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My week in television (Pt 3): Mayor, Fresh off the Boat, Knick, Orville, Mom, Ingonerable

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The Mayor– (FOX) This episode was helped greatly by what has so far been its most self-contained, informative and engaging plot to date. Courtney has to negotiate a renewal with the bus drivers’ union or risk a strike and he slowly realizes he can’t make everyone happy.

Unlike trick-or-treating or learning about filibusters firsthand, this episode focuses more on the nuts and bolts of governing by enwrapping it in a tighter narrative which ties the laughs and pathos into the conflict. The filibuster episode, for example, was sort of about music, sort of about Courtney’s vanity, and sort of about filibustering. In contrast, this is a tense stand-off with virtually no wasted space.

Courtney is gradually growing into the job which is a promising thing. A relatively minor plot point here is that I enjoyed how the flirtatious overtures of Courtney to the attorney didn’t lead anywhere. It was brief, to the point, and portrayed a healthy understanding of workplace appropriateness which TV usually does not portray well.

I also have to say that while David Spade’s ability to deliver a sarcastic retort is pretty unmatched, I’m not overly attached to anyone else in the cast: Yvette Nicole Brown was just one of those actresses I never responded to. Lea Michelle is, at best, adequate. The mayor is a good character and I think he avoids stereotypical portrayals really well, but he doesn’t jump out at me. That might be what’s holding me back. Perhaps a ringer of a recurring guest star like Paul Scheer on Fresh Off the Boat or Adam Scott on The Good Place or Ben Schwartz/Jennie Slate/Patton Oswalt you name it on Parks and Rec, or  David Koechner on The Office could really shake things up.

Note: This is not the most recent episode of the mayor, I haven’t time to watch that one.

The Orville (Fox)-Rather than engage with a bad show years later on a podcast like “How Did This Get Made” or Nathan Rabin’s “Year of Flops” it’s hard to deny how interesting it is to watch a train wreck as It’s happening. The show’s main crime (other than critics having it out for Seth MacFarlane) is not putting enough jokes in what is supposed to be a comedy. There are also echoes of mirroring Star Trek way too closely but I’ll call BS on that-Galaxy Quest, the occasional Saturday Night Live skit, Thank God You’re Here and 10 Items or Less (off the top of my head) all have pretty exact Star Trek parodies.

But yes: The show is mostly boring and oddly focused on a bickering domestic couple which gets less funny each time. At the same time, it’s kind of nice to re-imagine a version of Starfleet where people will get drunk and pull pranks on each other. The distant cordiality between the seven principals on TNG, and the exponentially greater emotional distance between the senior staff and everyone else on the ship, made for an extremely stuffy adventure.

I’ve skipped over a couple of the episodes but I caught this week (mostly because it was on) and I’d call it the best possible scenario this show could hope for. In other words, it was mildly good. While I think criticism that the show is too close a clone to Star Trek are missing the point of parody, it doesn’t exactly help that this week’s plot has an awful lot in common with the Black Mirror episode starring Dallas Bryce Howard in which society becomes dangerously over reliant on the kind of peer approval enforced through social media channels today. Then again, it was my favorite Black Mirror episode so I was willing to see someone else’s take on it.

In this episode, a crewman named John (I have no idea his rank or position other than sitting on the bridge and pressing buttons, sorry) and some of his crewmates travel down to some version of 21st Century Earth (equally absurd now as it was in the original series) and John gets in trouble for grinding on a statue. It’s worth mentioning, if for no other reason than Seth MacFarlane gets a frat-boy reputation, that it would be an overgeneralization to call the grand statue humping emblematic of the show’s lowbrow ethos : It just happens to be a major plot point this week, and it’s kind of funny when you consider that I could never in a million years picture anyone from The Next Generation humping a statue (though it might be a fun twitter poll: Which TNG member came the closest to statue-humping behavior?).

Anyhow, John has to go on one of those public apology tours or he risks a full-frontal lobotomy if he can’t convince the public of the sincerity of his apology. Once again, many of the laughs are genuine because John is so detached from any expectations of sensible behavior or even common sense when going about such a delicate situation. The show is such a trainwreck that it’s only decently funny, but it was worth my hour.

 

Mom– (CBS) Season Premiere-While the show is called “Mom” it could just as easily be called “AA Group” as the show has morphed to include Mimi Kennedy and Jaime Pressley in central roles as fellow AA members who are also down on their luck.  It’s not an understatement to say these characters are among the richest representations of the troubled American working-class on TV.  But the title, “Mom”, represents the show’s biggest selling point: The relationship between central characters Christy (Anna Faris) and mother Bonnie (Allison Janney). The character of Bonnie has netted Allison Janney a couple of Emmys to date for a reason: She’s a highly amusing catalog of every morally wrong way to raise a daughter with just enough moments of heart to make her worth rooting for. Naturally, it produces a lot of resentment in her daughter but the two are dirt poor enough to have no options but each other.

In this week’s premiere, Bonnie gets engaged, but it’s no easy task for Bonnie to get from Point A to Point B. Many of us (even if we don’t admit it) want an impossible dichotomy of wanting our characters to grow but also not too much that they don’t lose the elements that made them attractive in the first place. Personally, I love shows like “Arrested Development” or “It’s Always Sunny” where the characters pretty much just remain in purgatory (a metaphor that “Seinfeld” took literally in its series finale) and it even makes me feel better to watch people whose personal growth is slower than my own.

For a viewer, marriage is one of the major obstacles where the momentary “good for her/him!” can be entirely eclipsed by dread that the show might be different. Fortunately, the way Bonnie alternates between moments of clarity over wanting a future with Alan and , and Pavlonian outbursts of doubt, there is good reason to believe that Bonnie will be unchanged. For all we know, no marriage can ever happen. It’s times like these where it’s entirely acceptable to root for a character to go forward and backwards at the same time.

In the B-plot Christy might or might not get have gotten a good score on the LSAT but the show doesn’t treat it with much gravity narratively. It’s more of a milestone, but that’s more or less ok.

Also worth noting, for all the talk of single camera’s limiting of comedy, it appears these characters are getting funnier because we know the beats better and better. Their selfishness at the diner scene over not wanting to be happy for one another is funny in a relatable way but entirely true to who they are and that adds to the jokes.

Ingonerable-Pilot Episode- (Netflix) The small dent it made upon premiering was better than nothing but this is a show that could be as gripping as Homeland if it can maintain this level of adrenaline. The first lady of Mexico, Emilia Urquizia (Kate del Castillo), gets into a domestic squabble with the abusive President that results in her losing consciousness and him being killed. Not trusting that the public will buy her innocence, she goes on the run as the government tries to regroup in her absence. There’s an attempt at an in-universe explanation given for the first lady’s potential badassery: She was part of the Security Bureau so she’s familiar with the protocols of the troops that are assigned to track her an, there stands a good chance of staying incognito. So far, she’s not so much Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde as she is Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, but it’s a start.

It’s also a show that’s set in Mexico and is Spanish language (or English if you want to wimp out and change the language settings), so let’s be multi-cultural and give this a shot.

The Mick-This week’s episode of the Mick sees Ben having an unhealthy obsession with his teacher that the show doesn’t really deal with in any discernable way. Ben is as amorphous at this point as ever. Wasn’t he briefly transgender last season? Ben mostly functions as a way to define how Sabrina, Alma and Mick vary in parenting styles but at 7 years old, I’d like him to be something. At the same time, the edge of this show is that it pushes the boundaries of acceptable, so it’s natural that an innocent school crush gets pushed to obsessive drawing. I just wished the show didn’t tie it up in a neat little bow.

The B-plot with Jimmy trying to take Chip and his friends to the next level in bonding also highlights how the show doesn’t deal with Chip particularly well. I find the word privilege to be overused, but Chip fits the bill of being spoiled and wrapped up in all sorts of middle school angst that never really gets channelled into a productive way other than trying to be hard and kind of angry in a cloak of toxic masculinity (oh man, weaselsoup is rubbing off on me if I’m using that word now). The only upside is a sense of caring for his family. I want to see Chip develop with all his flaws but his latent hostility isn’t so much a character flaw as something that’s simply not fun to watch.

All in all, not what I was expecting and I think part of the key is the star of the show is Mick and she needs to be in the center of a plot for anything to work.

Fresh off the Boat-This show has been feeling routine but this episode was so nice and moving in a sitcomey way (not overly sappy) that it won my week.

Four seasons in, Jessica is still as much a ringer for this show as she was in season one. She’s a static character but they put her in a lot of different situations and she has to react to a relatively dynamic group of children. Putting her in a gay bar, as a softball coach, and as a mediator of sorts for Nicole’s coming out to her dad fits the bill of maximum Jessica enjoyment here.

On the other side of the equation, Randall and Marvin get the stereotypical treatment in TV of idiotic dads, but these instincts are curbed a little bit on this show. At worst, they’re just a little emotionally slow. Marvin’s reaction to Nicole’s coming out as gay was ultimately touching if a little sloppy (waiting between innings was a hollow way to build tension).