There’s something rotten in the state of Thursday night television, and that stink has a name: “100 Questions” – a laugh track bolstered piece of dreck that NBC has shoehorned into the 8:30 time slot that used to belong to ‘Parks & Recreation’. Let’s all hope this is just some creative summer scheduling and nothing more sinister, such as NBC pulling a fast one and replacing ‘Parks & Rec ‘all together because it’s (a) smart, (b) quirky and (c) laugh out loud funny – the perfect storm for cancellation, natch.
Generally I don’t like to dis television, mainly because there’s so much bad out there I wouldn’t know where to start (e.g. have I said word one about how I believe ‘The Bachelor’ is an allegory for the destruction of modern society?). But in this case I feel as if I must take fingers to keyboard and weigh in on my dissatisfaction with this new show.
Thursday night NBC television is generally very good, but a little bit like a hostage situation: if ‘The Office’ and ‘30 Rock’ lure you in, ‘Parks & Rec’ keeps you watching. I’m relatively apathetic toward ‘Community’, although last month’s paintball episode went a long way toward changing my mind (well, that and Joel McHale’s abs, but I digress). Besides, I’m generally too tired from the work week to be bothered to push a couple buttons on the remote and see what else is on TV. The Thursday lineup is satisfactory and has been satisfactory for a couple years now.
So why mess with perfection and shove this new “comedy” down our gullets? Because that’s what NBC does. They couldn’t find a home for it on another night, like Tuesday at 10:30, when I’m otherwise occupied with more interesting fare such as ‘Memphis Beat’ on TNT [Speaking of TNT, this is a perfect segue to the whole ‘Southland’ fiasco. That show, NBC’s first foray back into 10:00 slot long-form drama post-‘ER’, was SO GOOD I WANTED TO PUNCH SOMEONE. And just like that, NBC removed it. What did they put in its place? ‘The Marriage Ref’ – ostensibly to fill the gaping void that ‘The Newlywed Game’ left behind when it went off the air 35 years ago. Meanwhile, TNT gladly took NBC’s sloppy seconds and aired the full 13 episodes and then ordered up seconds. Its ratings are solid and people are happy it found a home. Well done, you NBC jackhammers. Did we learn nothing at summer camp?]
Anyway, back to ‘100 Questions’. After having watched the first episode, my overriding reaction was that it felt a whole lot like ‘Friends’, but wasn’t. It was ‘Ghost of Friends’. It was as if ‘Friends’ was that legendary high school football hero/prom king kid and ‘100 Questions’ was its dorky younger sibling. As if someone took the sitcom ‘Friends’ and put it through a washing machine – an industrial washing machine – and now all that is left is a stretched out, faded remnant of a formerly cherished piece of clothing.
The show’s similarities with ‘Friends’ continue: the funky, sizable New York apartment no character in the cast could remotely afford unless the show were taking place during the Eisenhower era, the smart alecky Chandler character, the Phoebe, the Joey. Everyone’s in their early thirties, unsuccessful at work and clueless in love. Apart from for some forced elements of pathos, it could be the same show. But it’s not.
A big part of the problem is the writing. As a self-professed writer myself, I’ll be the first to defend my brethren, but for this case specifically, I have to back away and cast the first stone. ‘100 Questions’ smacks of corporate whitewashing: either the writers wrote a pilot they thought the suits would want to buy, or they took a more interesting pilot and blanched it into something that looks like something else. Either case, the writers sold out and now we’re paying the price.
To say nothing of the “jokes”. Let’s analogize it this way: on ’30 Rock’, a joke will be hiding somewhere, and just as you’re rounding the corner it’ll jump out and kick you in the nuts. On ‘100 Questions’, the joke is standing directly in front of you waving its arms like an air traffic controller. Like, you know how when you’re driving down 95 toward Florida you start seeing signs for South of the Border? The joke experience on this show is just like that. “Here it comes…here it comes…here it comes…wait for it…and there it is.”
I’m going to refrain from ripping into the actors* since I think they’re okay, but moreso, I feel kind of bad for them. I lived in LA – I know the drill. You bum around testing for show after show, thisclose to going to network a million times, then you finally land a gig, but the gig is as appetizing as warm tuna salad someone left behind in the cafeteria. Two days ago. Provided they’re really lucky, the show will get canceled and the actors can start the whole process again (see: Mark Feuerstein). But if there’s ever justification for developing substance abuse problems, this cast gets a pass.
So I summarize: this new show? It’s so dreadful; I would rather watch back-to-back episodes of ‘According to Jim’. The episodes of ‘Friends’ in constant syndication all over cable? Well that’s just rubbing salt in the wound. NBC: for the first time ever, would you please justifiably cancel this crap sandwich and rearrange the Thursday night schedule back to normal**?
* Sophie Winkleman, the lead actress, has a name that sounds like a character in a Beverly Cleary book. Apparently she went to Royal Shakespeare and has a bunch more theatre under her belt, though you wouldn’t know it from this show. She’s also Lady Frederick Windsor, but that information is superfluous. Anyway, I just wanted to say Winkelman.
** [Update] According to Wiki: “May 2009 the network announced that the show would debut mid-season in March 2010 on Tuesday nights at 9:30 pm, after NBC's coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics was completed. However the show was later pushed back to debut on May 27, 2010, with the episode order reduced from thirteen to six.” [Ed: that’s not good. Maybe there’s hope after all.]