Many of television’s worst infestations – newscasters with hairpieces; reality shows with “Extreme” in the title; commercials featuring talking lizards, cats or infants – began quietly. Early attention or government action might have stopped them, but then ubiquity set in, and suddenly they were a fact of life.
So let’s look at some nascent TV trends that may or may not be trends. Perhaps they’re mere coincidences, but it’s never too early to stamp out a possibly phantom problem.
On “The Neighbors,” a new ABC sitcom about a neighborhood inhabited by space aliens, the lead extraterrestrial couple, played by Toks Olagundoye (who is of Nigerian and Norwegian descent) and Simon Templeman (a very white British guy), are not exactly normal. They cry through their ears; he bears the children; and now and again they transform into their true bodies, which look like something from the “Star Wars” bar scene.
Over at “666 Park Avenue,” another new ABC series, Gavin and Olivia Doran, owners of a possessed New York apartment building named the Drake, are played by Terry O’Quinn and Vanessa Williams.
And let’s not even mention how often the government has almost been brought down on yet another ABC show, “Scandal,” by hanky-panky between the white president (Tony Goldwyn) and his black damage-control consultant (Kerry Washington). Subliminal message received, ABC.
On the season premiere of “New Girl” on Fox, the torch was passed, as it were, from organ to fluid in an exchange between Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Schmidt (Max Greenfield), a character who has just had a cast removed from his penis and has arranged a party to celebrate:
Schmidt: “Tonight is about one man’s functioning penis.”
Jess: “I wouldn’t say functioning. I saw what you did to the toilet seat.”
References to urinating in the shower seem to be staples of shows like “The League” on FX. Urine testing got a shout-out on the “Animal Practice” premiere on NBC . Even CBS’ venerable “Big Bang Theory” succumbs. (Sheldon, after regretfully putting out a flaming marshmallow in a glass of liquid: “Aw, it took me a gallon of urine to make that water.”)
Yes, urine happens, but is it really hilarious enough to be in seemingly every episode of every television comedy? Shouldn’t all those 13-year-olds apparently working as Hollywood writers be in school or something?
NBC also has the awful “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers,” a geriatric “Candid Camera.” Grandma already has a bad-enough reputation, what with her dubious driving and her tendency to mix up her own children’s names. Stop, please.
If we can’t eliminate these intelligence-insulting crawls, at least we should make them more useful. Instead of “You are watching ‘White Collar’ on USA,” it ought to be, “You are watching ‘White Collar’ on USA, but you should be outside jogging because, frankly, you’re flirting with diabetes.” Or perhaps, “You are watching ‘White Collar’ on USA, but it’s not one of the better episodes; there’s a documentary over on PBS that would be a better use of your time.”