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And, Unfortunately, Then Came You

Then Came You As far as centuries go, the just-completed 20th edition had its share of truly awful moments. A depression. A couple of World Wars. Enough genocide to fill a pair of Steven Spielberg movies. Given the parade of misery over the past 100 years, you'd be hard pressed to pick one moment of horror, one abomination that stands out from the rest.

Not me. So far as I'm concerned the single worst moment of the 20th Century was when Betsy Thomas checked into the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles and met her future husband, a younger man working at the hotel as a bellhop. Because that inspired Thomas, a TV producer, to create a show, Then Came You, commemorating her and her beau's unconventional courtship.

Say what you will about Dachau or Hiroshima or Mai Lai: Nobody based a sitcom on them.

Then Came You is an ordeal to endure, the kind of a show that makes you switch off the TV, flee to the nearest house of worship and make a full confession to God that you have squandered valuable minutes of your life in sloth and idleness. Devoid of laughs, lacking in soul or wit, Then Came You sours you on sitcoms enough to make you want to forsake the genre forever. Why bother with television if this is what it deems fit to broadcast?

Maybe in Betsy Thomas' insular world, Then Came You seemed like a real hoot. It's a comedy about a crazy, star-crossed love affair with a man 10 years my junior, she no doubt thought. What could be more clever and entertaining?

Mime. Hastily thrown together Sunday School Christmas pageants. Just about any other form of creative endeavor. But that's neither here nor there.

The point is, the idea of basing an entire series on a thirtysomething woman dating a lad in his early 20s -- not exactly the meatiest premise to begin with -- doesn't even have enough legs to sustain thirty laughless minutes. How did Thomas and Company ever delude themselves into thinking they could spin a year's worth of gold from this straw?

That dilemma became apparent even to the brain surgeons running ABC. Shortly after canning stunningly mediocre programming chief Jamie Tarses, the Mouse Patrol took a look at the shows she had OK'd -- and collectively blanched the moment they saw Then Came You.

"Gentlemen," one of the Disney suits doubtless said to his assembled brethren. "If this tripe ever sees the light of day, we're through."

And so Then Came You was banished, locked deep in the vault next to Walt's frozen skull where it could end no careers, sink no lead-ins, harm no children. That it's now only emerged from the basement, airing under a virtual cloak of darkness, just proves that there are limits to even Regis' awesome power to cloud America's collective mind.

There are no diamonds to be found hidden in this excrement -- not even any zircons. Then Came You stars the non-descript Thomas Newton and fellow human blank Susan Floyd, who looks like -- if such a thing is possible -- a low-rent Debra Messing. Until Then Came You, I thought Debra Messing was the low-rent Debra Messing. Maybe Susan Floyd is the government-assisted housing project version of Debra Messing. I don't know.

And, at this point, I'm not sure I care.

The central premise of Then Came You consists of the tremendous age difference between Floyd and Newton and the rib-busting comedy inherent within. But thanks to the dictates of television -- Homely people and adults who look their age need not apply -- Floyd doesn't look 11 days older than Newton, let alone 11 years. Newton decides to compensate for this shortcoming by courageously portraying his character as an imbecile.

There were other characters in the premiere episode -- Floyd's best friend and Newton's fellow bellhop. But she's a bug-eyed harpy, and he's a thoroughly loathsome Limey. And so the less time we have to spend thinking about them, the better.

Safeguards must be enacted to make sure things like Then Came You don't happen again. Minimum standards of decency -- using Two Guys and a Girl as the baseline, say, or even Meego -- must be put into place. Forget losing your career; you greenlight a show like Then Came You, and they get to take away your house, your car, your right to vote.

And Betsy Thomas never gets to order room service again.


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