have to suffer the walking disruption that is Trevor, and it's nice to see them bond over it in the end, even though Champ winds up bailing on the contest so the writers can put Piven and Marshall on the dance floor together.

And now it's time for the final installment of Rob Remembers, where "Cupid" creator Rob Thomas takes a break from rewriting the pilot script for the "Cupid" remake to offer a look behind the scenes at "Botched Makeover":
The Cupid cast learned that we'd been cancelled as they were shooting the big dance scene during "Botched Makeover." We also learned at the time that the episode we were shooting would never be released. To their credit, everyone sucked it up and did quality work, though the set was a pretty miserable place to be in the aftermath.

(The episode did end up airing in several foreign markets, however.)

Perhaps the most common way of becoming a television writer is to first get hired as an assistant on a television show. It's a prime stepping stone. Assistants talk to the agents assistants who will become agents some day. They learn the process from the inside. They can usually convince producers on the show to read their spec scripts. A couple days after ABC announced the Cupid pilot had been ordered, I received a letter through my old Texas address from a woman named Vanessa Taylor who wanted to be my assistant. I'd never had an assistant, and, frankly, didn't even realize I would be afforded one. Nevertheless, I admired the tenacity, and I hired her.

Vanessa co-wrote "Botched Make-over" with me, and she did a fantastic job. So fantastic, that I then hired her on my next project, SNOOPS -- which, perhaps, turned out to be a very mixed blessing. She very quickly climbed the ranks, and eventually co-created the very well-received WB show JACK AND BOBBY.

A sidenote -- the fictional cop show within the show, SUNSET AND VAUGHN, is a show title that I've always been fond of in a "can we think of a campy title to a fictional cop show." It reappeared in an episode of VERONICA MARS when we had a close-up of a Tivo recorded programs screen. Also, in a nod to the original notion that Champ wouldn't accept any roles expressly written for Black actors, his character has the surname "Cohen." That's the very inside joke that I am, perhaps, the only person who finds amusing.
A few other thoughts on "Botched Makeover":

-As the Internet's leading "NYPD Blue" junkie, I was particularly amused to see all the "Blue" touches in "Sunset and Vaughn," whether it was Claire's love of seeing Sunset's naked butt every week or the jittery, hard-boiled interrogation scenes with junkies.

-Love the entire sequence where the post-makeover Kristy enters the singles group, from Claire forcibly hurling Trevor into the next room to Trevor responding to her accusation that he did everything she warned him not to with "Not true. I did not open that Tabasco lubricant."

-One specific change in the remake is that it'll be set in Los Angeles instead of Chicago. While it's a shame to lose the unique architecture and character of the windy city, if there's a Champ character in the new show and he's still an actor, at least we won't have to deal with the contrivance of an LA-set cop show being written and produced out of a Chicago studio.

Up next: b'dee, b'dee, that's all, folks! Back when I started this idea, the plan was to add a second show at some point, most likely "Sports Night," but I wound up having so many other things on my plate even during the strike that there wasn't time for it. Now that the strike's over and primetime TV is only a few weeks away from a return, there's no point in starting up again, so we'll revisit the TV Club idea in the summer. (If you want to see the reviews I did last summer of "Freaks and Geeks," click here.)

What did everybody else think? And, after going through all these episodes with me, do you think the world is ready for a "Cupid" remake? Casting will obviously be crucial (it's hard to think of a better Trevor than Jeremy Piven, or better chemistry than Piven and Paula Marshall had), but what tweaks, if any, would you make to the formula the second time around?


R.A. Porter said...

Maybe in the remake, Rob could consider going with a woman in the Champ role. A second woman with her feet firmly planted on the ground as a foil to Trevor's romantic, head in the clouds, attitude might be an interesting tweak. It would probably frighten the God of Love a little to see that even the modern women he meets have no interest or belief in true love.

Also, since it's in LA, instead of being an actor, perhaps Champ(ette) should work on a reality show like The Bachelor or Blind Date so s/he is even more jaded about true love ever existing.

Also, of course, Kristin Bell needs narrate in VO.

(In case anyone is hungover this morning, the last was *not* a serious suggestion.)

Nicole said...

Since the show was set in Chicago, it probably would have taken a few years for the new swing dance phase to get there from LA. I recall it being big in my undergrad years in the mid to late 90s and I lived north of the border, and not close to the trend epicentre of LA. I actually recall first watching this episode and recognizing the music. (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy if I am not mistaken)

Anyway, I'm sad that it's over but thanks for the reviews, even with all the other shows you have to do now that the strike is over.

I love the Champ as reality star idea, but I'm not sure if he would work as a woman, only because the sexual tension is supposed to be with Claire, unless they want to go with a love triangle.. or unrequited love. Television never has men and women just be friends (except maybe Seinfeld, and even then they had dated) and if Champ is supposed to be the "friend", he probably needs to be a guy.

Anyway, I really hope the remake does well, because I think that there was a lot of unfulfilled potential in the first series.

Eric said...

I seem to remember a chart from late-era Spy Magazine showing the incidence of "Swing Dancing is Back" articles in the New York Times. They happened about every 18 months or so.

Anonymous said...

Why not make the Champ character a writer instead of an actor? A struggling actor in LA is a common character, but a struggling writer isn't. Champ could get his big break by creating a pilot about a delusional man that thinks he's Cupid! The show within a show is about the show! Okay, maybe not. But, I'm a bit bored with the struggling actor angle.

I've been trying to think of casting suggestions for weeks. My one hope is that Rob Thomas selects age appropriate actors, like Piven and Marshall were. Early to mid thirties is the youngest they should be, the Claire role at least. To have Claire be any younger would stretch her 'expert in her field' credibility. In fact, I'd love to see an actress like Sela Ward in the role, but chances are she's too old.

Nicole said...

If Claire is a psychiatrist, she wouldn't have started to practice until her late 20s, so mid 30s is really the youngest they should go for casting. I don't know how old Paula Marshall was at the time, but she didn't look so young as to not be credible as an expert.

Someone like Kate Walsh would probably be ideal... is Private Practice cancelled yet?

Anonymous said...

I said it before and I'll say it again: Paul Rudd and Lauren Graham.

afoglia said...

Lauren Graham? I like it. Heck, how about she plays Cupid? If the Greek gods could change shape, why not sexes as well? :-)

(I guess if "Scrubs" gets another, current WAW-reader favorite Donald Faison won't be free.)

I can't say I'm happy the new show will be set in LA. LA just gives off this shallow, rich vibe. Chicago was more down-to-earth. I would have suggested Seattle. Believable for actor Champ, and the show could be produced in Vancouver, keeping costs down.

Laura Leighton may not have looked homely, but she acted well. She had realistic, not exaggerated, mousey mannerisms.

And speaking as someone who knows how to swing dance (started in 2002, I'm way behind the curve), I agree with Trevor; it's not a very romantic/sensual/sexual dance. I was impressed with the dancing though. Not that they were good enough to win a contest, but they knew what they were doing.

Anonymous said...

Lauren Graham would be perfect. I wonder if Paul Rudd would do episodic tv? Great choices!

Anonymous said...

I'd really enjoy Patrick Fabian as Cupid's sidekick/friend. As for the two main characters, I have no idea right now.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering where the YouTube of this ep came from; I was diligently recording the last few eps of the series, and I didn't have this one, didn't remember ever seeing it before.

In general, I am insulted by the old cliche that a homely girl just needs to take off her glasses and get a makeover to be beautiful. It implies that anyone who is not beautiful is simply not trying hard enough. As Alan said, it was painfully obvious that Kristy simply needed to take off her glasses, put on a little makeup and change her clothes to be beautiful. For most homely girls, it's not that simple, and to suggest otherwise is insulting.

The idea that Tom-the-cad would genuinely fall for Kristy was a bit predictable, but I wasn't expecting Josh the writer to be using her.

Piven's over-the-top performance in Sunset and Vaughn is great fun.

I like that the character ends up with a reasonable balance between bag-lady and supermodel, although I did find myself wondering how she learned to dress like that.

Thank you, Alan, for this little walk down memory lane! The premature cancellation of Cupid was a tragic loss to broadcast television. I only hope that Rob can make lightning strike twice and bring back this series as good as new!

Anonymous said...

I've been watching Cupid lately and stumbled on this blog series via Google when I had a question about the similarities between "Hung Jury" and "One Angry Veronica" from Veronica Mars. I really enjoyed all the commentary from Rob Thomas and Alan's and the other reader's comments as well. Thanks very much for doing this rewatch. As a devoted VM fan, the thematic similarities were very interesting, especially the female characters' ethical quandaries (and their flawed solutions). And I really enjoyed seeing 'Prof. Landry' in that role: what a great actor, and a great voice.

I wonder why I never watched this show when it aired; it must have been marketed as a straight romantic comedy and somehow did not appeal to me. Nowadays, a savvy TV viewer knows to check blogs such as this one to find quality shows.

I think Paula Marshall has been appealing in every show I've ever seen her in, from "Spin City" to the more recent "Out of Practice" and "Californication", with the possible exception of "Nip/Tuck", which was not her fault. She had a difficult role in some ways here, being sort of brittle and ethically torn, but also lovelorn and sympathetic at times. And Piven is always fantastic. (I like the guy, even in his one-note performances on "Entourage".) And I liked the actor playing the side-kick Champ very much too.

As far as the availability of the YouTube videos: now Episode 1, Part 1 is up, but part 5 from Episode 14 is unfortunately missing due to "copyright violations". Oh well. I was pretty happy to read the original script from Episode 1 anyways.

I've been a fan of the blog for a while, but this series was before I started following it. I really appreciate your care with spoiler warnings on your RSS feeds. Thanks again.