Unhitched pushes the sitcom genre to the edge
At first glance, Unhitched (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., Fox) seems like a standard sitcom. A guy splits up with his wife and awkwardly wades into the dating pool. He and his single friends have all sorts of wacky adventures.
At second glance, Unhitched seems like the most depraved series ever aired in prime time. It's created by the Farrelly Brothers, specialists in gross-out films like There's Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber. While outwardly following sitcom conventions, they throw in enough sick stuff to put Fox's Standards and Practices Department on red alert.
We meet Gator (Craig Bierko) as he goes back to a date's apartment. She's a primate researcher who knows a lot about gorilla mating habits. By the end of the scene...well, let's just say that Gator and his date's pet monkey become more than just friends.
If that's the first five minutes, how much more perverse can Unhitched get? The Farrellys are just warming up. Prepare for a half-hour of drunks, pimps, prostitutes, raunchy genitalia references, vomit and wheelchair jokes. I wasn't offended, because there's so much naughty glee in the Farrellys' attempt to break every TV taboo. But I was queasy, and reluctant ever to date a primate researcher again.
Oprah's Big Give
Sunday, 8 pm (ABC)
In most reality shows, Americans frantically scramble to enrich themselves. In Oprah's Big Give, they frantically scramble to enrich others. It's a cross-country adventure with weekly challenges, requiring contestants to help strangers more than their rivals do. A panel of judges will decide who has given the most each week, with losers eliminated from the competition.
Of course, there's a prize in store for the person crowned The Biggest Giver. Hey, we Americans can be coerced into charitable acts, but we're not stupid.
Download: True Story of the Internet
Monday, 8 pm (Science Channel)
This special hires a smug host to brag about the Internet's world-changing power. "It's an incendiary revolt of the little guy that has the assembled forces of Big Media trembling in their tasseled loafers!" he smirks.
So the Internet is a big deal: Thanks for the news flash. But I don't understand why Download is so hostile to traditional media. Is old-style journalism really evil, as a young web entrepreneur suggests? "Who do you trust more - some corporate executive in a smoke-filled back room or your peers?"
It's great that peers can pool their knowledge on the web. But they shouldn't replace good journalists reporting stories around the country and the world - journalists who require funding from, yes, traditional media. With the rise of the Internet, a lot of these folks have been laid off. That shouldn't make anybody smug, whatever their feelings about tassels.
Tuesday, 8 pm (Fox)
Oh geez, it's yet one more new cop show about a 17th-century Dutchman who's killed, resuscitated by mystical Indians and given the gift of eternal life, surviving to become a homicide detective in modern-day New York City. How many times can the networks tell this story?
Of course, I jest - New Amsterdam's premise is unprecedented. That could have been a plus, but the series is strangely dull. It takes its loony concept way too seriously, with frequent flashbacks to 17th-century Native American healers bending over our hero: "You will not grow old. You will not die until you find The One and your souls are wed. This is the gift we give."
Yep, this 300-year-old Dutchman is searching for l-u-v. And while he's at it, he solves ho-hum crimes with his sarcastic female partner. In other words, New Amsterdam really is like every other cop show, with a few pasted-on supernatural elements.
I predict our hero will die, healers notwithstanding. I give him till April.
The Real Housewives of New York City
Tuesday, 10 pm (Bravo)
Here's a companion to The Real Housewives of Orange County, the reality series about tanned, toned women of a certain age. The new installment finds similarly narcissistic women in Manhattan, obsessed with status and shoes, hairdos and houses.
Where the Californians give their children pretentious Dynasty names like Slayte and Kennedi, the New Yorkers give theirs pretentious European names like Johann and Franois. They dutifully apply themselves to all the high-society requirements: summering in the Hamptons, buying $4,000 jackets, etc. They're as venal as we expect rich people to be, and that's why we tune in.
Only one person here emerges as a sensible human being: Avery, the 11-year-old daughter of Upper East Side princess Ramona. In the Hamptons, Ramona and her girlfriends argue over who dances more like a stripper, leer at the hunky tennis pro and basically act like overgrown high school airheads. Avery apologizes to the camera: "They do silly, ridiculous things that are unnecessary. Sometimes it gets a bit out of hand. It's embarrassing."
A levelheaded person in the middle of a Real Housewives season? The producers had better hustle this kid off screen before she torpedoes the whole franchise.