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Friday, December 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Overcast
Arts
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Cupid is hard to love
The god must be crazy
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A throwback to corny TV of the 1960s and '70s.
A throwback to corny TV of the 1960s and '70s.

A psychiatrist (Sarah Paulson) interviews a new patient (Bobby Cannavale) who claims to be Cupid, the god of love. Cupid says he's been banished from Olympus until he can make 100 human matches. For some reason, he has to get the job done without his bow and arrow. And unluckily for us, he takes the form of an obnoxious contemporary dude rather than a cute, mischievous boy.

Cupid (Tuesday, 9 p.m., ABC) is a remake of a '90s series, but it really feels like a throwback to corny TV of the 1960s and '70s. Like Bewitched, it features a bickering mortal/immortal pair, with Paulson thrust into the thankless Darrin role - a stick-in-the-mud perpetually exasperated by Cupid's powers. Like Love Boat, the series offers weekly hookups, halfheartedly throwing obstacles into the couples' paths until the happy ending. Like Jeannie in I Dream of Jeannie, Cupid makes lame jokes about his status as an ancient being in the modern world. Time to go to a restaurant? "I'm dying to find a good Greek place," he says, predictably.

Did the real Cupid shoot an arrow into an ABC executive's butt to make him fall in love with this lame concept?

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Sunday, 7 pm (HBO)

In this adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith's novels, a Botswana woman (Jill Scott) sets up a detective agency in a podunk town. The pilot was directed by the late Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, Cold Mountain), and the first five minutes are great. The camera soaks in the exotic African setting, chock-full of meerkats.

Then, unfortunately, the characters appear. The stilted actors speak stilted dialogue that appears to have been lifted straight out of a stilted book. As our round-faced heroine, Scott has merely two settings, enthusiastic and dismayed. Minghella strains to make comedy out of the nosy secretary, the wacky barber next door and other stock figures.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency would have been much more enjoyable if Minghella had gotten rid of the dialogue and actors and run an hour's worth of meerkats.

Masterpiece
Sunday, 8 pm (PBS)

I've been reading Great Expectations and marveling over Charles Dickens' ability to make characters come alive on the page. As a result, I couldn't help but have great expectations for PBS's Little Dorrit. I sank into my chair to watch the five-part epic - but then my heart sank, too, when the credits revealed Andrew Davies as the screenwriter. Davies is the BBC's go-to guy for ruining great works of literature (Othello, Sense and Sensibility), and damned if he hasn't done it again.

The script falls all over itself trying to tell the story of Amy Dorrit (Claire Foy), whose father is stuck in debtor's prison; and Arthur Clennam (Matthew Macfadyen), the man who might help him get out. It throws subplots against the wall so willy-nilly that none of them stick. It doesn't allow us to engage with the characters - and Dickens without engaging characters just isn't Dickens.

After the first episode, I ran screaming from the house. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to grab Great Expectations on my way out the door.

Pretty Wicked
Tuesday, 9 pm (Oxygen)

Another week, another new high-concept reality series. This time, beautiful women with putrid personalities compete to see which one can become the nicest. You've got to hand it to Oxygen for finding such rotten specimens, from narcissists to gold diggers to snobs. At the end of each episode, they grovel before a panel of experts (yes, apparently there are authorities on bitchy behavior). The panel looks for signs of enlightenment, seemingly unaware that, with a $50,000 prize on the line, the women are strongly motivated to fake their revelations.

I'd chalk it up to dumb fun if Pretty Wicked didn't keep making me sick. For example, the producers thought it would be fun to have these vain women attend a party with a group of blind men. "Maybe what I need is a blind boyfriend," cackles one callous contestant. "You know how much time that would save me getting ready?"

Maybe one or two of these women will indeed become nicer by the end of Pretty Wicked. But the producers are beyond redemption.

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