Friday, September 18, 2009

ABC's new Golden Night of Comedy exists entirely in Stupid Sitcom World. Rich old men are married to hot young women. A family enters their new home one at a time so they can individually, spontaneously spout their mini-stand-up routines. Kids who are embarrassed by their underachieving fathers greet them -- while surrounded by their peers -- with the word "Dad!" instead of a rather more sensible, "Oh, uh . . . hi!" People flailing around with bad Spanish happen to stumble upon the word for "breasts."

If mature adults didn't act like idiots, there wouldn't be any plots at all.

The morality police enforce a Hayes-code ridiculousness: characters can say "Grow a pair!" but not "balls." They can't put the words "ass" and "hole" in the same sentence, but can feign blowjobs behind a chaise lounge. The entire night seems aimed at reassuring lousy parents that everybody's daughters wear miniskirts and sext, and everybody's dinner comes in a McDonalds (if not potato chip) bag.

In Hank, Kelsey Grammer plays a successful New York fish who moves to Bumfuck, Iowa water. Watch his white-collar prissiness shrivel next to his blue-collar brother-in-law. The show is impossible to sit through, because starting from Minute One you picture Hank writing a note to Dan Savage that starts, "I'm an asexual slug with a smart, hot wife, and I can't shake this fantasy of watching her get fucked by a gang of really macho guys."

Grammer's last show died in seconds; this one won't take as long. I give it four Carson Dalys on the StupidMeter.

The Middle also takes place in one of those states that airplanes fly over, and I can confidently declare that TV sitcoms should zip past them as well. There are a couple of funny bits bobbing in a stew of stupidity. Yeah, when car salespeople get phone calls at work, their messages are broadcast across the lot. Parents use words like "keister" (keyster?) and rush to their kids' schools dressed as superheroes for Show & Tell. Meanwhile, Balding Tangerine-Sweater-Tied-Around-Neck Guy might as well bold-face it on his résumé: I play the glee-club director on America's sitcoms. The premiere desperately flails at a Seinfeld-style wrap-up, but it's like Dick Cheney attempting a triple lutz.

I give it three NASCAR fans on the StupidMeter.

Cougar Town is a cliché come to life, and Courtney Cox even spouts that tired monologue about how all middle-aged men are either married, gay, or chasing twenty-year-old girls. We all know it isn't true: we've seen commercials for beard dye. Courtney spends the first half of the show denigrating the lifestyle, and the second half enthusiastically adopting it. It doesn't make sense: it'd be like Alec Baldwin walloping himself in the forehead with a giant mallet and then proudly declaring, "Now I am a retard!"

It rates three Obama Birthers on the Stupidmeter.

It would be a crime if Modern Family was doomed by its repulsive neighbors. It's a terrific show with a couple laugh-out-loud scenes. Sure, you're going to feel like your grandma, wondering exactly what two effeminate guys can do together in the sack, but the Hispanic Spitfire and Embarrassingly White Dad are also clichés so we'll cut the writers some slack. If you like sitcoms, you'll want to catch this. It gets -4 episodes of Hank on the Stupidmeter.

Last but not least, don't miss the debut of Flash Forward, a fast, dark, conspiratorial ride. The whole world blacks out for two minutes, and there are special effects shots that'll stick with you. Immediately the questions pile up: What happened? Who's behind it? Did they really just swap Lost's polar bear with a kangaroo? Has John Cho never been able to act? And what's Seth MacFarlane doing in there?

Even though this is a classy little escapist work, I'm not sure I'll commit to it. I'm still feeling burned by Lost: "There's a rational explanation, I promise you!" (Six years later.) "See, there's this island that travels in time. . . . "

Besides, I used to live in Los Angeles. Toss in a guy selling oranges by the side of the road and this is pretty much the usual commute to work.

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