Sometimes I wonder what we did to deserve TV. After all, it asks nothing of us but our time and attention — two items of dubious value and unlimited quantity — and in return it's raised us, babysat us, socialized us, educated us and, most importantly, reduced our tedious families to ignorable background noise. Then, as if that weren't enough, every fall TV renews itself, improves itself. It gives more. Launching dozens of quality shows and series the likes of which we've never seen before or, if we have, with less attractive casts.
Another fresh season of television is just starting to premiere now. Here's a brief overview of just a few of the new shows I feel certain none of us deserve.
Ken Burns' Pornography (PBS): The master documentarian's anxiously awaited latest is a 15-hour, seven-part examination of everything prurient, leading viewers along a titillating trail from filthy French postcards to e-porn. The press kit explains that after years of eclectic, intelligent histories, Burns wanted to make a film people would actually watch, not just claim they watch.
... And the Horse You Rode In On (NBC): Yippee-ai-oh-ki-ay!
The western's back in primetime. With a thoroughly modern — and screwball comedy — twist. Meet Sheriff Chaps Winston, the by-all-appearances straight arrow lawman who, atop his trusty horse, Pardner, keeps the peace in and around sleepy Flaming Gulch, Texas. But hold on thar, saddle pals. Chaps and Pardner aren't just work buddies, they're also man and "wife." Yep. Horse takes the cutting edge "lifestyle diversity" that Ellen, Will & Grace, et al pioneered and kicks it up an interspecies notch. In the hour premiere, when Chaps investigates some cattle rustling, Pardner suspects his mate has fallen for one of the herd and sets a trap to catch him "cow-poking."
Evitiguf Eht (PAXTV): Heady, "out of the idiot box" drama wherein all the old The Fugitive (1963-67) shows are broadcast backward (hence the title), thus creating for viewers the wholly fresh dynamic tension of the one-armed man pursuing Dr. Richard Kimble (David Jansen).
Ridicule Island (UPN): Of all the reality shows premiering this fall, this is the only one promising real life-and-death drama. The premise? A group of nasty-looking singles (the Blecch! Clan) shares a tropical island with a bevy of heartless beauties and vain hard bodies (the Hommina-Hommina Clan). It is the goal of the "uglies" to get dates with the "hotties." What the Blecch!s don't know, however, is that the goal of the Hommina-Homminas is to rebuff their pursuers so harshly, so brutally, so personally, so conclusively, that they (the Blecch!s) take their own lives in despair. Last Blecch! alive wins $100,000 in cosmetic surgery; hottie with the most "kills" takes over as host of The Weakest Link.
An Unengaging Non-Talent Who Won't Make You Laugh Even Once (ABC): Originally promoted as According to Jim, this sitcom, starring Jim (The Only Available Belushi Brother) Belushi, after screening by the Ethics Committee of the FCC, was ordered, in the interest of fairness to the public, to adopt a less nebulous title.
96 Hours (CBS): This latest newsmagazine has been described by its host, the doggedly wooden Dan Rather, as, "Absolutely nothing like 48 Hours. But 100 percent moreso."
Purdah Undercover (WB): After losing Buffy the Vampire Slayer to UPN this year, the WB set out to concoct a new, hot, lightning-fisted/footed action babe. And Purdah Undercover delivers her. In spades. The series, set in present day Afghanistan, follows the adventures of former NOW assassin/special agent Kandallah "Kandi" Jalalabad, foe of the woman-oppressing Taliban regime, friend of other foes of the woman-oppressing Taliban regime. Draped in mandatory head-to-toe robes and veils by day, Kandi trades her religious garb for clinging (and forbidden!) head-to-toe spandex and mask by night. It is then that she ventures out, seeking to right injustice. Ready to kick patriarchic fundamentalist Islamic ass as needed. And rest assured, plenty's needed. In the two-hour premiere, Kandi befriends a female doctor barred from the practice of medicine. Outraged, Kandi engages the Afghan army in a titanic stuggle and, against all odds, successfully secures the doctor a job inspecting for head lice in a rural elementary school.
Goofy Puke, Zany Poop & Wacky Genitalia (FOX): Unwilling to allow this country's absolute lowest common denominator to go unentertained any longer, Fox's new "home video clip" series is notable for taking television a full step lower. (It's being promoted as "Must See, Then Must Shower TV.") The "hook" here is that the candid clips all capture regular people in the act of tossing their cookies, losing control of their bowels and bladders and/or taking a blow to the groin. It's contemptibly hilarious. ©