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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Midseason replacements

March 17, 2004

For me, March Madness has nothing to do with basketball. It does, however, accurately describe the unmitigated anger I feel every spring toward TV executives.

This is the time of year when networks yank my favorite shows for several weeks and debut what they term “midseason replacements.” That’s usually code for programs they don’t think are good enough to make it during the regular season. Most of the time, they’re right. But every once in a while, you may find an oasis in the desert.

Last week, I tried out two midseason replacements. Here’s my assessment:

  • The Help - How could I resist a show that features Tori Spelling, Antonio Sabato Jr., David Faustino, and Mindy Cohn, child star of The Facts of Life. I mean, “you take the good, you take the bad, you take ‘em both and there you have...” (Sorry. I’m a sucker for a good 80s-show theme song.) Anyway, The Help is about the hired help for a wealthy, obnoxious family. It tells the story of a maid, a nanny, a cook, a chauffeur, a personal trainer, and a dog walker, putting up with deplorable, spoiled rich kids and their parents.The idea is appealing and on the surface, funny. Unfortunately, the final product isn’t. The jokes are flat, forced and often crude, not to mention the annoying background laugh track. Believe me, that recording is the only laughter you’ll be hearing. Sabato Jr.’s character is a Joey Tribbiani-type, without the smart dialogue. Faustino plays a drunken, unshaven, grunting, male chauvinist. The characters are stereotypical and over the top, just like the plot. There’s not enough help in the world to save The Help. For those brave enough to see just how bad TV can be, catch it Fridays at 9:30 p.m. on The WB. But remember, I warned you.

  • Wonderfalls - Think Ally McBeal meets Northern Exposure, and you’ll have an idea of just how wonderfully peculiar this show is. The story evolves around a young woman named Jaye Tyler. She’s an overeducated, cantankerous, condescending underachiever, who despite her philosophy degree from Brown, can’t even score the manager’s job at the Niagara Falls souvenir shop where she works. She lacks ambition and is an emotional mess. Yet, strangely enough, I like her. After choking on her lunch sandwich and tossing a coin into a fountain, suddenly, inanimate objects – a toy lion, a stuffed teddy bear, a monkey statue – start talking to her. They point her on do-gooder missions to help those around her. While she grapples with the possibility of insanity and seeks therapy, she hesitantly follows the instructions of the talking objects. We’ve seen the premise before. Both Joan of Arcadia and Early Edition have similar plots, minus the talking trinkets. But Jaye is testier, and funnier, than Joan and Gary Hobson.I wouldn’t say Wonderfalls is appointment TV, but if you’re home on a Friday night, check it out. Catch it Fridays on FOX at 9 p.m. To see the debut show, catch an encore viewing Thursday at 9 p.m.

Originally published 3/17/04 in The Exponent Telegram newspaper.


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