When Being Neat Gets Messy

I know the whole point of this blog is to celebrate TV. I will always prefer television to movies. To me its a matter of running-time. Art should be like church, you have an hour to prove your point. I understand if it’s something like the Pope having high Mass at the Budokan or the last episode of M*A*S*H – you can go over but, for the most part, you get an hour. Oh, I will watch several hours of Mad Men, Community, Top Chef, etc. in one sitting but that is not one continuous narrative.

That’s why it pains me to knock television. It really does. TV is my friend, mentor, drinkin’ buddy, teacher, and mental masseuse. I was very excited to hear of the new The Odd Couple reboot. When I was a youngster, Tony Randall was an ironic celebrity, past his prime to be used for anything other than being Tony Randall. He’d just show up on SNL as Tom Hanks’ celebrity friend on a game show and would be on Letterman sporadically, often needlessly but hilariously dressed up as Batman. I later discovered him on late night re-airings of The Odd Couple TV show with Quincy. They were just darling. You can have your Lemon and Matthau but my Felix and Oscar will always be Randall & Klugman. TV, yay!!! Movies, booo!!!!

It came to my attention that the next generation of the age-old tale of the slovenly and fastidious would be played by Thomas Lennon and Matthew Perry. Hells to the yeah. Perry, my favorite “Friend”. In my social life I often ask, “what would Chandler do?”. Joey was a high-functioning person with special needs; Ross was a pussy; Chandler was the example of what life should be for the single guy – sorry, what life should BE. (Chandler always emphasized “be”.  That was his “dyno-mite”. If you haven’t, watch some Friends. It’s probably on right now. Or go to a job interview at Cutco knife sales, they have it on in the office all the time as the secretary gets bored). Crack-wise, drink coffee, mug when you see Jennifer Aniston nude. Aside from Mr. Bing – Perry has a great moment in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip where he tries to direct a sketch with very complicated staging and then just breaks it down to having a scene be about spit-takes on whomever doesn’t have the flu. Is Perry just the benefactor of being around good writing? Maybe, but I think he is also charming in rom-coms, talk show appearances, and was a guest star on Beverly Hills 90210 as Brandon’s tennis-playing asshole friend. So, I like him hell or high water.

Thomas Lennon is one of my favourite character actors. Even when he’s the lead he’s still a character actor. Best known for Jim Dangle on Reno 911, Lennon pops up in places and kills it. The best podcast guest going today. A true gem when he used to voice a Latino version of Geoff the Robot Skeleton on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. So here we go, two of my favourites together in a time-tested premise. What could give me more of a TV boner, you ask? Lets throw in Bunk from The Wire, Shirley from Community…and, Raph you’ve a had a rough one, we will give you Dave Foley too at no extra charge. Thanks TV!

Then I watched it. A nice little remix of the familiar theme song and…..then the rest is dead on arrival. I really built this thing up in my head as a big deal. The jokes are all “cute”. They have fallen into the trap of using pop-culture references as punch-lines. I do that. I know I’m a hack, you guys are on TV! The acting is fine but they have nothing to work with. Felix is instantly deemed gay because he is neat. Seinfeld spoofed this in the early 90s. Being neat doesn’t mean your gay – being gay is a kind of neat. Buck the stereotype and make bit out of it: Felix meticulously files his classic porno collection or has an overly complex fantasy football draft board, that kind of stuff. Bunk and Dave look bored. Perry and Lennon give it their all but are severely handcuffed. Perhaps it was my fault for putting so much hope into the project. I haven’t been a regular viewer of a laugh-tracked sitcom in some time. I have never seen a full episode of uh, Bazinga Guy, The Chubby Couple, The One With Doogie, There’s One With The Dad From The Wonder Years and His Chinese Son Running A Bar That I Almost Completed.

I think the last one I was really into was The War at Home on Fox. It was a family with three kids. It was good, not great, but that’s all it had to be. The kids weren’t precocious per usual or ungrateful like in Roseanne. The parents were tired and bitter but not unreasonable. There was a wacky uncle who talked on the same level as the kids but in terms of gambling and drinking. It had a three-year run and I remember it fondly as it was the Fox go-to sitcom during baseball rain delays and I watched 3 hours of it in one day. But still haven’t finished. Laugh-track sitcom are seemingly like Folklorama shows now. An audience will always be there. It’s very formulaic and one can appreciate the effort, but not necessarily be entertained or touched by the overall product.

Raphael Saray is a non-profit poet and free speech activist based in Flin Flon, Manitoba. He will be appearing in a production of Les Miserables this May

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