Lovespring International

jane lynch lovespring internationalWe’ve probably had enough of the mockumentary format for TV shows. We had probably already had enough of it in 2006 when Lovespring International ran for one basic cable-length season. But damned if it doesn’t make a handy format for introducing all of your characters in a pilot.

The trick is to capture the essence of each character in a just a handful of lines. If you go back to the pilot of The Office and look at Pam’s face when she says, “Jim said mixed berry?” you witness a real where-it-all-began moment. But I digress…

Lovespring International was produced by Eric McCormack of Will and Grace (who guest stars in ep. 2). It was partially improvised and features a cast familiar to fans of improv/sketch comedy. We are introduced to Lovespring International, elite Beverly Hills dating service (located in Tarzana, CA) by each member of the staff telling us what they do.

Victoria Rachford (Jane Lynch) is founder and CEO. Burke (Sam Pancake) claims to “run the place.” Lydia (Wendi McLendon-Covey, of Reno 911 and more recently the inappropriate mother from Bridesmaids) is a Relationship Consultant who asserts that she can find a match for anyone and assures the viewer that she is “married in her heart” to her partner of 20 years. Steve (Jack Plotnik, also of Reno 911), the company psychologist doesn’t mince words about his job saying he is “in charge of weeding out the crazies.” Alex (Mystro Clark) directs client videos, making people appear hotter than they are. Tiffany (Jennifer Elise Cox) is the whiny blond receptionist smacking her gum. Burke reminds us repeatedly that he is in charge of all of these people–we see more of him than anyone else.

All of these introductions might be an effective way to introduce characters quickly, but it feels a bit like spoon-feeding the viewer. Introducing the characters this way tells us a couple of things: It’s going to be an ensemble effort. The workplace is going to be a constant battle of egos. And the irony is going to stem from a bunch of so-called relationship experts who suck at relationships.

The meat of the episode happens as the agency’s top gold-level client files a complaint that too many men are falling in love with her. Victoria, learning that the agency is in danger of losing a major client, threatens to fire someone if they don’t save the account. Lydia comes up with a plan, which Burke co-opts as his own and then turns into a disaster with the assistance of Alex and plenty of booze.

The character we get the least time with, regretably, is Jane Lynch’s Victoria. She is just returning from a vacation in this ep. and it’s looking like her repeated absences are set up to become a bit.

The whole show has a sketch comedy feel that prevents the viewer (me, at least) from feeling really invested in the characters. Maybe it’s the improv element, the mockumentary format, or maybe it’s just the actors’ clowny make-up. It feels like, perhaps they might have grown on you over enough time. The Office felt really weird and cartoonish in the beginning (and the pilot wasn’t well-received), but after a couple of season you could say stuff like, “That is so Dwight.” Maybe the Lovespring crew could have grown on audiences if they had been allowed to hang around long enough.

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Reboot!

It seems like you can’t go a day without hearing about another upcoming reboot of an old movie or TV show. Currently, viewers of the small screen are speculating about new takes on Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, Beavis and Butthead, Dallas, Miami Vice, Teen Wolf… there’s even been the threat of a Bryan Fuller-helmed Munsters remake.*

A pilot for a reboot has a unique task. There is the assumption that most viewers are already familiar with the property, and there is going to be a niche audience that is much more than familiar. The diehard fans are poised to critique every detail.  So what makes a pilot for a reboot successful?

There are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to approach. At one end, the pilot could say to the viewer, “Forget everything you knew about previous incarnations of this property.” The story basically starts over, in the present day. V is an example. Viewers need not have a clue about the 1980s mini-series and following TV series. In fact, they might be better not having seen the original and having the whole lizard reveal spoiled for them.

At the other end, a pilot can dive in to a storyline already in progress. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles does this really well. We last saw Sarah and son John in 1991, when John was about 12 years old, so the show now has to bring us up to 2008, when it debuted. The pilot opens in 1999 and, staying faithful to the timeline set forth by the movies, John is introduced as a teenager. We learn in the opening scene Sarah is haunted by the same nightmares of worldwide destruction that we remember. In order to get us to the right year, the writers have the new Terminator, played by Summer Glau, bring the characters forward in time to 2008. If you’re actually new to this, it’s likely you just won’t care about these characters. It’s also likely you’ve been living under a rock.

On the lighter side, 90210 stuck with the timeline set forth by its predecessor, Beverly Hills 90210. The newer show had some fun updating viewers on the lives of characters we once knew, even bringing some of them back so we wouldn’t always be stuck remembering them with hideous hairstyles.

According to Ramon Rodriguez, who has been cast as Bosley, the new Charlie’s Angels is set to go in a new direction. However, the movies already took a big step away from the camp of the original series. So what, exactly, are they moving away from? And do we care? Does a show’s pedigree matter, or only that it’s good?

There’s still a long way to go with all of the aforementioned reboots, and no telling how much restructuring they will go through on their way to the airwaves—if they even make it that far. Then will each one be a 90210? Or a Melrose Place? Once they debut, fans will no doubt have their expectations well in place.

*Here’s an update on the Bryan Fuller Munsters remake, 8/11/11

Beverly Hills 90210

Forget that mellow-drama running on the CW called simply 90210. This is where it all began. The pilot for Beverly Hills 90210 opens with a typical pilot premise: It’s the first day of school. Two teens, Brandon (Jason Preistley) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) Walsh are waking up, getting dressed, and preparing to face a new start in a new town. As we learn in some awkward but mercifully brief exposition, they’re from Minnesota. Dad got a new job, and the family moved to Beverly Hills.

We notice a few things right away. Kids from Minnesota get along with their siblings. Teenagers are slobs universally. And the 80s lasted at least until fall of 1990.

The opening credits are endless by today’s standards, comprising a montage of rich kids doing rich kid stuff. Brenda caps it with, “I think we’re going to need a raise in our allowance.” The one small twist is the chick getting off of a City bus. She’s got serious girl hair and glasses, so we know she’s smart. She’s kind of a bitch, too, when Brandon goes to her to offer his talent writing for the student paper, which she edits. Her name’s Andrea, and she’s set up to be either Brandon’s love interest or nemesis.

Brenda instantly befriends Kelly (Jennie Garth), the quintessential SoCal girl with white blond hair and a recent nose job. Kelly emphasizes to Brenda that this is “definitely not your normal high school.” I have to wonder, how would she know? This line sounds more like it’s directed at the networks asked to pick up the show than to the character Brenda. But, despite the underscoring of everything that makes West Beverly so unique, it’s refreshing to see how decidedly normal these kids were in Season 1. The freshmen are awkward. The girls worry about their weight. The jocks pick on the weaklings.

Brandon and Brenda are really likeable characters. They’re a little unsure of themselves, but far more secure than their Beverly Hills counterparts. Loveably down-to-earth. I love when a hot girl asks Brandon what he’s wearing that smells so good and he replies, “Tide?”

The obligatory party scene gives us all we need to know about the key players. Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering) looks like he came straight from playing the rich asshole in a John Hughes movie. The optimistic freshman David (baby-faced Brian Austin Green) provides some comic relief. And the poor little rich girl, Maryann, flirts shamelessly with Brandon. (And, WTF, are those people in the background of this scene playing tennis?) What is surprising, with the benefit of hindsight, is how little we hear out of Donna (Tori Spelling). She’s little more than Jenny Garth’s shadow.

A word must be said about the clothes. At the time this aired I’m sure they were the height of fashion. But today, whoo! Let’s hear it for blazers with shorts. And the hair! What is the semi-mullet thing Brandon is sporting?

By the end of the pilot we know everyone we need to know, save for one… Dylan is yet to be introduced. We pretty much know what we’re in for, and it’s got a nice blend of drama and humor. One wonders how this show morphed into a soap opera dealing with drug overdoses and whatever else went on in the later years. Not to mention the CW nonsense.