Head for the hills; it's "life as we know it," and if the hills are full (or excessively alive with the sound of music), head for the mountains. It'll be worth the trip to avoid this gimmicked-up adolescent soap opera that's faux sensitive, faux funny and, most of the time, even faux faux. As zee Frenchmen say, "Faux phooey."
Founded on the premise that Americans never get tired of looking back on their adventures in Puberty Land, ABC's lifeless "life" (premiering at 9 tonight on Channel 7) is an hour-long drama heavily seasoned with alleged comedy and attempts to follow in the footsteps of shows such as "My So-Called Life" and "Party of Five." But the pilot airing tonight is not as good as either of those shows on their worst nights.
Basically, it's boys and a few girls talking about "its" of various kinds -- about doing "it," about losing "it," about trying to lose "it." Discussing the advantages of defloration, one boy says tastelessly to another, "There's something about being the first guy there." In a close-up sex scene, a would-be Casanova tells his targeted young woman to "give it up soon" -- but not before the next commercial.
The parents try to be cool enough for their children to accept them, groveling and mewling in ways that, if they really do reflect parenting techniques of today, help explain why so many kids are so imperiously dumb. But the subject of virginity and possible loss thereof keeps returning, as when an experienced brother refers to his inexperienced brothers' Grand Moment as "when your turtles come out of their shells." Or maybe that's some kind of circumcision joke.
Girls talk about "it" in all its permutations, too. Says one friend to another: "If you give it up, he'll be hanging around like a dog waiting for another bone." My, what elegant imagery. Later a strong-willed holdout declares, "I'm not ready and I don't know when I will be," but her boyfriend devises a plan to make her "horny" and bring down the walls of Jericho.
Meanwhile, not only do the bean-brained buddies babble almost ceaselessly to one another; they also turn at times to the camera and talk directly to the audience, expressing what pass for innermost thoughts. They take us into their confidence -- a place where no rational being would want to go.
As per the slang of the moment, everyone also talks about "hooking up." One of the many oversexed young men stares transfixed at the breasts and buttocks of a beautiful young teacher while explaining to us what he's feeling; talk about belaboring the obvious. When a girl in chemistry lab puts her hand high on the thigh of the boy in the next seat, he has to run to the boys' room and masturbate; likewise when another girl lets her shoeless foot meander into the crotch of another vulnerable lad. It's one bad joke after another -- sometimes the same bad joke after another.
One boy's big night with his dream girl that's planned throughout the hour is finally set up and, what's this? The boy runs weeping from the scene of the would-be conquest. It seems he spied Mommy making out with one of the high school's coaches (they might at least have pulled the shade, or haven't they ever seen a movie?) and he's crushed with disillusionment.
That's perhaps better than being crushed with boredom. The numb ennui engendered by "life as we know it" is inevitable when the screen is full of meaningless movement and the soundtrack clogged with empty chatter. You can feel yourself being dragged into a void -- a void much to be avoided.
'Green Screen Show'
The premise for "Drew Carey's Green Screen Show" is so complicated that it's spelled out in six numbered steps during the opening credits. Even then, things move too fast, and viewers are going to ask each other, "What the heck is a 'green screen' anyway?" Plus the less charitable "What the heck does it take to keep Drew Carey off weekly television?"
His ABC sitcom having wriggled away into the night, Carey turns his attention to his other show, a borderline hit on ABC based on a British model (which was always wittier) and called "Whose Line Is It, Anyway?" A gaggle of goofy comics take turns acting out improvised sketches based on suggestions from the audience. Often the sketches have seemed a bit too polished to be truly impromptu.
Anyway, Carey's new show for the WB, premiering at 8:30 tonight on Channel 50, is really "That Old Improv Show With Gratuitous Animation Thrown In."
The gang, usually all-male, takes suggestions and improvises sketches, but they perform them in front of a green screen, which can be made to vanish and be replaced with any of an infinite number of backgrounds -- a beach, a hotel lobby, or in the case of the show, whimsical animation that completes or supplements the humor supplied by the actors.
Since the animation doesn't add all that much, and since it takes months to complete and incorporate into the show, it's clearly a waste of time and money. Carey should either go back to the plain old improv show or ditch the overworked format and try something new.
Curiously, the WB sent critics only the second episode of the show, airing next week, because the premiere isn't ready yet. Presumably, though, this is a representative sampling of the work, a small part of it punch-in-the-gut funny. Virtually all the big laughs are supplied by the actors, not by the animators.
Colin Mochrie and Greg Proops are back from the old show, supplemented by other comics. The show has a unique cuckoo quality. Trapped in a mini-western, two cowpokes have to reach into their pockets occasionally and read an arbitrary line submitted by the audience. Thus a gunfight is preceded by one hombre growling to the other, "I love you more than all the stars in the sky."
A later sketch called "How to Have a Baby" has one of the comics, in drag as a hugely pregnant woman, asking the immortal rhetorical question, "Does this dress make me look fat?"
Without the animation, the show appealed to a viewer's imagination in a way rare for adult TV. The interpolated animation is just cartoon clutter, confusing the issue and pooping the party.
life as we know it (60 minutes) airs tonight at 9 on Channel 7.
Drew Carey's Green Screen Show (30 minutes) airs tonight at 8:30 on Channel 50.