Television Turmoil is a look at the worst and weirdest series to make their way onto the small screen.
The 90s were a period of enormous growth for television. The rise of cable caused an explosion of channels attempting to cater to specific interests and age groups, but it wasn’t just cable networks attempting to expand into the market. With Fox successfully established as the “fourth network” in the world of broadcast television, The WB and UPN came into being in an attempt to capture some of that same magic. Of the two upstarts, UPN is something of a black sheep in discussions about this period and when looking at a show like Shasta McNasty it isn’t hard to understand why.
Created by Jeff Eastin, the program attempted to cater to the male demographic (specifically “11 and up” according to UPN’s then-COO) as it followed the exploits of three friends who are part of the titular rap rock band. If you didn’t know this was produced in 1999, that last line certainly gave it away. The trio features Dennis (Jake Busey, son of Gary) the “wild one,” Scott (Carmine Giovinazzo) the “straight man” and Randy (Dale Godboldo) the “guy who gets all the other jokes.” Don’t you worry, there is also a female character, Diana (Mary Lynn Rajskub in the pilot, Jolie Jenkins for the rest of the series) who shares a kitchen with the trio and occasionally gets to have a plot of her own. Also, because this is the late 90s, Verne Troyer is here.
The pilot of Shasta McNasty, which aired immediately following an episode of WWF Smackdown in a rare moment of synergy for UPN, is perhaps one of the worst things I have ever forced myself to watch. Chock full of rampant sexism, abuse and constant sex jokes, it feels like someone took the most detestable aspects of 90s shock culture, put them in a blender and removed anything resembling satire. After all, we’re supposed to be siding with these characters and the show makes that clear by all but cheering on their actions. The only saving grace is that no one had the idea to include a laugh track full of Married… With Children-style whoops and hollers.
Most of the pilot revolves around our trio of misfits spying on a woman across the street change with the help of an elaborate camera system, only to discover that her boyfriend is cheating on her. Disgusted by this, they resolve to break the couple up and lead her into the arms of one of them. With such a thin plot, there is plenty of time for Zach Morris-like fourth wall breaks, a musical interlude that is neither particularly funny nor musical, and an extended sequence of Scott fighting a parrot puppet. With all that, it isn’t hard to understand why 11-year-olds were specifically called out as a potential audience.
While the show attempted to keep up that “in your face” edgy style that has aged as well as a 1-800-COLLECT commercial, the network had other ideas and retooled the program after a few episodes. The new version, simply titled Shasta, sanded down a lot of the edges to the show, making it less about shock value and more about standard sitcom fare. Plots no longer revolved around attempting to score with women and instead focused on paying rent or the burgeoning relationship between Scott and Diana.
As you might expect, this failed to attract an audience or improve the show’s quality, beneath all the juvenile antics and pandering to the lowest common denominator there was nothing left. None of the characters were anything more than thin caricatures, and any of them developing into someone likable would be a step too far. All that was left was to write some hackneyed sitcom scripts and wait for the inevitable cancellation.
After lasting a full season, mostly because of UPN having nothing else to air, Shasta McNasty was cancelled in the summer, airing a final episode that jumped ahead to 2010 for a Behind the Music parody that followed the band after they found success. The closest thing to an original idea the show had, and it was already a bit of a cliche by that point. It was another in a long line of shows cancelled by UPN after a single season.
Perhaps I’m being a little rough on this show, but in my eyes there is just nothing redeeming about this. It is a snapshot of the worst aspects of the late 90s, all edge and rage but with nothing to say. A show in such desperate need of an identity that it attempted to find it by appealing to the South Park crowd with none of the humor that program had. In many ways, that search for an identity is also key to UPN’s struggles as a network.
Like Shasta, UPN struggled constantly throughout its run to find an identity as a network. The WB found its niche as a destination for teens and young adults, a focus that carried over into The CW as well. UPN could never find that singular focus, attempting to latch on to popular trends and hoping that one would lead to success. It isn’t hard to see the parallels, even if it feels wrong to compare the entire network to this one show. In the year 1999, though, UPN and Shasta McNasty were on similar wavelengths. Both desperate to attract an audience but unaware that to garner attention you need more than what you can find at the bottom of a barrel.
Next Time: We take a breather and focus on something goofy, the much lampooned police procedural musical, Cop Rock.
As always, thanks for reading! If you have any suggestions for future shows you want to see covered, leave them in the comments below. For more great content, follow me on Twitter @JesseSwanson.