Thoughts on the New TV Season, Part 2
A few more responses to the week's premieres:
- Dirty Sexy Money: This year's winner of the Desperate Housewives award for worst series name revolves around an attorney, Nick George, who is persuaded to take over his recently deceased father's role as retainer, fixer, consigliere and confidant to a super-duper-wealthy Manhattan family--father, mother, and five supremely spoiled and screwed-up kids. It's an intriguing premise, and yet its execution is so dull. While the older generation of the Darling family are at least a compelling rendition of the cliché of how wealthy people behave--a mixture of graciousness towards their social inferiors and ruthlessness when their desires are thwarted--the kids are stock characters--the senatorial nominee who is having a tawdry affair; the older daughter who bounces from one fortune-hunting husband to the next; the drug-addled screw-up and the spoiled princess. The only breath of fresh air comes from the semi-deranged priest, who despises the protagonist and may have had something to do with his father's death. (It certainly helps that the actor portraying this character, Glenn Fitzgerald, is someone for whom I've had a soft spot since I saw him in the reality TV parody Series 7: The Contenders. In a neat in-joke, the actress who plays the mother of his character's illegitimate child in Dirty Sexy Money is Brooke Smith, the female lead in Series 7.)
Even worse than the flatness of the Darling characters is the protagonist's almost total absence. At the end of the pilot, there's no real sense of who, other than a touchstone of normality against which the Darlings' dysfunction can be gauged, Nick is. We learn, for example, that the older Darling daughter has been in love with him since they were children (and that they were involved in their youth), but we have no idea whether those feelings are reciprocated or whether Nick truly loves his wife. The result is a show with no core--neither the protagonist's normality nor his charges' eccentricity are sufficiently lifelike to be engaging, which leaves us with nothing to watch for.
- Life: Probably the best-made show I've seen so far, but one that has failed to engage me. This is a procedural whose hook is that the detective spent 12 years in prison for a triple murder he didn't commit. Exonerated by DNA evidence, and having undergone what was either a nervous breakdown or a spiritual epiphany during his incarceration, he is now back on the force--the Zen detective. Life is vaguely reminiscent of House in that its main character bucks against the stereotypical depiction of his profession--if House is a doctor without compassion, Life's Charlie Crews is a detective without the hardened exterior and jaded outlook we're used to seeing from TV cops. He walks around in a seeming daze, noticing details that other cops miss even as he's overwhelmed by the simple details of life that's he's forgotten, like fresh fruit. As I said, this is a very well-made show, and there are indications of an overarching plot arc--Crews is investigating the murder he was falsely convicted of, trying to determine whether he was the victim of bad luck or a frame-up--but in the end there isn't enough here to overcome my general lack of enthusiasm for procedurals. Life House, Life is the kind of show that I'd watch if I turned on the TV and it happened to be on, but I don't think I'm going to go out of my way for it.
- Moonlight: The advance buzz and reviews were atrocious, but nothing could have prepared me for just how bad this vampire detective series would turn out to be. We're talking Torchwood bad. Not, thankfully, in the sense that the show confuses prurience with maturity (in fact, for a show about vampires, whose pilot revolves around a blood-and-sex cult, this is a remarkably sanitized series), but in the sense that almost every technical aspect--dialogue, acting, plotting, special effects--is downright amateurish. There have been a lot of jokes in genre circles to the effect that Moonlight's premise--a brooding, tortured vampire detective who loves a mortal from afar--is hardly innovative, but having watched the pilot I can almost believe that Moonlight's writers aren't even aware of Angel or Buffy's existence. They're not just painfully earnest about a mythology that long ago descended into cliché, but honestly seem to believe that no one has spun a modern take on that mythology in recent years--how else to explain the show's complete and utter failure to assert its own personality, to offer any kind of original take or innovative twist on such a hoary premise?
The characters, protagonist included, are entirely forgettable. The biggest draw is Veronica Mars's Jason Dohring as the detective's amoral vampire friend, whose paranoia about being revealed to humanity extends to a willingness to kill anyone who gets too close to the truth, though he'd prefer a more subtle approach. The show comes closest to coming alive when Dohring is on screen, and he gets the best lines (after drinking from the detective's store of refrigerated blood, which he procures from the morgue: "What is this--low-fat, soy, vegan blood?"). On the other hand, Dohring is pretty much playing Logan without the emotional layers or the clever writing (even his physical tics are the same, which is either an indication that the director and writer are aiming for a Logan-ish character, or that Logan's flouncy hand-gestures were not so much an acting choice as an acting default on Dohring's part), and he's not on screen long enough to counteract the protagonist's blankness. Just about the only good thing I can say about Moonlight is that it's probably not going to last very long.