You can always spot a show nobody loves or has ever loved.
Extravagant failures may be full of bloated, self-important dialogue or silly, affected performances, but they can still have that spark that indicates that at some point, someone was lying in bed thinking — however misguidedly — "Heck with everybody and what everybody might say. I love this project, and I'm excited." Copycat failures — those efforts to make a show like Friends, or like Cheers, or like CSI — may utterly lack inspiration, but their imitation may in fact be a sincere form of flattery and part of a desire to truly entertain.
Labors of love — not necessarily everyone's love, but someone's love, somewhere, sometime, can be utter duds as entertainment or art or both, but even in hating them or desperately wanting them to be over or even taking offense at them, you can recognize that they are part of the larger project of creativity as well as commerce. Maybe it's 95 percent commerce and 5 percent creativity, but when someone once loved a bad show (or movie or book or luscious dessert), something in it is born breathing.
And then there's a show like the new Charlie's Angels.
There are plenty of obvious things to lament about what amounts to an utterly unnecessary knockoff of a movie franchise that was an utterly unnecessary knockoff of a rudimentary '70s action show. The truly and genuinely terrible acting, particularly from leads Rachael Taylor, Annie Ilonzeh and Minka Kelly, is hard to separate from the execrable script they've been saddled with: "The faces of the girls we left behind still haunt me," says Kelly at one point, with all the conviction of an America's Next Top Model contestant participating in one of Tyra Banks' acting exercises.
If this is meant to be fun, mischievous camp, it emphatically is not. It is shot with tepid, gloomy self-seriousness, and the three lead actresses have a labored and leaden acting style that prevents any actual wit from seeping in. The alleged zingers are largely given to Taylor, who displays such a complete lack of comedic instincts that even those lines that might be subject to elevation by a better performance deflate upon being uttered.
It's essential not to confuse a dead show — a show nobody loves — with a silly show. No one is suggesting Charlie's Angels needs to be, or was ever going to be, brilliantly acted and written in the same way as Mad Men or The Good Wife or anything else that wins awards. But if you want to know why a number of critics have a soft spot for ABC's campy new soap Revenge, it's precisely because it feels loved. It feels like someone is having a great time making that show — maybe a lot of people.
A critically important story: When a critic came right out and asked the producers of Revenge during their press tour panel whether they would consider ending an episode with star Emily VanCamp simply shaking her fist at the heavens and yelling, "REVEEEENGE!", they laughed with genuine delight and joked that from now on, every episode would end that way. VanCamp, too, gave a throaty laugh of approval. These people understand their show, and they like their show. They know what they're doing, they know it's lowbrow, and my guess is that they legitimately love that project a little. Yes, it's a job, and yes, maybe they aspire to other things someday, but they love it a little, and you can tell.
Charlie's Angels feels utterly unloved by anyone. Not the people acting in it, not the writers, not the creators, not anyone. It feels like pre-chewed food: intended for easy digestion, it comes out (1) unappetizing, (2) textureless, and (3) devoid of character.
There are shows coming on this fall that may well fail, but that it's easy to respect, no matter what. American Horror Story, the new FX show from the creators of Glee, has a bizarre, overly ambitious, utterly insane — let's put that in caps: UTTERLY INSANE — pilot that sharply divided critics. But if even if it was made with hubris, with a total lack of restraint, and with some potentially laughably over-the-top elements, it's also made with passion. Possibly completely misguided passion, but passion nonetheless. And that's never as hard to watch as something like this.
You could argue that a failure that takes someone's love down with it is a sadder thing than a failure like Charlie's Angels, which absolutely nobody seems to be participating in — or seems to have ever participated in — for any reason other than that it is a job that may potentially result in the making of money. But when I think about what utterly depresses me about television, and what I think is really wrong with it, and what truly chaps me about the many good shows that are regularly canceled, it's not the really bad shows, or the really craven shows, or the really cheap-looking, crazy, misbegotten projects that seem to have been conceived by Martians who have never had contact with humans and therefore have no idea how they behave.
It's these dead, unloved, pre-chewed blobs that are spat out over and over again, truly serving no purpose other than filling time between commercials. Nobody thinks this show is fun, nobody thinks this show is interesting, nobody thinks this show is cool. Nobody thinks this show is anything. Nobody loves it, and you can tell.
There are good choices and bad choices made out of a desire to entertain for profit, and if what took this show down was someone's hapless but heartfelt convictions about what it should be, even as popular entertainment, that would be one thing. But this is just a serving of 43 minutes of lazy, sub-competent time-filling that somebody thinks and hopes you're going to watch because you're just that bored.
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