Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Adventures In Watching: Dr Who, Lucky Louie

I don't watch all that much TV, considering. I am fortunate enough to have the internet for time-wasting nowadays. It's like TV but I can narrow my focus even more than I would have otherwise! But watch I do, once in a while, when my arms are weary from typing.
So the two shows in the title represent the only TV I watched this weekend, and I liked them both. First, the Doctor.
If you get the Sci-Fi channel you've had a chance to see the new Dr Who, but you haven't seen the NEWEST one. Well actually, you have because he turned up at the very end of the series. David Eccleston regenerates right in front of our eyes and turns into David Tennant. He has one line -- "New teeth... Weird!" -- and bang, you are supposed to wait a year for new episodes. Thanks to the TARDIS known as Bittorrent, I'm way ahead of you. I watched episode ten on the new iMac, which helpfully comes with a remote control so you can slide back a bit from the desk and pretend you're watching real TV.
Currently the Dr Who empire is run out of Cardiff by Russell T. Davies, the brilliant writer who created QUEER AS FOLK but may be remembered as the guy who rescued science fiction for British children. His Dr Who is funny but dark, and deeply intimate. Most of the dramatic juice for all these stories comes from the themes of loneliness and guilt. The Doctor, who is the last of a race of time lords, wanders around looking for adventures and people to help, but there's no denying that in the course of that endeavor he's left a trail of multi-hued blood in his wake. And he's over 900 years old, so that's a lot of blood. In this series, he can't run into a Dalek without the little pepperpot teasing him about how alike they are.
But this season has mostly been written by others. Davies is busy constructing TORCHWOOD, a spinoff featuring Cap'n Jack (a character from last season) and K-9, the robot dog, in which they run an organization which seems to have been formed to protect the world from the likes of The Doctor. So THAT could be interesting. The Doctor himself, meanwhile has been just spinning his wheels. I suppose it's unfair to expect the 2nd series to be the same revelation as the first, but the writing seems to be focused on maintenance rather than innovation. A shame too, because Tennant seems a much better match for the character than Eccleston ever was.
This weekend's episode (at last, he gets to the review!) WAS written by Davies, WAS brilliant and was almost entirely devoid of the Doctor, which shows you where Davies' mind is at. It was about a young geeky ELO fan who forms a UFOlogy club who investigates Doctor-related phenomena. Like any endeavor of this kind, it gradually degenerates into a weekly get together where the members read their fiction to each other, investigate unrelated subjects and even form an ELO cover band. Their little social Eden is infiltrated by a sinister man with severe exema who re focuses their attention on finding the Doctor.
The description doesn't do justice to this episode's tone, which was very close to Denis Morgan's best efforts with the X-Files. You know those funny, off-the-chart surreal ones, like JOSE CHUNG'S FROM OUTER SPACE, where it looked like he was trying to take down the whole series? Same thing. Plus, almost everybody dies, which is always fun.
On to other things. HBO is trying to reinvent the sitcom with LUCKY LOUIE, a show starring standup Louis C.K. as the father of a nuclear family and the show is taped before a live audience. It's like COSBY or EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND in that respect but the devil is in the details.
Detail: Family lives in a crummy, tiny, dirty apartment.
Detail: Father is not just bumbling, he's working a part time job for $115 a week.
Detail: It's HBO, where bad language isn't a problem -- in fact, it's a fuckin' asset.
So you wind up with this weird hybrid, a story that looks like real, miserable life but plays like a sitcom. And that's why I like it. I've never seen the genre applied to a situation that bleak, and yet still work as a sitcom. It's more hallucination than TV show. So far the episodes have dealt with sex, racism, sex, drug dealing, male powerlessness and sex.
Laura Kightlinger has a recurring role as the wife's best friend. I've been a fan of hers for a long time, with her deep voice and mona-lisa smile, but I'm not sure she's working here. Or maybe her face needs different lenses - I used to worship her cheekbones but she looks acromegliac on this show. I'll see what happens after a few episodes. Maybe she'll come into her own with the right storyline.

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