Ben Reilly Happens While You're Busy Making Other Plans

Friday, October 8, 2010

$#*! My Dad Says: "Sooner than Later"

Last night's $#*! My Dad Says featured a recurring punchline that's relevant to every new show's attempt to find itself: Ed likes things sooner than later. Viewers do, too, and that's why a show only has so long to prove itself. If last night's episode is any indication, audiences won't have to wait any longer.

Last week I talked about some of the problems the show needed to overcome. It's been enjoyable, but uneven at best, a show that felt more like the sum of its parts than something whole. The takeaway moments tended to call attention to themselves rather than building to a satisfying resolution. It's all symptomatic of the show's seeming reliance on Shatner to carry it. The scripts were generic, if decent, and the chemistry between Shatner and Sadowski was practically nonexistent. I'm thrilled to say "The Truth About Dads and Moms" addresses all my concerns.

First off, Sadowski's improvement is remarkable. The chemistry is suddenly there. I don't know whether to attribute that to the smarter script, a shift in tone, or the learning curve.Most likely it's combination effect, but regardless, he's gone from showing up to having screen presence.

Looking at the script, it's no wonder that Sadowski should feel energized. This time around his issues with his father dip deeper than money or technology. Henry feels like he's carrying his mother's burdens because his father wouldn't. Ed's refusal to admit this carries over into Henry's feelings about another apology Ed owes. Apparently Tim, the DMV worker from the pilot, was fired for fudging Ed's test results. It ultimately leads to a revelation that challenges Henry's assumptions about his childhood. Sadowski hits all the right notes, so maybe all he needed was something more to do than waiting around for Shatner's punchlines.

In talking about the show's tonal shift, it's worth comparing this week to last. Like last week's "Wi-Fight," this episode finds another third party caught between Ed and Henry. Last week Ed threatened a hapless, stoner technician at gunpoint while Henry egged him on. It was over-the-top in the worst possible way, a power struggle devoid of romance or humanity. The "DMV Tim" subplot turns the same kind of struggle into something much more meaningful, and I can't help but feel it's due in part to Tim Bagley.

Bagley was the only actor who held his own with Shatner in the pilot. He brought a quiet humanity to his character that freed Shatner to be more human, too. It's no wonder, then, that as the entire show last night echoed the tone of the DMV scene, Bagley's character took on a bigger role. It's seems like a sure sign that $#*! My Dad Says' creative team is paying attention to what works.

I know some people felt frustrated with the pilot and swore the show off altogether. It's worth remembering that even Seinfeld took some time to find its footing. If $#*! My Dad Says can keep the momentum going from last night, I have a feeling it will be a success. When that happens, you're going to want to catch up.

Why not sooner than later?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"The Future in the Instant..."

Will Leitch has an interesting article up about Zack Snyder directing the new Superman film. Among other things, he speculates why Hollywood hasn't been able to make Superman work since Superman II:

Superman projects have vexed filmmakers as varied as Tim Burton, Kevin Smith, McG, J.J. Abrams, and Brett Ratner. The main problem with "Superman" is that we have turned into more of an antihero culture. We like Batman because he's human and flawed and full of rage and guilt. We like Tony Stark because he's selfish and vain and a party guy.

RAGE!! Because sculpted, plastic and filled with joy never caught on.

I think Leitch's argument, while thoughtful, is flawed on several counts.

For one, I object to his definition of antihero. I don't think it's "wrong," it's just not very accurate or useful in this context. Antiheroism is relative to the values of the community being represented. Wayne might be bitter and Stark's an alcoholic, but they still embrace traditional superhero values. They seek noble ends like justice and redemption. And while they push boundaries, they rarely step outside them.

If you want a more accurate representation of antiheroes, I'd look to the Punisher and Deadpool. Punisher works outside the boundaries and Deadpool doesn't even acknowledge them. Anger, guilt and womanizing hardly compare to unrelenting homicide and madness. If they're all lumped together under the heading of "antihero," the terminology is taxed to the point of irrelevance.

"Tony didn't say anything about a cover charge!!!"

If Mr. Leitch means only to say that we like flawed heroes, that's been true at least as far back as Moses, and it was equally true of Christopher Reeve's Superman. His motives, while pure, are still mixed. He rebelled against his father's commandment not to reverse time because of his obsessive devotion to Lois, then turned his back on humanity for the same reason in the second film. This doesn't make him bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it does highlight how we tend to pass over Superman's flaws even when they're as pronounced as Batman's.

Leitch goes even further:

Superman is, by his very design, perfect and cheesy - he's a relic, Ward Cleaver in a blue skintight suit.

"Golly, Lex, I don't know. How can we hold Metropolis hostage when we promised Superman we'd do our homework?"
 I think Leitch is confusing perfection and idealism. Perfection is essentially completion or fulfillment. Saying we can attain perfection (Idealism) isn't the same as being perfect. By that same token, Superman can't be perfect until we're perfect, because he exists to remind us we have a destiny. Yet Veitch's Superman seems indelibly linked to the past rather than the future:
Singer attempted to capture that naïveté and bring it to today, but his Metropolis seemed as steeped in the '50s as the Steve Reeves films were. The reason the first two "Superman" films worked was that they were rooted in a recognizable place: Metropolis was late-'70s New York City, with all the grime and cynicism that came with it. Superman was an alien (he's the one who was out of place), an actual hero here to save the day, to give everyone faith again. To believe a man can fly, you must at first believe a man cannot.

I'm agreed with Veitch that Superman's faith in humanity is the root of his alienation. That's why Superman ultimately comes into conflict with Luthor, who sees Metropolis and humanity as mere extensions of himself. If Superman were half the relic Veitch thinks him, Luthor wouldn't feel so threatened. But Luthor understands what even Metropolis can't, because he fears it. Luthor has always believed a man can fly, which is why he devotes himself to clipping humanity's wings. And he knows where Superman really hails from: the future.

Lex Luthor just became irrelevant.
One of my favorite lines from Macbeth is, "Your letters have transported me beyond this ignorant present, and I now feel the future in the instant." Superman is Lex Luthor's window into a future where power struggles are obsolete. Lady Macbeth goes mad because she cannot help but bring the future to pass; Luthor because he cannot hold it back.

If Snyder wants to make Superman work, I think he needs to tap into "The Man of Tomorrow" vibe. That's been critical to most incarnations of Superman, but the one we're most familiar with is Donner's. His Superman can't be with Lois because it's still Today, which makes their relationship tragic and uplifting all at once. It's a metaphor for where humanity finds itself now, where we've always found ourselves, somewhere between the Fall and Redemption, Impossibility and Infinity.

When the time comes to bridge that gap in Hollywood...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

$#*! My Dad Worked On Last Week

The second episode of $#*! My Dad Says , "Wi-Fight," is showing signs of improvement, but there's still a lot of work to be done.

They took one step toward correcting the show's biggest problem, which is its reliance on Shatner to carry every scene. Will Sasso (Vince) and Nicole Sullivan (Bonnie) had more script to work with this week, as Ed's blunt way of putting things carried over into their bedroom. Vince convinces Bonnie to let his dad examine her breasts when she develops a rash. Ed makes the mistake of casually describing the culprit, a fungal infection, as looking like "spaghetti and meatballs under a microscope" to his son Vince. This leads to a relatively funny scene where Bonnie makes advances and Vince tries to get around his breast/fungus/meatballs hangup.

It's not the most ingenious concept or even the best execution, but it accomplishes a few things. First off, it establishes how the $#*! Ed says actually has bearing on his family even when he's not in the room. If the show is going to work, Ed's words should be as much of a character as Ed himself. This was absolutely a step in the right direction.

Second, it gives Sasso and Sullivan a chance to establish chemistry, which they pull off pretty well. Maybe a little too well, in fact, if the rest of the show can't keep pace. Compared to Jonathan Sadowski's uninspired performance, it makes one wonder if the show couldn't be about them living under Ed's roof and dispense with Henry altogether.

"Who's Henry?"
And that brings us to some of the continuing problems. The fact I'm talking about the fungus subplot and not the "Wi-Fight" the episode gets its name from shows just how uneven the show can be. Ed's most memorable interaction in the pilot episode wasn't with his children, but rather the unnamed DMV character. The good news is the DMV character is set to return this week.

So what's really going to need to happen to take the show to the next level? Sadowski needs to find his voice. The producers would have been better off if Sasso and Sullivan were the weak link, seeing as how the show's crux is Henry's relationship with Ed. So far, Sadowski hasn't illustrated the comedic timing or emotional depth the show needs.

"Dad, my back hurts. Can you carry the show tonight?"

That said, Sadowski's material isn't exploring his character's potential to its fullest. For instance, the script seems to call for a pretty bland relationship with half-brother Vince. I tend to think that Henry, unemployed and trying to make up for the life he didn't have with his father, would be a tad jealous of Vince, who lived with Ed growing up, and is now successful and married.

So all in all, not a bad week, and reason to keep watching. But the producers need to look into ways to make Henry work.