Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Two shows about the marrying kind of man and the wrong one gets canceled

If you haven't already read it, Matt Zoller Seitz's Rescue Me review perfectly encapsulates everything I wanted to say about the series. So I won't bother until the end of the year.

Did you miss me?

I know I've fallen far, far behind on actual series people actually care about, but May sweeps gave me a chance to catch up on What About Brian? and see the last few Love Monkeys, aired on VH1 after CBS canceled the show (corporate synergy strikes again!). Both shows got fair-to-middling reviews when they debuted (from this critic and from people who actually get paid to do it), but both improved as they went along. Unfortunately, the show that got truly must-see ended up getting canceled while the show that still has a lot of problems got an inexplicable renewal.

So let's start with What About Brian?, which was picked up largely so ABC could say, "See? We didn't cancel EVERYthing!" Also, they probably have a vested interest in keeping J.J. Abrams happy (for obvious reasons). So Brian and his pals got the fall time slot.

Brian isn't a BAD show, per se. It's relatively well-written dialogue wise, and the cast is charming enough (though there are way too many characters). It even has that nice, glossy ABC "look" to it.

But there's a problem with the show. These characters don't seem to exist on any realistic level. Example: Brian sleeps with two girls in 24 hours (both of them ridiculously hot, mind you) and then feels GUILTY about it. He wasn't in a relationship with either (or anyone else). He didn't have any weird psychosexual hangups (that I could tell -- though that would make the show instantly better). He just. . .slept with two girls in 24 hours. And debated whether he was fair to them.

It's times like this that I have to resort to the terminology of Craig Engellend, my grade school classmate.

In short, what a douchebag.

It would be fine if they gave Brian some CONTEXT for his feelings of guilt. Maybe he's a ridiculously handsome Presbyterian minister, struggling to get by in Los Angeles without sleeping with ridiculously hot women and failing. That's a show I would watch. The show they have now just makes Brian into a whiny, simpering fool.

Are there men like this? Almost certainly. And I'm not saying that Brian should eat a whole can of snuff tobacco and then shoot guns or anything. But it would be nice if he came to some sort of conclusion about the whole experience. "Yes. Banging two chicks was fun, but it was probably a situation that could get me in trouble," he could say. It would be a little PSA, but we would buy it. Instead, he just reads like some weird female fantasy of what a sensitive guy should be like.

(Brief pause for feminist critical theory identification. I'm aware that men have spent millennia creating female characters who are basically fantasy versions of what we would like all women to be -- virgin/mother/crone, whatever. And I think it's great that now women have risen to such levels of prominence that they can create bizarre male fantasies. But that doesn't mean I'm going to enjoy WATCHING them.)

Now. . .the show was getting a little better. Sarah Lancaster is not the world's most charismatic actress, but the show was doing a credible job of making her the ONLY GIRL FOR BRIAN who happens to be ENGAGED TO HIS BEST FRIEND (capital letters added to roughly approximate the tone of dialogue in the pilot). And the subplot with the computer geek with the ridiculously hot wife who wants to try an open marriage actually worked on a few levels and made me care about it.

But the show is just a bunch of people wandering around a fairy tale version of Los Angeles, acting like fairy tale versions of real people. Fairy tale reality isn't bad if you play it that way all the time (Felicity was kind of fun). But Brian wants to play for keeps. And you're never playing for keeps when all you have to do to get the gold is guess the mystical dwarf's name.

Actually, if What About Brian? adds a mystical dwarf in season two, I'm watching every week.

Love Monkey also debuted with its share of fixable problems (once again, there were so many characters that the pilot had to zoom past most of them and let us sketch them in on our own). But as the season went on, it fixed those problems. The relationships between the characters deepened and started to make more sense. The gay friend's secret homosexuality came out almost as an afterthought (and wasn't a HUGE deal to his friends). We could see that the show would eventually steer our main character to an everlasting love with Judy Greer (which is what we should all aspire to anyway), but we also saw that it would enjoy the ride, let him hook up with his cute coworker or that girl he delivered a pizza to. Etc.

Plus, Love Monkey really built up the idea of the main character's job. As an A&R rep for an indie record label, he got to deal with the ins and outs of the music business, which is a business most of us have only a passing familiarity with (if that). In short, this was interesting. (Side note: Brian works in the video game industry. This, too, could be interesting. But the show ignores almost every aspect of the job. So, not interesting.)

But here's the main difference between the shows: Tom of Love Monkey isn't out to find the girl of his dreams. Brian is. Tom doesn't know that his best gal pal is the girl of his dreams. Brian DOES. So when Tom doesn't do anything to prevent becoming the "lonely little monkey" mentioned in the pilot, it feels real. He's consciously making the choice to risk spending his life alone so he can have these fun years as a single dude in the city. Brian, on the other hand, figures out exactly what he wants, then lets every woman on Earth jerk him around.

Now, there's nothing wrong with an indecisive character. Hamlet, of course, is a whole play about being wishy washy (AMONG OTHER THINGS, sorry). But Brian is not Hamlet. He's not debating whether to kill his uncle or not. He's debating whether to steal the girl from his best friend. Interesting would be him swearing not to and finding himself pulled into a collision course with her every season finale or so. Interesting would be him secretly trying to undermine their relationship. Interesting would be him blatantly making plays for her every time he sees her. Instead, the show tries to find a middleground between all three and just. . .fails.

Love Monkey, instead, is about how when you're having a good time being single, when your job is fun and the city you live in is a blast, you can wake up one day a "lonely little monkey." It's not the driving force of the series. It's not the story arc. But it's always there, lurking in the background. The subtext, if you will.

On Brian, the only subtext is the text. And that makes it all the poorer.

I wish Love Monkey had gotten to continue. It was really nailing down the relationships between its characters. It even portrayed a completely functional marriage (so, so rare on television) in all of its quirks and oddities.

But Brian has a lot of potential (he said after trashing it for 20 minutes). It's got some great writers on staff, and J.J. Abrams (who isn't as hands-on with this project) can fix a show in a matter of episodes. I may tune in in the fall to see if it happens.

But I'm not hopeful.

1 comment:

wcdixon said...

yes Love Monkey was coming together...too bad about cancellation. Still haven't seen Brian but now should, I suppose.