"Everything dies, baby, that's a fact," sang Bruce Springsteen in the song "Atlantic City." "But maybe everything that dies someday comes back."
The Boss might have been singing about this week's happenings in the world of television, events that proved once again that TV is a rest home where nothing ever truly dies and everything can someday return to life (with only a minimum of zombie-creepiness). In the world of television (which includes streaming online video, where everything from last night's Jimmy Fallon shenanigans to the most ancient and obscure TV arcane is just a click away), there is a galaxy of possibilities cobbled together from pop culture jetsam; there are alternate universes where amazing shows by unlikely auteurs exist, or where those shows debut when we want them to instead of years too late; and there are realms where the inability of anything to become permanently lost in the vast junkyards of the thousand-channel-cableverse and the Internet ensure that any show you can imagine can be assembled Frankenstein-style from spare parts.
Exhibit A this week has been "Too Many Cooks," Chris "Casper" Kelly's brilliant and disturbing 11-minute parody of multiple genres of '80s TV shows that aired in the wee hours on Adult Swim and then went viral (2.3 million views and counting). It's not just making fun of those old cheesy sitcoms and cop shows and Saturday morning cartoons, but of the responses they evoke (there's a weird Pavlovian familiarity and reassuring comfortability to that endless and irritatingly catchy opening credit sequence, even though it's an original creation populated by unknown extras) and even of the way we watch TV now -- flipping channels the second our interest flags, stumbling across half-remembered episodes in reruns, and even watching viral clips like this one online. "Too Many Cooks" is nothing if not savvy about just how short our attention spans are, and that's one reason why it works as a one-shot; as a series, it would be intolerable. In fact, knowing (hoping?) that there won't be a "Too Many Cooks 2" makes this a surgically effective glimpse into the abyss of TV's vast library of complacent mediocrity – a glimpse in which the abyss looks back at us.
Also this week, in the arena of TV parodies built of the mutated DNA of earlier TV, HBO brought back Lisa Kudrow's "The Comeback," whose new incarnation the New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum aptly described as "a scripted series about a reality series about a reality star making a scripted series about the time she made a reality show about a scripted series." The new "Comeback" isn't just about the fake sitcom depicted on the old "Comeback," it's also about the 2005 "Comeback" itself – how that clever cringe-comedy alienated viewers nine years ago, got canceled after one smart-but-unsettling season, then became a viral cult phenomenon (thanks to HBO Go, the premium channel's online streaming service) and was resurrected, with its heroine older but no less self-deluding. The comeback of "The Comeback" debuted alongside the new season of HBO's "Newsroom" (Aaron Sorkin's exercise in rewriting the news events of two years ago the way he wished TV news purveyors had told them), and almost nobody watched. What could be more fitting, after all, than for the new "Comeback" to be greeted with the same hostility and indifference that greeted the initial series?
"The Comeback" offers a self-contained universe of shows that never were but that we'd love to watch –- "Room and Bored" (the initial sitcom starring Kudrow's Valerie Cherish), "Seeing Red" (the scripted HBO dramedy about the making of "Room and Bored," starring Cherish as a character based on herself), and of course, the (fake) behind-the-scenes celebreality shows about the making of each of these. But then, we live in a TV world now where just about any fake show you can imagine may actually exist, either in the mind of some demented auteur like Kelly, or even in reality – in a dusty, forgotten corner of TV's vast Xanadu, waiting to be catalogued.
Speaking of "Citizen Kane," can you imagine how cool it would have been if Orson Welles had made a TV show? Or if he'd worked on it with as unlikely a collaborator as Lucille Ball? Well, as it turns out, he did. (Mind officially blown, right?) The 1958 show, unearthed this week at Dangerous Minds, was called "The Fountain of Youth," and it was the failed pilot for an anthology series created by Welles and produced by Ball (then riding high as the producer of her own landmark series "I Love Lucy"). Thanks to the magic of YouTube, here it is for you to watch, right between "Too Many Cooks" and whatever cat video your cousin sends you tomorrow.
Also resurrected, sort of, was a long-lost HBO slapstick TV comedy series written by and starring Bob Dylan. Larry Charles, the "Seinfeld" scribe-turned-"Borat" director, discussed the show this week on Pete Holmes' "You Made It Weird" podcast. Charles recounts in hilarious detail how he met the cryptic singer, how they came up with the idea for the series, how they sold it to HBO (which, Charles said, was too scared to turn down a Dylan project to say no), and how Dylan instantly lost interest in the idea. He and Charles eventually turned it into the film "Masked and Anonymous," but as a TV series, it lives on only in Charles' narration.
In addition to TV's alternate universe of amazing shows that never were, there is the medium's gallery of series stitched together from old shows and movies that TV just won't let us forget about. In the department of TV shows we would have been excited about if they'd been announced a decade or so ago instead of this week, three new entries were unveiled: an "Evil Dead" series on Starz made by franchise creator Sam Raimi and original star Bruce Campbell; a follow-up to "The Osbournes," this time with a sober Ozzy; and a version of "American Idol" without Randy Jackson. That "Evil Dead" news, drawing on the cult horror franchise about demon-possessed corpses that refuse to stay dead, is especially bittersweet; Raimi's original movie trilogy was swift and inventive, but nothing seems swift and inventive about pitching such an idea now, three decades later, and that includes having 56-year-old Campbell strap the chainsaw back on as demon-fighter Ash. Sure, Bruce Campbell is a dozen different varieties of awesome, but isn't this an idea that should have been laid to rest? In the current TV-scape, apparently not.
Finally, in a related wing of the TV museum that no one visits, there are those shows that continue to air and refuse to admit they've been canceled. This week's additions include "A to Z" (whose ownstars say they're not sure if the bubble show is living or dead), "Mulaney" (which Fox keeps moving into darker corners of the schedule, as if to turn the show's imminent demise from low ratings into a self-fulfilling prophecy), and "Selfie," which ABC has halted production on, but whose remaining completed episodes it continues to air.
But weep not for "Selfie" heroine Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan). After all, if the rest of this week's TV news is any indication, there will be an afterlife and perhaps a comeback waiting for her.
Think about this: A few days ago, back when we were still debating (seven years after the fact) whether Tony lived or died at the end of "The Sopranos," David Chase came along and said he was mulling a "Sopranos" prequel, one focusing on the generation of Jersey mobsters that included Tony's father and Uncle Junior in their days of youth and power in the 1960s and '70s. Yes, James Gandolfini may be dead, and so may Tony (in the black limbo after he looks up from his plate of onion rings), but the character can live again, as a boy, if David Chase and HBO will him back into existence. Of course, there could also be a tie-in to the newly-concluded "Boardwalk Empire," whose account of Atlantic City mobsters 90 years ago (created by "Sopranos" writer Terence Winter) could now be seen as a pre-pre-prequel to Chase's Jersey mob saga. After all, only about 40 years and 100 miles of Jersey Shore beaches separate Winter's gangsters from Chase's.
So fret not, Eliza. As Bruce sang, "Put your make-up on, fix your hair up pretty, and meet me tonight in Atlantic City."
categories Tv News