Saturday, December 24, 2016

Tuning In

I thought I'd never again write about television, as I don't watch much of it these days, but I have been watching a couple of shows during the 2016-17 season, and I have a few things to say about them, plus a couple of others, on this Christmas Eve.  I would have gotten to it sooner, but the election (which is finally over) kept getting in the way. 
Perhaps the brightest and most endearing new show of the 2106-17 season is "This Is Us," an NBC drama about an extended family.  In case you haven't been hiding under a rock lately, "This Is Us" follows a young white couple, Jack and Rebecca Pearson, two fraternal twins named Kevin and Kate, and a black man named Randall, who was adopted by a family after being abandoned in a firehouse by his birth father.   Everyone knows the twist by now: Jack and Rebecca are the parents of the twins and the adoptee, and flashbacks reveal how they grew up, with Kevin becoming a television actor, Kate dealing with a weight problem (and finding a boyfriend, Toby, who's also dealing with a weight problem) and Randall becoming a New York trader and living in a posh neighborhood in northern New Jersey.  We see how the family members love each other and deal with crises and moments of truth, like when Randall finds his biological father, and other plot twists you don't see coming that seem to leap out of nowhere.
One unresolved plot twist so far: Jack turns out to have died many years ago, but we don't know when he died or what he died of.  We only know that Kate keeps his ashes in her apartment.
I have to give a shout-out to Mandy Moore, who plays Rebecca, the family matriarch.  People who remember her as a teen pop singer at the turn of the millennium already know that she was one of the few teenage stars of the time who had genuine singing talent, and they probably knew she could act as well, but in "This is Us," she gives some heartwarming and winning performances that demonstrate just how much she's matured the sixteen years since she turned sixteen.  (Yes, Mandy Moore is 32 now.  Doesn't that make you feel old?)
Is  "This Is Us" the new "Parenthood"?  Not really - for one thing, it's darker and more unsettling than Jason Katims' much-missed show about the Braverman clan - but it's definitely a satisfying and even spellbinding series, always ready to surprise you once you think you have it figured out.
One show I wish I had time for - I don't have time for it because I'm writing this blog - is ABC's "Designated Survivor," starring Kiefer Sutherland as a low-level Cabinet secretary in Washington  who suddenly becomes President of the United States, when his predecessor and the rest of the Cabinet are killed in a terrorist attack during the State of the Union address.  My mother likes it.  I'll have to binge-watch it through On Demand in the near future.  One ABC show I could do without is "Speechless," about a nutty mom whose life revolves around accommodating her children and especially her older son, who suffers from cerebral palsy and needs a typewriter keyboard to communicate.  Minnie Driver plays the mom, and she somehow fails at being a sympathetic character; moreover, she seems to be re-creating her hovering-mother persona from her role in "About a Boy" (a much better show, but Nielsen families decided otherwise) to the point of phoning it in.  And this is Minnie Driver - probably one of the best British actresses of her generation - that we're talking about.
And old ABC favorites?  I'm still a fan of "The Middle," but "Modern Family" got so tiresome and predictable,  I just stopped watching.  I haven't been compelled to catch up on it.  I have a job that requires me to periodically work on Wednesday nights, so I miss "Modern Family" a lot anyway, but when I have the opportunity to see it on On Demand, I just can't be bothered.  Both "The Middle" and "Modern Family" are both about family units that get into unenviable situations, but you sympathize with the Hecks on the former show because they're lower-middle-class Midwesterners without many prospects.  The Pritchetts and the Dunphys on the latter show are upper-middle-class elitist Southern Californians who exhibit all the smugness that applies, and it's hard to laugh when they get into trouble when you know they still live well in the end.  
Or to explain it in a political way, the Pritchetts and the Dunphys behave like centrist Democrats, while the Hecks are blue-collar populists.  And we all know who won that battle.                        

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