One of the main themes of A Bronx Tale, Chazz Palminteri's brilliant one-man play now holding at the Fisher Theatre, is that one of life's greatest sins is wasting the talent you've been given. If that's true, let's hope Chazz's touring schedule has kept him from watching much TV in '08.
In terms of pure entertainment value, especially prime time, rarely has so much been offered by so many with so little. There are moments of glory and spectacle, sure, but too often what talent we do see on the tube leaves us yearning for — what? Substance? Pizzazz? Art? We all have fallen victim to the Paris-Britney-Lindsay mindfog of lowered expectations. Who let 90210 and Knight Rider out of our bad memories, anyway? Whatever happened to the consummate all-around performer? Where have you gone, Francis Albert Sinatra, you old gent you?
Still, this holiday season is for giving thanks, and who am I not to be thankful for a job — in this economic down spin — that pays me to sit on my ass and watch TV? Allow me to regain my perspective for a minute and share with you a partial list of people and programs that made me thankful ... either to have witnessed them or to be able to ridicule them.
Barack Obama: As much as his tireless campaigning and masterful use of the Internet, it was television that won the White House for the junior senator from Illinois. Especially during the presidential debates, the president-elect consistently came across as focused, calm — "cool as the other side of the pillow," as ESPN's Stuart Scott would say — while the pink 'n' puffy Sen. John McCain increasingly became seen as a stiff, cranky old fart. If McCain had delivered one address during the campaign as genuine and moving as his concession speech, he might have fared better.
Chris Berman: Speaking of ESPN, isn't it well past time for the grand old "Schwam" of sports TV to hang up his mike? Bad comb-over, mismatched clothes that look stolen off the clearance rack, and references to '70s classic rock songs and events that roll right over the heads of an entire generation of viewers. He still quotes Arte Johnson from Laugh-In, for God's sake! It's time for Berman to go "back, back, back" into the shadows and a long overdue retirement.
Cloris Leachman: For taking the most pretentious of all prime-time "reality" shows and knocking it on its backside. You go, girl! And what lucky bastard got to tell mountainous Warren Sapp that he didn't win Dancing With the Stars?
Simon Baker: How can anybody not like The Mentalist on CBS? Baker, its star, is just so damn jaunty and appealing. It's like they used to say of Burt Lancaster, all the women want to bang him and all the men want to buy him a beer.
Jay Towers: Now that he's losing so much weight, is there any hope he might disappear altogether?
Fringe: For reminding us that creepy and compelling don't have to be confined to "B" horror movies or X-Files reruns.
Rachel Maddow: MSNBC's new pundit sensation is smart, witty, attractive and a lively, provocative interviewer. She's the kind of girl any guy'd want to take home to mother, if only she weren't gay.
Fanchon Stinger: "And now, accepting the 2008 Frank Turner Memorial Award for making news while delivering the news ..." May her life and career someday emerge from the sludge.
Daytime Court Shows: God love 'em, what would modern daytime TV be without them? Mom may have had her soap operas, but these are "my stories." I'm addicted! My favorites: The People's Court, Judge Alex, Divorce Court, Judge Mathis, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Karen. I could live quite well without: Judge David Young, Judge Judy, Judge Maria Lopez (what a jerk), Christina's Court, Judge Jeanine Pirro.
Jason Carr: Well, he's no Pierre Kimsey (how's that for an obscure Detroit TV reference?), but every local news operation needs a resident smartass to handle certain offbeat stories with just the right amount of attitude and weary detachment, and Carr fills the bill better than most.
My Big Redneck Wedding: They found a prison strong enough to hold Hannibal Lecter, and CMT has built a confined space to keep Tom Arnold away from polite society.
WADL-TV, Channel 38: It's Scene Two! "Detroit's Urban TV Station" has redefined shameless local booty shaking for the new millennium with its daily Dance Party, given a home to such worthy programming as The Bonnie Hunt Show and Reno 911 and, just when you're convinced there's nothing to watch late at night, BAM! Reruns of The Jeffersons, Good Times, Sanford and Son and Hawaii Five-O. Oh, joy!
Wolfman Mac's Nightmare Sinema: For showing that, with all the pitfalls and production shortcomings common to independent productions, a local show still can create buzz and build an audience these days. Anybody remember Flix & Pix? Anyone? Anyone at all?Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]