Television

Television: March 2004

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• Mad Mad House and More

If you’re not the “Must-See TV Thursdays” kind of guy or gal, the alternative is here, albeit a somewhat twisted alternative. And you can thank the Sci-Fi Channel.

For starters, there’s the reality series Mad Mad House. (I use the word “reality” because, well, that’s what these types of shows are called, even though they’re miles away from any reality I’ve ever witnessed.) Mad Mad House follows the breakdown of 10 everyday people who move into a house run by five odd-but-optimistic occupants, all with very alternative lifestyles: a vampire, a wiccan, a naturist, a voodoo priestess, and a modern primitive. This fab five (well, maybe the vampire is not so fab—he seems to be the only negative “feeder” in the bunch) determine which of their guests will be banished in the weekly elimination ceremony and which one will eventually walk away with the $100,000 prize.

Mad Mad House airs at 8 p.m., followed at 9 by Scare Tactics, which is hosted by Shannen Doherty. Scare Tactics is what Punk’d might be if it took place on Halloween. Unsuspected victims are set up by their friends and family in twisted sci-fi and horror movie scenes—from a battle with a circus freak to a terrifying encounter with a reincarnated serial killer. Not for the weak at heart. Thank God it’s only a half-hour.

Then at 9:30 comes Tripping the Rift, Sci-Fi Channel’s first animated series. This last show in the twisted Thursday trilogy follows the adventures of The Free Enterprise, a smuggling vessel led by a stumpy purple alien named Chode, who has a sexually confused robot slave named Gus and a sexy cyborg named Six (who is voiced by Gina Gershon). One episode is written by openly gay comedian Jackie Beat, and several of the episodes are written by openly gay comedian Terry Sweeney, who is also a creative consultant. Now we know why it’s twisted.

The three original series premiere Thursday, March 4, on the Sci-Fi Channel (www.scifi.com). —Blase DiStefano

• Playing It Straight

One beautiful bachelorette. Fourteen hunky bachelors. A million-dollar prize. If you haven’t heard about this new Fox show, you might think, “Oh, God, here we go again. Enough already.” But, no, this bachelorette/bachelors spectacle has a twist: Our bachelorette (Jackie) has to choose one of these guys, knowing that some of them are gay, but playing it straight. If she picks a gay dude, he pockets the million dollars, and she walks away with nothing. (If she picks a straight guy, the couple splits the million bucks.) Tune in to Fox (www.fox.com) on Friday, March 12, at 7 p.m. not only to see if Jackie’s got her gaydar going but to see if you’ve got your gaydar going. —BD

• Wonderfalls

Set against the backdrop of Niagara Falls, Wonderfalls is a quirky one-hour family dramedy about underachieving 20-something souvenir shop worker Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas). Her life is forever changed when inanimate figures begin to talk to her. In each episode, the creatures’ cryptic messages set into motion a chain of unpredictable events that invariably lead Jaye into the lives of others in need.

Created by Bryan Fuller and openly gay Todd Holland, Wonderfalls focuses on Jaye as she meddles in, muddles up, and ultimately betters the lives of herself and the eclectic variety of strangers that cross her path.

As Jaye tries to make sense of her newfound abilities, she soon discovers that the inanimate animal figures tend to become especially vocal when she interacts with her eccentric family of overachievers. From her high-maintenance mother (Diana Scarwid) and outspoken father (William Sadler) to her seemingly straight-laced (read: lesbian) sister (Katie Finneran) and her sarcastic brother (Lee Pace, who played the transsexual in Showtime’s A Soldier’s Girl), each episode finds Jaye pulled in several directions . . . to resolve the family matter at hand or suffer the consequences of her little “friends.”

Throughout the series’ bizarre situations and madcap adventures, Jaye seeks advice from her best buddy (Tracie Thoms) and befriends a local bartender (Tyron Leitso) who tries to help answer her unrequited questions. Is the universe conspiring against her? Is this real or just her imagination? Should she struggle with fate or surrender to destiny? Whatever the outcome, one thing is for certain—Jaye will discover that the world around her is a magical place and that the seemingly random events in her life are actually all part of something much greater.

Premieres on Fox (www.fox.com) on Friday, March 12, at 8 p.m. —Suzie Lynde

• Cracking Up

Ben (Jason Schwartzman), an idealistic psychology graduate student, gets more than he bargained for when he moves into the guesthouse of the Shackletons, a wealthy Beverly Hills family. Although they may look like the picture-perfect clan living the American dream in a gorgeous mansion, on closer inspection each member of the family proves to be more eccentric than the next.

Before he even gets a chance to unpack, Ben finds himself playing in-house therapist to a brood of textbook case studies. Lesley Shackleton (Molly Shannon) is a happy homemaker, but she also shows some bipolar alcoholic tendencies with severe mood swings. Her husband Ted (Christopher Mcdonald) is a successful pharmaceutical executive—but underneath his charismatic persona may lurk an unstable sociopath. Their three children are seemingly just as unhinged: Chloe (Caitlin Wachs), a pretty cheerleader, suffers from delusions of grandeur; Preston (Jake Sandvig), an all-American athlete, is obsessive-compulsive; only their youngest son, Tanner (Bret Loehr), whom Ben was originally asked to counsel, seems to be well-adjusted.

The Shackleton household is the perfect training ground for a budding therapist and, although Ben is shocked by some of their more erratic behavior, he is determined to help “fix” this family. They may be “cracking up,” but they’re also fascinating, lovable, and a whole lot of fun. Created, written, and executive-produced by openly gay Mike White, the award-winning writer and star of School of Rock, The Good Girl, and Chuck & Buck, Cracking Up premieres on Fox (www.fox.com) with an advance two-night preview on Tuesday, March 9, and Wednesday, March 10, at 8:30 p.m. The premiere continues when Cracking Up settles into its regular time period with an original episode on Monday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m. —Troy Carrington

• Celeste in the City

When Celeste Blodgett (Majandra Delfino) makes the big move from Maine to New York City for her first job after college at the city’s top newspaper, she is in for a rude awakening: Not only is she a fact checker instead of an editorial assistant, but she’s also lacking the confidence and wardrobe to make it in the Big Apple. All of that is about to change when her gay cousin Dana (Nicholas Brendon) and a group of his best friends decide to make Celeste look as smart and sophisticated on the outside as she is on the inside. However, her transformation soon distances her from the ones who loved her just the way she was. This original TV movie airs on ABC Family (www.abcfamily.com) on Sunday, March 14, at 7 p.m. —TC

• In the Life

Hosted by Tony Award-winning actor Cherry Jones, the March episode of In the Life showcases the following segments:

• Behind the Bullying Epidemic. Harassment—often with anti-gay epithets—has been linked to 75 percent of school-shooting incidents. In the Life (ITL) meets Academy Award-winning filmmaker Debra Chasnoff (It’s Elementary), whose powerful new documentary Let’s Get Real explores the impact of name-calling from the point of view of bullies, victims, and witnesses.

• Battle Over Gay/Straight Student Club. To combat homophobia, students have started Gay/Straight Alliances (GSAs) at more than 2,000 U.S. high schools. ITL travels to one suburban Chicago school that champions diversity and finds out why the proposed creation of a GSA met unexpected resistance from both students and faculty.

• Murder of Lesbian Teen Spurs Action. ITL revisits the 2003 murder of Sakia Gunn, a 15-year-old lesbian from Newark, New Jersey, who was murdered on her way home from Greenwich Village and reveals what happens when LGBT youth have “no place to go.”

• Out & About in New York City. Gays and lesbians have become a top target market, particularly for the travel industry. In the first of a new recurring segment highlighting gay and lesbian hot spots, ITL checks out what the Big Apple has to offer the queer traveler.

• Campaign 2004—Dennis Kucinich. In the second installment of “Campaign 2004,” Congressman and Demo-cratic presidential candidate Dennis Ku-cinich reveals his vision for gay and lesbian Americans.

• Black Gay & Lesbian History. ITL visits the Black Gay & Lesbian Archive in Harlem and finds a rich and colorful history that is missing from schoolbooks and museums.

• Bear Culture. ITL delves into the gay “bear” culture, a community that challenges the stereotypical image of the waxed and toned muscle boy by celebrating men of all shapes and sizes.

• Harvey Fierstein’s Out Takes. Reflecting on the furor over his appearance as Mrs. Claus in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, ITL commentator Harvey Fierstein takes the media to task for ignoring the real issue at hand: the right to gay marriage.

Airs Monday, March 22, at midnight on Houston’s PBS Channel 8. For more information, visit www.inthelifetv.org. —SL• Black Sheep

Director Louise Glover grew up in Western Australia repeating the same homophobic and racist taunts she heard around her. Though she was raised in a white family, she was dark-haired and dark-eyed and was often asked if she was Aboriginal—a suggestion she vehemently denied. It wasn’t until she came out as a lesbian and left the racist and homophobic environment in which she was raised that she began to explore her ancestry. And that’s when she uncovered the secret that her father’s family had been hiding for three generations. In this upbeat film from Australia, Lou Glover tells her own story as lesbian, one-time police officer, and recently discovered Aboriginal woman. Black Sheep (1999), Glover’s first documentary, is part of PBS’s The Territory series, which showcases new directions in film, video, and digital media. Airs Tuesday, March 23, at 10 p.m. on Houston’s PBS Channel 8 (www.houstonpbs.org). —SL

• Carrington and Karmen Geï on Sundance Channel

Carrington: Love among the eccentrics of Britain’s literary Bloomsbury group was never conventional. For painter Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson) and homosexual wit Lyton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce), their 17-year domestic relationship was suffused with devotion and passion, yet remained largely platonic. Smart conversation, an idyllic country house, and a series of lovers—some shared—prominently feature in playwright Christopher Hampton’s award-winning directorial debut, which won the Special Jury Prize at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Airs on Sundance Channel on Saturday, March 20, at 8 p.m., with repeats on the 25th at midnight and the 30th at 8:30 p.m. To confirm schedule: www.sundancechannel.com.

Karmen Geï: Touted as the first movie musical produced in Africa, filmmaker Joseph Gaï Ramaka’s reinvention of Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen, set in contemporary Senegal, abandons the music of Georges Bizet for a fiery score by jazz musician David Murray, featuring contributions from many African performers. Holding center stage is a new Amazonian interpretation of the world’s most famous femme fatale, a peppery, bisexual force of nature played by Djeïnaba Diop Gaï in an unforgettably beguiling performance. Airs on Sundance Channel on Sunday, March 14, at 8:30 p.m., with repeats on 18th at 1:30 p.m., the 27th at noon, and the 31st at 7 p.m. To confirm schedule: www.sundancechannel.com. —TC

Showtime Renews The L Word for Second Season

On the heels of the launch of its critically acclaimed new series The L Word, Showtime has given the drama a 13-episode second-season renewal, it was announced on January 29. The pickup represents the fastest renewal in the premium network’s history, following the show’s debut on January 18. Production on season two is slated to begin in June for the series, which airs on Sundays at 9 p.m.

The first two episodes generated four times the Showtime primetime average rating, pulling in a strong audience in spite of the fact that the second installment aired opposite the Golden Globes telecast. From its unprecedented New York Magazine cover photo before the show had even debuted to the full-page color cartoon of the cast in the New Yorker to references in the New York Times Op-Ed pages, this show seems to be on everyone’s lips. Even Gen. Wesley Clark has mentioned “the l word” in interviews, and he wasn’t only referring to the word “liberal.”

The L Word was hailed by Tom Shales in The Washington Post as “wickedly provocative . . . undeniably seductive TV.” TV Guide called the series “a dynamic new drama.” New York Magazine labeled the show “a powerful, wildly sexy new television series,” while US Weekly called the concept “groundbreaking” and proclaimed: “Let the Emmy hype begin.”

The drama is about a group of young women (almost all lesbian) in Los Angeles, and follows their lives, careers, and romantic relationships. The one-hour drama’s cast includes Jennifer Beals, Erin Daniels, Leisha Hailey, Laurel Holloman, Mia Kirshner, Katherine Moennig, and Pam Grier.

The L Word is executive-produced by Ilene Chaiken through her production company Posse Productions Inc. For more on The L Word, see the interview with Chaiken in OutSmart’s January 2004 issue. —SL

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