It’s a common story a lot of us have watched unfold before. Dudebro meets flighty gal. Dudebro mocks flighty gal. Dudebro scares away flighty gal. Dudebro tries to make it up to flighty gal. Dudebro ticks off flighty gal. Dudebro kisses up to flighty gal with weak, music-free Say Anything nod. Flighty gal gives him yet another chance because the producers mandated a happy ending. According to the new ABC sitcom Manhattan Love Story, that’s modern true love at its finest!
The only new fantasy/sci-fi series of the Fall 2014 season that’s not based on a comic book, the hero of Forever, a Manhattan medical examiner who’s also a 200-year-old immortal, could’ve been adapted from the medium, using either DC Comics’ Immortal Man or Vandal Savage, or Marvel’s Mr. Immortal from the Great Lakes Avengers. Instead this mash-up derived from the crossed bones of the much more popular Sleepy Hollow and Sherlock will have to rise or fall on the strength of some added flourishes and the charms of star Ioan Gruffudd, who’s much more at ease here than he was as the uptight Reed Richards in the two Fantastic Four films.
When the American version of Whose Line Is It, Anyway? was canceled, it was a sad day for those fans of TV improv comedy who were still watching after all those seasons and time slot changes. When Drew Carey and friends reformatted and relaunched on the WB as Drew Carey’s Green Screen, it just wasn’t the same to me. When a live version of basically the same shtick and troupe was recorded for the Game Show Network as Drew Carey’s Improv-a-Ganza, it was closer to the mark, but only lasted through late-spring/early-summer 2011.
For a limited time only, improv has returned to ABC once more, minus a few faces. Trust Us with Your Life is missing Carey and longtime cohort Ryan Stiles, but the Tuesday night summer series aims for much the same ambience. Returning vets such as Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, Greg Proops, Brad Sherwood, and Jonathan Mangum (from Improv-a-Ganza, not WLIIA) are ordered around by replacement host Fred Willard into improv games adapted from a British show called Fast and Loose (which in turn was created by one of the original mind behind the original British WLIIA). Rather than a series of competitions where points are awarded even though they don’t really matter, now the games are instead loopy, inspired-by recreations of anecdotes from the lives of assorted celebrity guests of varying caliber.
So far our old friends are a treat to see again, though I wish Willard was an active performer instead of being relegated to mere host duties. Of all the games aired thus far, the funniest and least cribbed from WLIIA is “Sideways Scene”, in which three of our funnymen reenact a tale while lying sideways on an orange mat but filmed from overhead, creating fun discomfort from gravity and crawling around and over each other. (It’s funnier than it sounds.) Guest participation has varied:
* Episode 1: Tennis star Serena Williams. She seemed to enjoy every minute of it, but I was a little bugged that half the jokes were Wayne Brady complimenting her figure. This became repetitive and just a little voyeuristic.
* Episode 2: Jack and Kelly Osbourne. I never watched their world-famous MTV reality show and had few preconceptions about them beyond their bizarre fashion choices of years past. They seemed like well-adjusted siblings with the expected rivalries and embarrassing dirt on each other, perhaps because they’ve caroused together one time too many. Our improv all-stars seemed on fire, but when called upon to impersonate their famous father, I was annoyed that no one could remember the difference between his daily mumbling and his much clearer, louder singing voice.
Episode 3: Mark Cuban. Never heard of him. Apparently he’s a buff millionaire who was once a Pittsburgh bouncer and now owns a basketball team. The cast had fun with his occasionally lewd life stories, my ignorance notwithstanding.
Episode 4: Ricky Gervais. All his responses to Willard’s questions appeared to have been edited heavily due to either excessive length or simple incredulity. After some awkward opening segments about his non-idyllic childhood, he seemed to enjoy himself the most when asked to participate in a sketch where all his dialogue was provided by Colin. It’s hard to go wrong when Colin is in charge.
ABC is showing two episodes per week, Tuesdays at 9 EDT. The Internet says only eight were filmed, so this may soon be a blip in TV history. I plan to enjoy them while I can, though the promise that one of next week’s guests is Jerry Springer is not exactly enticing.
Once Upon a Time was originally written off by Internet comics fans as an alt-world version of Bill Willingham’s Fables, but felt no slings or arrows as it became ABC’s highest-rated new drama of the 2011-2012 season. The complex saga of fairy-tale characters trapped in the modern world without their memories was a nonstop roller coaster that leavened linear storytelling with non-linear flashbacks and delved into themes of identity, belief, vengeance, betrayal, and true love. The basic cast of Snow White, Prince Charming, their long-lost adult daughter Emma, her forsaken son Henry, his adopted mother Mayor Evil Queen, and her ally/nemesis/ally/nemesis Rumpelstiltskin were joined each week by a strong, nuanced supporting cast who each had a turn living out their origins and defining their roles in the scary new world of quaint little Storybrooke.
The happy news three weeks ago was that Meghan Ory’s Red Riding Hood (a.k.a. Ruby the world’s greatest detective who’d rather be a waitress) would be upgraded to full-time regular status in season 2. This week Entertainment Weekly brought announcements of two more recurring characters being added to the show, neither of whom I’ve ever watched in anything: Jamie Chung as Mulan and Sarah Bolger as Sleeping Beauty. Those two are in addition to already existing recurring characters Dr. Jiminy Cricket, Ruby’s grandma restaurateur, the Blue Fairy, Amy Acker’s other fairy, the madder-than-mad Mad Hatter, Sidney Glass the queen’s tool, August “Pinocchio” Booth, the tormented Belle, my personal hero Grumpy, the blondish doctor who has yet to reveal his true Disney name, and a handful of other one-shot Disney properties such as Maleficent and Pongo.
I trust the showrunners know what they’re doing and will be adding new characters organically as the flow of the season allows them, rather than cramming them in all at once as if the series were a virtual clown-car of corporate merchandise mascots, all suffocating each other as they vie for our attention and the approval of their Disney overlords. I can only imagine this trend taken to an extreme as we run out of princesses by season 4 and have to start scraping the Disney barrel for too many unnecessary live-action reboots. The possibilities for casting and subplots abound:
* A Hawaiian girl named Lilo with a most exotic pet.
* Chernabog from Fantasia as the season 3 Big Bad, having conquered and assumed control of Fairy Tale Land while Mayor Evil Queen has been in absentia.
* Pocahontas as a lawyer representing for Storybrooke’s minorities and/or environmental causes, switching specialties every other episode for plot needs as TV lawyers are wont to do.
* Dumbo’s mother incarnated as an overprotective plus-sized mother of Henry’s new mute, big-eared friend.
* Bob Newhart and Zsa-Zsa Gabor reprising their roles as Bernard and Bianca, now retired adventurers who bicker sweetly while their rambunctious brood carry on the family business.
* Don Novello resumes as the demolitions expert from Atlantis: the Lost Empire, except now clad in his old Father Guido Sarducci costume.
* Aladdin’s magic carpet as a hybrid sports car, purple with gold trim, and as alive as Herbie the Love Bug.
* While I’m thinking about it, Herbie the Love Bug wouldn’t be unwelcome, either.
* Zach Braff as a small, jaundiced paranoiac who won’t stop ranting about the sky falling.
* Goofy as the world’s worst sports instructor, still making that terrified “YAAAA-HOOIE!” cry that never fails to make me chuckle.
* Robin Williams as a live-action genie. If this never happens, the show and its promises are all LIES.
Of course, a cast this size would require a budget of several million dollars per episode, possibly as much as one-tenth the cost of an episode of George Lucas’ Star Wars dream show. Cuts will need to be made somewhere to accommodate producer mandates. CG effects may be toned down somewhat in favor of placards that advise the viewers at home to “just use your imagination.” More time for extra commercials may be necessary, cutting episode running times down from forty-five minutes per episode to about ten. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Storybrooke open its very first Subway franchise.
The schedule for next weekend’s San Diego Comic Con includes a Once Upon a Time panel (Saturday the 14th at 11 a.m. — note it on your SDCC calendar app!) that will no doubt shed more light on what’s in store for season two, in addition to giving lucky fans a chance to express their gratitude to the cast in person. Personally, I’m crossing my fingers in hopes of a Grumpy and the Fairy spinoff. I’d claim myself a front-row seat for that, even if it was…for a price.