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A Little Death on Wednesday Night Television

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Heaven help me, I think Back To You is funny.  Not fall down on the floor hyena-laugh funny, not Britney Spears comeback train wreck funny, not NY Mets preparing to bow out of the playoffs during the last week of the regular season funny, but funny.  And, perhaps more scarily, I thought last night’s episode was actually almost clever.

They took a premise I have seen on television a hundred times before and actually did not follow the standard plot.  Chuck Darling (Kelsey Grammer) gets a fish, which he promptly kills.  He does not want co-anchor and mother of his child Kelly Carr (Patricia Heaton) to know the fish is dead, so he gets the news director, Ryan (Josh Gad) to go and buy him a new one.  Now, at this point I am thinking to myself that he gets the new fish and Kelly looks at it and knows that it is not the original.  We have all seen that one before, whether it is with a fish, a bird, a dog, or a parent, the old switcheroo failure plot.  I sighed and figured that it was late in the evening and I could go to sleep, but I would let the show unspool, and see what happened.  Well, I was hugely impressed to see that my fears were not realized.  Kelly had no idea that the fish had been replaced, the show never got to that old standby plot, as Chuck killed new fish after new fish after new fish before Kelly could ever see any of them. 

Not only were the ways in which the fish died funny – pouring coffee on one; dumping another into cold water, causing a deadly shock to the fish’s system; and, the coup de grace, death by electrocution, but to top it all off, Chuck heartlessly tosses each fish into the garbage under his desk.  No ceremonial burial for these bad boys, no moment of mourning, no “aw shucks.” Sure, it all sounds perfectly ghastly, but I was incredibly pleased not to see the plot go saccharine and end up with some tra-la-la message.  Death to the fishes, I say!

Speaking of the dead, apparently the old Dillons Restaurant in New York was awfully close to killing people.  Between the green chicken wings, green and moldy burger patties and all other manner of disgusting thing (roaches and rats anyone?), I’m surprised that no one ever got sick.  Well, thinking about it, no one seems to ever actually have eaten at the old restaurant and it is kind of hard to give people food poison if they won’t eat what you’re serving. 

No joke, if Gordon Ramsay didn’t have to fix the restaurant in Kitchen Nightmares, if the entire show was simply him pointing out the most disgusting aspects of a restaurant, be it a rotten tomato, a green burger patty, or meat in the vegetarian dishes, I think this could be the best show on television.  It all falls down because the structure of the show mandates that Ramsay fix the restaurant in a sort of miraculous turn around over the course of the week.  It’s completely improbable and not terribly realistic.  The disgusting areas of the restaurants however are both highly probable and, sadly, hugely realistic.  The show ought to be more akin to a health inspector going to the dingiest dives and exploring them in nauseating detail.  Sure, it would turn some people off, but imagine the wonderful visuals of it.  If it could only be done in Smell-o-vision.

Then, completely separately, I’d like to point out that tonight is premiere Thursday on NBC.  Man, I remember when I waited for this night for a whole year, when I wanted to watch ER.  When Friends was still on.  When the 3 hour Thursday block was just the be all and end all of television.  I still like the comedies, but, as I’ve said before, ER has been recycling for years now, and dark lighting does not make up for a lack of drama.  Maybe I should ask the people at NBC about this all, after all, they will be doing live blog events following My Name is Earl, The Office, and ER tonight, one for each show.  The ER one even has Parminder Nagra.   All times Eastern on those chats.  I’ll be watching two of the three hours and will let you know my thoughts on the morrow.  Until next time. 

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.