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GUEST BLOG #95: Tom Brinkmoeller Thinks "Old Christine" Deserved More Respect
June 2, 2010  | By Tom Brinkmoeller
 

[Bianculli here: First CBS denied The New Adventures of Old Christine a spot on its upcoming fall schedule, then yanked it Wednesday night for a special-night rerun of How I Met Your Mother. Contributing writer Tom Brinkmoeller thinks Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and her very funny sitcom (that's my verdict, too), got a raw deal...]


'Christine': New, Refreshing Series; Same Old Network Story

new-ad-christine-top.jpgLost, 24 and Law and Order have checked out of prime time for good, and I feel no differently. Their departures got lots of attention, but not from me.

When I pledge allegiance to a series, it's usually a long-term commitment based on a wonderfully mixed chemistry of acting, writing, casting and production.

Series that are packed with vague clues and nuances -- ones that only mandatory weekly attendance guarantees the chance of understanding -- require more effort than almost any television deserves. Same can be said for series that dilute themselves into translucence by endlessly spinning off clones.

NEW-ADVENTURES-OF-OLD-CHRIS.jpg

On the other hand, I'm really bothered that CBS (stands for "Couldn't Be Stupider"?) has turned off the power to The New Adventures of Old Christine. The series' concept couldn't have been fresher: Relationships linking former wife, former husband, current wife (all delightfully unbalanced characters), brother (who at times appeared almost normal, compared to the others), and first wife's best friend/business parter/spouse of immigration contrivance.

Name another series, ever, that can claim such a mix. Go ahead and name one, CBS, who got rid of this delightful half hour on its 2010-11 fall schedule to make room for The Defenders, Hawaii Five-0, Tom Selleck and William Shatner. (What? No Andy Griffith or Petticoat Junction resurrections?)

Christine, it must be noted, pulled off that concept with some of the most inventive humor to land in modern-day prime time. Which forces the question: Why ditch this show and leave Rules of Engagement, a show built from surplus-store wares, on the air?

Some will say Christine, which starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is just another victim of "the Seinfeld curse." That's a term, I'm betting, that was dreamed up by programmers who would love to pin responsibility for the failures of series starring Seinfeld alumni on a mythical curse instead owning up to their own poor skills at knowing what makes good television.

SeinfeldCast585-thumb-585xa.jpg

Jason Alexander and Michael Richards were fortunate to be chosen as Seinfeld co-stars. Their luck ran out when they tried to pick series in which they would star.

(And do we blame this same "Seinfeld curse" for its namesake's odd decision to get involved with The Marriage Ref, an indistinguishable oddity that's the artistic equivalent of the "puffy shirt"?)

new-Adventures-Chrsitine_l.jpg

The Old/New Christine casting was faultless: Clark Gregg as Richard, daffy, clue-impaired and uber-horny spouse of both the new and old Christines; Hamish Linklater as Matthew, old Christine's brother and a man who swam near the drain of craziness so often, he sometimes got suctioned into it; Wanda Sykes, a fabulously funny actress who played her Barb character as the reality counterpoint to the cyclone of wackiness that enveloped the others in the stories.

Finally, there was Louis-Dreyfus as Old Christine. That a really talented comedian would take on Old Christine, a character with no redeeming social values, and craft her craziness into the axis on which this superior series spun is proof of her special talent. Except for the character of Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, it's hard to think of such an out-of-balance character carrying a successful TV comedy so well.

watching-ellie.jpg

What's worse is that this is the second time a network has messed up a very good Louis-Dreyfus series. When Watching Ellie started running on NBC in 2002, it was delightfully different to the point that it reinvented the sitcom field: Each episode was shown as a real-time 22-minute package. (Think of it as 24 with real laughs and without the rat's nest of plot lines.) Then NBC started messing, and Watching Ellie's network run turned into a hobbled, painful crawl. Killing inventiveness is a sport in which networks excel.

She isn't the only victim of dunderheaded network decisions. Heroes, one of TV's hottest series a few seasons ago, was messed with by NBC until fans could no longer follow the path and just gave up. Just one example. Any fan of television that is worth watching almost surely has a personal list of favorites that were meddled to death.

Such harassment would be illegal in the real world. But when television labels creatures like Survivor and Biggest Loser as "reality shows," we more fully understand that the people who run things there have a very odd concept of what's real.

Snit nearly completed. I just want to add: Thank you, creators and cast of The New Adventures of Old Christine, for all the entertainment and the many laughs. It's just a lousy shame the gatekeepers of prime-time television have much more power than they have imagination.

 

6 Comments

 

linda said:

Tom -- I couldn't agree more and can add nothing but an "Amen!" to your "snit."

To say that I am a TV addict would be putting it mildly but I'm beginning to lose faith with my drug of choice. I'm getting more and more frustrated with the idiotic decisions made on the network level. The brilliant writing on television today is quite exciting -- not that we're given all that much time to enjoy it in many cases. Yes, it's nothing new ("Brooklyn Bridge" anyone?) and the state of network television is so shaky that I shouldn't be surprised with those decisions. But still...

Thanks for speaking up for "Christine" one last time.

 

Comment posted on June 2, 2010 10:48 PM


Neil said:

It took a little digging, but I can tell you why The New Adventures of Old Christine was given the bum's rush while Rules of Engagement is kept on the ol' program schedule to terrorize the natives for yet another season:

CBS owns/produces Rules, while Old Christine is produced at another studio (in this case over at Warner Brothers). CBS has no financial ownership interest in Christine, hence no reason to show it respect. Rules, on the other hand, stands to make CBS some back end cash once there are enough episodes to syndicate, even if the product is unmitigated dreck.

To quote someone far wiser than I, when in doubt, follow the money.

Comment posted on June 3, 2010 4:33 AM


Christina said:

I couldn't agree more. "The New Adventures of Old Christine" was original, with a great cast. I'm not normally a laugh-out-loud TV viewer, but one of the episodes, in which old Christine was dealing with perimenopausal/hormonal problems was so funny, I was practically on the floor. I don't know why "Rules of Engagement" remains on the air or why "Two and a Half Men" has been renewed either. That show should have quit a couple of years ago. I much prefer a good sitcom to "reality shows" and I don't bother with talent/dance/whatever judging shows either. Of course, I expect nothing from the networks anymore - I'm still disgusted that "Life" was thrown out by NBC. At least there's still "Glee!"

Comment posted on June 3, 2010 1:39 PM


Greg Kibitz said:

I wrote a good comment just before doing this one, but I posted it to the wrong blog entry (McGruber one). Hopefully David can fix that. Now that I am here, I see there are even better things to bloviate about. LOL

I have to defend Rules and Men. I like them both. Yes both are very male centric and juvenile and Rules is a bit derivative of Seinfeld and surely not as good. But both make me laugh hysterically at times and, to me that is what a sit-com is all about (the same reason I loved Christine). But, yes, you kinda have to be an immature 30 or 40 something guy (like me) to really like them. (Or be an aspie nerd like me to totally be ROLFLMFAO when I watch Big Bang).

I agree that there are not enough sit-coms for women but truth be told, it seems (much to my chagrin) that most women prefer crappy reality fare* anyway and so you (the collective you as in women) get what you (same you) watch. However, it is good to have Christina on the side of all that is good and right. And, if she had a wee bit more testosterone (which I do not recommend, unless you are into that sort of thing), she'd get Rules and Men as well. Then again, she watches Glee** so I may be aligning myself with the exact wrong allies.

* I only do Hell's Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, Food Revolution, Top Chef, Apprentice (both) and Survivor, Antiques Roadshow and now a bit of Jullian Michaels and, of course, endless hours of travel, cooking, construction, woodworking and other DIY fare which, like it or not, is still reality TV, but in a much better way. PBS, btw, is the ultimate in reality TV (as in real science, news, history, public affairs, etc.) Fox News, Not so much. Very real; yes: Much lacking in a Reality Based Perspective; Most Definitely.

**Sorry David, Tom, et. al., but I so hate Glee! To me it is the anti-Freaks & Geeks, the super gay version of your basic Judd Apatow Fare and that kinda ruins it. I watched it for a week or two at the beginning and tried to like it but for me Glee is to Freaks & Geeks as Grey's Anatomy is to ER. The crappy "lifetime" versions of what are now two long gone very good shows. I guess more women watch TV and so the gyno-centric stuff ends of filling the schedule. Just look at Daytime TV and you will get what I mean. Then again, that slightly undermines my argument for Rules and Men still existing, so I better be careful what I say, or they too will be replaced by yet even more crappy singing, dancing, prancing and wife swapping fare. LOL. (a deep sardonic laugh of utter fear at that)

Comment posted on June 6, 2010 4:40 PM


Greg Kibitz said:

In reply to:

"And do we blame this same "Seinfeld curse" for its namesake's odd decision to get involved with The Marriage Ref, an indistinguishable oddity that's the artistic equivalent of the "puffy shirt"?"

Oh no you didn't! I forgot to mention Marriage Ref on my list of reality shows I watch. I think it is brilliant and it is Seinfeld's Baby, not soemthing he got "involved with." Just a little bit of the idiot reality of all the F-ed up people out there (the stuff I usually avoid on TV) and lots of great funny celebs making fun of them. Liquid gold as they say. That is f-ing brilliant! Like a Senfeld observational joke about marriage, but in long form. I love it and I watch it not for the crazy real people (real life gives me more than enough of that as it is) but the immensely awesome banter among the never ending list of who's who guest stars. To me it is the greatest synthesis of talk show and reality show ever and it is exactly what should be at 10 pm (unlike Leno, who should not be at any time, ever, anymore).

Comment posted on June 6, 2010 4:51 PM


Greg Kibitz said:

Ditto about Christine. Pretty good show with a nice edge that was far different than other fare but, I would have to admit, not breaking any new ground. Still, fairly enjoyable to watch with a nice cast of characters you can either love or hate and not too much jumping of the shark.

But who am I to say, I for one also liked Gary Unmarried and that Jenna Elfman series as well, and hate seeing them all disappear.

I will say that the new ABC fare (The Middle and Modern Family and possibly even Cougar Town) are even more edgier and modern day relevant so I guess it is true, the fittest do tend to survive.

I do question CBS's plan to move Big Bang to Thursdays. I think it was a perfect show for Monday, esp. since that is when its primary audience (HS, College and 20 something nerds) is likely to watch a bit of tube as opposed to Thursday when they are already in weekend party mode (or work late mode)
and not likely to be watching much tube.

And yes, even nerds and geeks go into weekend party mode, its just that the women are a bit fewer and far between (and by far between you can think theer physical width as well).

Comment posted on June 6, 2010 10:26 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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