I Like To Watch

The Donald goes ballistic, "Joey" spins off, "Six Feet Under" ends with a bang, and Jason Alexander shouts just like he does on those KFC commercials. Plus: Is anything that Siegfried and Roy do not funny?

Published September 20, 2004 9:18PM (EDT)

Doin' it Donald-style
"Bradford made a stupid, impulsive and life-threatening decision that, frankly, if you were running a company and made that kind of a decision, you'd destroy the company instantaneously. Bradford, you're fired." -- Donald Trump, "The Apprentice"

What "stupid, impulsive and life-threatening decision" is the Donald referring to? Bradford's decision to waive his immunity and take his chances with the rest of the team, of course. Forget that he was the strongest player in the room, which the Donald acknowledged on the latest episode of NBC's hit show (Thursdays at 9 p.m.). Forget that, despite the fact that he was the only man on an all-woman team, everyone was impressed with his ability to charm and sell to people on the street. Forget that, by waiving his immunity, he was merely attempting to demonstrate that he had total faith in his performance. Forget the fact that Ivana (the Donald cringes every time he says her name) was a crappy project manager, and everyone wholeheartedly fears and loathes Stacie with an "ie." The Donald was just angry last Thursday, and someone had to pay.

Did he get the news that his hotel and casino company was going to declare bankruptcy? Did girlfriend Melania choose the wrong mat color while framing his most recent press clipping? Are his alligator-skin shoes three sizes too small? After an entire season of so nicely reflecting the audience's sensibilities, the Donald suddenly swerved off the radar into Scary Irrational Boss territory.

Will it still be fun to watch Scary Irrational Boss fire people? According to this reporter, it will be even more fun. But will children still run to the Donald with open arms when they see him on the street, as he often claims they do, or will they run screaming in the other direction? At least he'll save money on hand sanitizer.

Mostly, though, I'm amused that the NBC Web site changed the words in Trump's overblown rhetoric from "life-threatening" to "life-altering." I'm also wondering how an overconfident gesture could destroy a company instantaneously. Obviously, Bradford's braggadocio hit a nerve, or sparked some painful memory from one of billions and billions of arrogant missteps the Donald has served over the years. Still, perhaps one or two of you MBAs out there could drop me a line and explain why the Donald's head turned red and popped off over this. I know this column is regular reading for you folks, right after the Wall Street Journal and before Forbes.

I know how you people live. My dad was an economist, see. Did you know that, when I was little, whenever I heard the theme to "Wall Street Week," I did a weird little psychotic tribal dance along with the beat of the typewriters in the background? And if I didn't do the dance automatically, my dad would scream: "Hey! Wall Street Week! Time for the dance!" That sort of explains a lot, doesn't it?

Parents, contrary to popular belief, there are limits to how much you should encourage your children's creativity.

Some of these "Apprentice" candidates seem to have grown up in similarly fawning hothouses. My guess is that Jennifer M., the really pretty one who looks a little bit like Carly Simon, will win it all. She's sharp. The Donald is already asking her opinion constantly. Barring another of the Donald's temperamental hot flashes, she should take the prize.

The best show ever
Onward, chicken soldiers! It's been an eventful week in TV land, but I'm still reeling from the "Six Feet Under" finale, which has required several days to sink in. Luckily, my tardiness affords me the luxury of addressing the reactions others have had to the season's final episode. First of all, I don't even know where to start with those viewers who say they've given up on the show because too much bad stuff happens on it (as opposed to, say, most cop shows, which are a lot like your average Mommy and Me yoga class). Time to wake up and smell the shrapnel hitting the fan, wee chickadees. Bad stuff happens. Yes, the bad stuff in "Six Feet Under" is condensed into a small period of time. This is true because "Six Feet Under" is something known as a drama. Dramas are dramatic. If Ruth and George held hands for a full hour, watching the show would be a little like sitting around with your parents all night.

Yeah, and who are you kidding? Your parents aren't that happy together.

In other news, it bugs me that reviewers cover this show as if it's just a mildly amusing assortment of plot twists. Sure, there were unexpected turns a plenty in the finale, but the truly remarkable (and unusual) thing was that each one made perfect sense in the context of the season. "Six Feet Under" manages to keep the characters behaving in ways that are at once unpredictable and yet utterly within the realm of possibility, given their essential natures.

Just look at Vanessa (Justina Machado). In one of the most realistic and heartbreaking scenes of the season, Rico (Freddy Rodriguez) comes back and apologizes for his mistakes, but it's too late. Vanessa explains that she's not trying to hurt him, but she's happier than she was before and she just doesn't want to be married to him anymore. How often, on TV or in movies, does the philandering husband admit his mistake, only to lose the woman he loves? Yet, it makes perfect sense that Vanessa, an essentially resilient woman, would find herself enjoying her life alone so much that she doesn't want to go back to the way things were. The scene was simultaneously touching, painful, realistic, beautifully shot and heavy with relatable themes.

Then you have Ruth (Frances Conroy), struggling mightily with her commitment to the increasingly difficult George (James Cromwell). I wasn't incredibly fond of this story at the start of the season, yet as George has slipped into disturbing outbreaks of paranoia and a recurring obsession with doomsday, it's been fascinating to witness how Ruth handles it. Her coping strategies are so familiar: She escapes to Bettina's house for several days, she goes on a trip to have a good time, then breaks down crying, and finally, she very directly tells George what she wants from him. But her dilemma is clear: she's in a relationship with a man who will never give her what she wants. The news that George is mentally ill and plans on spending the rest of his days in the Fishers' bomb shelter is really just the icing on the cake. The sad beauty of Ruth's efforts to stay the course and stand by her man, even as everyone around her is confused by why she's with him, has matured into one of the show's more moving story lines.

David's resolution with Jake, the man who terrorized him, was also both wrenching and refreshingly ambiguous. In a scene where David (Michael C. Hall) visits Jake (Michael Weston) at the prison, instead of either screams or apologies, the two sit across from each other, completely unable to communicate. Even as he's sitting across from a man he brutalized, Jake is unable to focus on anything but his own needs, wondering out loud why David didn't bring him anything. As bad as you feel for David, it's hard not to pity Jake even as you detest him.

Claire (Lauren Ambrose), with her coke-fueled slide into egocentrism, really brings back the breathtaking fun and poisonous self-involvement of being a brand-new adult. But even as she blurts out arrogant proclamations about herself and her photography, her courage and naiveté could still charm us into the sack faster than you can say "Billy Chenowith still belongs in the nut house."

Finally, Nate (Peter Krause) discovered that his suspicions about Lisa's death were well founded, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief that all of his suffering wasn't for naught. This was a fantastic choice, really -- just as you're dying for Nate to get off his friggin' pity potty already, you find that his most impulsive, aggressively misguided act (driving up the coast to see his sister-in-law and her family to confront them and try to find out if they knew anything about Lisa's death) uncovers the answer. Lisa was having an affair with her brother-in-law, and he killed her when she told him she was planning to tell her sister about the affair.

Not only does this erase the nagging deus ex machina aspect of Lisa's drowning, but it highlights the kind of bad stuff that does happen far more often than any of us would like to admit. Men kill women. It's a real problem, as a matter of fact. But for Nate, this twist is disturbing yet liberating: Lisa was no saint, to say the least. She was sleeping with her sister's husband. (I sure feel so much better now about hating her guts.) So Nate arrives, blood-spattered, and says to Brenda: "Let's get married and have a baby." Is the fact that this is the first thing out of his mouth a stretch? To those who've been through traumatic events, Nate's reaction may be the most real moment of the entire season. Once again, "Six Feet Under" tackles enormous, weighty themes head-on, but instead of making a melodramatic, bloody mess of things, the show dodges and dances and hints at simple truths with breathtaking humor and grace.

Pride and prejudice
OK. Time to step out of the fawning hothouse and discuss a few of the other countless premieres of the past week. Despite early reports that NBC's "Father of the Pride" (Tuesdays at 9 p.m.) was laugh-free, I found it alarmingly good and delightfully weird, particularly the scenes involving Siegfried and Roy running off to 7-Eleven for a Big Gulp. (No, I'm really not kidding.) For those who don't follow every single new show to hit the airwaves, "Father of the Pride" is an animated show that focuses on the life of Larry, a lion who appears with Siegfried and Roy in Vegas. The jokes are a little edgier and stranger than your typical sitcom fare, and I particularly liked the episode where Larry's daughter is busted for stashing some catnip under a vase. My only complaint is that the voices of Larry and his wife (played by John Goodman and Cheryl Hines) are so familiar, it's downright distracting. Plus, am I the only person on the planet who finds each of their voices annoying in its own way? Maybe it's just because I feel like I'm watching "Roseanne" or "Curb Your Enthusiasm" every two seconds, or maybe it's the fact that I didn't like Goodman's character on "Roseanne" and really dislike Hines' character on "Curb." Or maybe I'm just a big jerk.

Turn it down
On CBS's "Listen Up," Jason Alexander plays a big jerk. Hard to imagine, isn't it? The show is supposed to be based on the writings of real-life sports commentator Tony Kornheiser, but it's not clear how such writings, or Alexander's star power, or really anything at all, enhances the show, since, like the vast majority of sitcom pilots, it's just not very funny or all that interesting.

"Listen Up" (Mondays at 8:30 p.m.) centers around Tony (Alexander), his "witty sidekick" Bernie (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), his generic wife, his smartass daughter and his bizarre, golf-prodigy son. Prepare to check your watch every few seconds and whine, "Are we there yet?"

Pop Quiz!

1. What's worse than a "Friends" spinoff?

A) Swimming in a pool filled with hot pea soup

B) An Alyssa Milano vehicle

C) Those bugs that lay their eggs inside folded-up leaves

D) One of those really loafy-looking omelets where they lump all the ingredients in the middle instead of mixing them into the egg part

E) All of the above

Answer Key: 1. E) All of the above!

I hate to tell you this, but "Joey" (Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC) is actually funny, and by "funny" I mean "will make you laugh out loud." Drea de Matteo has nice timing, the kid (Paulo Costanzo) isn't remotely irritating, and Matt LeBlanc is great. I fully expected this one to be a train wreck, with LeBlanc struggling mightily to pull everyone else from the wreckage, but it actually made me laugh -- a lot. It also gave me this weird urge to swim through a pool filled with hot pea soup. What's that all about?

Next week: More lousy sitcoms, plus, the season finale of "The Amazing Race" and the season premiere of "America's Next Top Model"! Somebody pinch me!

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  • By Heather Havrilesky

    Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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