The Tedium Is The Message5


A couple of weeks ago, Ugly Betty took an entirely different tack. Betty and her endearingly nerdy love interest, Henry, finally moved in together. They’re a nerdy match made in heaven.  It’s tender Nerd!UST, and because it’s so different and sweet and because Ugly Betty dependably delivers one quality episode after another.

And, now, for the newest cute couple – the mismatched Marc St. James, the flaming, self-absorbed fashionista who falls for the chubby Cliff St. Paul, a golden-hearted slouch, all set to " Hot Sahara - the Lenny B remix by Jimmy Century"

And last week, Mo’Nique showed up as the bulldog weekend security guard who decides she needs some of Henry’s “sugah stick.”

One of the hyphenates who truly understands UST and is beautifully, elegantly mining the theme is Bryan Fuller in Pushing Daisies.  UST is the heart and soul of Pushing Daisies.  It could have been another I-love-you, I-love-you-not audience whipsaw. Fuller’s characters don’t tap dance, they commune.  They’re smitten and committed.  It’s Fuller’s way of exploring romantic love and overcoming obstacles to intimacy.

Bryan Fuller adores his audience, respects his audience, lavishes his audience with one beautifully written scene and voice over after another.  He treats them like they have a sharp mind and a good heart.  Bryan Fuller is Robert McKee’s embodiment of the cardinel rule: “Story is about respect, not disdain, for the audience.”  

And last week: Jews for Cheeses.  I heart Bryan Fuller.

The ultimate Divorce!UST is Californication.  Californication is spottily entertaining because of all the CwH (conversations while high). 

On top of this familiar platform, the writers are shamelessly outrageous.  The toked-up pre-nuptial conversation between the Karen and her best friend Marcy was howlingly funny but the outrageousness does mask the fact that this series is actually pretty basic in some ways.

Hank is a “tragically flawed” jerk “with a “good heart.”  That’s an actual line of dialog in the finale, breaking a cardinal “show don’t tell” rule  (McKee page 334.)- something the writers do a lot in this show.

But it feels more like someone in the writers’ room said – WTF! – I’m gonna break this rule, just like my characters engage in a lot of bad behavior. They get high a lot,  do the b/d thing with their hot secretaries and otherwise misbehave, like the Entourage boys.  (But here the women misbehave too.)

The characters have little sense of decorum, so it seems like the writers decided to defiantly take down a few sacred cows too.

Hank carries a torch for his ex, except when he’s having long,  drizzly, syrupy phone conversations with his precocious daughter or showing off his manly side by defending his ex’s honor - by punching out party-goer after the chump called her the “c” word.

It’s sweaty, unshaven David Duchovny-with-jowels UST.  He’s not exactly attractive.  “That sh*t’s f*cked up” as Marcy said in the finale. 

The Divorce!UST theme (or the subvarient separationUST) is very blatant - Hank had commitment issues, so he never married Karen, his true love.  Karen drifts off and becomes engaged to Bill.  Hank woos her but experiments with plenty of other women in the meantime, as witnessed here in one of the more wacky Californication scenes.

Still, in the end, after 12 episodes, there is no sense that the writers are dissing their audience.  It’s like they’re saying – hey!  It’s beautiful day.  Let’s hop in the convertible and take a fast ride down Highway One.  And let’s break f*cking some rules!

 In the last seconds of the finale, the writers resolved the UST.  Slinging her high heels and hiking her wedding dress,  Karen runs from her wedding reception.  She hops into the back of the Hank’s now iconic one-headlight Porsche.  “Go, Go!  She yells, “Quick, before I change my f*cking mind!”

The re-united family careens down the street into the night. 

Curiously, two of the best dramas on television – Dexter and Mad Men –are blessedly free of the obvious cat/mouse ploys, so cynically over-played in broadcast net series.

Series that respect their audience’s limits and use UST judiciously and/or cleverly, and also avoid the big gimmicks (like video games):  (Pushing Daisies, Ugly Betty and Californication) or barely (Mad Men, Dexter, Saving Grace) are coincidentally the best shows on television. 

So, can we please stop the madness?