I Like to Watch

NBC's "Committed" makes the unstable look adorable, Patricia Arquette makes psychics look sexy, and HBO's "Unscripted" makes struggling actors look ... about the same as they've ever looked.

By Heather Havrilesky
January 11, 2005 2:00AM (UTC)
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Welcome back, tender tiny peas, and a pleasing to tolerable new year to each and every one of you! I returned to The Southland! on the last day of what was, to put it mildly, an incredibly whack year in the news. Hundreds were trampled underfoot during the relentless march of freedom and then, just as we're all crawling out of bed with big pot bellies to read "year in review" pieces reminding us of all the nasty pap we worked so hard to forget, like "Nipplegate" and how bony Mary-Kate looked on the Walk of Fame that day, just as we're deeply ashamed of our shallow, pathetic natures, the tsunami hits, and no one even gets God's big joke for a full week. Maybe He needs to buy Gabriel a little drum kit.

But in other, much more pressing news, my brand new Sony television set was finally repaired (thanks, Good Guys!) two full months after it broke down, and apparently it never stopped caring about me the entire time. Even as it was on its deathbed, even though its motherboard was eventually replaced, it continued to do my bidding.


Yes, eerily enough, savory onion tartlets, when I turned the thing on, there were the 10 latest episodes of "The Wire," a handful of episodes of "The Dog Whisperer," and a "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County" marathon just in case I was in the mood to commit suicide. Like Poe's telltale heart that just kept beating under the floorboards, my unearthly TiVo quietly did my bidding for weeks without needing further instruction or support. Now I feel as if I have some sort of undead sidekick scouring the airwaves for my most whimsical viewing needs while I attend to other, more important things, like scarfing down big plates of fried shrimp in Gulfport, Miss. (How can you resist, when the sign says "All U Can Eat -- Family Styles"?)

So, let's thank the Lord, who doth smite us with his global practical jokes, for the little things: TiVo. Fried shrimp. Hush puppies covered in butter. You know, things that should disgust us, but delight us instead: Strawberry margaritas with whipped cream on top. Jonathan on "The Amazing Race." Sausage McMuffins. The guy at that truck stop in Arizona who asked us to meet him down at the Palace on New Year's Eve. The Web site of that chick from "Who's Your Daddy?"

It must've been the roses
"I think this time I really will have a happy ending!" -- Jen Schefft, "The Bachelorette"


Speaking of disgustingly delightful, can someone please explain Jen Schefft to me? I didn't watch that season of "The Bachelor" where she accepted Andrew Firestone's proposal, so I'm not sure why men crawled out of the woodwork like rats to be a part of a big Bachelorette rat smoothie. All I know is, I like to objectify the hot mancakes trussed up in suits, all jittery and nervous over the bubbly babe of their spank fantasies. But then, what girl worth her salt doesn't get a cheap thrill when Mr. Maybe calls his virginity his "greatest accomplishment"?

Like the hungry dragons of yore, Jen seems to have a real hankering for virgin flesh. She helped pick the pool of aspiring beefcakes, and not one but two of them are savory virgin-boy tartlets! And maybe I'm just a scary old dragon lady myself, but who can help chuckling greasily when Jason, 29, announces solemnly, "My body is not a carnival ride, it's a gift." Hmmm, very interesting. My body is definitely a carnival ride.

If you are going to tune in to be delighted/disgusted by another round of fantasy-suite football, don't miss the part in the first episode (Monday at 9 p.m. on ABC) where Jen's pal gets excited about how she'll get to see all the sights in New York City, like, you know, the Eiffel Tower! And you thought the commander in chief was solely to blame for giving us a worldwide reputation as morons.


You'll also want to keep from dozing off during the mancake introductions, because the last guy in the second group is a full-on smoking hottie of the first degree. Sadly, by the end of the episode, he's opened his mouth a few times and thus seems far less hot than he did before he spoke. It's not that he's a meathead, either; he just seems like sort of a jerk. From what I've seen of Jen and her taste, this means he'll make it to the final three at the very least.

Out with the old, in with the new
But enough of those crusty old shows we barely like! How about the new stuff? I'm pleased to report that a brand-new sitcom has hit the NBC lineup and, while it is a sitcom, it actually made me laugh. Weird, huh?


NBC's "Committed" (Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m.) tells the story of a neurotic, obsessive-compulsive guy (Nate) and a scattered, deeply strange girl (Marni) who fall in love and drive each other crazy in all of those sitcom-friendly ways we've come to know and loathe. Still, the jokes on this show are a little bit bolder and scrappier and less p.c. than they are on other sitcoms, but without the taint of "Seinfeld" imitation that's plagued the networks for almost a decade.

Most surprising of all, leads Jennifer Finnigan and Josh Cooke aren't anything like the typical guy-girl sitcom leads of recent memory. In other words, they're funny. Finnigan has a serious knack for juicing the comedy out of her lines, and I don't mean in that Jenna Elfman ("Dharma & Greg") super-duper cutie way, either. And Cooke is actually convincing as an obsessive freak, and has a nice streak of self-deprecating, Ben-Stillery allure.

After just two airings, the ratings for "Committed" are already respectable, and that's not really surprising, considering the utter lack of promising-looking new sitcoms floating around these days -- you know something is amiss in the universe when "Two and a Half Men" is a hit.


More acting actors, acting about acting
Achtung! More acting ahead, and I don't mean the typical kind with scripts. I mean the kind that George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh keep tossing at the wall with their production company, Figure 8 -- you know, with the people playing themselves, but not really, and the improvised scenes where people try to act a little bit like they'd normally act, but different? I mean, they're acting, I think. Remember "P Street"? Or was it "O Street"?

Best of all, this latest show, HBO's "Unscripted" (Sundays at 10 p.m.), is about struggling actors! Hurray! What demographic in the known universe do we have less information about than that of the struggling actor?

See, Clooney and Soderbergh recognize that we're absolutely longing to see struggling actors ... struggle. They take demeaning jobs. Their self-esteem suffers. Stars talk down to them. They take irritating acting classes.


But after about 20 minutes of watching pretty girls and boys read for soap opera roles, or call their parents to ask for another loan, you're likely to wonder about plumbers. What are their lives like? And what about truck drivers? What do they talk about? What keeps accountants up at night?

Sadly, we'll never know, because here in The Southland! we care about little more than filming people here in The Southland! improvising lines that are sort of like something they might actually say here in The Southland! -- but different.

It's not a terrible show. I just wish it were about archaeologists.

Medium rare
And, since there aren't nearly enough shows about young women with special powers, here's "Medium" (Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC) starring Patricia Arquette. As tough as it is to watch another super-powered crime solver in action, the first episode of this show turned out to be pretty compelling. The show is based on the real story of Allison Dubois, an Arizona mother who, according to CNN.com, was "studying law when she discovered her psychic abilities could provide research in solving murders and missing-person cases."


It's not hard to see why special powers are so compelling to us these days, when they're basically reported as fact by the media -- not that the show isn't convincing on the matter. While Arquette is oddly robotic in many of her scenes, she still seems to make sense in the role. You can already imagine that her monotone will evolve into one of the charms of the show, like Jerry Seinfeld smiling when he's angry.

My psychic powers tell me this show will be a hit, especially if they ditch the frumpy blazers and start playing up Patricia Arquette's body for the high-speed carnival ride that it is.

Onward and downward
In summary:

In: Fried shrimp. Three-syllable titles. Allusions to "Seinfeld." Archaeologists. Psychic powers. Bodies that double as carnival rides.


Out: Virginity. Actors acting about acting. Cruel and punishing gods.

Speaking of cruel and punishing gods, I'd love to chat about the new season of "Carnivale" or ponder the first episode of "24" (look for a review of the first two episodes this Tuesday), but this rusty carnival ride needs to shut down for the day.

Next week: The freaks of "Carnivale" reconvene for more depressing gore! Plus: Jon and Kristy of "The Amazing Race" continue to inspire awe, while Jonathan continues to shop for a good old-fashioned beatdown!

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  • 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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