Sunday, November 02, 2003

Tubular: Fox Follies

If you watched even half an inning of Fox's coverage of the baseball playoffs, you learned all you needed to know to wade into the second season of The O.C., a kind of 90210 updated for the '00s. Bad boy Ryan casts smoldering, Russell Crowe-like glances as smoking-hot Marisa, who's too busy dealing with her psycho mom to do anything about. Concerned foster parents Sandy and Kirsten act all righteous but still manage a little action of their own. The entire cast has undergone genetic enhancement to produce a race of perfect-looking people the likes of which never hung around my high school, nor yours, I'd wager. Even the show's token dork, Seth, is a good-looking kid.

Emily Nussbaum, writing in today's New York Times, argues that The O.C.'s parent characters are more interesting than the teens whose trials and tribulations are chronicled with such delightful cheesiness. According to Nussbaum, this marks a departure from the usual teen soap, such as Fox's own Beverly Hills, 90210, that presents cardboard-cutout adults who are either bumbling do-gooders or dysfunctional freaks. She writes:

". . . If into each teen show a little parental melodrama must fall, the parents in question have generally been presented from what might be a teen's-eye view: as worrywarts, embarrassments, flashy disappointments -- at best wholesome dorks, at worst walking explanations for their offspring's angst. The more gloriously trashy the teen show, the more likely the parents are to be as thin as paper. In a kind of narrative jujitsu, a cartoonish set of parents can cunningly make the most cartoonish main characters look comparatively sane and well-mannered."

Citing My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, and Once and Again, Nussbaum offers the flip side: that well executed programs ostensibly about teenage life present adult characters with far more depth -- as, like, real people, and stuff. Then again, I'll be surprised if my life is half as interesting as the dads on those shows when my daughter reaches her teen years.

Elsewhere in the land of Fox, each week brings new stories about how the network's executives are shaking their heads at the in-the-tank ratings of its heavily promoted Skin and Joe Millionaire. To me, the shows' lax viewerships confirm that while TV watchers may have low standards, while they may not recognize quality stuff when they see it, they certainly recognize crap for what it is, and can't be fooled into thinking it's something else.

Joe Millionaire's new faux rich guy, the Woody Boyd-ish David, is simply too stupid to pull off the scam. It seems only a matter of time before one of the European marks asks him flat-out if he really has that much scratch and, caught in the lie, he can do nothing except holler, "Look at that!" and then run away while his date's attention is distracted. As for Skin, what did Fox expect? They're running a show about a porn king on a broadcast network -- a place where they can't really show, you know, porn. They play up the sleaze angle -- all together now, imitate the Fox promo announcer: "Then, on Jerry Bruckheimer's Skiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn. . . ." -- when they know they can't deliver on it. And viewers know it, too.

It's enough to make you long for Melrose Place. . . .


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