Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bad Pop Culture: Forgive Me, Father, For I Have Sinned

I have a confession to make. It's a confession that's been a long time coming, with a lot of rationalization and avoidance along the way. "I don't really have a problem," I've been telling myself. "I only watch it during commercials. And it's only syndicated episodes, not first-run. They don't even show the whole episode in syndication. It's only because that one woman has great breasts.

"Anyway, I can quit whenever I want."

Recently, though, I hit rock bottom, in way that made the nature of my problem undeniable. I was flipping channels, and came upon an episode I had already seen.

And I put down the remote.

I'm ashamed to admit it even now. I feel unshriven, leprotic. I have failed both the community of good taste and myself as a human being. But I don't have to stay that way. I can choose to take the first step and admit, to myself and the world, that I have a problem.

Hi. My name is Michael, and I watch "Two and a Half Men."

I have no excuse for my behavior. It's unforgivable. The show is misogynist, hackneyed, poorly-acted, misogynist, terribly written, over-reliant on tired bodily non-humor, misogynist, incurably Californian, and misogynist. And I don't think the creators are too fond of women, either.

I can't think of a single redeeming quality to any of the characters, recurring or one-shot. Charlie Sheen plays himself fifteen years ago, and John Cryer plays an older, more pathetic Ducky. The housekeeper character is latest in a long line of classist domestic cliches, best summed up by this Onion quickie. She's actually the best-portrayed female character in the show; all the other women are shrewish, stupid, slutty, psychotic, or some combination of the above. And did I mention this show seems to have huge problems with women?

All of this can be laid square at the feet of the show's writing team, Satan's hands on Earth if ever he had any. Sheen and Cryer sure didn't come up with the idea to name the harpy ex-wife Judith. (And if they did, shame on them.) The idea of "The Odd Couple, but they're brothers, and Felix has a kid" is a typical Hollywood ourobouros masquerading as creativity, but not terrible on its own. No, it takes a special human touch to revolve pretty much every script around their mirror-image objectification of women, wistfully chide "boys will be boys," and add a laugh track. That this facile excuse for characterization has made the show America's Number One Comedy does not surprise me, but it does remind me why I never considered a career in television.

Everything about this show is a cliche, and a bad one at that. Everyone in it is a taker: utterly self-centered, completely without empathy. It's great fodder for horror fiction, I suppose, but played for laughs, it becomes grotesque. Especially when they try to get us to feel sympathy for any of these people, which is all too often. A saying about bedmaking comes to mind. Charlie's drinking himself to death, and Alan's mommy fetish guarantees he'll never know the touch of a woman again? Good! Sounds like a happy fucking ending! Have the house collapse in one of those California mudslides with everyone inside, and we can all go watch something more aesthetically palatable, like videos of eye surgery.

It's also infuriating, to me at least, that the show has gone to the "Charlie wises up" well at least five times, by my counting. It's the show's "they get off the island," except on Gilligan's Island, they at least dashed those hopes in the last few minutes of the episode. On this show, Charlie has the epiphany, then everything's back to normal next week. That's like showing them being picked up off the island by the Coast Guard, and starting the next episode with them sitting around the Minnow looking at the hole in the side.

I will admit one softening of my opinion: I feel pretty bad for Angus Jones, the kid who plays Jake. I mean, he's going to have to go through life being remembered as "the fat, dumb kid from Two and a Half Men." Nobody should have to live with that albatross around their neck. As I pointed out above, it's not like he's writing this crap. And, given the way Hollywood parenting works, I doubt any of this was his idea in the first place.

So, the show is shit. I think we've established that. But there I am, tuning it in, willingly subjecting myself to it and bumping the audience statistics up by one. Why? Laziness seems to be the primary reason. An affection for fiction about fraternal relationships is second, but Jesus, I've got East of Eden on my bookshelf, so there's no real excuse for eating at McDonald's when there's filet mignon to be had.

But I gave up McDonald's, and I can give up the TV equivalent of the Filet o'Fish. All it takes is discipline. Discipline, and the fact that in no way do I ever want to end up like either Charlie or Alan Harper.

Still, Melanie Lynskey does have a great rack.

No, no! Bad Michael! Bad!

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