Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Smooth operators
Veronica Mars and House hit the mark

We’re in the "feast" portion of the feast-or-famine TV cycle. Sure, prime time is overloaded with reality junk, but worthy scripted shows are inching their way back onto the networks’ menus. Unfortunately, two of the season’s best new dramas, UPN’s Veronica Mars and Fox’s House, air opposite each other at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. And though in theory this shouldn’t be a problem if you have more than one TV and a recording device, in reality it is a drag, because then you have to free up the time to watch what you’ve recorded and, oh, it just makes TV too complicated. So I’m pleading with UPN and Fox to take a hint from ABC’s successful strategy of repeating Desperate Housewives and Lost on Saturdays. Rerunning episodes can’t hurt, especially in the case of Veronica Mars, which is pulling in only a shameful two million or so viewers a week on Tuesdays. I mean, it’s not as if UPN were brimming with programming. Put Veronica on twice a week. See what happens. You’re welcome.

Anyway, Veronica Mars (which has been running for a few weeks) and House (which premieres on Fox on November 16) are addictive, well put-together dramas with lead actors who fully and intelligently inhabit their quirky characters. The story of a 17-year-old high-school girl who helps her private-eye dad solve mysteries, Veronica Mars has a distinct Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay it. No, there isn’t any supernatural stuff, but, like Buffy, Kristen Bell’s Veronica is a sarcastic little blonde with balls of steel. She’s an outsider at school, for reasons that are explained in flashbacks, and she takes it upon herself to stand up for her fellow victims of injustice.

Veronica’s father, Keith Mars (the always classy Enrico Colantoni), was once the sheriff of Neptune, California, a viciously affluent San Diego suburb. Veronica was part of the in crowd, best friends with school alpha female Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried) and dating Lilly’s brother Duncan (Teddy Dunn). But then Lilly was murdered, and Keith Mars suspected her father, software tycoon Jake Kane (Kyle Secor). The society crowd closed ranks around Jake and threw Keith out in a recall election. The Mars family lost everything. Veronica’s mother, Lianne (Corinne Bohrer), left home with no forwarding address, and Veronica was shunned by her former friends, including Duncan (who is now kept on anti-depressants by his creepy parents). Veronica and Keith live in reduced circumstances; he’s a private investigator and she helps him out after school. Delving into the sleazy secrets of this privileged community, Veronica wields her lap-top and her cell phone the way Buffy used to twirl her stake. (My only quibbles are that — to put it in BuffyspeakVeronica’s fellow outcast Wallace is a tad too Xander, and tough biker dude Weevil, who antagonizes her but may really have a crush on her, simply isn’t hot enough to be Spike. Got that?)

Veronica Mars is emotionally rich and complex; it’s not a kiddie show, and that makes it a tough sell. But, hey, cultdom is good too. Created by Rob Thomas (who was responsible for the underrated and piquant ABC comedy drama Cupid a few seasons back), Veronica Mars takes an unusually clear-eyed and provocative approach to its coming-of-age tale. Veronica, we learn, lost her virginity when she dared to attend a party with her old crowd after they’d ostracized her; someone spiked her drink with a date-rape drug and she was assaulted. In a startlingly unsentimental scene shown in flashback and narrated by Veronica, she woke up the next morning, picked up her underwear, and chalked the incident up to being naive about the coldness of her friends’ hearts. See, there are monsters on Veronica Mars after allthey’ve just got money instead of fangs.

The relationship between Veronica and Keith is also rendered with depth and detail. They’re joky and tender with each other, but they’re bound together by a fear of abandonment, both still hurting from Lianne’s departure. Father and daughter are so afraid of losing each other that, in one recent episode, Veronica used the tools of the investigation trade to sabotage Keith’s budding romantic relationship with the school guidance counselor while Keith dug up dirt on Veronica’s new boyfriend. And both are both consumed with solving the murder of Lilly Kane in the hope that the truth will bring Lianne home and put the Mars family back together.

Veronica is searching for her mother and mourning the death of her best friend, but, really, she’s searching for her own sense of self. Veronica Mars has some perceptive things to say about female identity, especially in Veronica’s haunting attachment to Lilly Kane. In flashbacks, we see the girls together, and it’s hard to fathom how they could click. Even in her in-crowd days, Veronica seemed more modest and down-to-earth than the other popular girls, whereas Lilly was irresponsible, flirty, and ripely slutty. (Seyfried in fact looks like a baby Angelina Jolie.) But in a lovely episode about the girls’ homecoming-dance night, the reason for Veronica’s fascination with Lilly became clear. Lighting up the room in her outrageously daring dress, mugging for the video camera, Lilly was sexy, brave, uninhibited, irresistible. If Lianne is the missing piece of Veronica’s heart, Lilly is the secret self hidden in Veronica’s soul.

Veronica Mars is a character study masquerading as a high-school drama; House (co-produced by Homicide: Life on the Street co-creator Paul Attanasio) is a character study that only the very dim will mistake for a medical-investigation drama. Oh, the show does have a team of young doctors puzzling over patients who exhibit disgusting symptoms of bizarre maladies. And it has lots of CSI-style "into the body" special effects. (If you ever wondered what tapeworm larvae look like up close and personal, don’t miss the first episode.)

But though the young actors (including the terrific Omar Epps) who buzz around House are engaging and the weird medical mysteries are brain-teasy enough, what really grabs you about House is not its similarity to CSI. No, the star of House is, well, its star. British actor Hugh Laurie, of the basset-hound eyes and vaguely smirky scowl, is a familiar face to Anglophiles. He played numerous roles on Black Adder, suffered hilariously as the sullen Mr. Palmer (miserably married to chatterbox Imelda Staunton) in Ang Lee’s Sense & Sensibility, and was Bertie Wooster on the Masterpiece Theatre series Jeeves and Wooster. As Dr. Gregory House, a surly yet brilliant diagnostician basking in tenure at a prestigious New Jersey teaching hospital, Laurie has the kind of role that turns obscure actors into pop-cultural icons overnight. It will be a pleasure watching the droll Cantabrigian (from the English Cambridge) negotiate the idiocy of American TV stardom.

As House, Laurie sports a smooth (if generic) American accent, a perpetual day’s growth of beard, and a bad case of bed head. Acerbic and tactless, House is damaged both physically and emotionally. He walks with the aid of a cane as a result of a heart attack that cut off oxygen to his muscles and left him with constant leg pain. He pops Vicodin as if they were Tic Tacs. He appears to have no family, no social life, no hobbies besides watching General Hospital. House pontificates to his young doctors, and he tosses off such delightfully misanthropic bons mots as, "Treating illness is why we became doctors. Treating patients is what makes most doctors miserable. . . . Humanity is overrated." He prefers the theoretical to dealing with people, but he’s required to devote a certain number of hours each month to plain old sniffles and aches at the hospital clinic. These doctor-patient confrontations are a squirmy joy. For example, a guy comes in complaining that his skin has turned orange. House takes a supremely bored look at him and says, "You’re orange, you moron." Oh, and your wife must be having an affair if she hasn’t noticed that you’re orange. And stop taking mass doses of beta carotene. (He’s right, on all counts.)

House is, in short, a great, juicy, colorful protagonist. And Laurie plays him with a sourpuss charisma and a wit so dry it crackles. The 50ish actor is one of those un-handsome Brits who is, somehow, devastatingly sexy. (Think BBC America stalwarts Robson Green and John Hannah.) House is locked up and turned off, except when a patient comes along with a collection of funky life-threatening symptoms to arouse his interest. And this inaccessibility makes him prime sex-symbol material. Which of the show’s two female co-stars will be able to break down the gimpy doc’s defenses? Will it be flinty hospital administrator Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), with whom he verbally spars, or young immunologist Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), whom he hired mainly, he says, for her beauty? If House catches on (and Laurie is too good for it not to), it’ll be because middle-aged female viewers are tuning in to see the doctor operate.

Issue Date: November 12 - 18, 2004
Back to the Television table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group