New Shows, 3: Community, The Beautiful Life, Flash Forward
Continuing with the reviews, after the fold …
Community has gotten relatively good buzz, as a bunch of critics have hailed its witty, smart, quick humor. Hmmmm. Really? I found it largely unfunny, offering the occasional smirk but no deep laughs. The humor was largely recycled or predictable. For example, since the situation of the sitcom here is a study group at a community college, with a rag tag group of people who seem like they’d rather be elsewhere, you can set your stop-watch until the first Breakfast Club reference and you might even beat Usain Bolt’s 100m record.
I should note, however, that I am perhaps an unrepresentative viewer in that I am remained impervious to the massive aura that surrounds Joel McHale, and I’ve always found Chevy Chase to be acceptable at best, but often much less than that. So I did not see Community’s arrival on the horizon as a sign of the second coming, as have some. The question is, then, what these folk will think after a few episodes. Take How I Met Your Mother: the fact that it brought together Willow, NPH, and Nick Antropolis had me excited about the premier, but it took me a few episodes till I could actually judge it free of that excitement (and, for the record, I think it’s very good).
Unrepresentative or not, I won’t be circling the timeslot on my calendar. It’s not bad per se, but I don’t think it’s smart, witty, or quick. It seemed more like Dear John than Breakfast Club, both in being not all that funny, and in being based on a downer of a situation that produces unhappy, anxious characters. I can deal with such characters if a show dedicates itself to being cringe comedy, but Community doesn’t, and thus felt kind of depressing.
The Beautiful Life
Whereas Melrose Place was just horrific, and Vampire Diaries had a small bit of promise (albeit small), The Beautiful Life (or, as we’re already being encouraged to call it, “TBL”) strikes me as pretty run of the mill CW meh programming. A show about young models in New York, it’s got guilty pleasure possibility wrapped all over it, and most importantly of all for teen TV (or so the rules seem to say), it centers around young people who we’re meant to believe have problems being accepted yet who don’t look like any of the social outcasts I’ve ever met. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see it last.
For myself, though, I found it boring. The opening runway scene has an endless, repetitive loop of a background song playing that makes the average Barney song seem interesting and multi-layered. And somehow that song came to represent the show for me – just doing the same thing as the last few seconds, and designed more to help you sing along, secure with what’s about to happen, than watch and listen with intrigue.
Stylistically, it’s a little odd, too, as it’s trying to be both CW glossy, with lavish camerawork and sets and beautiful people, and somewhat edgy, as it occasionally throws in fast-paced, and fast-edited handheld shots of New York City. The NYPD Blue look might work for procedurals or documentaries, but I found a hard time accepting its implicit bid for grit and authenticity when the rest of the show seemed so outlandish, as if Gossip Girl attempted the same trick.
And yet I’m not blind to the fact that the show isn’t intended for me or other guys my age. Indeed, its casting ages it quite precisely, with Sarah Paxton (formerly of the Discovery Kids show Darcy’s Wildlife) and Corbin Bleu (of Discovery Kids’ Flight 29 Down, and more famously of High School Musical) doing “big kid” roles, and with The OC’s Mischa Barton (laughably posited as overweight at the start of the premier!!) as the older, worldly-wise veteran model. (And yet, I found myself amused by the inclusion of Dexter Season 2’s Lila, Jaime Murray, and kept deviously wondering if she was going to burn the whole thing down, true to Lila form). So I’ll save my breath. It’s not bad, but like Community, it ain’t my cup of tea.
I’m cheating somewhat here, since I’m basing this review on only the 18 minute sneak preview available on Hulu. I promise to return to comment on the full premier later.
But this was the one new show I’ve been anticipating most eagerly this Fall season. The concept is intriguing – the entire world blacks out for a few minutes, waking up to the complete chaos caused by a world that was asleep at the wheel (in many cases literally) for a few minutes.
It didn’t disappoint. I am somewhat worried about what comes next, and I realize its potential to be like The Nine, a spectacular, gripping premier and a rather ho-hum follow-through. But it’s very J. J. Abrams-esque in offering a great Act One. There’s also something refreshingly original about its concept. In Spring, we’ll see another post-apocalyptic show, Day One, and Jericho went there too. Meanwhile, we’re also going to get 2012, an apocalyptic movie. But I like how the “apocalypse” here, when it comes, isn’t a tidal wave, comet, terrorist strike, or nuclear winter – it’s something as seemingly simple as everyone blacking out.
But of course, they don’t just black out. They all have visions, in theory of the future. It’s all quite Lost-like: visions and close-ups of people’s retinas, moving forward and backward in time, a premier that begins with a crash and a hero scouring through the wreckage, and plenty of occasions to ask what the heck is going on. Echoing Charlie’s “Guys, where are we?” as the clincher line of the Lost pilot is Joseph Fiennes’ kid – called, wait for it … Charlie – reporting a bad dream in which “there were no more good days” (poor thing dreamed she was forced to watch a Samantha Who? marathon). Maybe a little too Lost-y for some, but I like Lost, so I’m happy to see the homage as long as they make the show their own.
The cast is quite impressive too – Shakespeare in Love himself, Joseph Fiennes; Lost’s Penny, Sonya Walger; Harold and Kumar’s John Cho; Law and Order: Criminal Intent’s Courtney Vance; Mad Men’s Peyton List (Sterling’s new wife); Coupling’s (the real one, not the American one) Jack Davenport; and others.
So sign me up – it was filmed well, it seems mystery-laden in a good way, and its characters interested me enough to come back for more.Tags: Community, Flash Forward, pilots, The Beautiful Life