When I first heard about the premise of Chernobyl Diaries I was like Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street: "F*ck science!" Honestly extreme tourism? People pay for a trip to Pripyat — an abandoned city near the site of one of the worst nuclear disaster in history — for some vacation photos? Well it is possible and people actually do it despite the lingering radiation and other serious dangers but hopefully none of them are as painfully dumb as the characters in Diaries.
Jesse McCartney is Chris the sensible little brother who really would have preferred to stick with the plan: a day trip to Moscow where he'd pop the question to his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley). His older brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) is a bit of a bad boy horndog with a taste for adventure who insistst they and their recently dumped friend Amanda (Devin Kelly) go on an exciting trip to Pripyat instead. Amanda is also a photographer of sorts because she has a fancy camera and is taking photos of everything. Other than that we know almost nothing about any of the characters (although Paul does note that "the chicks are f*cking amazing"). They are later joined by Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) who prove to be equally forgettable.
Paul knows how to party so he leads Chris Natalie and Amanda to a sketchy office to set up their trip to Pripyat. The tour guide is named what else Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko) and he even has a dingy sign on the wall that reads "Yuri's Extreme Travel" and lots of photos of him in military garb. He's built like a brick house — but he's no match for the ridiculousness that awaits them.
The build-up to what they do find is interminable especially given what non-horrors await. At one point I was hoping it would turn out to be something similar to The Happening but no such luck. Just a bunch of bald zombie-types lurking in the mist and gnawing on human flesh! Although there's something to be said for leaving scary stuff lurking in the shadows it's also a good idea to establish enough tension beforehand so that we actually care about what is supposed to be scaring us.
According to writer/producer Oren Peli a good deal of the dialogue was improvised which is a bit of a relief as the actors drop gems like "What exactly happened in Chernobyl?" and "Nature has reclaimed its rightful home " as well as tidbits like "Stop being a p*ssy" and "Maybe there's a gun in here!" This is director Bradley Parker's first feature and although he does occasionally have trouble keeping the camera steady he doesn't rely on shaky-cam "found footage " for the most part.
Naturally some people are offended that filmmakers would use a human tragedy as the backdrop of a horror movie but plenty of movies use tragic events for fodder. They should be more offended that it's just so boring.
S1E6: I'll admit it, I have been pretty hard on $#*! My Dad Says since I first heard the original CBS announcement. "They plan to base a TV show on a Twitter feed?", I asked my friends. "W - T - F?" Although I've tried to not assume this show would be bad based on its premise, I can't lie and say it hasn't affected my opinion somewhat.
So with that in mind, you can imagine that it's been really difficult for me to watch $#*! My Dad Says with an open mind. Not only do I find the premise silly, but the show itself needed to figure out its identity. And in order to do that, it spent the first five episodes suffering growing pains. Major growing pains. When the jokes didn't work, they REALLY didn't work. And when they clicked, they sometimes were enough to make me a chuckle. But now, finally, $#*! My Dad Says has found its footing. That's not to say it's the new Friends or Seinfeld, but it's grown from one giant hot mess that made me physically angry because it was so bad, to a watchable, run-of-the-mill, mediocre sitcom.
And I think the key word in there is watchable. It may seem a bit odd to credit a television show for being watchable, but with the target audience of $#*! My Dad Says and the sitcom genre in general, I think that's one of the most important factors. Folks don't tune into shows like Two and a Half Men expecting some great philosophical meditations a la Mad Men or Breaking Bad. They just want to tune in, turn their mind off and be entertained. And when you have a show like $#*! My Dad Says, with a very universal premise (a crazy family member), lots of people will no doubt be sure to turn on their televisions to watch. But in order to keep them as an audience, you have to at least make the show somewhat watchable and entertaining. Viewers simply won't watch something that consistently is a giant mess, regardless if William Shatner is in it or not.
So basically, it seems, $#*! My Dad Says is here to stay. And now that I'm done kissing its ass for making the show somehow work, let's talk about everything I didn't like about last night's episode. Here's a rundown on what happened.
Henry is an out of work writer, and lucky for him, he's finally managed to get a meeting with a magazine to pitch some story ideas. During said meeting, Ed calls and interrupts, bitching at him for doing a whole load of laundry for just one pair of underwear. Henry is embarrassed, but the big magazine boss guy (whose melodramatic mocking of Henry is not funny, by the way) thinks an article about Ed would be hilarious and interesting. So he suggests Henry write that article and he does and, voila! Henry is a paid writer again. But of course, as you can imagine, Ed doesn't really like being the focus of an article -- especially one that highlights his stupid and sometimes racist comments.
Meanwhile, Vince and Bonnie are trying to expand their lives socially. They go to a fancy restaurant and meet a fancy couple and end up having fancy drinks and a fancy dinner. But as they're clicking with the couple (who Bonnie's loving because she's sick of not hanging out with people who "pretend to read The New Yorker") they learn that their new friends are actually murderers. Yep. They accidentally killed someone while they were in Cabo. But, this doesn't halt Bonnie's quest for friendship. What does? The couple doesn't like Jennifer Aniston. So, Vince and Bonnie storm out.
So, surprisingly, despite that awful, predictable plot, the episode was alright. It wasn't good, and it still doesn't compare to truly funny shows on television (Community, The Office, etc), but like I said earlier, it's watchable. I've spent the last hour trying to figure out what it is about this show that makes it watchable. And I think I have the answer. William Shatner.
Surrounded by awful actors (Jonathan Sadowski, I'm looking at you), Shatner somehow brings balance to the cast. It wasn't like this when the show first started, but in the most recent episodes, he's figured out that although the series is called $#*! My Dad Says, he doesn't necessarily need to emphasize each one-liner he has. He's accepted his role as a crazy old guy, but not too crazy. We're seeing a softer side of Ed at times, which adds depth to the character. He's making us actually care about his opinions and weirdly enough, Henry is the one who looks like an idiot more than Ed.
So there you have it. I think I complimented $#*! My Dad Says more in this recap than I have all season, but please, don't get me wrong, I still don't like the show. But, I'm starting to understand why people watch it and what makes it appealing.
S1E5: I just don't get it. Why are people watching this show?
This morning, CBS announced it will renew all five of its new shows this fall -- including $#*! My Dad Says. The reason? The ratings are high. So I guess I don't blame them for bringing all the shows back, but $#*! My Dad Says is really bad. Really really bad.
With its newest installment, "Not Without My Jacket," the show has finally found its identity. Simply, it's a standard, run-of-the-mill sitcom. But, at least other sitcoms will muster a few laughs each episode. $#*! My Dad Says, despite a better episode last week, continues to be insufferable.
The premise of this episode is, once again, a disagreement between Henry and his father, Ed. This time around, Ed is sick of Henry taking his stuff without asking -- like jackets, coffee cups, etc. And in the most predictable sitcom plot turn ever, the tables turn. Ed ends up giving away something of Henry's -- his favorite jacket. And so we spend the entire episode following Ed as he tries to chase down Henry's jacket, just so he isn't wrong.
Turns out, the jacket was given to one of Henry's friends, Josh, an EMT, who ends up wrapping it around a dying man in an effort to save his life. So after a big long adventure, Ed discovers this and goes to the man's funeral. He ends up being mistaken for the dead man's A.A. partner, but Ed takes the family's suspicion and assumes that they think he's the dead man's lover. This results in Ed giving the eulogy at the funeral.
So throughout the episode, I would say that hilarity occurred, but obviously -- and this is expected with $#*! My Dad Says -- it didn't. Once again, we just had an onslaught of bad jokes, stupid one liners, and flat out uncomfortable situations. Can I just say that, although I understand this is just a TV sitcom and I should not take this as a real-life situation at all, that the funeral scene was just horrible? It's like, because they've branded the show with the premise that the dad is a moron, it's okay to make him a horrible human being. But not only that, $#*! My Dad Says is encouraging its audience to laugh at these terrible things. CBS, listen to me. Just because you're doing a show with an idiot at its helm, it doesn't suddenly make it okay to make jokes about gay people, or minorities, or to show a scene interrupting someone's funeral! How is this still on TV? Or the more important question, HOW DID THIS GET RENEWED?
Ugh. I have a few hundred words left to write in this recap, and honestly, I don't even know where to turn. What other bad things could I talk about? Oh, I know. Let's talk about the subplot featuring two actors that no one ever wants to see -- Nicole Sullivan and Will Sasso, a.k.a. Bonnie and Vince. Here's what happened: Bonnie once had a relationship with the EMT character, Josh, and it really bothers Vince. So much, that he can't sleep. They get in a fight, but Bonnie tries to convince Vince that it didn't matter and Josh isn't a good kisser. Vince refuses to believe, and has to see for himself. So what does he do? He kisses Josh.
Personally, I can't really decide what aspect of the show is worse -- the acting or the writing. If $#*! My Dad Says had talented writers, maybe they wouldn't rely so heavily on standard sitcom plots. But then again, the acting from William Shatner and Jonathan Sadowski is so forced, nothing works together. There's no chemistry. What makes television shows, and more specifically sitcoms, great is when everything works together successfully. The writers absolutely nail the voice of each character, the actors identify what each character is trying to accomplish, and the audience laughs. If one of those keys is off by just a little bit, everything falls apart. And in the case of $#*! My Dad Says, everything is always off. There's no cohesion to the show, and therefore, there's no success.
Yeah, the show has millions of viewers and that's why it got picked up for more episodes, but I just don't understand what's so appealing about it. And five episodes in, I think it's safe to say that I never will.
S1:E3: With this week's episode of CBS's new sitcom $#*! My Dad Says, there's good news and there's bad news.
The good news? It was the best episode yet.
The bad news? The show is still one big pile of $#*!. (Man, that joke never gets old)
What made this episode better than previous ones was the simple fact that the writers didn't completely rely on one-liners from William Shatner. There was actually a plot! It was incredible. You know, it had all the basic ingredients: a story arc, a little character development, and even a couple touching moments! Whoa!
But honestly, that's about it. The fact that I'm celebrating the show's ability to simply be coherent is a very telling fact about $#*! My Dad Says. Honestly, by normal TV show standards, the episode still managed to be horrible. Here's a quick rundown of what happened:
Ed and Henry go to dinner. The waiter is the same guy -- his name is Tim -- from the DMV who passed Ed on his driver's license test a couple episodes ago (even though Ed actually failed). Turns out, Tim got fired for passing Ed, but Ed refuses to apologize. They continue to fight, which results in Tim getting fired because of Ed again.
They eventually make up, and we actually learn that Ed is not as bad as he seems. Even though Henry has spent his life thinking that his father cheated on his mother, the reality is the other way around. Ed lied to Henry to protect Henry's relationship with his mother. And honestly, when we learn that in the episode, it's slightly moving. Suddenly, Ed is more than just a character spitting one-liners throughout every episode. And, there's actually some development in the relationship between Henry and Ed.
However, despite the improvement from the writers, there's still a major obstacle in the way of making $#*! My Dad Says successful: the acting.
Now, I don't really have a problem with William Shatner. Honestly, he's playing the character Ed probably the best that anyone could. My issue is with Jonathan Sadowski, a.k.a. Henry. I swear to god, this guy only has one level in the volume of his voice -- and it's loud. He's constantly yelling! Every scene he's in is done at the same emotional level. I can't tell the difference between sarcasm, jokes, fear, love, or anything else. Whenever he has a line, he just squirms awkwardly around the other characters. And what's up with that smirk? DUDE! Do you realize you're on a TV show and in almost every scene? Viewers are going to notice if you have the same freaking facial expression on all the time. It's absurd! There is more to the human emotional spectrum than a surprised smirk.
And despite all of the awfulness, $#*! My Dad Says still manages to bring in tremendous ratings every week, so there's no chance it will be canceled. You know what I think? I think viewers aren't actually watching the show. Rather, because it follows one of the most watched shows on television (The Big Bang Theory), I think people just leave their TVs on by accident while they go eat dinner or something. So, because of that, here's a small public service announcement to end this recap.
America! Wake up! Turn off your TVs! Not only are you wasting electricity, but you're encouraging CBS to continue this giant hot mess of a television show. Stop it. Please. Just push that power button and stop it.