In the last decade, CBS has primarily served up two kinds of programs in prime time: crime/suspense procedurals, and sleazy sex comedies. This fall, the network shows no inclination to change.
Recently, the first episodes of new fall series on each broadcast network were shown at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles. This post examines shows on CBS.
We Are Men
Mondays, 8:30 p.m. ET
Premieres: September 30
Airing immediately after – and from the same producer as — the sex-slathered CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother will be We Are Men, a “comedy” glorifiying of divorce, promiscuity, and adolescent behavior by adult men. The series opens with Carter Thomas (Chris Smith) being left at the altar by his fiancée Sarah, who runs off with another man. The despondent Carter moves into Los Angeles’ Oakwoods apartment complex, where he quickly falls in with three other losers at love: separated Gil (Kal Penn), twice-divorced ob/gyn Stuart, and four-times divorced Frank (Tony Shalhoub). Together, the foursome egg one another on in pursuing casual sex and shallow, meaningless relationships.
As could be expected, sex, sex, and more sex is the focus of the program, along with a focus on men who act like adolescents. (Apparently, TV writers have learned nothing from the failure of the recent spate of “loser guys” comedies like Man Up!, Guys with Kids, et al). After Sarah leaves him, Carter phones her and whines, “I’ll never accidentally do that thing in bed we both know isn’t an accident”; Stuart discusses the “world’s worst affair,” barking that “she gave me chlamydia!”; Frank constantly leers at and sleeps with much-younger women; the other men trash Carter for having had only one sex partner in his life (Frank urges Carter to have sex with a “sure thing” woman; when Carter doesn’t, Frank gripes, “I slept with her daughter for nothing!”); and Gil’s pre-teen daughter tries to set him up on a date, noting that the woman in question is “super nice – and she has big boobs!” (That the series’ writers and producer have a nine-year-old girl uttering such dialogue says everything about the entertainment industry’s attitude toward sexualizing girls.) After Carter and Sarah get back together, the episode ends with the guys bursting in on the wedding and convincing Carter to ditch Sarah at the altar. He does, and returns to a life at the apartment complex pursuing shallow, meaningless sex. Hooray!
Unsurprisingly, producer Rob Greenberg noted that the show’s premise was largely drawn from his own bitter divorce, with each male character representing one aspect of his feelings: Carter is clueless and doesn’t know how to begin to date again; Gil wants to get back together with his wife, and can’t accept that his marriage is over; Stuart is bitter and filled with rage against women; and, in Greenberg’s words, Frank “just wants to have random sex.” Indeed, contempt for women and the desire to use them merely for sex seem to be the show’s raison d’être; future episodes will have titles like “The Art of the One-Night Stand.” While the show’s blatant misogyny and celebration of adolescent behavior seems dominant, the program’s sole female star, Rebecca Breeds (who plays Frank’s adult daughter) notes, “What’s not funny about four guys who think they’re cool hitting on women and getting shot down?” What a pity the entire program can’t be shot down, and replaced with something less smarmy and juvenile.
Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET
Premieres: September 23
Producer Chuck Lorre has built a career on peddling sleaze. His Two and a Half Men consists of nothing but graphic sex jokes; The Big Bang Theory is sex and geek jokes; and Mike & Molly is sex and fat jokes. And now, with his new “comedy” Mom, Lorre gives viewers sex and drunken, drug-addicted single mother jokes. By focusing a program completely on damaged women, Lorre seems to be affirming his agreement with the beliefs of his Two and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory partner/co-creator Lee Aronsohn, who opined last year, “What makes men damaged? Sorry, it’s women.” Conversely, it’s possible that, by “celebrating” single mothers with this show, Lorre is trying to make amends for Aronsohn’s remark. If so, he needs to try harder.
Dubbed “Two and a Half Moms” by one Internet wag, the show centers on Christy (Anna Faris), an alcoholic, promiscuous single mother who works as a waitress at a high-end restaurant, and who is sleeping with her married boss. Christy blames all her problems on her own mother Bonnie (Allison Janney), who was also a promiscuous alcoholic and meth dealer when Christy was growing up. Bonnie “taught me how to beat a cavity search” and “licked cocaine crumbs out of a shag carpet,” Christy says, then continues, “I drink like her, I went through men like her, and I’m selfish to my kids like her.” Having repeated many of her own mother’s mistakes, Christy is now watching her own daughter Violet – a sexually-active teen who drinks and smokes pot – also repeat them. Naturally, the show sees plays this pattern not as tragic, dysfunctional, and hideously destructive, but as ideal fodder for mockery. Christy tries to provide guidance for her teenage daughter, which leads to grandmother, mother, and daughter all saying of one another, “What a whore!” and “I can’t believe you’re sleeping with THAT loser!” Christy also has a son named Roscoe, whom we see playing video games under his deadbeat dad’s guidance: “If you hit the hookers enough times, they give your money back!” the elementary school-aged kid exclaims excitedly.
Naturally, the viewer is barraged with endless references to drug use and sex (Christy calls her own daughter Violet “an easy lay”; when Violet denies being sexually active, Christy snarls, “Don’t lie to the woman who washes your sheets”). At the end of the first episode, Christy claims to forgive her mother for her flaws, and asks for the same from her daughter, in what is clearly supposed to be a “touching” moment. But after 21 minutes of trashing women, fifteen seconds of “awww!” isn’t quite enough to dispel the grimy film this show leaves on the viewer’s mind. An evening consisting of How I Met Your Mother, We Are Men, 2 Broke Girls, and Mom suggests an apt tagline for network advertising: “It’s Misogyny Monday on CBS!”
The Crazy Ones
Thursdays, 9:00 p.m. ET
Premieres: September 26
David E. Kelley is best known as the creator and executive producer of left-wing polemics quirky legal dramas like Ally McBeal, The Practice, and Boston Legal; but after the failure of his short-lived Harry’s Law, Kelley has apparently decided to try his hand at a half-hour situation comedy…one not even set in a law firm.
The Crazy Ones features Robin Williams as legendary advertising executive and zany “creative” genius Simon Roberts, and former Buffy the Vampire Slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar as his strait-laced daughter and business partner, Sydney. Despite her own talent, Gellar is largely reduced to serving as straight man for Williams, who serves up a non-stop stream of goofy voices and wacky celebrity impersonations. When Williams did this on Mork & Mindy 30 years ago, it was fresh and innovative; but today, it’s tired shtick. Moreover, it’s tired shtick cynically used to sell McDonalds, in a premiere episode which is essentially a half-hour commercial for the fast-food chain. (It will be interesting to see how many ad spots McD’s bought during this episode; but considering the entire episode IS a glorified ad spot…) If this trend continues throughout the series, viewers may find the show’s heavy focus on an “advertiser of the week” tedious; but at least Kelley won’t have to worry about finding sponsors for his program. What advertiser WOULDN’T want to buy a half-hour of Oscar-winner Williams and fan favorite Gellar shilling for their product?
The first episode involves Williams and Gellar trying to save their firm’s McDonalds account by finding a popular singer to croon a jingle for the chain. They approach former American Idol sweetheart Kelly Clarkson, but she declares “I want to sing about sex!”, then writhes orgasmically while moaning, “It’s not the meat, it’s the motion” into a microphone. (“She woke up the puppet,” smirks Williams.) Whether this is a parody of wholesome stars who become sexpots — see Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, et al — or is genuinely Clarkson’s real-life attempt at “rebranding” isn’t clear; but if they watch, the many families who enjoyed Clarkson kid-safe pop music and clean image on Idol will be gravely disappointed. Especially disgusting is a scene of Williams singing to Clarkson, in which the comedian spews innuendo about “secret sauce” and “coming again,” ending with a riff implying ejaculation on a woman’s face. Again, this was only the first episode; but judging by this episode, The Crazy Ones will be a series of half-hour commercials containing graphic sexual innuendo. Maybe Kelley should go back to the leftist legal dramas.
Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. ET
Premieres: September 26
“We’ve been married for 43 years. Call it 33, because we haven’t had sex for the last 10.”
“That’s not true! Last year on your birthday. In the shower.”
“You caught me masturbating.”
“It still counts!”
“No, it doesn’t. You were criticizing me the whole time.”
“YOU WERE DOING IT WRONG!”
The above dialogue is merely one brief sample of the trash that passes for “comedy” on The Millers. Immediately preceding The Crazy Ones on Thursday nights, The Millers makes that series look good by comparison – but then, anything short of a bowel movement would look good in comparison to The Millers.
TV reporter Nathan Miller has recently been divorced. When his cranky, elderly parents Tom and Carol learn of his divorce, they decide to split up, too. (So now CBS has TWO comedies celebrating the joys of divorce. Yay! But sadly typical of TV’s attitude toward marriage.) Domineering Carol moves in with Nathan, while bumbling Tom moves in with their daughter Debbie. “Humor” involves Tom’s stupidity and incompetence — he can’t even turn on a TV by himself; Carol’s shrewish, controlling nature; and, of course, endless explicit sex gags. Oh, and the major focus of the last half of the first episode is mom Carol’s flatulence. What are the show’s writers – eight years old?
It is utterly depressing to see Will Arnett (who really ought to fire his agent after this debacle) – as well as talented old pros like Margo Martindale and Beau Bridges (!) – reduced to wallowing in such garbage. As has been seen, none of CBS’ new fall comedies are winners; but The Millers’ depraved, obnoxious filth is the network’s nadir. The show’s disgusting mélange of senile old people, fart jokes, and graphic sex talk leaves one thinking: of all the dozens of pilots the network’s executives must have screened, THIS is the one CBS chose to spend millions of dollars on, and air in front of families? THIS is what the network that once gave America All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, and The Carol Burnett Show has become? REALLY?
Thursdays, 10:00 p.m. ET
Premieres: September 23
As contrast to its so-called “comedies,” CBS has been notably better in producing crime procedurals and suspense dramas, like NCIS, Blue Bloods, and Person of Interest, in which men act like men, not overgrown adolescents or sex-crazed morons, and in which families and professional relationships are treated with a degree of respect. (It’s hard to avoid speculating that these shows succeed precisely because they do give audiences a clear moral conflict between good and evil, a traditional hero, and someone to root for, not sneer at.)
Hostages ably carries on this trend. Top surgeon Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) has been selected to perform life-saving surgery on U.S. President Kincaid. But the night before the operation, a group of terrorists led by rogue FBI agent Duncan Carlyle (Dylan McDermott) burst into the Sanders’ home and take them hostage, threatening to kill Ellen’s family unless she “accidentally” kills the president during surgery. During the captivity, various secrets come out about the Sanders: son Jake is doing drugs; daughter Morgan is pregnant by her boyfriend Boyd; and husband Brian is having an affair. The terrorists too hide their own tragedies and secrets, such as Carlyle’s comatose wife, who is somehow the cause of his hatred of the president. While Ellen avoids killing the president the first time, Carlyle and his group keep the family under surveillance; and their knowledge of the family’s secrets and threat of action against them serves to keep the pressure on Ellen. Will she and the Sanders family manage to escape the terrorists’ threats – or will Ellen kill the president?
Though filled with suspense and the constant threat of murder, the first episode of Hostages contained little violence: one shooting, a couple fistfights, and an atmosphere of fear pervade the show. Though its premise may be difficult to sustain for multiple seasons, Hostages promises to be another in CBS’ successful – and far preferable – series of suspense dramas.