Tuesday, May 17, 2005

TV Time

A great show, Arrested Development will be back for a third season. However, a show on the WB that I actually watch, Jack and Bobby, will not be back. Never heard of Jack and Bobby, read from the NY Times:

When teenagers go astray, their parents ground them. But it would be better if instead they grounded them in good television - ordering them to watch WB's "Jack & Bobby" for two weeks straight instead of Fox's sexy melodrama "The O.C."

As summer reruns approach, series compete for the most sensational season finales. The quietly intriguing end to "Jack & Bobby" tonight is a helpful reminder that there are plenty of good shows for children and parents to watch. If the infraction was bad enough to warrant dire punishment, they could even insist on watching it together.

The WB has a number of dramas that engagingly use mythic small towns to examine teenage angst and family ties, from the complicity and competition of mothers and daughters in "Gilmore Girls" to the resentments between fathers and sons on "Everwood." But on "Jack & Bobby" those eternal tensions are blended into a more intriguing canvas: one of the two McCallister brothers grows up to be president in 2040. Their adolescence unfolds in "Citizen Kane"-style flashbacks woven into a documentary in which White House aides and the former first lady reminisce about the beloved president, known as "The Great Believer." Fictional and real-life public figures are intentionally blurred. On tonight's episode, Gore Vidal makes a cameo appearance as the documentary's host, an authoritative Sir Kenneth Clark type, who delivers a psychohistorical insight that informs the episode - and the McCallister presidency. "The critical choice to transform himself from a private to a public person," Mr. Vidal says on a deep portentous voice, "can be traced directly back to a day when McCallister traveled to Huntsville, Tex., in the spring of 2005."

The first scene shows the boys' intelligent, neurotic single mother Grace (Christine Lahti), a college professor packing for what she says is a yearly getaway visit with her two best girlfriends in Huntsville. Bobby (Logan Lerman), the younger son, begins to question why the women keep returning to a barren place like Huntsville, a town best known as the "prison city of Texas." The truth comes out, but slowly and circuitously.

Like mothers sneaking spinach into a child's pasta dinner, "The O.C." on Fox cleverly slips serious issues into a gauzy tableau of sex, sun and bare bellies. The striptease on "Jack & Bobby" is intellectual, a slow, seductive unveiling of secrets that no sooner exposed, reveal another layer of mystery underneath.

In the pilot, viewers were left guessing whether Jack (Matt Long), the track star and natural leader or his eccentric little brother, Bobby, became president. Once it was revealed that Jack died young, a war hero, and it was Bobby who ran for president, other mysteries surfaced, including why Bobby ended up a Republican when his brother was a liberal Democrat. The show does reflect a certain West Coast sensibility: the war that so traumatized the nation is not about oil, terrorism or North Korea, but water. The United States gets pulled into a conflict with its southern neighbors in what is known as "The War of the Americas."

"Jack & Bobby" is unusual in many ways, and one is that unlike so many modern shows it is cynical about television but deeply romantic about politics and public service - a trait attributable to one of its executive producers, Thomas Schlamme, who was a director and executive producer of "The West Wing." Despite the coy reference to the Kennedys, McCallister's presidency is depicted as a restoration of hope to a demoralized nation - more Franklin D. Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan than John F. Kennedy. Those moments of misty patriotic yearning are leavened with sharp dialogue and self-mocking asides, including some at the expense of other WB series. (On tonight's episode, Jack sarcastically tells his mother that their family is "straight out of '7th Heaven.' " )

And that balance helps explain the series's popularity with the more political voices of show business: Norman Lear, the creator of "All in The Family," also has a cameo role as the elderly Peter Benedict, Grace's boss at the university and the president's father-in-law, and Tim Robbins does the voice of President McCallister as an adult.

Sex, romance and betrayal can be found in any show for teenagers. "Jack & Bobby" takes it all the way to the White House.

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