Many of television’s worst infestations – newscasters with hairpieces; reality shows with “Extreme” in the title; commercials featuring talking lizards, cats or infants – began quietly. Early attention or government action might have stopped them, but then ubiquity set in, and suddenly they were a fact of life.
So let’s look at some nascent TV trends that may or may not be trends. Perhaps they’re mere coincidences, but it’s never too early to stamp out a possibly phantom problem.
She’s black, he’s white, they’re weird
Interracial couples have been common on television for a while, but one particular blend is looking suspect. Conspiracy theorists, begin taking notes now.
On “The Neighbors,” a new ABC sitcom about a neighborhood inhabited by space aliens, the lead extraterrestrial couple, played by Toks Olagundoye (who is of Nigerian and Norwegian descent) and Simon Templeman (a very white British guy), are not exactly normal. They cry through their ears; he bears the children; and now and again they transform into their true bodies, which look like something from the “Star Wars” bar scene.
Over at “666 Park Avenue,” another new ABC series, Gavin and Olivia Doran, owners of a possessed New York apartment building named the Drake, are played by Terry O’Quinn and Vanessa Williams. Security deposit? Yeah, one month’s rent and your soul.
A year ago television comedies were reveling in their ability to say “penis” and “vagina.” They still are, but lately there’s a new brand of crotch humor in town: urine gags.
On the season premiere of “New Girl” this week on Fox, the torch was passed, as it were, from organ to fluid in an exchange between Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Schmidt (Max Greenfield), a character who has just had a cast removed from his penis and has arranged a party to celebrate:
Schmidt: “Tonight is about one man’s functioning penis.”
Jess: “I wouldn’t say functioning. I saw what you did to the toilet seat.”
References to urinating in the shower seem to be staples of shows like “The League” on FX. Urine testing got a shout-out on the “Animal Practice” premiere on NBC . Even CBS’ venerable “Big Bang Theory” succumbs frequently. (Sheldon, after regretfully putting out a flaming marshmallow in a glass of liquid: “Aw, it took me a gallon of urine to make that water.”)
Yes, urine happens, but is it really hilarious enough to be in seemingly every single episode of every single television comedy? Shouldn’t all those 13-year-olds who apparently are working in Hollywood’s writers’ rooms be in school or something?
Crawling for dummies
A friend who recently logged weeks in the hospital with not much to do but watch television pointed this one out: What’s with the crawls that remind you what show you are watching at that moment? Crawls – those streams of words marching across the bottom of the screen – can be useful for warning viewers about approaching tornadoes or late scheduling changes. (“The start of ‘60 Minutes’ will be delayed indefinitely because neither of these two incompetent NFL offenses seem to be able to score in overtime.”) But it’s dismaying to think that we have become so zombielike and indiscriminate in our television viewing that we need to be reminded what show we ourselves have tuned in.