It’s hard to believe there is actual innovation happening on television. There are constant remakes like Ironside or abuse of the public domain with shows like Sleepy Hollow and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. However, a few seemingly random shows have managed to sneak through and change the face of television.
Here are some series that have created their own new genres.
Super Fun Night
Rebel Wilson is a genius. She has an understanding of comedy and entertainment few people can dare to grasp. She found success in America with Pitch Perfect and her small role in Bridesmaids. In Australia, she wrote and starred in her own series Bogan Pride. Her new show Super Fun Night focuses on the sadness and pathos of a group of single, socially awkward girls. Despite that downer, these gals have great spirit, good morals and strong bonds of friendship. This pathomedy or Sad-com is unique. It may not win over American audiences but it does allow room for the future for different types of characters like the "best friend" or "wacky neighbor" to be the lead of a television series.
Say what you will about Lena Dunham. Some believe she’s a shamelessly nude, entitled hack and others see her as the mouthpiece of her generation. Regardless of how you feel about her, she has created a whole new genre - the home theater of the grotesque. Even if you hate Girls, you can’t deny that it has created room in television to take it to the limit and break all the rules. Whether it show people doing lines of coke off toilet seats, eardrums ruptured with Q-tips, or Dunham’s breasts, nothing is too much for this series. This brazen honesty has trickled into the mainstream and allowed shows to delve into dark and uncomfortable places and still be funny.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy was witty and chock full of action. It blended punchy dialogue with an evolving, twisting plot that developed over the series with Buffy eventually defeating "The Big Bad." This series has created the teen hero saga. You take a socially awkward or disenfranchised teen, give them something that sets them apart from their peers but makes them able to save lives, then set them up against a mysterious enemy for 22 episodes. It has changed the face of The CW’s line-up and influenced series like Veronica Mars, Smallville, The Vampire Diaries and The Tomorrow People.
Honorable Mention: The musical episode of Buffy, "Once More with Feeling," also reinvigorated attempts at musical television. Before this episode, Cop Rock was one of the only shows to try its hand at a musical TV series. Shows like Grey’s Anatomy and How I Met Your Mother went on to have musical episodes. Buffy also set the stage for musical TV series like Glee and Smash.
Seinfeld will be forever remembered as "a show about nothing." Many people scoff at the series finale finding the four leads in prison. What they don’t realize is that the four main characters were self-centered, rutheless and generally bad people. This spawned the Despicable We genre. The entire cast is filled with generally unlikable characters that get into awkward and zany hi-jinks. This helped lead to the success of shows like Will & Grace with their constant insults and self-absorbed issues. It also reached a crescendo in Don't Trust The B**ch in Apartment 23, where Krysten Ritter shone as one of the most likeable, yet despicable, characters on television.
Two & A Half Men
Chuck Lorre seems obsessed with addiction. Two and a Half Men started with the mother of all addicts, Charlie Sheen, playing Charlie Harper, a heavy-drinking, sex-addicted lothario, taking in his high-strung brother and precocious nephew. It became a huge metaphor for life with an alcoholic. His follow-up Mike & Molly began with two characters finding love at a Overeaters Anonymous meeting. The new series Mom finds a mother (Allison Janney) and daughter (Anna Faris) going to Alcoholics Anonymous. This series also made room for a show like Go On, about grief-counseling, to get on the air.
Golden Girls influenced every show featuring four female leads in the nearly 30 years since it premiered in 1985. It was a show about four aged women but manages to resonate with people of all ages. It created a new genre of the quartet comedy. Now ever series with four female leads seems to have the snarky leader, the slutty one, the innocent one and the outspoken one. It influenced shows like Sex and the City, Hot in Clevleand, and even Girls.
Improving on his last two duds The Village and the dreadful aquatic nymph tale Lady In The Water writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan gets back to the kind of eerie paranoid thriller he so successfully mined in early efforts like The Sixth Sense and Signs. The results this time are mixed in this story of a mysterious environmental “happening” on the East Coast that is causing large groups of people to commit suicide. As he does in his most effective films Shyamalan focuses on a core group of people who must find a way to survive these strange events. Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) is a Philadelphia science teacher already dealing with marital problems with his attractive but rather unstable wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) now thrust into full crisis mode as he his wife a fellow math teacher Julian (John Leguizamo) and Julian’s daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) hit the road by train then car to escape the unusual plague first thought to be a terrorist attack. The group soon realizes it is more than that perhaps a forceful message from Mother Nature cued by the growing winds and rustling of tree leaves. Joined eventually by two older boys Jared (Robert Bailey Jr.) and Josh (Spencer Breslin) Elliot tries to be the voice of reason as each person begins to meet their own fates on a journey into a heartland of unexplainable terror. Unlike most contemporary horror films in which actors must battle butt-ugly creatures most of the genuine frights in this flick are left to our imagination. Here Shyamalan wants us to experience what the characters are going through the abject fear on their faces. Wahlberg is particularly good at expressing a growing feeling that events are slipping out of his control. He’s amusing in a direct encounter with a house plant he fears may now have the upper hand and in the film’s best sequence where he must convince a batty paranoid old woman (an intense Betty Buckley) to let the group stay in her remote farmhouse. Forced to utter lines like “just when you thought there couldn’t be any more evil invented ” the quirky Deschanel has her work cut out for her but is likeable enough in the end. As a math teacher Leguizamo spends much of his screen time calculating everyone’s odds for survival until his own becomes questionable. As his daughter Sanchez is appealing and handles herself well. Shyamalan is the heir apparent to Alfred Hitchcock--in his own mind at least. Hitch’s The Birds seems to be the template but that 1963 classic is light years ahead in every way. Unfortunately Shyamalan is becoming something of a one-trick pony as The Happening is basically a retread of things we’ve seen him do before. There is no question he has superior skills. He clearly gets the horror genre; he just doesn’t seem to know how to make it fresh anymore and the answer isn’t by ratcheting up the body count. Reportedly 20th Century Fox asked him deliberately to make an R rated film (his first) and its those gore-filled elements which seem superfluous here. Do we really need to see a guy commit suicide by willingly letting some zoo lions rip off his arms? It’s glaring and out of place with the subtler aspects of the director’s style. Plus the use of overbearing and obvious music cues (score is by James Newton Howard) shamelessly telegraphs whatever scares the movie and only serves to emphasize the shortcomings of M. Night’s sketchy screenplay. Still as a summertime time-waster The Happening fills the bill but as an eco-thriller with dire warnings for humankind it drowns in its own promising potential.
As dean of a small college Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) has made a nice life for himself--until a false accusation of racism ruins his career and he loses his wife to a brain aneurysm. Suddenly Coleman has nothing--until he embarks on an intensely sexual relationship with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman) a local woman with an abusive ex-husband Lester (Ed Harris) who won't leave her alone. The intensity of Coleman's love for Faunia leads him to reveal his long-held secret: He has been passing himself off as Jewish and white for most of his adult life but in reality he is a light-skinned African-American. From there a series of flashbacks to the 1940s introduce us to a younger love-struck Coleman (Wentworth Miller) and reveal the events that led him to his fateful decision. Somehow Coleman's deep dark secret isn't as shocking as it's probably meant to be but the relationship between Faunia and Coleman is--especially when it slips into the danger zone with Lester breathing down their necks.
Wentworth Miller who makes his film debut as the younger Coleman does an amazing job with his role establishing Coleman's quiet yet fierce determination to live a life free of intolerance. And as ever Hopkins is the consummate professional with flashes of intense passion and brilliance in his steely eyes. One does have to get over the fact that a Welsh actor has been cast as an elderly light-skinned African-American but if Hopkins can give nuance to a declaration of how Viagra has changed his character's life (ick) he can pull off the race thing easily enough. Kidman as the dour Faunia also has some stunning moments easily sinking to the depressive depths required of her character--not surprising considering she won the Oscar doing the same thing in The Hours. What really makes you clench your teeth though is when the two of them get together on screen--in the biblical sense. These Oscar winners are so sorely miscast as tortured lovebirds that their sexual moments make you squirm in your seat. It's not the age difference; there's simply no spark between them.
"We leave a stain a trail and imprint " Philip Roth writes in his novel the third in a trilogy on postwar America. "It's the only way to be here." The author goes on to explore myriad themes around this main premise including how we leave our marks how our decisions have consequences and how people can find one another under the direst circumstances. Unfortunately these big ideas get lost in translation on the big screen and the film suffers from adaptation blues. Director Robert Benton and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer gives Roth's ideas voice only through Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) the reclusive author Coleman asks to write his life story and even that artistic character talks more about how sex is clouding Coleman's judgment than about his own life or ideology. Ultimately Meyer focuses his script too heavily on the guarded Coleman leaving the other characters too little developed. Why has Nathan secluded himself away from the world? What haunts him? Sinise does what he can with the character but there's too little background. The same goes for Faunia. Although she describes in one monologue after another the horrors of her life--she was abused as a girl and lost her two children in a terrible fire--Faunia's hardships seem distant and it's hard to connect with her character. Only the wounded Lester a Vietnam veteran seems made of real emotions and desires--he's filled with hatred and passion--and if he makes only a brief appearance in the film he certainly leaves a mark.
Dizzy (DJ Qualls) is already what you could call the epitome of pathos at his school but his reputation as a loser and social misfit is cemented when the aging school librarian breaks his penis--in front of the entire school. He thinks there is no hope until a prank lands him in jail overnight and his cellmate Luther (Eddie Griffin) teaches him a few tricks that will guarantee him popularity. The only problem is he needs to start with a clean slate which basically means switching schools. Dizzy eventually gets his wish and enrolls at East Highland High School. He changes his name to Gil Harris and religiously follows Luther's rules which include making a grand entrance (which he does Dr. Hannibal Lecter style) and beating up the biggest guy in school. Although the entire geeks-vs.-popular crowd theme has been done countless times before scribe David Kendall manages to supply a few good lines making it a bit more entertaining to watch.
DJ Qualls who was drop dead funny in Road Trip carries on the tradition in The New Guy mostly due to his reactions and gut-busting facial expressions. For example when he tosses away a lighter he's playing with to look cool and inadvertently sets a statue on fire he displays this expression of pure shock as he walks away calm and collected. (And in case you are wondering he's not a deejay: his initials are short for Daniel Joseph.) As the inmate Luther Eddie Griffin (John Q) is also pretty funny thanks in part to some great lines such as: "High school is a lot like prison. The sex you want you ain't gettin'. The sex you gettin' you don't want." He also does the buggy-eye thing eerily well. Lyle Lovett has a small role as Dizzy's father and is mostly the butt of the joke in all his scenes including when he gets hit in the eye with a flaming marshmallow. Keep your eyes peeled for a multitude of cameo appearances including former Black Flag frontman-turned-poet/actor Henry Rollins former "Ice Ice Baby" rapper Vanilla Ice and the commercially successful skateboarder Tony Hawk.
Ed Decter makes his directorial debut here but he's no stranger to comedy: he helped pen the 1998 comedy There's Something About Mary and last year's Head Over Heels. The New Guy is nothing to boast of visually. It's ugly and sloppily pieced together. There's a great soundtrack to the film that includes The Offspring Mystikal Cypress Hill and Outkast but the tracks are loud and overpowering (I am still convinced that Qualls' character mumbles something about chili before he kisses the film's heroine towards the end of the film.) Qualls' performance however turns the film into a more enjoyable experience than it otherwise would have been with his shooting-daggers stares--complete with whipping sound effects--and his "radical" transformation which consists basically of a haircut. Considering the film is already a cliché some of the laughs might have gone over better had Decter avoided the crass toilet bowl humor and midget jokes that have become so antiquated.