We watch... so you don't have to.

She Spies... So You Don't Have To

The funniest, smartest show on television is She Spies.

I don't expect you to take my word for this. If that was how things worked, there'd be a lot more Daria on television, and a lot less Oliver Beene. Not that I've actually watched Oliver Beene, you understand.

She Spies is a syndicated show, which means you'd have to get lucky to even hear about its existence (although it did appear briefly on NBC last summer). And if you've never seen She Spies, you've got two questions: what's it about, and why should you watch it? Well, it's sort of like Charlie's Angels, in that you've got three beautiful women fighting crime in transparent disguises that are, not infrequently, literally see-through. They even take their orders from a shadowy off-screen figure, who speaks through a Bosley-like surrogate. But the premise is actually more silly than Charlie's Angels, since these girls are felons, who are in some kind of work-release program.

It seems that Cassie, DD, and Shane were thieves who got arrested and put in prison. If they'd been the A-Team, they probably would have promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade or something. Instead, a clandestine government agency came along and said they could get out of prison if they went on unlikely governmental missions. Kind of like the forgettable last season of The A-Team, except that there's no annoying explosives expert added at the last second. Which is good, as that guy always bugged me.

DD is a hacker, and she's the cute, naive one. Shane is the angry, butt-kicking one. And Cassie is a con artist who happens to be Natasha Henstridge. She's the leader of the team by virtue of having starred in big-budget Hollywood films. Incidentally, Carlos Jacott, who plays Jack, the Bosley stand-in, has done a lot of television, especially Joss Whedon television. He was the jerk who shot Kaylee on Firefly! He was that evil social worker in the Buffy episode "Anne," who lured homeless people into another dimension to become slave labor. He was a demon on Angel. He was also, if you insist, Ramon the Pool Cleaner on Seinfeld. You may also know him as the guy who sort of looks like the guy who wasn't Greg Kinnear on Talk Soup.

So at this point, you could probably draw up the episode guide yourself. The girls have to protect a baby, providing for wacky infant antics? Check. An episode's villain turns out to be one of the girls' ex-fiancee? Mais oui! The girls have to infiltrate a singles resort and lounge around in bikinis? Yup. A spy ring is being run out of a comedy club managed by Jon Polito? Sure, why not?

Wait. A comedy club? Jon Polito?

She Spies is a parody, done more or less straight-faced. It doesn't sound all that hard to parody shows like Charlie's Angels and, um... wait, I know there was another one. Oh! How about Foxforce Five? No, I guess that was the show from "Pulp Fiction" that Uma Thurman claimed to have done a pilot for. Well, there were probably other beautiful-female-spies-going-undercover shows I can't think of right now. Look, I know it seems like the genre comes pre-parodized for your convenience, but that's what makes the show brilliant.

What you've got, essentially, is smart characters trapped in formulaic plots. It's not at all uncommon for Cassie to comment on how they seem to save the world on a semi-weekly basis, or for DD to complain about the eerie sameness of all their villainous foes.

She Spies takes a clearly clichéd premise and considers some consequences. Like, if you adopt unlikely personas every week, isn't it possible that when you're in the middle of a case, someone will see you and want to talk about how you used to be on the same roller derby team?

Also, it's the only show I've ever seen where, when one of the characters wants to seduce someone, she plays Risk with him.

What makes it the funniest show on television? Well, because I laugh while I'm watching it. A lot. Humor's subjective; we all understand that. But I've seen all the sitcoms currently being aired, and the best they can usually do is to make me nod, thinking "yes, that was a funny joke. Well done." She Spies, by virtue of its sheer audaciousness, can usually get many more laughs out of me than, say, Friends. I only mention Friends because I came up with line I wanted to use: The only thing I find funny about Friends is the fact that it's still on the air. How was that? It's a pretty good joke, but I don't think I did a very good job of blending it seamlessly into this review. With any luck, when Bartlett's Familiar Quotations reprints it, they'll take out the context.

I seem to have gotten a little distracted. My point is this: the show is funny. Oh, how it makes me laugh.

There are two ways to look at She Spies. It might be a really, really dumb show with the occasional meta joke ("What's going on?" "It's a flashback. If we were on TV, there'd be those fuzzy little edges all around the picture."). Or it might be a brilliant parody of a really dumb show, in which the characters sometimes stop the opening credits because they want to resolve the cliffhanger right away.

And the thing is, it works. Most of the time, intentional dumbness immediately translates to real dumbness, and thence to real stupidity, like on Son of the Beach or The Black Scorpion. But very rarely, it works, and you get Sledge Hammer! or Police Squad! That's what you're looking at here.

Plus, there are beautiful women all over the place.

I can't honestly say you're missing anything vital if you don't watch She Spies. At best, it's throwaway comedy, something you watch for an hour, laugh at, and then forget about. But isn't that what television's all about?


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