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Thursday, September 24, 2009

ABC Wednesday

I feel a little guilty for having watched two hours of ABC programming last night, and not just because a quarter of that time was spent viewing something called "Cougar Town". When ABC made the decision to cancel Pushing Daisies I realized that it meant I would have no reason to turn on the channel for the foreseeable future. (I've never gotten into LOST and besides that, tell me exactly when a reasonable male would turn on the network that depends on Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives for its few ratings successes?)

But I never formally launched a boycott, because I'm emotionally mature enough (just enough) to know that such a course of action would have no practical impact. And so when I heard all the advance buzz for Modern Family I decided to give ABC another shot at taking over my Wednesday nights. And then due to inertia I wound up watching Cougar Town and Eastwick as well. Some thoughts:

Modern Family showed great promise. The show follows three branches of a "modern American family" whatever that is. Ed O'Neill is the patriarch Jay Pritchett, and is newly married to a much younger Colombian woman. She's played by Sofia Vergara with a little bit hackneyed Latina fire, but she delivers some of the best lines, and it's more than possible that her character is intended as a parody more than a cliche. Jay's daughter Claire (played by Julie Bowen of "Ed" fame)is part of a supposedly more typical family, married for 16 years and with three kids. Her husband Phil is trying too hard to be cool, and she worries that her daughters will make the same mistakes she did. Speaking of the older daughter she says, "If she never wakes up half-naked on a beach in Florida, I'll have done my job."

The third branch is a gay couple who at episode's open are returning from Vietnam with an adopted baby in tow, a baby Mitchell Pritchett has yet to tell the rest of his family about. I was impressed with the way Modern Family treated its gay characters. There wasn't as much boosterism or kid-gloves treatment of them. In fact the only political moment arises when Mitchell launches into a speech about the many shapes of love after a woman says "look at that baby with those cream puffs" (the baby was actually holding cream puffs.)

Modern Family seems to be a reaction to years of rigid family archetypes on television. With it's broad cast of characters it makes the point that families encompass a lot more than just a Mom, a Dad, and two or three kids. I'm curious how it will handle it's large ensemble in future episodes.

The best part of Modern Family may have been the children. Jay's stepson Manny a prematurely passionate boy who is in love with a 16-year old mall kiosk worker. He is constantly picking flowers and writing love poems, to Jay's consternation and his mother's delight. Of his rejection, Manny says, "I gave her my heart, and she gave me a drawing of myself as an Old West sheriff." Phil and Claire's children are very funny as well, especially the easily exasperated middle daughter, who delights in wondering what the family would do if her older sister got pregnant. ("Would you pretend she has mono and hold her out of school for a few months, and then claim the baby was yours?")

I highly recommend giving Modern Family a chance. Comparisons to Arrested Development are perhaps overblown and based more on the single-camera style than objective reality but this is a worthwhile attempt at reimagining the family sitcom.

Cougar Town is a watchable sitcom, and if you watch Modern Family you're kind of stuck since everything else from 9-10 are hour long shows. (This assumes other options, like reading or something, are out of the question.) Courteney Cox is a game comedienne, willing to go pretty far for a laugh. She gets quite a few in the pilot, but the premise of this show seems so thin that it's hard to imagine it lasting. The show is also fairly vulgar, with clear implications of fellatio and other sex acts. This wouldn't be so potentially disturbing except for the candid discussions between Cox's character and her teenage son, who is tortured by having a hot Mom out on the prowl. The show is better than its atrocious title, but not by much.

Eastwick is kind of a mess. It feels a lot like a lot of other shows, only worse. It's a little bit Charmed, mixed with the female bonhomie of something like Sex and the City. It's based on the movie The Witches of Eastwick, from the John Updike book of the same name, and centers on three women granted magical powers through the intervention of a mysterious male benefactor. I'm not usually one to criticize entertainment on a political basis, but the sexual politics of this show are just absurdly inaccurate and presumably offensive to any thinking woman. The idea that women can only fully realize their potential by becoming more like men is disturbing and just plain wrong. The performances of the three main leads range all the way from pedestrian to middling, and the writing is pretty terrible in places. (One character's evil husband is cartoonish, and a scene where a previously kind boyfriend turns rapist within 90 seconds means this show officially hates men and women alike.)

This is not an original thought, but Eastwick really does feel like something that even the executives at the CW would pass on. The three female leads are pretty to look at, but that's about all this show offers.

So, ABC, you're going to get my eyeballs for about half-an-hour to an hour a week again (depending on my level of lethargy.) Sorry, but I don't have a Nielsen box.


  1. It seems like everyone is talking about Modern Family. That might be one I have to check out. Eastwick though? Sounds like a total Charmed knockoff.

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