Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bleep Your Tad Says

I did a "good dad thing" the other day, and let my 8-year-old daughter put eyeliner and lip gloss on my face while I pretended to sleep. She thought it was a hoot, and then I "woke up" and chased her and her brothers around the house planting big, watermelon-scented Dad lips on their cheeks and foreheads.

Therapy is expensive, and this is my way of making sure it will be fun.

After the running around and laughing was over, and I had washed my face, the little girl asked me if I had ever worn makeup before, and I told her about being in theater in high school. I don't know how much got across from 38-year-old mouth to 8-year-old ear, but I told her a little about the science behind makeup; how the bright lights of the stage wash out your features, and how the makeup emphasizes them so the audience can see your face.

It wasn't a long conversation, or a deep one, but it got me thinking about how much I hated wearing makeup on the stage, and how ironic it is that so many people use it in everyday life to "enhance" their image. There is a puzzling dance around the issue of what is real and what is fake when you use something artificial to emphasize only your best features; is it honest to cover up your faults that way, or is it necessary to counteract the effects of too much scrutiny?

Anyway, I was still thinking about the theater later when Flamingo and I sat down to watch some TV. We watch a lot of shows together, but rarely on the actual broadcast television - we prefer to catch up later on DVD or streaming Netflix (how's that for product placement?). This night was different because of Twitter.

I can't explain why, but I use Twitter quite a lot. (If you're reading this on my Blogger site, you can see my feed up to the left.) Even though I tweet and follow lots of friends, political figures, and sci-fi-related actors and actresses, I really can't tell you what value it brings to my life or what I have to offer in return. It has just become Part of My World. (Please, Disney, don't sue me.)

A lot of the stuff I follow on Twitter makes me laugh. Case in point: Wil Wheaton, whom you might remember from Star Trek: Next Generation, Stand By Me, or more recently, Big Bang Theory, where he plays an Evil version of himself. He was on Big Bang Theory that night, and had been twittering all day about it in a fit of shameless self-promotion - which we forgave because we actually wanted to see the show, and because we needed the reminders. We are out of the habit of being tied to the network's schedule.

We enjoyed the show, and later @wilw's meta-tweets (where the real Wil Wheaton actually tweeted here and here what the Evil Wil Wheaton tweeted in the show).

As fate would have it, the show that follow Big Bang Theory happens to come from Twitter, too. I have followed Shit My Dad Says for a while, now, and I knew they were making a TV series out of it, but I didn't see how they could do it justice. For one thing, it's NBC, so instead of the actual name of the Twitter feed, they have to print "$#!# My Dad Says" and call it "Bleep My Dad Says" - all of which is incredibly lame and violates the fundamental beauty of having a title based on profanity in the first place. (If you haven't already read my piece in defense of profanity, I have it right here.)

I won't lie: I hated the show. As much as I enjoy William Shatner (where do you think the nickname "Flamingo" comes from?), and as much as I appreciate Josh Halpern's story as a Geek WIN, the episode we watched embodied everything that is sad, old, and irrelevant about network television. Here they had an opportunity to tap into a built-in audience that has been steadily abandoning their medium, and they've blown it by serving up the kind of warm BLEEP that drove us away in the first place.

What would I have done differently?

Well, for one thing, I would have built the series around the central character of that twenty-something guy forced to move back in with his dad, and made it into a one-camera exploration of his life. Show the guy struggling with his problems and using Twitter as an outlet. Show the family reacting and trying to understand what the buzz is all about. Show the ways this unexpected fame changes his world.

There is a lot of risk in making a half-hour comedy like that, but it has been done well before. This show could have been Arrested Development - instead, it was Silver Spoons. I can't explain Twitter, but I can tell you that it has become popular because we-the-people are intensely interested in ourselves. Shitmydadsays became viral and popular because we are intensely amused by profanity and self-effacement. If you're going to take on the risk of buying a show built on the word "Shit", you should be willing to take on the risk of letting it be good by building on those things that made it strong in the first place.

But I realize it's hard to do that. When you're sitting in the makeup chair, you don't know what your face is going to look like to those in the audience. How much "realism" can you get away with? What should you emphasize, what should you hide? On television, all of that is decided for us, taking the point and the relevance away from us. On the internet, we decide what we want to show and what we want to see - not to mention when we want to see it.

And that is the difference between Bleep and Shit.

1 comment:

James H. said...

I really enjoy Justin's Twitter feed, and his book was more of the same sort of awesome. I agree that the show (which my wife and I call by its proper name; I will not be censored) is a bit disappointing. (I blame Nicole Sullivan --yikes!) Last night's episode was particularly unimpressive. Frankly, at this point, I'm only watching to see what Bill Shatner does. His spoken-word version of "I'm Too Sexy" a couple of weeks ago had me rolling on the floor. (Only "Rocket Man" could have been better.) I wouldn't hold my breath on a second season.