Saturday, January 28, 2012

How Lowbrow Can I Go?: Why 'Hot in Cleveland' Is One of My Favorite TV Comedies

I confess.

I'm a television junkie. And I won't even pretend to like the supposedly "quality" stuff. I live for boob-tube fluff. The more mindless, the funnier (sometimes).

Which is certainly not the case when it comes to cinema and music. With movies, I'm never in my element until Oscar season, when sequel fever cools, the action slows down, and Hollywood starts putting out films for adults. And with music, I'm a little bit country, and I'm a little bit rock & roll, the majority of Billboard's Hot 100 be damned. Bruno Mars, LMFAO and David Guetta can score hit after hit, but I'll listen to Katy Perry's entire Teenage Dream album before I sit through "Sexy and I Know It" from beginning to end.

When it comes to TV, though, for some reason, my brain goes soft. My favorite shows of all time -- The Jeffersons, Three's Company, The Golden Girls -- were all LMFAO hilarious, but they'll never be in the TV critics' pantheon of sitcom greats, home to the likes of All in the Family, M*A*S*H and, in the future, 30 Rock and Modern Family, two programs whose appeal flies right over my head.

Though I occasionally roll with the "good" stuff, too -- I could spend an entire day watching marathons of How I Met Your Mother and Family Guy, and I won't turn the channel when Glee is on -- I'm still one of those people who actually finds Two and a Half Man funny, and I've spent the last year or so warming up to The Big Bang Theory. So just shoot me (speaking of shows I used to love).

Notice the absence of hour-long drama in this discussion so far. The occasional police procedural and legal drama aside -- in Bangkok, the TV options were so limited that I learned to appreciate Criminal Minds and the plethora of courtroom series, of which Drop Dead Diva is the only one I truly love -- most hour-long dramas test my attention span. I love my 60-minute daytime soap operas, though, and I'll never understand why people carp about their implausibilities while getting lost (pun intended) in the unreality of Lost and all the vampires and bad acting in True Blood.

The other night I watched Dexter for the first time. And although there was no denying that it's a well-made, well-acted drama, the serial-killer stuff gave me nightmares. That's entertainment? I can live with the violence in a movie like Drive because I know I don't have to see it week after week, but when it comes to my regularly scheduled TV viewing, I don't want to have to watch between my fingers.

Which brings me to my latest prime-time poison: TV Land's Hot in Cleveland -- and not just because it's got Betty White. Last night I watched the ninth episode of the third season (the one in which Melanie's son and Victoria's daughter were engaged, and Joy was dating a blind 22 year old), and I actually laughed out loud five times. Yes, five. I counted. And although I was by myself, each time I guffawed, I looked around to make sure no one was looking. Home alone, I was actually embarrassed.

But this is my official coming-out day. I love Hot in Cleveland. With the exception of Absolutely Fabulous and Family Guy, it's the only TV show that I've ever actually downloaded on my computer. Here are five reasons why.

1. It's not all about Betty White. Not that I don't love her, but she's not the only draw here. Wendie Malick (Victoria), Jane Leeves (Joy) and Valerie Bertinelli (Melanie) are all comedy vets, and the each pulls her weight here, though Malick probably gets a slightly higher number of laughs per episode. But how can she not, playing an aging soap-opera diva whose biggest rival is Erica Kane herself, Susan Lucci, who has appeared on several episodes of the show?

2. The ladies seem to genuinely dig each other. Unlike those desperate housewives, whom I love, there's no bitching and casual back-stabbing here (or behind-the-scenes rumors of it). As quartet-of-female-friends programming goes, most people would compare Hot in Cleveland to The Golden Girls, and not just because Betty White appeared on both shows. But these golden girls have an altogether different dynamic. Yes, Elka (White) has a sharp tongue, tossing barbs at whomever happens to be in her line of vision, but the relationship between the others is less love-hate than the bond was between Dorothy, Blanche and Rose. There's real I'd-do-anything-for-you-camaraderie here that makes this more like Sex and the City -- only in another city.

3. They're no dummies, but they can be delightfully shallow. Neither the show nor the ladies try to sell Cleveland as anything other than a place where, unlike in L.A., they can be the eye candy everybody wants. I was shocked when Melanie and Joy admitted to being freshly Botoxed in one episode, and last night when Joy reveled in the joys of dating a 22-year-old blind guy because there's no way he'd know that she's not really 26 ("in five weeks"), I thought to myself, I'd do that. When Blanche on The Golden Girls dated a blind guy, she was worried that he could never appreciate her for her beauty, something that never even crossed Joy's mind. It's not exactly progress, but it's a glass-half-full approach that totally works for me.

4. Dead or Alive? Get your answers here. Another great thing about having 90-year-old Betty White in the cast is that they have to come up with age-appropriate love interests for her. It's nice to know that Carl Reiner, Buck Henry and Don Rickles are alive and well, comic timing still in tact. (P.S. It's also nice to see so many stars from earlier eras -- Gregory Harrison, John Schneider, Bonnie Franklin, Laura San Giacomo, Hal Linden, and Huey Lewis, as well as John Mahoney, Wayne Knight, Doris Roberts, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sean Hayes -- back in action in guest appearances.)

5. The ladies date young -- and hot. And if you look like Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick when you're over 50 (and in Malick's case, 60!), why the hell not?
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