Monday, May 01, 2006

Showtime comes through

When we moved into our new rent-free digs (h/t in-laws), we faced a difficult situation. Finding privacy living with two other people (and three other animals besides Stan)? No. Paying off large debts from school and wedding? No. Determining what cable package to get. Having just discovered Entourage and knowing TiVo was on the way, I really wanted HBO, but it was an extra $20/month. There was a special, however, on Showtime and the 117 or so Encore channels that play the same 8 movies all day (speaking of which, thank you for continuing to pimp the Back to the Future series, Encore...I loved that series more than anybody in the '80s...but could you maybe show I or II, not just III on a daily basis? Pretty please?). We had Showtime for a while when I was growing up, and as a movie channel it compares fine to HBO. It does not, however, have Entourage.

All I can say is, what a pleasant surprise Showtime has turned out to be. Not because of the movies and not because of the boxing (which is nice from time to time)...because of Weeds and Huff.

First, Weeds. As Alan at A Different Perspective puts it...

The show depicts suburbia honestly yet critically. In my opinion, the show does not necessarily “approve” of the actions of the characters. It merely tells the story and engages the viewer.
It takes some pretty unlikely (as far as I know, anyway) major plot points (e.g. widow sells weed to make enough money to maintain suburban lifestyle for her family after husband dies; Kevin Nealon as a city councilman) and turns them into a really funny show with lots of exposed emotion. The cast itself (the extremely underrated Mary-Louise Parker, late-'80s hottie Elizabeth Perkins, SNL alum Kevin Nealon, the quickly-emerging Romany Malco of 40-Year Old Virgin fame, etc.) is a revelation. They're weird and quirky, and you like all of them.

Basically, Weeds works in the same way that Buffy or graphic novels work--once you suspend reality, you find an elevated sense of humanity and human emotion in the show. Now, there are no vampires or superheroes in Weeds (yet, anyway), but it's a show that takes relatively unrealistic circumstances (for example, a crate of Coke bottles falls out of a plane and destroys Elizabeth Perkins' house) and give them deeply relatable elements that get you extremely wrapped up from week to week. Granted, that describes a ton of good shows over the years, but in the age of CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, CSI: El Paso, CSI: Winnipeg, L&O, L&O: SVU, L&O: CI, and L&O: Traffic Court, a show like Weeds reminds you that something doesn't have to be REAL LIFE!!!!!! or RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES!!!!!! to connect with you and make you care. In other words, fiction is allowed to be fiction sometimes.

From week to week during Season One of Weeds (Season Two starts July 17, by the way), I found myself quite disappointed when an episode ended. On the other hand, with Huff, I find myself exhausted when an episode ends.

Huff follows the life of a psychiatrist (played by the always great Hank Azaria) and his predictably messed up family (including a schizophrenic brother) and friends. The cast, once again, is ridiculously good. Hank Azaria, the extremely underrated Paget Brewster as his wife, Blythe Danner as his eccentric mom, Oliver Platt as the, well, Oliver Platt-like crazy lawyer, Swoozie Kurtz as Brewster's mom...guest appearances by people like Angelica Huston and Sharon's star-studded, and as with Weeds, every character is interesting. There's not a scene-killer in the bunch.

The plots here are more real-life than on Weeds (though Oliver Platt gets a highly implausible number of women), especially the relationship between Azaria and Brewster. As Azaria's life starts to slip away from him (his brother is institutionalized, his wife hates having a converesation with him because he's always in psychiatrist mode, his mom's overbearing and a bit snooty, he tries and fails to save everybody around him), there begins to build a lot of anxiety and tension throughout each episode...broken up randomly by humor and/or strange plot twists. When you add in the fact that the show really is 55-60 minutes long (instead of the 44 minutes of show and 15 minutes of commercials that you're used to), it really is an exhausting experience. Exhausting but rewarding, that is.

Entourage's Season 2 DVD comes out in early-June. I'll buy it and enjoy it. But at this point, I can honestly say that I'm thankful there was a special on Showtime last June...