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TV: Starved, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

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Following its stellar track record with dramas (The Shield, Nip/Tuck, Rescue Me, and now it appears Over There as well), FX is making another attempt at the sitcom genre with two new shows, Starved and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

They already tried once, with Lucky, which was an incredible success. Except for the fact that nobody watched it but me, apparently. I still don’t understand why they gave up on that show after only one season. Sure, it wasn’t a ratings blockbuster, but it had a rare and genuine quality that should’ve been nurtured, like Arrested Development. Especially on a channel like FX, which didn’t have much else to its name at the time, and which didn’t have much to lose. It was a show about gambling addicts, especially poker players, at a time when poker was already a national obsession and only growing bigger. It was tremendously well-written: nominated for an Emmy for Best Writing two weeks before its cancellation. It had a fantastic cast, led by John Corbett, fresh off the inexplicable (to me) phenomenon of My Big Fat Stupid Unfunny Greek Wedding, and Ever Carradine of Once and Again, who is so ridiculously beautiful and charming, she might actually get me to watch that sure-to-be-lame show where Geena Davis becomes the president when it debuts in the fall. And most of all, Lucky was just plain funny. Like, Arrested Development funny. I still haven’t forgiven FX for cancelling it. In fact, I will never forgive them. Grr.

But we’re not talking about Lucky. We’re talking about Starved and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. My quick review: they can’t hold a candle to Lucky. Screw you, FX!

I kid. I kid FX, because I love.

Okay, I’ve only seen one episode of each so far. But neither amazed me. They both deal in the comedy of humiliation, which has never been my favorite brand of humor (while I recognize and respect its greatness, I can barely sit through an episode of The Office). And they both strive to be shocking — Starved with its eating disorders and frank sexuality, Philadelphia with its gay and racial-themed humor — but neither show has a cast winning or talented enough to mine enough laughs out of the shock to really succeed.

And let’s look at those casts. Starved is headed by Eric Schaeffer, who also wrote and directed the pilot. Schaeffer seems to think he’s charmingly flawed, charismatic yet troubled. I think he’s loathsome. I don’t care for him as a character or as a performer. He always seems to cast himself as the ladies’ man lead in his own projects, when he’s actually so creepy and disturbing it seems more likely women would cross the street to avoid him. Take this pilot episode for example: he instantly charms a woman on the subway into a date, which in and of itself is unlikely enough; then on that date he forces her to throw away her shoes, which he doesn’t like, and to wear new shoes that he’s bought her. Creeeepy. Does she ditch him immediately? No, she has sex with him that night! Yes, of course she does. Why wouldn’t she? And he has such utter contempt for her as a person that he’ll only listen to her talk about her day while she’s simultaneously giving him a blowjob, and speaking in a British accent (to mimic an actress on a TV commercial he likes). This character is an asshole, but Schaeffer still thinks women would find him irresistible. I just don’t get it.

But he’s got an excuse for being an asshole: he’s got an eating disorder. He’s a slave to food, he conflates sex with food (the TV commercial he’s obsessed with uses sex to sell cookies, which leads him to try to recreate his girlfriend in the image of the commercial’s star), he’s got an unhealthy body image, he’s under constant mental pressure — you get the idea. But why does this make it okay for him to be an asshole? And why does this woman still want to be with him?

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a grand tradition of assholes on television. There have been plenty of assholes who were also funny and charming enough to like and laugh at, from Archie Bunker to George Costanza. The problem is, Schaeffer’s character is just an asshole.

The rest of the cast is a pack of nobodies, who don’t bring much to the show, at least not in this first episode. Which leads us directly into the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is such a complete pack of nobodies, that as of this writing, the IMDb page can’t even be bothered to name them. And neither can I… except to note that the female lead, Kaitlin Olson, who previously appeared in the last two dreadful seasons of the Cleveland-set Drew Carey Show has a line in the pilot about a dream she had in which she found herself in Cleveland — which I got a kick out of, whether that was an intentional inside joke or not.

The show centers on three knuckleheads who own a bar in Philly (Olson is a waitress at the bar), and the stupid and offensive things they do. The first episode is all about misunderstandings and prejudices involving race and homosexuality. The guys make a racist assumption about one of Olson’s friends, then spend the rest of the episode trying to prove they’re not racist, while only digging themselves deeper. There might be some clever humor to be found in this premise, but these guys don’t achieve it. There are some sharp lines and stinging moments, but the cast is such a bland and uninteresting group that it’s hard to feel one way or the other about them, to root for them or to revel in the pain of their missteps.

FX has enough of a reputation for quality (a well-earned rep, for sure) that I’ll check out another couple episodes of each show before making a final judgment. It’s possible I’ll grow to accept the characters more, which will help bring the humor out. But I just don’t have the time, or the room on my TiVo, to keep following unlikeable characters who are also unfunny.

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About Tom the Dog

  • http://www.docofdiets.com dietdoc

    I read the Rousch Rave (I think that is the spelling) in TV Guide and he, I am sure you will be pleased to hear, completly agree with you. Thumbs down on both. I plan to tape the reruns this weekend and see them myself. It sounds like potty humor (literally, in the case of Starved) so I will be a tough seel after your review. Thanks for the review.

    I do like Over There as I think it strikes a nice balance between the horrible tragedy that is war (any war!) and the fascination I have with the genre.

    Cheers,

    Ron

  • http://blogcritics.org/author.php?author=Cerulean Cerulean

    Well-written article, Tom the Dog. About a week ago my Digital Cable Recorder thing went out for the umpteenth time so I can’t tell when anything is on, let alone record it. I’m getting sick of that. Anyway, I had wanted to check out Starved but couldn’t. I had an eating disorder and attended Overeaters Anonymous meetings. His behavior has nothing to do with having eating disorders. Most people who have them are nice and are sensitive. He’s an asshole. Sounds like a case of Mommy problems.

    I’m missing all the good shows because of my Tivo. It sucks.

  • http://biggesttent.blogspot.com/ Silas Kain

    Oy, I feel guilty for liking both shows. Starved is irreverent, simple potty humor. That’s kind of nice after a long day of stress. I loved the first episode of ‘Sunny’. The second wasn’t so bad but it needs work. I’m willing to stuck it out for a couple of more weeks.

    Now for “Over There” and “Rescue Me” all I have to say is WOW. Leary’s “Rescue Me” is arguably the best primetime drama in the last 10 years. I’m hoping he gets tapped for Best Actor in next year’s Emmy Awards. There is no one in a television series today that can hold a candle to his portrayal of Tommy. While he grates on the nerves of many a viewer, it’s hard not to be sucked in.

  • http://www.docofdiets.com dietdoc

    Silas: I totally agree. The slights for Dennis Leary (Rescue Me) and Anthony Anderson and Glenn Close (The Shield) for Emmy’s is a major oversight.

    Cheers,

    Ron

  • http://tomthedog.blogspot.com/ Tom the Dog

    But Glenn Close did get an Emmy nomination! As did CCH Pounder. You’re right on about Anderson, though, he was excellent. (Though technically wouldn’t he be classified as a guest star?) It’s Chiklis and the show itself that really got overlooked.

  • http://draven99.blogspot.com Chris Beaumont

    I have seen the first eps of both.
    I liked Starved.
    I thought Sunny… was trying to hard to shock and losing focus on any characters. I am willing to watch a few more eps.

  • Kyle

    Sunny in Philadelphia is a great new show and I think it has enormous potential. I’ve been wanting to see this since I first saw a preview for it. I just hope that they live up to my expectations.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    I thought both were watchable, which is a HUGE plus and bonus for any television comedy. Starved felt far more self-assured (saw the first ep) than Sunny in both its characters and writing. That said, if Starved doesn’t chill out on the vomit visuals quick-like, I’m going to be way out of there.

    Sunny has potential, but it’s fairly raw at this stage.

  • Dustin

    I agree that Starved is nothing special, but so far seeing the first three episodes of IASIF has impressed me. I find the dialog as inappropriately funny as Arrested Development.

  • http://blogcritics.org/author.php?author=Cerulean Cerulean

    I saw Starved and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I’d watch it again, although, clearly the guy has major Mommy problems, and in life should probably be preceeded by a herald who warns people about this. Sunny in Philadephia just looked like Dawson’s Creek set in a bar. I couldn’t make myself follow.

  • http://antiherocomics.com david

    Sunny in Philadelphia is a great show. But yes, Starved does suck. Why lump them together like that? Do you get more “critic-cred” for every show you give the thumbs down to? Television is better now, than it has been in years. We’re judging everything on a whole new standard. Sunny in Philadelphia having “nobodies” is not a bad thing. The actors are funny, and do a darn good job with an open concept.

  • stevesdao

    You’re all crazy. The premise of both is much lighter than you want to believe. Eric’s work always has to be looked at out of context to see that his projects are his outlet and I doubt he has any intention to make them yours. Sunny is THE BEST NEW SHOW ON TELEVISION. That’s all. You may not like its humor, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not funny. The first episode where they were trying to recover from their racial insensitivity reminded me more of a Seinfeld episode than anything else. Sure, you’d hate that comparison, but smart humor involving characters who create for themselves the worst of situations begs for it. Keep on watching before you write either off, but even if you don’t learn to enjoy them, it doesn’t mean they are bad shows – only that you don’t like them. There’s always Commander-in-Chief for you.

  • veronica

    I think both Sunny and Starved are fantastic. I was an early fan of The Office, and I think FX has similarly hit the mark with these two shows. Although Starved is a bit dark and perhaps not as marketable to the masses, I think both shows have incredible promise and with their cleverness and fearlessness in dealing with untouchable issues, such as racism, homophobism, and eating disorders, stand out from the usual half-hour comedies offered up by the big networks. Americans, unlike the British, are woefully unable to make fun their shortcomings because of our need to be politically correct. Cheers to FX for having the courage to lift the cloak of taboo by making fun of prejudices and our unbecoming values that are so obviously just as much a part of the underpinnings of mainstream American life as are our positives.

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    Sunny sounds interesting, but Starved baffles me. There is nothing funny about eating disorders, which can kill people.

  • http://www.myspace.com/scopatadimorte Doug Nowiski

    I would like to point out to you, Tom the Dog, that you were NOT the only one who absolutely loved Lucky! That was one of my favorite comedies, and then FX cut it. It was a very sad day when I read that it would not be returning…

    If Arrested Development gets canceled, Fox will have some hell to pay!

  • http://www.alwayssunnyforum.com candy pants

    Not a fan of Starved. But, Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a great new show IMO. I don’t miss an episode. If you like it too, come checkout the new Always Sunny Forum at http://www.alwayssunnyforum.com

  • Cyrano

    I stumbled across an episode of Starved last night (09/08/2005) and was unimpressed. I don’t anticipate watching another. However, in the final scene, during which the obese charactor reported for surgery and collapsed, there was the most wonderful background music. It was kind of blues-y and featured a male vocalist. If the credits included the artist and the title of the song, it passed by far too quickly for me to see it. Can anyone provide the name of the performer and the title of the song?

  • http://insanepreschoolmom.blogspot.com Dusti

    Starved does creep me out. But I think Sunny is an excellent show. It feels very natural to me. Also, I have a really base sense of humor, and I like watching guys act like assholes while their pretty friend just kind of pities them :)

  • http://www.gregpiper.com Greg

    I love both new FX comedies and I hate almost every sitcom on TV these days, with the exception of Arrested Development. And Veronica’s right – the first episode of Sunny was very Seinfeld-ish. When I tried to describe it to a friend, I said “Seinfeld in their 20s and less politically correct.” So get over your snobbish ways and laugh at something that you can feel guilty about later.

  • Mlane

    Series ASIP is fantastic. To bad bar room narrative doesn’t introduce a new shot drink called “knock up” A post moderenistic sitcom that evolves around barroom antics to play off other familiar drinks would be comical.

  • http://blogcritics.org/author.php?author=Cerulean Cerulean

    I stopped watching Starved. It’s too sick and too dark. It was original and it seemed courageous but I ultimately ended up thinking it was just too sick.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    I agree, Cerulean. I wanted to hang with it as it had many great qualities, but it ended up making me physically ill… and my stomach is wimpy!

  • http://blogcritics.org/author.php?author=Cerulean Cerulean

    Yeah, exactly. It literally made me feel sick in a very strong way.

  • http://www.myspace.com/imchrisross Chris Ross

    This critic cannot be serious…It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a great show…quickwitted…racial and gender based stereotypes are what make most shows enjoyable nowadays….so to say that a humorous and sometimes raunchy show like Sunny is crazy…especially since adult humor like this has takenover the comedic industry….Lucky was a terrible show anYWaY….

  • http://prdesign.co.nr Pete Ruppert

    It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of the best comedies on tv! It is easily one of my top 3 favorite comedies of all time, of course behind Arrested Development. This and The Jake Effect are two great, underappreciated shows. This show is hilarious.

  • junior

    You couldn’t be more wrong about Sunny! Best show on television!

  • Rupert Murdoch

    Wow, do you have it wrong on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The fact that the main actors, who also produce and write the show, are (as you say) “nobodies”, makes the show more impressive than it already is. It may be the best show on television. (Curb Your Enthusiasm, the late Arrested Development, and Rescue Me are right up there too.) I heard a review call it “Seinfeld on crack.”

    It might be more funny than any other show I’ve ever seen – and have you seen the new ads? They’re hilarious. I’ve been awaiting the third season for too long.

    What an awful review.

    Keep it up FX – FOX does some things the right way.

    P.S. Don’t cancel this one!