Monday, October 10, 2005

TV: Night Stalker and Hot Properties

Another two-fer review to catch up. Now, on first glance, it might seem that Night Stalker and Hot Properties are two completely unrelated shows which don't belong in the same post. One is an hour-long drama about the supernatural set in L.A., the other is a half hour sitcom about four sexy women set in New York. But they do have one overriding, irrefutable connection: they're both really bad.

Night Stalker is an update of the old Kolchak series, which I've never watched, but which I have to imagine comes off the victor in any kind of comparison between the two shows. The main characters are Carl Kolchak, played by Stuart Townsend, and Perri Reed, played by Gabrielle Union, and they both come off as tremendously stupid. Reed always seems two steps behind not just Kolchak but the audience as well, and flounders so helplessly as an investigative journalist -- missing obvious clues, lacking sources, failing to perceive motives or anticipate police procedure -- that you have to wonder how she ever got her job in the first place. And Kolchak's mystery (his wife was murdered under bizarre circumstances) doesn't intrigue, it just makes him look weak and ineffective for making no real progress in solving her murder, and for being a pawn of the lawman who wants to pin the rap on him.

The show is apparently shot on digital video in an attempt to mimic the L.A. of Collateral, but it only makes the picture look cheap and grainy when the camera moves too suddenly, and it makes the already-lame special effects look even lamer. The writing is rotten, switching between faux-profundity, and dull and obvious. This is yet another new supernatural series I can cross off my list. (Which makes the grand total of keepers from that category so far this season... zero.)

Hot Properties is marginally better, due to the presence of likeable personalities such as Nicole Sullivan, Evan Handler, and Sofia Vergara (who mostly makes jokes about her gigantic boobs and her malfunctioning "gaydar," but still manages to be appealing while doing it). The biggest liability to the show is the immobile block of wood they've cast in the lead role... oh, wait, that's Gail O'Grady. And she is unbelievably awful. The show's writers seem to know it, and give most of the (allegedly) funny lines to Sullivan. But they can't give her all the lines, so every once in a while O'Grady gives the unfunniest possible delivery of already unfunny material, causing my fists to clench and my teeth to grind. This is miscasting on an epic level, nearly as bad as that goddam kid who played Anakin in The Phantom Menace. (No, that's not fair. Nobody is that bad.)

I really dig Sullivan, and she makes the best of her flimsy material, often managing to wring humor out of stupendously lame Oprah- and He's Just Not That Into You-based gags. The constant references to He's Just Not Etc., by the way, are obvious attempts to tap into the former Sex and the City audience -- the book was written by writers from that show. It's like they're making a pagan sacrifice to the Sex and the City gods: "Look, we've got a sitcom featuring four hot women in New York -- just like you did!!! If we mention your book 87 times, will you grant us some of your devoted fanbase and critical praise? How about if we slaughter an ox?"

And hey, there's Evan Handler, who was a frequent guest star on... Sex and the City! What a coincidence. He peps things up considerably in his brief appearances on Hot Properties. I quickly found myself wishing the show was just about Sullivan and Handler's characters. Only they were completely different characters. Funny ones. Written by funny writers. Well, maybe when this show gets cancelled, someone will get on that.

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