Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Roundup of New Shows (Part 3)

Working Class: CMT's new sitcom is a Melissa Peterman vehicle. I don't have a problem with either part of that sentence. If CMT wants to make sitcoms, that's fine, and if they want to build one around the former second banana from "Reba," hey, that's all right, too. I think the world needs more quality sitcoms, and if the networks are gonna spend so much time on reality shows and other time fillers, let cable fill the void.

But we need quality sitcoms. This one is bland and not all that funny. So I appreciate the (I guess) effort, but I can't really endorse "Working Class." If CMT wants to try again, I'll give their effort a chance, and I do thank them for at least managing to build a show around someone NOT in the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. But, hey, I thought Ed Asner was in this series, and he was nowhere to be seen in the episode I checked out. What a ripoff!

Retired at 35: TV Land has proven itself practically incapable of producing solid scripted programming (I include its myriad cheapo "reality" shows in this statement), with "Hot in Cleveland" one possible exception. This series is another indication that cable networks aren't gonna be the saviors for us sitcom fans. It is filled with sex humor in an apparent effort to alienate all the people who actually DO turn into TV Land during the day for "Bonanza."

So, yeah, the show itself is pretty much worthless, and one wonders what audience TV Land is really going for. It hedges its bets by bringing in some old pros like George Segal, Jessica Walter, but it features as its lead--the guy who is "retired at 35" and living with his dad in his retirement community--Johnathan McClain, the former, not-so-long-ago host of a monstrosity on Nickolodeon called "Sponk," a show so heinous that when I had reason to encounter it in a professional capacity, I was forced to write its name using asterisks so as not to somehow jinx me and my colleagues into bringing it back into our lives.

OK, "Retired at 35" had one big strike against it before I even saw an episode. But that episode was enough to retire the side in order.

Onion Sports Dome/Onion News Network: Hey, two shows I actually like! These were pleasant surprises for me after the disappointment that was "The Onion Movie," a failed effort that made me question whether the humor newspaper's style could translate to a filmed format.

Fortunately, it can! "Sports Dome" is a fun, fast-paced, irreverent parody of cabinetmaking. No, it's a sports parody, of course. I find it amusing enough, but the use of more generic humor and recurring characters as opposed to heavy emphasis on specific parody of actual athletes inhibits the show somewhat. At least, I found the first couple installments funny but not captivating enough to add the series to my DVR. I may catch up with it at some point. If comedy Central were to pair it with something else I watched regularly, I might see "Sports Dome" on a regular basis.

The "Onion News Network," on the other hand, quickly became a weekly must-see. I am worried about IFC ruining itself by adding series like this instead of, well, movies, but I have to admit this is a great one. The show is just as fast and frenetic as "Sports Dome," but seems sharper and more effective, even though it relies heavily on fictitious people and events.

The brilliance is in the mockery of cable news, and even though one might think that target would have been stripmined for all the comedy it could bear years ago, "ONN" scores every week, and a big part of that is anchor "Brooke Alvarez. " The slender, attractive, and blonde Suzanne Sena pulls off the look of a typical cable news anchor while delivering rapid dialogue with superb timing and skill, all while getting over her character as vain, self-absorbed, and condescending to the viewers, newsmakers, and even (or maybe especially) her colleagues. I wasn't surprised to learn Sena had a background in cable news, but it's impressive that someone from that realm could pull off this character--and she stays in character the entire "newscast"--so well. Alvarez's cynical asides after the stories she introduces or the interviews she conducts are some of the clear highlights of the show.

Spearheaded by her outstanding performance, "ONN" blends sharp social and political satire with spot-on parody of media--much like the print "Onion." The series does the original proud, and that's quite a statement, I think. Even if you're wary of IFC's increasing foray into original series programming, give this one a shot.

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