Popdose’s Fall 2011 TV Preview: “H8R,” “Up All Night” & “Free Agents”
Welcome back to the Popdose Fall 2011 TV Preview. Today, Jeff Giles decides whether to love or H8 (see what we did there?) the new CW reality show, H8R. Meanwhile, Scott Malchus takes a look at two of NBC’s highly touted new comedies, Up All Night and Free Agents. Leave your comments below, but please. no H8ing. See, we did it again. We Popdosers are so clever.
On the surface, H8R seems like just another piece of low-budget reality trash, with an extra layer of repugnant meta sheen. Here’s the premise, and see if you don’t groan out loud like I did: Ordinary people are given an opportunity to confront celebrities they hate. On camera. Oh, and Mario Lopez hosts.
It sounds awful, right? And honestly, parts of H8R — including plenty of the skeezy behind-the-scenes chicanery and seizure-inducing editing that shows like this are known for — are worth disliking, if not hating outright. But it’s also, and God help me I can’t believe I’m saying this, a somewhat thought-provoking hour of television.
Going in, a big part of my problem with H8R was based on a misunderstanding. See up there, where I said people are given an opportunity to confront celebrities they hate? That’s what I read, but it isn’t really accurate; the truth is, the haters are ambushed by the objects of their derision, and given an opportunity to get to know them.
It sounds silly, I guess, but this is a mildly revolutionary — and, I’d argue, altogether necessary — development in our bilious pop culture wasteland. The Internet makes hating easy, and our ever-multiplying hordes of famous-for-being-famous “celebrities” stake their careers, in large part, on their ability to draw controversy with their childish (or, okay, “larger than life”) behavior. We’re living in a toxic dump of baseless hatred, all the time, from spittle-flecked Tea Party debates to anti-Snooki message boards.
It isn’t cool. But oh, speaking of Snooki, she makes for an absolutely natural guest (hatee?) on the first segment of the H8R pilot, where she confronts an unsuspecting detractor who, thinking he was auditioning for a talk show, videotaped an anti-Snooki diatribe.
Things start off tense, as you might expect, but — and here’s the thought-provoking part — the rest of Snooki’s segment shows her behaving pretty much like a normal adult human being ought to when they’re confronted with anger they’ve provoked. Which is to say she reaches out to her hater by talking, and ends up sitting down with his family for a home-cooked meal.
The second segment, featuring the apparently infamous Jake Pavelka (of Bachelor fame? Or Bachelorette? I don’t know), was a lot less enjoyable, due mainly to some stupid shenanigans on Lopez’s part that probably soured the whole encounter — and after one episode, it’s impossible to say which direction this show will go, although given that it’s on the CW and seems to have been edited by epinephrine-injected monkeys, I have my doubts.
Will I tune in again? Most likely not. Surprisingly, though, I ain’t H8in’. I think they’ll probably mess it up and then cancel it in a fit of pique, but the CW could really have something here.
At last, someone (in this case, creator Emily Spivey) has come up with a funny, intelligent series that allows Christina Applegate to show off her beguiling charm and gives Will Arnett the opportunity to play a role other than the officious jackass that he’s perfected at this point in his career. Toss in game Maya Rudolph and Up All Night has the makings of becoming the best new comedy of the season. After last night’s initial airing at 10 PM, the show shifts to its regular timeslot of 8 PM next week. I hope that people will tune in. Up All Night does a great job of capturing the many joys and the setbacks of being first time parents, and it does so with consistent laughs and the right amount of sentimentality.
Applegate and Arnett are Regan and Chris, a couple who have been married for seven years. In the opening scene they learn that Regan is pregnant. Right off the bat, the playfulness between the two stars makes them seem like a longtime comedy duo. Their banter is seamless, with no anger, and the give and take made me smile. This isn’t a show where the married couple is always picking on the others’ flaws. Regan and Chris are obviously in love and they are also, obviously, best friends. Applegate and Arnett make this couple so fun to watch, I would’ve spent a season or two watching them before the baby came along.
The opening title sequence saves us from having to see Regan go through nine months of baby jokes and we jump ahead to the day she’s returning to her full time job as a producer for an Oprah meets Ellen talk show character named Ava, played by Rudoloph. It’s a blast seeing Rudolph on television once again (thanks, Lorne Michaels, who executive produces the show). Some performers excel on the small screen and Rudolph is truly one of them. She plays Ava as an overbearing, selfish star who’s clueless about what it’s like to be a parent.
Besides Regan’s return to work (which caused some friction at home), last night we saw Chris trying to adapt to being a stay home parent (he left a law firm job), as well as the two of them trying to celebrate their wedding anniversary. The episode was funny from beginning to end and I was happy to see the NBC didn’t use all of the best bits for the commercials. My favorite sequence featured Chris trying to find his way through the grocery store and having to call Regan at work to ask where to find cheese. What’s that old Homer Simpson, quote, “It’s funny cause it’s true.” I’ve been there people.
There are plenty of comedies premiering this fall, so Up All Night has some fierce competition. Fortunately, the show is on the last place network, so I have high hopes that NBC will keep the show on their air, no matter what the ratings. This is the approach they took with The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and Community, and those four shows are, perhaps, the best comedies on broadcast television. If Up All Night maintains the same crisp, hilarious quality of last night’s pilot, it could easily join those other four. I’ll be watching to find out, that’s for sure.
Free Agents is amiable in tone, due primarily to the presence of Hank Azaria, who seems like one of the most likable men on television. The premiere of this new comedy reminded me of so many new shows that try really hard to be funny and edgy and just come off flat. Thank God there isn’t a laugh track attached to Free Agents, otherwise the show would be unbearable.
Azaria stars as Alex, a recently divorced father who doesn’t see his kids. He’s a complete mess, crying when he hears an old song, aimlessly getting through his work day, and totally unprepared to begin dating again. When the series begins, Alex has just had a one night stand with his co-worker, Helen, played by Kathryn Hahn. Helen is also an emotional disasterl. She’s still grieving over the sudden death of her fiancé, spending most of her nights guzzling wine, eating frozen dinners and listening to Abba while she stares at the twenty portraits of her dead finace that crowd the walls of her apartment. Naturally, these two are drawn to each other.
Unfortunately, they work at one of those only-on-TV workplaces in which everyone is up in everyone else’s business. So, even if they wanted to discuss the consequences of their tryst, they can’t because they’d soon become fodder for the gossip mill. They work at a P.R. company run by a strange, Englishman, Stephen, portrayed by Anthony Head (who reprises his role from the original UK series that Free Agents is based upon), in an office full of the usual archetypes: the overly aggressive/hyper sexual male co-worker (Mo Mandel), the nerdy, married guy who longs for single life (Al Madrigal), the bitchy assistant (Natasha Leggaro) and the strange, but full of wisdom security guard (Jo Lo Truglio).
My big problem with Free Agents is that everything was forced. It felt more like a drama that wanted to be funny, rather than a comedy with touches of drama. I’m not sure how long Free Agents can survive, especially with the much stronger Up All Night as its lead in. If the latter does well in ratings and the former can’t hold on to the audience, I doubt Free Agents will make it through an entire year. Then again, like I mentioned in the previous review, this show is on NBC, who may let the series find some creative footing before deciding its fate. Personally, it just isn’t that interesting to make me want to return again. I’ll give Free Agents a couple my chances (the three strike rule in effect), but I’m not too optimistic about this one.