Everything but the News

Everything but the NewsI heard about Everything but the News on NPR. Public radio pushing public television; if they’re going for meta, they’re finding it. I don’t even know how to categorize this show, and to me, that’s always a good thing.

The pilot episode opens with a news anchor telling us that we’re going to hear a report from inside the world of online video, before flashing back 72 hours. A reporter, Steve Goldbloom, stands outside LAX, getting reamed over the phone by his producer. My first thought is, “Man, that producer’s a real dick.” He promises that if Steve and camera man, Noah, prove themselves at VidCon, PBS will offer him steady work. (My second thought is, “Why did they fly into LAX for a convention in Anaheim? SNA would have been closer.”)

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Battleground

UPDATE: 7/22/12 I wrote the analysis below having only watched the first episode of Battleground. I don’t usually approach these posts as recommendations for or against watching a show. Having now completed the first season, I say “Watch it. Watch it now.” This is one of those shows that the pilot does not do justice to until you can appreciate it as part of the larger picture.

For example, some of the stuff that makes you scratch your head in the pilot (like just when are these interviews supposed to have been recorded, and what the hell is Cole wearing?) are ambiguous on purpose. The final episode has me dying for season 2.

 

If you happened upon the pilot episode of Battleground, you might think you were watching a documentary. For a few minutes at least, Battleground defies the obvious comparisons to Parks and Recreation or The Office. As mockumentaries go, this one opens on a more serious note. There is a film-like look about it. Amber waves of grain and small hometown businesses flavor the opening credits. It’s a bit like the tour of Scranton that opens The Office, but without the underlying sense of sarcasm. Then… we meet Jordan T. Mosley, the show’s Dwight Schrute. But I’ll come back to him. Continue reading

Parks and Recreation

When this show debuted, viewers went into it thinking they knew what to expect. It was another The Office, with a “female Michael Scott.” In fact, this mockumentary was originally conceived by creators Greg Daniels and Michael Schur and a spin-off of The Office. You would be forgiven for maintaining that assumption even after viewing the pilot, although there are hints here of greater potential. To be sure, Parks and Recreation took a little time to find its own voice, and with a powerful comedienne like Amy Poehler in the lead, it’s not surprising that it did so. Here is what audiences saw in April 2009. Continue reading

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.