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I want to look through the TV lineup, but I also want to deal with a few other things, as well.

After the hideous attacks of 9/11, people in show biz were asking the question: how will the attacks affect the TV and movie biz? Some predicted a total and complete change. They said movies and TV shows would never be the same; action films were dead and police dramas would have to be overhauled. I never believed this, and the disturbing fact that movies like ARMAGEDDON (which features scenes of destruction in NYC) shot up the rental charts bore it out. (I dont want to tell anyone how to mourn or care, but desiring the sight of a Hollywood-glossed version of what really happened is very, very scary.)

Shows eventually did go back to normal. The season picked up a few weeks late. And most of America got lost in familiar faces and fictional story lines. (It was a lot easier to see Sydney Bristow beat up terrorists and steal nukes than watch the real news of the horrendous loss.) Were now distanced over three months from the tragedy. So: how has it affected TV?


Nearly every show (save for the boring THIRD WATCH) that dealt with the events thought it was prudent, in these times, to tell Americans that they either need to be tolerant or that they are not tolerant.

Im speaking of THE WEST WING, NYPD BLUE and THE PRACTICE. What were the writers thinking? Did they assume that the way to deal with this empty void in our souls was to tell us were racists?

THE WEST WING, which rushed its show on the air, condescendingly told us to be broad-minded and not strike out at our Arab neighbors here in America. NYPD BLUE felt they needed to give the same message: some blockhead sets fire to an Arab-owned store and then, upon seeing the cops, the Arab-American owners say, Will you help us? I doubt it! You dont care! BLUE had one of its detectives say Hey, we lost a lot of men in that tragedy, but so what? Why are we being spoon-fed this message of tolerance? Why are WE being told not to be rash? Why are WE being shown what were capable of? Why in the world would TV writers turn this horror around and write it from the outside looking in? Why couldnt they write about someone losing someone in the tower collapse and how it shattered their life? Instead these writers are portraying Americans as racist, small-minded bigots who have such little sense of whats going on globally that theyd take their anger out on Arab shop-owners. You shouldnt hold the whole nation to something a bunch of morons did immediately after what was the biggest loss on American soil.

THE PRACTICE, in one of its worst episodes in years, decided it was time to warn America about the dangers of criminal tribunals and easing up the restraints for government agents when it comes to taking in terrorists. In a very Kafkaesque situation, a womans Arab husband is taken by the FBI, locked up, denied a lawyer or any contact with his family, and never told exactly what hes charged with.

How NINETEEN-EIGHTY-FOUR-like! How scary. How...stupid. Listen. The idea of a government with no rules, a government who says they dont have to answer to anyone or afford a person his rights, is a dangerous issue. But not one to highlight governmental bigotry of Arab-Americans. Everything that happened in NYC happened under everyones nose. Happened HERE, in this country. Thousands of people died. Is it really the time, right now, as were in war, to question how the Feds and CIA are doing their jobs?

Maybe thats naive. I dont know. But to stuff tolerance down our throats is a goddamned insult. I mean, I cant fathom how writers could have thought turning the blame-game around to us was an effective move.

Clearly anyone who trashed an Arab-owned store or assaulted an Arab-American is a small-brained idiot. But ask yourself: in these times: do you want to hear the travails of an Arab-American stuck in the ruthless throes of a land that blames him for its overseas problems? No. In these times, when Americans showed themselves to be resilient, strong, amazingly caring, I dont want to hear what jerks we are.

I cant stand THE WEST WING, so I wasnt surprised by Aaron Sorkins condescension, but I was fairly shocked by the NYPD BLUE writers. They usually deal with these issues better, giving everything a two-sided view.

And now on to much more trivial topics...

Some categories:


The award has to go to J.J. Abrams ALIAS. When ALIAS hit the airwaves, riding on its wave of hype, it was a silly indulgence. A demo reel for the astounding Jennifer Garner. Now, with the series rolling along like a semi without brakes, were rewarded for sticking around during the lethargic setup. ALIAS story is kicking in big time and the show doesnt feel so damned redundant. Its not JUST about Jen kicking ass now. Everything has a drive to it. Sloane is on Garners tail. Will is getting deeper and deeper into the Kate Jones mystery. Next week, according to the previews, Will actually learns of SD-6. Its all coming together in exciting ways.

This show works much better as a human drama wherein we follow one story line that means the peril of our characters. When it was a new case each week, the show dissolved into the Jennifer Garner Greatest Hits package. Garner can carry this show without a bead of sweat dripping from her forehead. But when its working its mojo, as it is now, the show is so much more than that.

I guess we can add that OTHER CIA show to the improved list. 24 was the most hyped show of the new season. And it garnered nary a look when it first premiered. But Fox is DESPERATE for people to catch on. And finally they might have a reason to do it.

24, while never as good as the hard-charging ALIAS, suffered from some of the same early problems: the opening episodes, filled with shootouts and intrigue though they were, never really gripped you or got your blood pumping. The pleasure of its one-day plot gimmick hadnt kicked in. And you were left with a confusing mishmash that was hiding its TNT-movie-ness. Now, though, we can glimpse where the story is going. And its clear the writers have something up their sleeve. The turnaround, I think, occurred when it was revealed that Palmers daughter had been raped and a reporter had info to suggest his son killed the rapist. Then Bauer ran into a guy who knew something about his daughter (who was kidnapped). Bauer going through mad machinations to get the sap out of jail raised the show up out of its drab sameness.

With the story getting out of computer-filled rooms and dulling gun-play, a real intrigue is building. Those bubbling questions that make for good mystery are popping on the surface.

You know what I think? With the current evidence, I think this has less to do with Palmer being the first black president and more to do with this murder his son might have committed. Maybe the killer is the boys father.

The show still has problems. Like its sometimes moronic and impossible-to-buy plot-points. Such as the well-financed and military-precise assassination crew hiring two stoners to do the kidnapping. Why trust them with anything? They couldnt get two people that knew what the hell they were doing to pick up the girls?


I have to say it: LAW & ORDER has careened off the charts during the last month or so. It started out excellent as usual, but the last few weeks have been terrible. Wheres the sharp intelligence? The issues that make you think? The glorious Sam Waterston freakout cross-examinations?

The writing made this show one of the best on the air, and its the writing, now, that has it in the doldrums. That episode a few weeks back about the Sean Puffy Combs case? Ineffectual and useless. That case is SO well known that watching the episode is like playing Wheres Waldo? We pick out the real figures and listen to how they rearrange the facts. Then the show desperately makes the Jennifer Lopez character the shooter, a cheap bit of sensationalism, simply to give the proceedings a shot of relevance. Obviously the writers arent suggesting that Lopez actually did do the shooting, right? Since they dont -- whats the point of making her character the killer? Answer: to give you something to ooooh and aaaah over. It was the worst piece of phony writing Ive ever seen on that great show.

LAW & ORDER had some of the smartest writing around. The writers would take cases from real life and use them to springboard issues. These cases were wide-ranging, varied, and more often than not could lead to subtle instances of wrongdoing and malfeasance.

Then you see a show like this past Wednesdays, where they throw every human and intelligent thought out the window and present to us the silliest, most ridiculous representation of modern racism in the form of an oaf who openly states his abhorrence for the black race. Talk about subtlety! This guy shouts about black people taking over on the stand! When his lawyer tries to get him a deal he says, No, forget that -- I killed the man because he was black -- thats that.

Could they write an easier target? This case is, no pun intended, so black and white it renders itself pointless. Since this mans ignorance and stupidity is so obvious, theres no reason to even listen to him: he is simply a Bad Guy -- no one could possibly see his side; he doesnt even HAVE ONE, for the love of God.

You could say the point was about racism being a mental disease, which is what his lawyer brings up in court.

Well, I would agree, if the writer, Jill Goldsmith, didnt write the racist like he WAS nuts. The guy spouts gibberish about black people being after him and you have to stop and wonder if something ISNT wrong with his brain. What point are they trying to make, then? Clearly not the idea that racism is a disease. Then why is this actor instructed to act like Charlie Manson without his meds?

For the first time in its long history, LAW & ORDER seems to be slipping into a dull routine.


PHILLY. I stopped watching this a while ago. I gave Alison Cross as much as I could, but this show never elevated itself to anything more than a knockoff of the early goings of THE PRACTICE.

DARK ANGEL. I was able to tolerate this show in the first season because Jessica Alba is one of those soulful-eyed beauties you can watch and not pay attention to whats happening around her. (Like Audry Hepburn and Carroll Baker and Julia Ormond.) But this season my fervor calmed down and I was stuck with the stinky writing going on this year. I find myself thinking of everything else BUT the show when Im watching it. Things have lightened up a bit lately, and watching an hour of Max and Logan is a lot better than, say, watching EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND and YES, DEAR, but its probably not a good sign that I cant recall one thing about the shows the second theyre over.


LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT. This is the Enron of TV shows. From the peak to the valley. Crash. Story lines are foolish and inane -- and worse: theyre repeated again and again. The writers lost track of who the characters were. The best actor on the show -- Belzer -- is frustratingly pushed aside to give the center stage to Ice-T. (No man with a misspelled drink for a name should be more important to a show that Richard Belzer.) But I guess I dont know what Im talking about. Because the ratings continue to grow: stride in stride with the downturn of the quality.


Heres the experience of ED this year: getting stroked, then punched in the face, then stroked, then punched in the face -- and on and on. One week Rob and Jon will put on one of their hilariously offbeat and idiosyncratic shows -- like when Diane gets her Hollywood-PR cousin to give Warren a makeover (and they host a party all the popular kids are turned away from) -- and then we have to roll our eyes back to the killjoy history/mystery of Dennis the Principal. In an awful, horrible, tear-the-set-down-boys-cause-were-going-home move...DENNIS AND CAROL HAVE SEX! Oh, good Lord -- ten million fans nearly choked themselves with a pillow. Its not just that were repulsed and mystified by this behavior -- but we know -- and Carol should have known -- that Dennis was going to go back to his secret screwed-up-ness and abandon Carol. Hes afraid of being happy or something. Who knows and who cares. Stuckeyville was a much happier place when Ed and Carol had sexual tension to cut through. And whats the deal with Carol, anyway? Ed wants to DATE and she says no (for reasons that have been forgotten by the writers). Dennis raises his eyebrows on the third date of their relationship and she hops into bed with him! Holy inconsistency, Batman!

Otherwise, though, that episode featured the first funny plot by a writer who doesnt have the name Rob or Jon.


ALLY MCBEAL. Much to the distaste of its detractors, MCBEAL is better than ever. If you go back and cut out the quality-killing subplot about Allys unending love to Larry from last year you pretty much get what you have now: Kelleys ping-panging, rapid-fire comedic dialogue flying across the screen like deranged pinballs. Kelley is a mad TV genius; this show somehow, after five years, still finds means to be wacky in small, gut-busting ways. Like last week, when a mayor used words like wastature and John Cage objected. (I object, Your Honor; wastature is not a real word.) ALLY gets away with being slapstick-y and cute while injected with unexpected heavy moments of real thought and emotion. No one does that as good as Kelley, and though people have talked about ALLY slipping a million people in the ratings, its better than its ever been.

NYPD BLUE. For once writers-producers saw their mistake and ignored it. In real life you cant ignore a mistake; on TV you HAVE to if you want to survive. Mark-Paul Gosselaar was a bust; he was about as comfortable in his role as a detective as a chicken is in a group of foxes. His mouth wouldnt work around the slang-studded dialogue. His New York City accent sounded like a kid making a prank phone call. He looks so young that the jokes about his age arent funny, as with Rich Schroder, but relevant. Thankfully for us, the writers have left John Clark behind and have instead focused on Charlotte Ross detective McDowell. The most dynamic duo on that show right now is Connie McDowell and Andy. And though its not BLUEs style, theyve let a real friendship develop between them. Maybe for the first time in history, someone on BLUE actually accepted a dinner invitation! Connie came to Andy for advice on her daughter (who she gave up as a kid and hasnt seen since) -- and Connie disregarded his warning, met with the kid, and effectively screwed the kids head on backwards. Her daughter found out who she was and wanted to know her. But the daughters adoptive parents forbade any contact.

In truth, this story line was more dramatic than it had to be. I dont understand why Connie didnt talk to her daughter, tell her it would have to be okayed by her parents, and if they still felt they shouldnt see each other -- theyd just have to wait till she was eighteen (three years from now) when no one could stop her.

I dont really care because it brought Connie and Andy closer and its their friendship (and possibly more) that is driving the series along this year.

A new detective joins the squad next week. That could improve or hinder the current progress. Hopefully shell just fit right in and we wont have to go through the motion of early-detective-quirks, where everyone feels each other out.

I long for the day that Connie and Andy partner up.

UNDECLARED, THE SIMPSONS, MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE. Three Fox shows, three excellent comedies. UNDECLARED and MALCOLM should be held up as the standard for single-camera comedies. Theres something so...UNPRETENTIOUS...about these shows. Im a sucker for anyone that can wow me and make it look effortless, and MALCOLM is the king of no-pain craftiness. UNDECLARED, to use an old, boring cliche, is keepin it real. As eccentric as the plots and maneuvers might get, it never caroms into against-rational mannerisms. Somehow its always right on the line. The roommate playing annoying songs over and over again on the stereo (and the obvious reaction: play your own loud music); realizing you miss the kid you pick on when hes gone, and that the second-most geeky is now the one who will feel the pain; the reality of real-life fights. This show fits so universally into everyones memories watching it is like checking in on a couple of buddies.

THE SIMPSONS is like a marvelous investment: it slowly, surely, inevitably adds a little more to its overall value as it grows and ages. John Swartzwelder, who writes Mr. Burns better than anyone, came through for what must be his sixtieth script with a smashing take about Burns falling in love (the kicker is the little twist in the end that his love use to date Snake). Last weeks episode by Ian Maxtone-Graham was the best so far this season. Harry Shearer deserves a lot of credit, too, because that scream of his had me rolling on the floor. The whole STAND BY ME story line felt weird in a fresh sort of way. And the way the SIMPSONS writers use self-referential humor to wink at the longtime fans of the show is how the series is able to reach out, and at the same time look within (or just continue to kick ass, in simpler language). My favorite moment was when Lisa asks Homer to think back and tell them something he remembers. I was jumping the Springfield Gorge, he begins. Everyones bored of that memory, she says.

THE SIMPSONS have been dogged by the Are They As Good As They Used To Be? question for years. Which is pretty ungrateful for a show that has lasted this long, with this type of quality, and without even a hiccup to ripple its surface.


THE BERNIE MAC SHOW. Who would have thought when they gave Bernie Mac a show it would be an ARTHOR! ARTHOR!-type sitcom? Bernie Mac rules this show, and its his doggone, eruptive nature that makes the program what it is. Hes one of those guys that causes things to be funny just by the way he says them. As when he says to his nephew: A telescope? Cmon now, boy. BERNIE MAC is an amusing show. But I dont get why they have to have Bernie talking to the camera. I know hes a comedian and he can command an audience, but he spends more time in that little room than with his family. (I have the same gripe about those little jokes written on the screen: cute, but used too often.) The other problem is the look of the show. BERNIE MAC appears to have the production value of a porno video. The picture quality looks like a camcorder. Its all jarringly cheap. BERNIE MAC could work into something great -- it all depends on where they take the stories. I tip my hat to whoever cast those two young kids: who knew Bernie beside adorable kids equaled instant success?

THE TICK. Larry Charles, who was a big part of SEINFELD, is the executive producer on this show. And the Charles-penned script for the Who is Tick? episode featured two bits of dialogue that I cant get out of my head:

ARTHUR: Tick, this is, like, bigamy!
THE TICK: Not like, chum. This is awfully big of you.

And --

This is us at the Eiffel tower.
I fell?
No, EIffel.
You fell?

Not to mention Patrick Warburtons way of saying The Tick with puffed-up importance.

TICK is strange in that its actually better than the comics its spoofing. It doesnt quite seem to know yet where its going, but I like the cut of its gibberish.


SCRUBS. By far one of the funniest half-hour comedies to pop up on our screens this year. Too bad its against both NYPD BLUE and 24. Theres so much high-quality TV on Tuesday night. Why doesnt someone figure it out and move some of these shows? SCRUBS should dock in on Thursdays; maybe that way people wouldnt flee NBC after FRIENDS like it was the Titanic.


X-FILES. When THE X-FILES first showed up, I was a total geek for Chris Carters creation. But eventually it degenerated into a poor, benumbed imitation of itself. For the last few years, with Carter never picking up the pen, the only writer who was able to write this ghosts-and-more stuff was David Amann (who used to write for CHICAGO HOPE). His episodes were always a great buildup to nothing, but he still could work the Mulder/Scully magic like no one else on the staff (including the overly praised, though talented, Vince Gilligan).

I was able to catch X-FILES when CRIMINAL INTENT was a repeat. And what I saw wasnt promising. Written and directed by Frank Spotnitz, the show looked like it was inspired by Tom Green. A man vomits like a broken water main. Soaking a disgusted Agent Dogget. Do they think the way back to ratings is to get grosser than gross?

Scully, looking bored out of her mind, wanders around a bit. The show really belongs to Agent Reyes (Annabeth Gish). To be totally honest, I like the actress and I like the character. She seems more than capable of running the show and the X-files, but the writing just isnt there anymore.

But considering that the above-mentioned episode had a story that made sense and an ending that wasnt an excuse...who knows, maybe itll all work out.


CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. Its really frustrating that a show this brilliant only has a ten-show season. Youre into the Larry David-world dance, your mind has merged with his, and then suddenly its yanked away. The season ended on a befittingly humiliating situation for Larry, but I still have to say...Where have you gone, funny man?

Ive never talked about reality TV shows here because this was supposed to focus on writing. But I think Ill break the mold.

Call me crazy, but for the most part I LOVE reality shows. SURVIVOR is still potent; LOVE CRUISE was a friggin scream; TEMPTATION ISLAND is one of the best comedies on the air; REAL WORLD manages to squeeze drama out of petty problems year after year. Heres what amazes me about reality shows: they are always able to find fitting and interesting personalities. Think about what these people have to do: live in front of a camera. Be natural and confident enough to exist while a camera the size of your leg stares them in the face. And at the same time they have to air their petty, everyday-world woes -- the stuff that makes us sympathize or detest.

SURVIVOR has been getting whomped in its first half-hour by FRIENDS this year. (Which really doesnt matter, since you can watch the second half of the show, see whos voted out, watch the previously on SURVIVOR thing the next week and know exactly whats going on.) But this SURVIVOR is a hell of a lot better than last year. Its too bad it had such a rotten beginning. Though the cast is practically the same as last year (with the wildcard Lex thrown in) the tribe dynamics are more engaging this year. Theres another stud-boy who rules the physical events (last year Colby, this year Ethan), but Ethan comes off as a truly nice guy; Colby seemed to be either a dope or a phony. (That he blew it all in the end makes me think hes in the former category.) I think things on this show got vey, vey interesting when Brandon screwed over his former tribe, and then Big Tom and Ethan took it upon themselves to cut Lex out and join the others in ousting Brandon. These reality TV shows are all very trivial and silly and inconsequential, but, as the croupier said, that doesnt mean you didnt have fun.

(Remember when Aaron Sorkin was bitching about reality shows taking jobs away from guys like him? Writers/actors/etc. like him? Isnt it ironic, now with that story of him and John Wells screwing over their writing staff -- a writing staff, insiders say, who can only pitch Sorkin story lines and not actually write scripts?)

I promised a while ago that Id look at some other shows; people have written me complaining Im too localized -- I dont give the other shows a chance. Ive now seen what a few other shows have to offer, and I think I shouldnt have bothered.

Ive seen a few FRIENDS over the years. And I watched the Brad Pitt and Marla Sokoloff episodes. Larry David has complained that FRIENDS is derivative of SEINFELD. Well, hes wrong. FRIENDS doesnt come CLOSE to being as edgy as SEINFELD was. FRIENDS is the ultimate innocuous comedy. Everything super-cute and super-sweet and while it might be somewhat amusing, its like being partially insane. I understand why people have watched it faithfully for so long -- the writers are capable scribes -- but that overused laugh-track threatens to engender a tumor on your brain. The shows I saw were good for the first ten minutes or so and just slid downhill into pointless and unfunny jokes. The writers sure didnt serve a having-fun Pitt. And was anyone else put off by that joke he made? Hey! He knocked her up? Alright! And he looks around for someone to slap five with. Wouldnt it have been funnier and less offensive if he started to say this, stopped, and said, Nah, I guess I cant even go there?

WILL & GRACE, which Ive seen now and again, is probably the most insulting gay-themed work that masquerades as positive since IN & OUT. Kevin Smith wasnt lying when he said the depiction of gays was much more unrealistic and hateful in WILL & GRACE than in his movie JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK.

I also saw an episode of the awful, comedy-free sitcom THAT 70s SHOW. My God -- are the writers brushing with Novocain or what? This show is deadened and heavy with cringe-worthy material. The cast is a lot of fun, Ill admit, but the jokes are shockingly off.

Watched CBS big Monday-night comedy lineup. You know what? They should all take lessons from Kevin James. Because Ray Ramano is about as funny as a trip to the proctologist. His mumbling monotone sure gets the nerves firing! I wont go on about YES, DEAR.

Anyway, folks, thats that. Another in our long, meaningless discussions on the world of TV. Keep those E-mails coming. Theres not a day that goes by that I dont like to hear what a moron I am. So write, write, write, young Americans!

See you sometime in the future.

Darwin Mayflower (

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