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tv wrongs and rights
a spring roundup of dolls, teens, and love gods
by michelle von euw
pop culture

After watching yet another lackluster episode of “Dollhouse,” a show I've stuck with only because of banked goodwill by Joss Whedon, Eliza Dushku, and anyone even tangentially involved with “Battlestar Galactica” (in this case, Tahmoh Penikett), I suddenly realized why it is destined to fail. We don’t like our dramatic main characters stupid.

Sidekicks can be silly. Comedic leads can be goofy, or oblivious, or clueless. Love interests can be vapid, and there’s always the airhead blonde stereotype hanging around, from Chrissy on “Three’s Company” all the way to Penny from “Big Bang Theory.”

But main characters on dramas? They can be single-minded to a tragic degree. They can be twisted, or tortured, or damaged or cruel or murderous or Machiavellian, or all of the above at the same time. But by definition, practically, they cannot be dumb.

And when Echo the Doll emerges from the other side of another kick-ass mission in some preposterous disguise and asks in Dushku’s best little girl vacant voice, “Did I fall asleep?” she sounds, dare I say it, dumb.

And really, we can forgive Echo all we want, because her mind is being erased on a daily basis, and she’s still played by Dushku, which means that in all personas, she’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, but in the end, “Dollhouse” is about an airhead. Literally. And not a funny one.

Which means that we, the viewers, are asked to become invested in someone who cannot think for herself, a nearly impossible task.


Several months ago, I told you the best show you weren’t watching was “Friday Night Lights.” Well, apparently enough of you did tune in for the third season when it finally made its way to NBC, after completing its run on DirecTV, where approximately 87 of us watched it in the fall, because the satellite provider and the network have struck another of their ridiculous pacts to bring the show back for not just one, but two more seasons. Which means that I will continue to fall in and out of love with the Taylors and the other residents of the Devil Town otherwise known as Dillon, Texas long before the rest of the country.

Fortunately, I don’t have to understand the logistics of this deal (and I don’t. Still.) to love it. The show is brilliant enough, subtle and gorgeous and full of pathos in all the right places enough, for me to trust that the showrunners will be able to carry on after Saracen and Riggins follow Smash and Jason out of high school and off the Panthers.


Speaking of misplaced trust in showrunners, my illusions were burst again by the utter crap thrown onto ABC last week in the form of "Cupid." I once would have trusted Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero with anything, Thomas because it was his brainpower that gave us the innovative, intelligent, and entirely addicting "Veronica Mars," Ruggiero because she not only served as second-in-command on that show, authoring the most powerful episode of the series, but because of her brief work on "Ex List." As showrunner of that ill-fated mess, she took an out-there concept and turned it into a brilliant, hilarious must-see. A few episodes into the series, Ruggiero left, and the show instantly devolved into the type of drivel it was before she arrived.

That being said, I refuse to believe that the warmed-over, predictable, poorly-plotted 42 minutes that landed on my TiVo last week had anything to do with either Thomas or Ruggiero. Because of the pedigree, and my enjoyment of the similarly-themed "Valentine, Inc." which lasted approximately five minutes on the CW last fall, not to mention the stellar casting of Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulson, "Cupid," a rehash of a show I didn't watch a decade ago was a must-see this spring.

But the first episode was so off-putting, the characters so ponderous, the resolution so predictable, I can't imagine tuning in for a single episode more -- never mind the 99 the series premiere threatens lie ahead.


If the best show you couldn't watch last fall was "Friday Night Lights," the best show you’re not watching now is probably "Skins." And even if you are, on either the BBC America, or on DVD, you aren’t seeing the revolutionary British television show the way it was intended. Because in every reiteration of the series beyond the original E4 showing in the United Kingdom, music rights were not obtained, and stunningly relevant song choices were replaced with standard, generic fare. I didn't realize how important this was to my enjoyment of a show until I watched a scene in which the song "Funkytown" played a key role in the action; viewing the same scene with a cookie-cutter disco song inserted in its place deflated the tone in a way that ruined the entire mood.

You may have heard that "Skins" is about British teens who have a lot of sex, do a lot of drugs and employ a vocabulary that would make Al Swearengen blush. This is all true. But there is a grittiness to the series, a depth to the characters that make it all seem so real. And part of that reality of the show comes from the way the music grounds it in a particular time and place. Songs and song lyrics are also used whimsically: an accident victim remembering the words to "I'm Horny;" the use of the lyrics to "Wild World" sung by the cast to tie together several separate plot strands at the end of season one, and a totally hilarious use of "Oops I Did it Again" that pretty much justifies Britney Spears' existence, as far as I'm concerned. And all those have been cut from the DVDs released to British and American audiences alike.

I will never be one to advocate the less-than-legal means of obtaining access to television shows; I will say, however, that the industry needs to come up with a way to include all future distribution when obtaining music rights, in order to preserve the artists' vision. So we can all watch Dev Patel spit out X-rated Akon lyrics.


Is it wrong that I didn't realize "ER" broadcast its last episode ever until the good-bye themed messages flooded my friends' updates on Facebook?


There is frequently an inverse reaction between level of expectations I have for a show and whether that show actually delivers on its pre-airing promise. But I love TV too much, and even the promise of TV, to become too cynical to forgo the anticipation a show often delivers. So even though I've already struck out this season with "Dollhouse" and "Cupid," I'm still looking forward to the twisty wedding/murder mystery of "Harper's Island" -- it's as if "Survivor," instead of voting contestants off, gift-wrapped them for Hannibal Lecter.

Will we be disappointed? Maybe. But there's always a chance we won't -- particularly if the main characters aren't dumb.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

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russ carr
4.8.09 @ 12:30p

Oh, come on... "Harper's Island" is "reality" TV. How can its cast NOT be dumb?

jael mchenry
4.8.09 @ 3:11p

My impression was that Harper's Island is a cast/scripted show, and the "reality" spin is just that one character bites the dust each episode... doesn't mean they're not dumb, of course, but they're actors. I think.

I am liking Dollhouse a little better but the "just hang on! it gets better 7 episodes in!" is such a horrendous approach. I didn't give Castle more than one ep, and I fell asleep midway through, despite the Fillion.

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