So Goofy It's Sweet: CW's Infatuating 'Valentine'
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Have you heard the one about the Greek gods who come to Earth on a mission to help bumbling mortals live their foolish little lives a little less foolishly? How could you not have heard it? Nearly every generation plays host to a movie or play or book with a similar setup -- a Kurt Weill musical called "One Touch of Venus," a notoriously terrible Vanna White movie called "Goddess of Love" (the big jeer target of 1988) or what have you.
What you have now, on Broadway, is a musical hit called "Xanadu," concocted from the remains of a movie flop of the same name, which in turn was inspired by a miserable Rita Hayworth picture called "Down to Earth."
And on television, what you have is the latest attempt at tilling this same sodden soil, the intriguingly ridiculous new CW network series "Valentine," about a coven of mythical beings who inhabit a real-life Los Angeles housing development called Mount Olympus, sprawling monument to ostentatious bad taste. Mount Olympus really exists, of course, but the characters in the series, premiering tomorrow night, are all straight out of Cloud Cuckoo Land, by way of twisted and popularized mythological tales.
As headed up by the glamorous Grace, whose real name happens to be Aphrodite (Jaime Murray), the immortal ensemble is devoted to helping poor, stranded soul mates find each other from out of the madding crowd. They thus fashion wonderful, happy lives for themselves -- instead of marrying someone they've settled for after years, or maybe just a few nights, of arduous searching.
Like the homeliest puppy in the pound, there's something lovable about this clanky ode to romantic love; maybe it's just that the cast is so determined to put it over, no matter how foolish even the actors might find the material. Murray has the proverbial high time as the de facto high priestess, making a striking first impression as she rises from a hot tub in a bikini. That's the visual high point of the hour, and would be even if Godzilla had climbed out after her.
Kristoffer Polaha gets to goof off entertainingly as Danny, supposedly in charge of the erotic aspects of desire, of which there are so very, very many. He's initially armed with a shiny little handgun that shoots magenta rays, which in turn can send a young woman hurling into her intended boyfriend's arms. But the gun is taken away from him, mainly because if it were that easy for gods and goddesses to arrange perfect couplings, the show would be only 30 or 40 seconds long.
Instead, the group operates an outfit called Valentine Inc., which can be in whatever business the members need it to be at the moment. In the premiere, they need it to be in the "emergency plumbing" business so that two of them can show up at the apartment of a young man named Roland as he tinkers with his stuffed-up garbage disposal.
No, this is not the stuff of heady literature. It's not even the stuff of good drama. But people in the market for a goofy love story -- and isn't everyone, at least once in a while? -- might find "Valentine" refreshingly unhip, a show that goes against the grain with a captivating grin.
A scene in which Aphrodite welcomes a mortal female into the group, giving her a handshake that has gaspingly orgasmic results, is regrettable in the extreme. And the corny device of having "the Oracle" (as in Delphi) portrayed as an indoor pool into which photographs are chucked is embarrassing. But there's probably only one show on TV in which you'll encounter such dialogue as "Life is the ultimate thrill ride, Roland" and "The Oracle of Delphi is not a peep show."
And that one show is, obviously, this one, singularly absurd but curiously cheering.
It's very unlikely that the producers of "Easy Money," a strange new comedy-drama on CW, knew how timely their modest little entertainment would turn out to be. It's a series about small-time loan sharks that seems creepily appropriate to America's current state of economic collapse -- and the high-finance "loan sharks" who played a key role in bringing it about.
The hapless, whacky Buffkins, who run the family-owned Prestige Loan Co. in a dusty-dry Southwestern town, might charge 25 percent interest, but they honestly -- borderline dishonestly -- don't mean any harm. They're not a coldblooded outfit like some credit companies, and they're not the type to get tough with deadbeats by bouncing them off sidewalks; that would be the 500-pound Mamayos brothers, who have moved into town from Samoa and want to take it over, mini-mall by mini-mall. They want everything and then Samoa -- get it?!