Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beach TV 2011: Franklin & Bash, Suits, and Warehouse 13


If you’ve been spending this summer catching up on all the television you didn’t get the chance to watch during the year, you’ve likely been missing out on new episodes of the best shows currently in production: Breaking Bad on AMC, Curb Your Enthusiasm and True Blood on HBO, and the sublimely brilliant Louie on FX. (And, for our Canadian readers, Showcase has been airing the much anticipated second season of the endlessly original British sci-fi import Misfits since early June.) And there was a lot of serious, dramatic, and important television that aired in the past year.

But if I’m being honest, what I often really want to watch at the end of a long summer day should be as easy to digest as summer reading – the televisual equivalent of a new Sue Grafton novel. In this era of dark comedy and intense psychological drama, it is sometimes easy to forget that great television can often be simply diverting, escapist, and just plain entertaining. After all, NBC’s Parks and Recreation is not only one of the most good-natured shows on television: it’s also one of its funniest.

Over the past several weeks, two new shows and one returning favourite have populated the television equivalent of my beach reading list: Franklin & Bash, Suits, and Warehouse 13. What these shows may lack in gravitas, they more than make up for in sheer fun.

Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Franklin & Bash
Franklin & Bash is TNT’s new legal comedy-drama, starring Breckin Meyer (Road Trip) and Mark-Paul Gosselaar (NYPD Blue, Saved by the Bell), as lifelong friends and legal partners Jared Franklin and Peter Bash. They share an apartment set up like a college dorm, throw parties five nights a week, install video games in their conference room, and conduct most of their meetings in their Jacuzzi. The two are fearless in and out of the courtroom – in a way that makes you suspect their frontal lobe development is on par with an average 17-year-old – but viewers learn early on that Franklin and Bash always land on their feet.

Malcolm McDowell, who plays Stanton Infeld, the managing partner of the upscale law firm the two join in the opening episode, is having the time of his life playing an eminently likeable and big-hearted version of his recurring character on Entourage. The firm also includes Infeld’s nephew, Damien (Reed Diamond, familiar from his recurring roles on 24 and Dollhouse), whose immediate dislike of the young duo sets up the show’s primary internal conflict, a tension only exacerbated when Franklin beds Damian’s love interest, fellow attorney Hanna (Garcelle Beauvais) in the show’s pilot episode.  But to be fair to the show, there’s a lot of bedding going on – along with a lot of beer, side bets, hot-tubbing, even a little Lucha Libre thrown in for good measure.

In the end, Jared and Peter’s carefree but sincere friendship is the real star of the show, and the chemistry between Meyer and Gosselaar is spot-on. The show is light on law and heavy on clever banter, with regular laugh out loud moments. The easy charm of its cast, alongside its consequence-free narrative, makes Franklin & Bach the perfect summer show. It has already been renewed for a second season.

Patrick J. Adams and Gabriel Macht in Suits
Premiering on the USA network in June, Suits stars Gabriel Macht as Harvey Specter, a smooth, take-no-prisoners Manhattan lawyer and Patrick J. Adams as Mike Ross, a struggling 20-something with an eidetic memory, who literally stumbles into a dream job at a law firm. There’s only one small problem: Mike doesn’t have a law degree. But no matter, he’s read the law books all the same. Harvey – charmed, impressed, or perhaps seeing a little of himself in young Mike – hires him on as a new associate at his firm, knowingly concealing Mike’s lack of credentials from the other partners.  So far the show would seem to fit almost too comfortably into USA’s “Characters Welcome” mandate and the network’s standard formula – quirky non-professional consultant with unique gifts that allow him to get results that the insider professional can’t get (see: Monk, Psych, White Collar on USA, or The Mentalist on CBS, to list just a few) – but fortunately Suits isn’t content to stop there.

For one, whatever the show’s main conceit, Mike is neither a quirky savant (à la Adrian Monk), nor is he always the smartest guy in the room. In fact, the room is overflowing with smart guys, and gals too – including Firefly veteran Gina Torres as the firm’s managing partner, and Meghan Markle as a paralegal too competent for her job. Mike isn’t a wunderkind: just a sweet, smart guy who’s finally been given a chance to do something with his intelligence.  And for another, whatever Mike’s natural gifts, the show rarely lets him gets it right the first time around. (If, for example, an accepted practice hasn’t made its way into the law books, his inexperience will predictably trump his magic memory skills.) A college dropout and largely put upon by life, Mike has all the skills but none of the confidence to move forward with his life. Despite the fundamental con game at the centre of the show’s plot, the show is really about playing it straight.  Mike’s book learning can only take him so far, and the real story here isn’t his ‘powers’ but the development of his self-confidence.

In the end, the real fun of Suits doesn’t come from watching Mike out-lawyer the lawyers or pulling that one right name from a 1000-page document, but in the easy, comfortable relationship that develops between Harvey and Mike. Harvey, who clearly scares most people away with his swagger and confidence, lets his guard down with Mike (due in part to the partners-in-crime aspect of their shared secret). This comfortable back-and-forth of the two characters is the backbone of the show. The premise of Suits is too thin to really survive much scrutiny (the dagger hanging over Mike’s head might otherwise become a little too distracting, especially once Mike steps into the courtroom), but the energy of the show more than makes us for what it lacks in logic. Don’t think about it too much, and just sit back and enjoy. In Canada, both Suits and Franklin & Bash premiere on Bravo! on August 22.

 Eddie McClintock, Saul Rubinek, and Joanne Kelly
Warehouse 13 is SyFy’s light science fiction/fantasy series starring Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly as Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering, two US Secret Service agents assigned to a mysterious arm of the agency which is tasked with the identification and recovery of supernatural artifacts. Each artifact possesses a magical (and often destructive) property ironically derived from its origins – among the dozens we’re seen so far include lost Shakespeare folios, Lewis Carroll’s mirror, Tycho Brahe's nose, Charles Dickens' badminton racket, Sylvia Plath's typewriter, Richard Nixon's shoes, and even the original “Can of Worms.” The historical and literary references often come too fast to follow, with several throwaway artifacts mentioned in almost every episode. For sheer pop-culture fun, the only show to beat it might be the short-lived (but deeply loved) ABC Family series, The Middleman.

Co-created by Hugo Award winning Buffy writer/producer Jane Espenson, Warehouse 13 comes complete with campy special effects and a charming cast of characters, including Saul Rubinek as Artie Neilsen, the rumpled leader of the Warehouse where the artifacts are neutralized and stored. Rubinek is one of my favourite Canadian actors, and true to form, Artie is the source of many of the show’s funniest and sweetest moments. (If you’ve been wondering how an archetypal Jewish character actor ends up with a Scandinavian surname, this was memorably addressed early in the show’s first season.)

Despite initially coming off as X-Files lite, Warehouse 13 has been pleasantly devoid of sexual tension or subtext, and the team works together as a surprisingly functional, if goofy, workplace family, with Artie as the reluctant father figure. The two leads’ adult sibling chemistry is one of the best things about the show, and the series would lose a lot of its unique charm if the Pete/Myka shippers get their way, but fortunately the writers seem to know that too. Light-hearted science fiction (from Farscape to Andromeda) may often get a bad rap from diehards, but Warehouse 13 has got the formula down and never mistakes fun for sloppy. Warehouse 13’s third season continues until early October.

Mark Clamen is a lifelong television enthusiast. He lives in Toronto, where he often lectures on television, film, and popular culture.


1 comment:

  1. Love it. Now I have to watch Franklin and Bash and catch up on Warehouse 13.

    ReplyDelete