21st Century Digital Boy: “ER” (D.O.A.), Watching the “Detective,” and How TV Can “Mann” Up

Written by 21st-Century Digital Boy, Television

er

If you’re a TV junkie, you’re waiting for the end of an era, or reeling from a hairpin, unorthodox beginning of a new one this week. Frankly, I’m not sure either compares to a good, old-fashioned dose of “TV Gold” from an old friend.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Thursday night marks the end of the 15-year run for NBC’s ER (the two-hour series finale “And in the End …”), and it’s certainly been talked to death. Spoilers have careened around the Internet for months, promising appearances by everyone from Dr. Ross (George Clooney) and Nurse Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) to Benton (Eriq LaSalle) and Carter (Noah Wyle).

In fact, rumors of Wyle’s character opening a new medical facility in Chicago for the disadvantaged leave the possibility of an ER spin-off wide open. As a longtime viewer, I can remember watching those first med-drama episodes. Now Thursday’s around the corner and everything I’m hearing about the end leaves me largely underwhelmed. I can’t imagine what the writers can do to competently bring this series to a close.

But I’ll be back next week to break that all down further.

At the same time this institution ends, the charming new HBO series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency might actually live up to the buzz. After a string of successfully dark and intense cable series (The Sopranos, Six Feet Under), this show’s vibe is like something out of left field — and a breath of fresh air. Bringing to life Botswana’s only lady detective last night was both old school and pretty cool.

Based on a series of ten books (which have sold over 14 million copies worldwide to date), Detective follows Columbo-esque sleuth Precious Ramotswe (neo-soul singer Jill Scott) through what’s shaping up to be a Murder, She Wrote redux. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: Scott’s permutation of street smarts, charm, cunning and tenacity explains HBO’s gamble on a 13-episode order. Not a mind blower, this Detective, but very promising so far.

All of which leads me to Art Mann Presents.

How, you ask, does one get there from here? My excuse is that HBO and HDNet (Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s high-def cable network that Mann calls home) are close to each other on my cable system. But the truth is that Art Mann’s Art Mann Presents just wrapped up a run of new episodes this month that were nothing short of “TV Gold” (his tongue-in-cheek term; my very real analysis). And unlike the previous two shows mentioned here, Mann and friends take themselves just seriously enough to be casually brilliant in simplicity.

Mann’s variety program is like part MTV’s Jackass meets E!’s Wild On! series, with a little Travel Channel and reality TV cojones thrown in for good measure. The E! comparison stands to reason: Mann used to be a host on Wild On! years ago and helped bring everything from Jules Asner, Brooke Burke and Cannes, to Ibiza and Jenna Jameson to the small screen. It’s definitely not for the kids, but don’t be surprised if they know about it.

Art Mann Presents takes viewers on an irreverent, 30-minute joyride every week, covering events as divergent as the Indy 500, Mardi Gras, the L.A. Urban Iditarod, Green Beer Day at Miami University (in Oxford, Ohio) and the Adult Entertainment Expo. It’s all a bit voyeuristic, but there’s nothing on the air quite like it. Most importantly, it’s a triumph because of the show’s EveryMann, who (un)knowingly punctuates the show with great pop culture pathos and subtext… after all, anyone can turn the cameras on the inebriated. It takes a special kinda guy to make you care about it all.

In an era when television programmers are attempting to nail the beginning or perfect the ending, one easygoing, low-key, and unfazed wiseacre knows he’s got the greatest job in television. Mann doesn’t worry about where things begin or end; he cheerily leads people watchers through places they might not otherwise see or experience.

In a self-important sea, this boat’s pure, unadulterated fun — and very little of television is these days.

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