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Fall '05: Evil Twins

I have seen some terrible television in my time. Some in service of TeeVee, some not. I have watched shows that would take men grown hard and soften them to limp, weeping, withered shadows of themselves. Aye. Bad TV.

It’s been many a moon since I thought it wise to volunteer to review new shows, so this fall I’m not reviewing anything unless I can’t help it. I’ve had enough bad TV for one life. And yet I still stumble on shows by accident. Shows which never should have seen the light, let alone the green one.

One such show is Twins. My TiVo was tuned to the channel, the show was half in the buffer, and, what the hey, the program description listed Sara Gilbert and Melanie Griffith as the stars. So I watched it.

The show, it turns out, is one of those brainless high-concept sitcom shows so beloved of TV studios and subsequently found on a stainless steel table wearing a toe tag. Sara Gilbert and Molly Stanton play the titular twins — yes, they’re fraternal, or sororal, or anyway not identical. Discovering that kind of detail is what makes studio executives feel smart, which may explain why Twins is on the air while I’m stuck typing from my basement at midnight. Melanie Griffith and Mark Linn-Baker play their parents — as Griffith’s character helpfully explains, giving birth was “like pooping out two watermelons.”

Linn-Baker is the supposedly brilliant, brainy founder of a lingerie company. Griffith is the face of his company, a tottering, aging former model. The pair plan to pass the company on to their two daughters who — follow this closely now — are Gilbert, as the supposedly brilliant, brainy designer of lingerie and Stanton, as the new face of the company, a dumb, young model.

That’s the high concept and from there on the show is pure cookie-cutter, only the cutter is getting really dull and the oven is totally fucked, so the cookies are all misshapen and raggedy and half overcooked and half undercooked and made out of dog crap anyway. Why anyone would think to drag Gilbert back to series TV for this, then rope Linn-Baker back, too, then somehow entice Griffith — who is, after all, a big-time movie actress — onto the small screen, why anyone would think of all this and then think it’s a good idea, well, color my mind boggled.

It’s not that I don’t have enormous, enormous reserves of goodwill for the cast. My love for Melanie Griffith goes back a long way: How long I would not have imagined if not for Melanie’s appearance on this show. Gone is the tiny-boob-swinging wacky chick of “Something Wild”; apparently she got run over by Nip/Tuck. She looks like she’s had so much plastic surgery, she is now actually made of plastic. My daughter’s Barbie-as-CGI-mannequin DVDs have a more expressive and textured heroine.

It seems like they tightened the skin too much on Mel’s head, too, because while playing an airhead has never been a big stretch for Ms. Griffith, here she manages to come off as a total airhead playing an airhead — poorly. It was one thing when darling Melanie was young and ditzy, but seeing her as this ravaged, sanded, injection molded automaton trying to be young and ditzy — it’s very painful.

My love for Sara Gilbert is more recent but not less. It’s bittersweet to think that I’m playing on the wrong team if I want to slide into the home plate of her embrace, but that’s Sara for you: Aloof. All sharp corners. Too cool for you.

Alas, someone thought it would be great if Gilbert played against type and instead went for the milquetoast nerd with self-esteem issues. That someone was wrong. Bay of Pigs wrong. Little Big Horn wrong. Waterloo wrong. Sara Gilbert cannot play weak-willed any more than she can play the Godfather. Are the producers next going to hire Elton John to play their theme song — on clarinet?

Mark Linn-Baker, at least, isn’t straying too far from his strengths. He used to play young nebbishes, then he did Cousin Larry, and now he’s playing older nebbishes. His turn as a homicidal older nebbish on Law & Order: Criminal Intent was fun, and I was happy to see Linn-Baker back on the scene. I’d be happier if the homicidal nebbish showed up on this show, wiped out the entire cast, and spent the rest of the season in the gynecologist’s office with Coral and Mimsy… but somehow I don’t see that happening.

Despite nebbishness being well-traveled ground for him, though, even Mark seems dragged down by the material. He has no chemistry with Melanie Griffith — and no wonder since she’s made of Pyrex — but he seems to have no connection with Gilbert or Stanton, either. Since there are only one or two other actors on the whole soundstage, this leaves poor Cousin Larry adrift, alone, a straight man in search of a Balki.

Maybe if he finds Balki, Pinchot’ll have a decent script on him, and then all the cameramen and grips and craft service critters and whoever else can work on some entirely different, better, show. Something like, I don’t know, I’m just casting about here, you know, blue-skying it — something like Perfect Strangers?

It’s a sad day when a grown man longs for Perfect Strangers. But I have softened to a limp, weeping, withered shadow of myself. Bad TV can do that to you.


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