February 15, 2001

TV Underdogs

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Don’t get me wrong. Sex and the City makes me laugh my ass off (though I’m convinced they modeled the character of Steve after me). I’m a big fan of the The Sopranos and Friends too. And where else but Survivor can I see someone eat a cow brain of their own volition? Still, I have complaints against these shows because they’re overshadowing the two lost gems of TV — Oz and Whose Line is it Anyway?

Oz is HBO’s gritty prison drama, where audiences get their fill of rape, brutal murders, vivid drug use, and all the male nudity they can handle. It has the freshest and most exciting writing on TV, that leaves an indelible mark on anyone who watches it. All of the cringing and wincing you’ll experience while you watch it is just an indication of how powerful the show is. It attracts some of the best talent from the entertainment community. Guest actors and directors include Steve Buscemi, Chazz Palmentieri, and Matt Dillon.

However, the show can’t get out from under the shadow of the more popular HBO shows, Sex and the City and The Sopranos. And that’s probably because Oz is too controversial for its own good. It is overlooked for the awards that Sex and Sopranos clean up on. This lack of recognition is reminiscent of HBO’s Dream On, the funniest show of its time, which was overshadowed every year because HBO’s Larry Sanders Show stole its thunder.

ABC’s Whose Line is it Anyway? is getting screwed even worse than Oz. It has drowned in the 8-9 p.m. Thursday night wave of Survivor and Friends. Comedy Central still airs the British reruns of Whose Line 20, that’s right, 20 times a week (and my roommate Stu will tell you I usually watch at least 15 of them).

But as much as I enjoy the original British episodes with Clive Anderson, the current American version has the real comic genius. Watch Wayne Brady rap on the spot if you doubt that. Also, the studio audience is much more responsive than the crowd at the British episodes. The games they play on the new episodes showcase the contestants’ talent much more effectively than the reruns.. And as much as I enjoy Richard Vranch’s piano riffs on the reruns, Laura Hall provides much more variety and originality as the musical accompanist.

Sad to say, Friends and Survivor blow Whose Line out of the water every Thursday, even though Whose Line is more entertaining than the other two combined. Friends is past its heyday, and the writing is getting stale. Even the “Super-sized” 40- minute episodes this month didn’t compensate for the poor quality of the script. I think I laughed twice last week. Survivor is focusing too much on character deceptions, and has lost something from the first season. On the other hand, Wayne, Colin, Greg and Ryan have mastered the improvisational technique on Whose Line.

Oz is in better shape than Whose Line, since it doesn’t run in the same slot as the more popular HBO shows. It just lacks the accolades and recognition. But tonight, I’ll have to watch Whose Line, borrow Jennie and Beth’s Friends tape, and … can someone tape Survivor for me?

Archived article by Daniel Fischer