Wednesday, May 9, 2012


For years the only 30-minute show coming out of HBO worth watching was “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, featuring a self-involved, let’s-offend-everyone narcissist routine that just never gets old, and is still one of the great shows of television’s 21st-century renaissance. “Entourage”? Bah. “Bored To Death”? Maybe for some. I wanted to enjoy “Life’s Too Short” and “Angry Boys” – but, well – I didn’t. Yet the reason I subscribed to the network and pay them some of my hard-earned sawbucks every month has more to do with the hour-long dramas my wife watches (“True Blood”) and the occasional documentaries that I watch, as well as “Curb” and the hope that they’ll come out with another drama that equals “The Wire” or “The Sopranos” (which they haven’t, not by a mile). So thank whomever in Hollywood is calling the shots this year, because they green-lit three new 30-minute shows - "ENLIGHTENED", "VEEP" and "GIRLS" - that I already count among my favorites, and all of which are as fresh, “edgy” and offbeat as any of the aforementioned and then some.

“ENLIGHTENED” – Already wrote about the show here once before, and it’s sitting in a post-Season One place right now, off the air and waiting for a Season Two that we have been assured will thankfully come. It was by no means a sure thing that it would; aside from a show I’ll be talking about shortly, no program was quite as polarizing as “Enlightened” and word on the street is that while its ratings were low, HBO liked that people were so torn about this one and jawing about it online, rather than just ignoring it the way they did with, say, “Angry Boys”.

This show depicts a series of emotionally draining situations that lead character Laura Dern puts herself in as she tries to reconcile her messed-up near-middle-aged emotional life and inability to successfully connect with other human beings with her desire to live a clean, pure, “connected” New Age-driven lifestyle. She’s divorced her drug-addled husband (Owen Wilson), but looks to him to shoulder her when times are rough. She lives with her mother, but the two of them may as well be on different planets and can barely find a sliver of common ground. She only holds a job at a faceless deathcorp because she holds a sexual harassment card she’s all too willing to cash in when needed. The show moves like a comedy and is weirdly funny in parts, but it’s pretty painful more often than not. Exceptionally well-written and the best new HBO show since “Extras” ended.

“VEEP” – The only thing tragic about Julia Louie-Dreyfus as Vice President Selena Meyer is just how awful she’d be as a real-life politician – otherwise this new show is completely played for laughs. It’s only three episodes in but I’m totally loving it. It’s from the team that made the British political mockumentary “IN THE LOOP” and it’s identical in tone, manic pacing and quality of jokes. You think “30 Rock” is a frantic television show? “VEEP” is all the more rapid-fire, and the cast is just constantly belittling each other and everyone around them, making Washington DC look quite rightfully as dysfunctional and pretentious as we all reckon it probably is.

The show exploits the tension between a politician’s human and rare off-camera life (this one swears, sweats and screams at her staff) and how carefully they need to manage the on-camera, on-mic life. Of course Selena’s terrible at the latter, and so far the show has been almost completely about how she extricates herself from gaffes of her own making, while her staff blames each other in increasingly bitter and comic terms. It’s fantastic. My only concern is that I can’t see how you continue this pacing beyond a season, and how false a storyline beside this one might ring if they tried it. Enjoy this while it’s around, folks – this might be it.

“GIRLS” – We could only make it through ten minutes of Lena Dunham’s film “TINY FURNITURE” before snapping the knobs off the DVD player in disgust, so I’ll admit I came at “GIRLS” with exceptionally low expectations. I had also read before it started that “men” (like me) would only be watching this “Sex and the City-like” show because their wives/girlfriends wanted them to. What a crock. After three episodes, I’m ready to call it one of the great ones in HBO’s fairly stellar history – and if there’s a huge divide between lovers and haters of the show, put me well on the “swelling admiration” side.

I see a ton of forced and faux antagonism about the show and I don’t get it. It’s too much about privileged white girls in New York City? What, you wanted an obligatory black or Korean girl, just like the NBC or The CW always plays it? Or is a cluster of four well-educated white females who hang out together in Brooklyn actually a fairly normal pairing? The women are too self-referential? Of course they are! This is a show about girls-who-are-not-quite-women, and these particular girls/women talk very much like the girls/women I myself hung out with when I was in my twenties. The body issues, the deep female bonding, the curse and the thrill of male attention, the inability to figure out career – these issues go beyond the female gender, and are all the more amplified in a recessionary age, a time in which young, Liberal Arts-educated people are having a hard time “becoming the person I am going to be” (to butcher a much-quoted line from the show’s first episode). It’s great to see an original show like this becoming a breakout hit and to see people debating it furiously the way they did about The Sopranos and do about Mad Men. So far it’s totally in that league.