New Shows Summer 2014

I’m an NBC girl. They’ve hosted some of my favorite shows, most notably “30 Rock” and “Parks and Recreation.” I always watched “The Office” for many years, “Community” for four seasons, “SNL,” and I’ve been watching “Friends” finally, about a decade late. NBC has been a joke for a long time, because they cannot get their comedy act together.

1600 Penn, Animal Practice, Best Friends Forever, Guys With Kids, Growing Up Fisher, Sean Saves the World, Welcome to the Family, Up All Night, Outsourced, The Michael J Fox Show….all gone after two seasons or less, some didn’t make it a full season. And this was all within the last few years. This past fall schedule lost all of its new shows, leaving only “Parks and Recreation” for its once-famous Thursday night comedy lineup.

So when Amy Phoeler’s brother started a show, “Welcome to Sweden,” I hopped on board premiere night to check it out. Right after was “Working the Engle’s,” which stars Andrea Martin. She was Aunt Voula in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Both are…disappointing. Greg Phoeler is nowhere near as charming as his sister; he comes across as soppy and unintelligent as an accountant who leaves everything behind to move with his girlfriend to her native Sweden. When he is asked at customs why he is coming to Sweden, he says, “You can just put love,” and then seems taken aback when the customs officer does not deem this an acceptable answer or find it funny. He has not bothered to learn any of the language, and so far, a lot of the jokes have centered around his oblivious, large-eyed confusion about what anyone is saying. Any kind of trouble he gets into is purely because he came to a foreign country completely unprepared, so I have no sympathy for him. The relationship with his girlfriend is awkward and it is hard to believe they have been together for so many years. Lena Olin is a highlight, not shockingly, as girlfriend Emma’s mother. She and Emma’s father share a confusion about Greg Phoeler that I agree with. Proof that not everything Amy Phoeler touches can turn to gold.

“Working the Engle’s” will not last, and that makes me sad, but only because I like seeing Andrea Martin again. She is trying very hard to be funny in a show that is so horrifically unfunny I was actually shocked at the end of the latest episode. It centers around a dysfunctional family (groundbreaking, I know) who are trying to start a law firm since their recently-deceased father has left them a hefty debt. The leader of the group is the youngest daughter, who you might recognize as Abigail Hobbes from “Hannibal,” also an NBC show. She is also sort of the focus of the show, and recites a super awkward, cheesy intro at the end of the pilot and at the beginning of the second. She’s the only lawyer in the group, and quits her horrible job to join forces with her two siblings to make money to pay back their father’s debt. The brother is a petty criminal, a giant eggplant of a man, whose whole schtick is that he likes to con people, but ultimately has a good heart. The other daughter is a former party girl/drug addict who has recently “found God” and is trying to be a minister, but knows next to nothing about anything, either Bible or how-to-answer-a-phone-related. Andrea Martin is stressed, adores all of her children, and is trying to start her life again after learning of her late husband’s debt and falling off a roof. She’s only funny because she’s Andrea Martin, and even she cannot save just bad writing. And it is bad. No real jokes. The fact that the family does not know what they are doing is the comedy pot from which we have to pull from. This has been done SO MANY TIMES that to make it funny again, you got to have some sharp, sharp writing, and this show is based on the fact that most of these characters are dumb.

“Parks and Rec” will end this year. So far, there is NO show that is anywhere close to replacing the gaping holes left by “The Office,” “Parks and Rec,” and “30 Rock,” and it doesn’t look like there will be one in the near future. Tina Fey, get those pilots rolling!

UPDATED:

I watched FX’s “The Strain” because Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite storytellers and directed my favorite movie (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) and I’m always on board for a good vampire story. “The Strain” does not disappoint. It has the look and feel of a movie, and combines the intrigue and relevant fear of fast-spreading epidemics and the classic, ancient horror of vampires. And these are not your teenager’s vampires. These are gruesome, relentless monsters with six-foot long tongue-needles that both inject the vampire parasitic and soak the victim dry. Will modern medicine be able to stop this menace or will our heroes have to resort to more traditional routes?

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