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Cable Television Rundown: Sometimes, Douches Aren't Really Douches, If You Get To Know 'Em

One of the best lessons one gets from watching a lot of television is that sometimes, people who you think are douches aren't really douches deep down. This spring, I have personally learned a lot about the types of people who, while I wouldn't normally go out of my way to "chill" with them, I have learned that people who you think are douche on the surface may, while being douchier than you probably are, not be as douchey as you think they are.

That guy who is way too into men's fashion to not be a douche, for example? He's probably trying to just make it in his day-to-day life. His love life might even be in shambles, despite your preconception that he's totally getting all the hot ladies. The dude who wears the giant cowboy hat and shoots neo-nazis around town even though it's currently 2010? Dude's probably got some deep-set rage issues that you'll probably learn more about in future days. Guy who's really into smoking cigarettes and serving the country in the 1940s? Come on, he's not a douche, he's in World War II.

Yes, you could say I've learned a lot about life through television. And, this spring, cable television doesn't get much better. Here's my Cable Television Rundown for March 2010.

How to Make It In America: Okay, can we give a prize to the show that upon first glance seemed to be the most likely to be an Entourage clone and then totally outdo my expectations? Because, when HBO announced that they were going forward with a half-hour series produced by the Entourage gang of producers (like Mark Wahlberg, who as you know produced Entourage) called How to Make It in America, about two friends in New York hustling their way toward "the American dream," I was about to smack them upside the head for producing what sounded like garbage and not getting the greenlight for a full year of In Treatment episodes of instead (yes, also produced by the Entourage gang.)

Much to my easy-to-stereotype mind's surprise, How to Make It is easily HBO's most lovable new half-hour shows in years. What's made the show more successful in my book than other recently premiered half-hour shows like Bored to Death and Hung is the establishment of a cohesive, likable environment. Despite Zach Galifinakis and Jason Schwartzman being intensely likable, funny fellas, the truth is an entire show built essentially around Zach being a sad-sack and Schwartzman making funny faces in a trench coat makes for less than interesting television. And, despite Thomas Jane and Jane Adams delivering fearless, hilariously deadpan lead performances in Hung, the show has some work to do in terms of establishing something interesting beyond their great interplay.

Lead actor Bryan Greenberg is kind of boring as lead character Ben, but the world he lives in is a fun one. But, unlike their Entourage counterparts, things are not handed to him and his friends on a douchey silver platter. His more optimistic (and as Chris points out, hyper) friend Cam works tirelessly with him to get their jeans business off the ground. Meanwhile, Eddie Kaye Thomas (yes, the whiny guy from American Pie) is suprisingly hilarious as the douchey-but-pathetic-but-actually-not-a-bad-guy stock broker dude with cash. Lake Bell plays Ben's former (and future) love interest Rachel with depth and (again) likability. And Luis Guzman is the trump card in the cast (like he is in Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love) playing the older hustler type (and Cam's uncle.)

All in all, it makes absolutely no sense that this show could be so enjoyable, but it does. We could all learn something if we paid attention to our douchey neighbors. Turns out, they might actually be likable people.

Justified: This show, on the other hand, has no reason to not be enjoyable. It stars Tim Olyphant, Qualler's favorite male actor this side of Gabriel Byrne. His smoldering good looks and cool demeanor have been assets to the great projects he's been involved in (Deadwood, Damages) and the crappy ones, too (Hitman, Dreamcatcher (with Hung's Thomas Jane, another of Qualler's favorite male actors, no less!!!)) And unlike Damages when he seemed slightly out of place wearing those half-buttoned-up shirts that Dexter Morgan wears, the dude's a flat-out badass cowboy in small-town Kentucky.

Where the jury is still out, then, is whether this series will develop both in the procedural-type way it displayed in its excellent pilot and continue to evolve his, and perhaps others, characters. The atmosphere of the pilot, all humid out-of-date police offices, dark night-time bridges with neo-nazis holding freaking bazookas, and smart dialogue, was great, but the problem with giving Tim Olyphant the lead role is my fear that he won't be able to project more of the depth that a series like this one eventually should demand. In Deadwood he was pretty much just asked to walk around with a mad face and keep things in order while characters around him pontificated about the meaning of life and society. Unlike another show that seems to be all about atmosphere and a charismatic lead actor (Dexter), Justified doesn't have the easy-to-lean-back-on crutch of lead character voice-over narration.

Then again, I'm willing to give this show the benefit of the doubt. I saw enough hints of the serial aspects that I'm willing to continue to watch. Even if it's just for the fantastically dude-centric atmosphere, I'll keep watching. FX has done a great job of evolving into Television for Smart Dudes Who Also Like The Occasional Explosion channel, and Justified fits into that mold well.

The Pacific: It's too early to tell if this miniseries will be either overall a well-funded but ultimately tired WWII flick or find itself into the rarefied air of war movies like Terrance Malick's The Thin Red Line, but part one happily broke the usual mold that HBO has with its original movies and miniseries in being less than easy to watch for the whole family (like the time the Qualler family ordered HBO to watch the quite-good-and-quite-family-friendly From The Earth to the Moon.) Chris and I watched the first part last night (while Brigitte and Jerksica did wedding stuff for Chris and Jerksica's wedding! What excellent gender division!), and Chris aptly described its nice balance between Saving Private Ryan populist work and The Thin Red Line's aching "war is hell" darkness. I definitely plan to watch the first two parts a couple of times to get a true differentiation between the characters. And I plan to watch again with Lady Amy, who will definitely like all of the action sequences. A serious, serious amount of explosions -- HBO's $200 million budget went toward a lot of quality 'splosions.

In particular though, a scene that tells me that this is nacho usual WWII film was the intensely sad scene featuring the fellow in the picture above, shooting a Japanese soldier straight-up. Seems like that little scene is a bit of a microcosm of the scary war we will experience in coming weeks.

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  1. Blogger chris | 1:15 PM |  

    Yeah, still too early to tell for me re: Justified and The Pacific. Both had their upsides, but Justified felt rushed (though this is a typical pilot problem) and The Pacific felt stale. I'm willing to bet this will change though once we get to know the characters more. Just like How To Make It In America.

  2. Blogger qualler | 4:27 PM |  

    Yeah I'll pass full judgement on both after watching a few more parts of each. I liked the atmosphere of both enough at least know that I'll enjoy that part of it, even if the character side don't develop as well. How to Make It definitely has benefited from knowing the characters and the world they live in better, not to mention cutting down on the heavy hip-editing that made the pilot less than stellar.

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