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July 14th, 2003


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02:05 pm - NO TONTO DON'T GO TO TOWN
...and every time Tonto went to town, the bandits would beat the snot out of him! "Nice to have you back in town, Tonto!" ... I'd holler at the radio "NO, TONTO, DON'T GO TO TOWN!" ... Just once I'd like to hear "Tonto?" "Yes, Kemo Sabe?" "You go to town." "You go to hell, Kemo Sabe..."

This week's Bill Cosby Memorial Tonto Goes To Town Award goes to the writers of Showtime's Dead Like Me, an interesting enough series in its own right. Unfortunately the series already has been cursed with the dreaded Q-Word ("quirky"), that great generic catch-all word used by television critics to indicate that they have run out of adjectives (see also: They Might Be Giants album reviews.) It's about a young girl whose life is cruelly snuffed out by a flaming toilet seat (bet you didn't see that one coming -- well, you'll see it in the prologue of every episode) and due to some strange twist of fate or another ends up as an undead reaper, assigned to go and help remove the souls of folks about to die in similarly ironic and bizarre fashions. There's a whole backstory to it and explanations keep coming with every episode, but suffice to say she's got a quota to fill before she "moves on" and that may take a while. Mandy Patinkin plays her boss, and he's pretty much the best part of the series. I like Mandy Patinkin.

No, it's not really a "Six Feet Under Lite", it's more of a "On A Pale Horse and Reaper Man meet Kelly Temps" kind of thing if you ask me. (I'm trying to avoid comparisons to HBO's show because while it's pretty obvious Showtime went "Ooh, see the nifty show about death HBO has, we want a nifty show about death too" I don't think it's fair to continuously point out the connection.) I'm digging the concept, and I rather like the incredibly inefficient way the reapers under Mandy Patinkin's watch do things -- they know the first initial and last name of their, er, "client", and the time of death -- but man. I'm not so crazy about the, well, execution. Even after the first episode I was real worried the series would run out of steam fairly quickly. There's only so many strange and twisted deaths you can portray on the tube and Dead takes even the weirder Six Feet Under deaths and puts a mystery spin on it -- uh oh! A rampaging bear is on the loose! Can you figure out who's gonna die in this setup? Blah blah blah.

(Oh, it turns out to be the news reporter who, when frightened by the rampaging bear, pees himself and stands in the puddle of urine which runs slightly downhill and hits the exposed contacts of a large power cable and... hey. I shit you not. Pants-pissing pictures ahoy!)

Anyway. That's not the point of the Bill Cosby Memorial Tonto Goes To Town Award. This award, for Excellence in Predictable Character Actions, goes to Dead Like Me for having the EXACT SAME CONFLICT in the second half of all three episodes shown so far. It goes like this:

DEAD REAPER GIRL
This being a reaper thing sucks.

MANDY PATINKIN
Maybe so and maybe not. But whatever you do, don't do this or I will be mad.

DEAD REAPER GIRL
Okay, whatever.

(DEAD REAPER GIRL does THIS)

DEAD REAPER GIRL
Oh no, I seem to have done this.

MANDY PATINKIN
Now I am mad. Look at what you did.

(DEAD REAPER GIRL sees the HORRIBLE CONSEQUENCES of her ACTIONS.)

DEAD REAPER GIRL
Huh.

MANDY PATINKIN
I hope you have learned your lesson.

(DEAD REAPER GIRL is SHAMED, but does not APPEAR to have LEARNED HER LESSON.)

Sure, you can argue her motivation for not playing by the rules -- she's stubborn, she's new, she's in denial over her own death -- but really, that works for one episode. Two at the most if you do things differently. Although the punishments do seem to be getting harsher (she gets a good yelling-at in the latest episode and breaks down and cries and it's a pretty harsh scene all around) the sequence of actions is the same old routine. So every time the Dead Reaper Girl starts getting all petulant and insisting on doing things her way, I holler "TONTO DON'T GO TO TOWN!" at the screen. It has about the same effect as Bill Cosby's hollering so many years ago.

While I'm not sure the direction the next few episodes will take, I think this would've been better served as a six-episode mini-series with a definitive story arc and conclusion. Conceptually, it's a kick in the pants, but a continuing series with this may prove to be more fun to just conceptualize than it is to actually write and/or watch. And that's a shame, really.

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Comments:


From:archangelsk
Date:July 14th, 2003 05:56 pm (UTC)
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Say, I should talk to my Kelly rep and see if she can get me assigned to the Reapers.
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 14th, 2003 06:51 pm (UTC)
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You may not want to; the pay's a bitch. The reaper characters have to take day-jobs and squat in the apartments of the dead people.

Like I said, intriguing concept...

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