Structured Gender Volleys: New Spring Television 2011 – Review – Part II

This new batch of spring television involves new series blended more in gender roles using drama but mostly comedy to point out the ever changing gender political structure between men and women (and the writers that seek to analyze it). With something like “Fairly Legal”, USA uses the genre structure of a formula show to highlight the problematic relationships of a strong women. Think Ally McBeal with more game and a little less clumsiness but just as much insecurity brewing beneath. “Being Human” takes a failed relationship to a more extreme level with angst abounding. “Perfect Couples” gets it done best by playing to the absurdness of most relationships and the flybys that ensue with just the right amount of nostalgia. “Retired At 35” takes the more senior approach but gives a youth swing that sometimes plays with more bad taste than love but with enough candy to play correctly.

Fairly Legal Building on their penchant for strong but inevitably riveting and attractive women like the recent “Covert Affairs” the USA Network outlay uses the basis outside the legal element of a mediator who solves aspects of the law before they go to trial. While she is pretty much idiosyncratic and at a loss in her personal life, the lead character’s off-the-cuff approach to changing people’s ideals works very well, helped in no small part by her assistant Leo. The chairman of the office is her late father’s trophy wife who is not much older than her would-be stepdaughter but seems to have had genuine feelings for her older man despite everybody’s criticisms. With an ex-husband Assistant DA who is still a friends-with-benefits package, the show hits all the modern portrayals of gender structure which is an undeniable issue in modern society. The cases range between such issues as adoption, copyright infringement and even racial profiling versus cover-ups which plays very well within the context of San Francisco which itself is a melting pot. Like “Harry’s Law” but with a much leaner, tighter and prettier cast, “Legal” knows itself without taking the job too seriously.

Being Human This series, which is a remake of a barely earlier UK series, works because it ranges itself dark. Unlike the popcorn regiment of series like “Caprica” and “Stargate Universe”, which despite great themes, hover just beyond the point of identifiable realism, “Human” approaches the myths of vampires, werewolves and ghosts with an interesting real world connotation. While not glossy or slick in a conventional way, “Human” has the pace and thought pattern of an EMT driver who has been up for 48 hours, creating a world of a limbo on earth for these people. The narrative structure involves an older vampire, locked in age in his early 20s and a werewolf, just turned, who pushes away all of his friends including his fiancee in an effort that they not get hurt. Add to the range, the ghost of a girl who lived in the house whom only they and other supernaturals can see. It may sound a little mythological but the tone has a dry somberness to it closer to “Nurse Jackie” than “Vampire Diaries”.

Perfect Couples The insistance of another relationship comedy with an ensemble brings thought of “Modern Family” but for some reason this outlay about three different couples, two married and one eventually engaged, has a very nostalgic world feeling about it. None have kids and are still trying to find themselves in their 30s as ideas of who they want to be and gender roles (a big theme this season) swirl in context around them. The parallel jumping of thoughts really has a great warmth to it which is almost remincent of ABC’s “Swingtown” two years ago but with much snappier writing and a different time setting. The half hour single camera format does capture a loss of control that comes with that early 30s transition. One scene that really captures it is when after trying to come to terms with rules and roles, the friends get together for a big drink time in the former high school quarterback’s man cave to “Sometimes When We Touch” with all of them running into hangovers except for the quarterback and his cheerleader wife who recreate the dance scene from “Pulp Fiction” before he goes to work. The series gets itself which makes it fun to watch.

Retired At 35 Attacking the 30s from a different angle, this implementation follows from another thought that problematically enough is becoming more commonplace involving the sons and daughters of baby boomers moving back home because the economic situation is so impending and doom-filled. Using this structure with parents that finally separate because they can’t stand retirement together, both of these older characters make the progress of improving their game while being not quite together. It is like high school in a retirement community which works well with TV Land viewers. The hijinks also involve the setting up of said son with various romantic foibles while the parents themselves vie for his attention. The series uses the old school sitcom camera set-ups but also know that this is a different world from the early 80s. Like “Shit My Dad Says” but with a little more obvious love thrown in, the hijinks are fun while still being wholly predictable.

Mr. Sunshine When Matthew Perry gets into his self-effacing “Friends”-like mode there is something natural goofy and endearing to him as if he realizes “yes I’m here…doing the best I can”. With Courtney Cox just separated by days in “Cougar Town”, the mix is a good melding. What also makes this production succeed is the 30 minute runtime. Like “Newsradio”, the series tends to work because of different supporting characters jumping in with jokes letting Perry bat cleanup.  Using a great cross-section of underused character actors from James Lesure (NBC’s defunct “Las Vegas”) as well as Andrea Anders (ABC’s dearly departed and missed “Better Off Ted”) to fresh new faces such as Nate Torrence and Portia Doubleday, the series knows to take itself just as seriously as it needs to again pointing oddly enough to a new continuing prevalence in TV comedies. This standard, which both “Community” and “Cougar” has embraced, can almost be perceived as “magic reality realism” where the actual storylines can take a break from the rules of living but still be grounded. Remember “Cheers”? When did anybody ever go to work there?