My Boys, my struggle

(Note: Oblivious Living Chapter 1.15 will appear in this space tomorrow).

I keep hearing that the second season of the TBS show My Boys is supposed to be television’s equivalent of the Most Improved Player, but if last night’s episode is any indication, everyone who is saying this is a huge liar. So here are a few suggestions on how to fix it:

1. Either be set in Chicago, or stop trying to convince everyone you are.
No one would refer to the “Medieval Times in Schaumburg.” On the rare occasion such a reference would be in order, it’d just be “Medieval Times.” There’s one in the entire state. It’s not as if the area’s so overrun with them that you’d need to identify which one you’re describing.

And come on: no one is going to go to Lake Forest to pick up “lonely, rich, beautiful women” at a yoga class, they’re going to go to Evanston. Lake Forest is damn near fucking Wisconsin as far as anyone in this city is concerned.

I realize the writers are trying to show off just how “Chicago” their characters are (and to be fair, the bit where PJ and Stephanie are reading the convoluted parking signs was a nice touch), but it’s failing miserably. And the only people that care, live here. So they might as well lighten up on the references, and focus more on writing people who seem like folks who live here. Speaking of…

2. Give Stephanie a heart, or a brain, or nerve or…something

I’m a little torn here because honestly, there are plenty of women in Chicago – and elsewhere – like PJ’s friend Stephanie. They’re a little shallow, or manage their money poorly, or obsess about one thing in their lives to the detriment of everything else.

But though they may have one fatal flaw, there’s usually one thing they are good at: their job, being a good friend, giving to charity, etc. Stephanie is apparently good at nothing, and a compendium of the worst of all human flaws. Here is a character whose sole purpose is to suggest that pretty women spend lavish amounts of money and only care about getting a guy. Yes, some women do, but they also do much more.

3. Drop the voiceovers or at least drop the sports metaphors.

No one – and I mean no one – who loves sports talks in sports metaphors for more than say, 1/5 of an average week. And I’m including people who are reporters for ESPN and get paid to speak in sports metaphors. Last night’s attempt to tie Bobby’s distancing himself from his rich family to players who only give up big salaries only to play for the love of the game was clunky as hell, and not just because no baseball player actually does this. We’re only about 18 episodes in, and tying in PJ’s career is only going to get harder.

4. Start planning a spinoff called These Dudes.
One of the complaints I made about this show early on was that “this is the only group of close friends that doesn’t constantly share in-jokes or riff off each other.” It’s the one thing that’s improved over last season. The guys are genuinely funny, and have a great interplay. It feels real. There’s bit in last night’s show about a six-foot urinal that was sharp, and witty, and written for actors who knew how to carry it off. I’d be happy to watch an entire show featuring the guy characters, although that brings up problems of its own. Which leads me to my last point…

5. Ditch PJ.

[A brief tangent here so I can admit a bias. From all the ads showcasing actress Jordana Spiro, I keep expecting her to be Amanda Bynes and I’m immediately disappointed when it turns out she isn’t. It’s not that I like Amanda Bynes all that much – in fact, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a full episode of any show she’s ever been on, or an entire film she’s been in. In fact, I had to look her up on to get a list of both, since the only thing I can remember her doing is that one movie where Colin Firth is her Dad and the other one where she plays a guy. I think I walked by a room once where the Colin Firth is My Dad movie was playing. But Bynes looks enough like Spiro that I keep expecting it to be Bynes, and she isn’t and for some reason, this disappoints me. Like when you see someone from behind and then they turn around and it turns out not to be them. I can’t explain why I am disappointed by not seeing someone I care barely identify, but there is is. And it probably colors the rest of this a little, so I thought it was only fair to mention.]

PJ is the weakest part of the whole show, and it’s because she’s ostensibly supposed to be the center of it. I don’t think Spiro’s a bad actress, but she’s either given little to do or is asked to demonstrate that PJ lacks the sense that women who hang around men have about guys. She isn’t particularly tomboyish, and isn’t particularly girly, which is fine. I know lots of women like that. And they’re all strong, smart, and together.

But PJ is none of these things. She’s presented with far less knowledge of the world than her character ought to have as a sports writer for a big city newspaper. As a result, any bit of energy the show musters up is immediately sucked out of the room anytime she’s onscreen because you can’t build a show around a weak character.

8 comments for “My Boys, my struggle

  1. Tim
    August 14, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    I watched this show once. Last year. I think it was the pilot. And I don’t even think I finished it. My point is I decided rather quickly that this show was horrible and not worth my time. Scott, I have heard you complain about this show several times and I’m surprised you haven’t given up on this thing yet. (In fact I am mortified that TBS picked it up for another season.) And might I add another way to fix it. Give Jim Gaffigan more to do. Or call the show Jim’s boys. No, that doesn’t sound right.

  2. August 14, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    I wasn’t going to, but I had heard multiple people say the 2nd season was better. Oddly enough, I am pretty good at sorting out political “talking points” on the Sunday chat shows, but the same skill seems to have eluded me here. I think the show has some merits, but the biggest problems with it seem to be unfixable to my eyes.

  3. Rach=)
    August 14, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Everything I needed to learn about gender studies, I learned from Scott’s blog. :-p I can honestly say that I know more about gender studies in the media after reading your stuff than I did from my Women in the Media class I took for my damn minor!

  4. August 14, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Haven’t seen more than a few minutes of this show but I second your PJ criticism. The best sitcoms tend to lean heavily on the ensemble (i.e. Cheers, Newsradio, How I Met your Mother). Even when you have a strong main character, he/she has to be cut down to size every now and then (i.e. Frasier).I see a ‘power dynamics in sitcoms’ post coming.

  5. Tim
    August 14, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    “Medieval Times in Schaumburg.”That cracks me up. Do they also say “Chi-town”?

  6. August 14, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Ooh, power dynamics in sitcoms. Finally, I can write my college thesis!

  7. August 14, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    This kind of crap reminds me of the only episode of Pepper Dennis I watched, where a portion of the show revolved around some firemen trying to rescue a Polish guy — and the firefighters couldn’t find anyone who spoke Polish!Most of Hollywood doesn’t get Chicago. The people that do (Tina Fey, Bill Murray, etc) go on to do better things than write “Chicagoish” dialogue.Hey, that would be a cool site,!

  8. August 27, 2007 at 1:49 am

    Don’t miss “My Boys” this Monday, August 27! This episode is hands-down the funniest one yet and you’ll be kicking yourself if you miss it! As you know, since Brendan was selected as one of Chicago’s Hottest Bachelor’s, he’s turned into a complete jerk. In an effort to save him, PJ and the guys have a “douchebag intervention.” VERY FUNNY! “My Boys” is every Monday at 10/9c on TBS.

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