A watershed moment happened on the season premiere of #Saturday Night Live#, one I’ve been waiting for since the lipstick first hit the pit bull: Tina Fey portrayed Sarah Palin in the opening sketch. It was brilliant, and reminded me of two things. First, that Tina Fey is smart, funny, original, and a good writer who doesn’t pander. Second, that Sarah Palin is an artless, hypocritical liar who embodies the baseless exploitation of our collective shadow side. And she makes me feel kinda nauseous.
But this column isn’t about politics, oh no. It’s about the fall TV season. I haven’t gotten a single preview screener of any new show, so this subjective and conjecture-laden sneak peek will be as responsibility-free as the Republican campaign. The judging criteria: shows will receive a "Fey" rating and/or a "Palin" rating, the first gauging their brilliance and the second their ick factor. I will try and go into some depth, particularly explaining if the Palin is for excessive gore, intrinsic banality or a shameless dive into the derivative. Or if it just makes me nauseous.
Let’s start with Monday night – avoiding returning shows except to give Dancing with the Stars four Palins for artlessness and Chuck three Feys for its pronounced cuteness, cleverness and addictive mixture of rom-com and spy romp. Of the new shows, Worst Week is a CBS sitcom with a daunting slapstick premise but a promising new guy in the lead role. One Fey for the effort, one or more Palins for possible sitcom tragedy. Then there’s NBC’s My Own Worst Enemy, the Christian Slater vehicle that mixes espionage with dissociative disorder – he has one alter ego who’s a spy and one who’s milquetoast. Three Feys, because of the potential for Alias-like complexity in the plots, a featured role for acting goddess Alfre Woodard, and the opportunity to use the word "milquetoast."
The CW has already premiered its two Tuesday shows: 90210 gets three strong Palins for derivative and pseudo-controversial claptrap. The parking-lot blowjob in the first five minutes seemed particularly Girls Gone Yukon in spirit. I’m torn on Privileged, which gets a solid Palin for its formulaic premise of a struggling young woman brought to Palm Beach high society to tutor two spoiled teenage girls. But I’m also giving it a counterbalancing Fey, because heroine JoAnna Garcia is appealing and Anne Archer is rather beguiling as the extra-rich matron. There is a show on CBS about a crime-solver who might be a psychic (The Mentalist) and a "game show" on ABC that sets up in Your Home Town (Opportunity Knocks). Either one could go Fey or Palin depending on the execution. The last new Tuesday entry, on Fox, is #Fringe#, from prolific evil genius J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias, Felicity). Because of my hardcore aversion to gore, I have to give this one a Palin because some guy’s face melts off and creepy things happen with umbilical cords. It may be Fey-worthy, but I’ll never know. Ick.
Wednesday night isn’t really much to talk about.
Thursday has ABC’s #Life on Mars#, about a cop teleported back to the 1970s to fight old school crime with a contemporary attitude. I keep hearing it called "gritty," which loads up the Palin launcher, but the premise has Fey potential. Fox’s Hole in the Wall is a reality show where morons put on shiny bodysuits and try to jump through – holes in the wall. Five Palins! Kath & Kim is a new sitcom on NBC based on an old sitcom from Australia. I give it a Fey for the intrinsic weirdness of Molly Shannon, and a Palin-warning because these "raucous" imports usually fill me with flop sweat. And CBS has Eleventh Hour, wherein a dashing biophysicist solves mysteriousness involving killer scorpions and cloned something-or-others. Paging Dr. Palin.
Friday has CBS’s The Ex List, adapted from a (raucous?) Israeli series. Palin. NBC has America’s Toughest Jobs, a reality show where 13 ordinary folk attempt really hard occupations. I’m hearing good buzz, so I won’t Palin it prematurely. And Crusoe is about the shipwrecked guy, complete with his man Friday. I think it might die a quick death, but I’m tuning in and hoping for the best, Palinity be damned.
The CW has some new shows on Sunday. Whatever. I’ll be watching The Amazing Race (still eye-popping), Desperate Housewives (in case it gets good again) and Brothers & Sisters (because it seems to get better and better). And even though I’ve only mentioned network shows here, I can’t leave out cable-station AMC’s entry for Sunday, now in its all-too-brief second season: Mad Men. It’s the best damn show on television, and the Emmys thought so also, recently awarding it Best Drama. They also showered Tina Fey with love and Emmys; Sarah Palin didn’t win anything. One can only hope the latter trend continues into November.