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September 1997 | Updated Monthly
Fall TV Preview

The new TV season is hurtling towards us like some disaster movie asteroid-sized space cow patty, sure to be filled with enough crap to fertilize Kansas. However, instead of firing at the easy targets (God knows the barrel is full of fish: Tony Danza, Scott Baio, Bronson Pinchot as an alien nanny), we thought we'd talk about a few shows that are so cool, you'll probably never see them:

"Chimp Optometrist"

With all the attention the "aliens crashed at Roswell and the government covered it up' crowd has been getting lately, it makes me wonder who's standing up for the 'the chimps they sent up in space came back superintelligent and the government covered it up' crowd. Well, now I know: the WB. In "Chimp Optometrist", one of the aforementioned superintelligent chimps, Oogata, emerged from a twenty-five year government quarantine to pursue his greatest dream -- not to rule the world, or to free the great apes, or to make humanity pay for its stupidity, or anything noble like that -- no, this chimp wanted to set up an optometry practice in a suburban Minneapolis strip mall. But the sentient primate fun doesn't stop there -- Oogata has a dopey baboon gopher, and a perky female lemur secretary (who is also the lead singer of the 'Great Apes', a Fugees-like rap/R&B hybrid band that bills itself as the 'first interspecies band on the charts.'). The cast is rounded out by -- and this was the masterstroke -- Dabney Coleman as the crusty landlord, neighboring deli owner, and series antagonist. He didn't know he was renting prime office space to a chimp, and schemes constantly to break the lease. "I thought I was renting to a man named C. Himp!" he fumes, "I'll show that monkey if it's the last thing I do." But Oogata, with twenty-five years experience outwitting Russian master spies for NASA, can usually outsmart him. The promotional material also states that every week will feature a new patient for Oogata, played by either an 'edgy new comic or beloved character actor'. Are there any other kind, really? My spot in the office pool has the dung flinging beginning in episode six.


For a while, much was made of the creeping infection of MTV video technique into feature film-making -- jump cuts, jerky hand-held shots, women with large breasts moving rapidly from side to side -- but so far the Cathedral of Prime Time has been largely unaffected. Ok, unaffected except for the large-breasted women.

This fall, on UPN at least, things might be a little different. David Fincher (who graduated from MTV to direct _Seven_ and _Alien 3_) is bringing us _Trip_, a one-hour on the road drama about two zany guys in their twenties, Warren and Victor. Bo-ring, you say? Well, visually, the stories jump between the perspectives of the two guys, and Victor is constantly whacked out on psychoactive drugs. Yes, constantly whacked out on psychoactive drugs, on network TV. Well, on UPN. At least he's portrayed as a 'bad influence'. How does his altered mental state manifest itself? In jerky hand-held shots with arbitrarily varying levels of over- and under-exposure, with occasional bursts of special effects; all this in comparison to the unflinching steady-cam gaze of Warren. It feels sort of like randomly splicing footage from the opening title sequence of _Seven_ together with breaking C-SPAN coverage of a Jesse Helms fillibuster.

Why are they on the road? I wasn't sure from the pilot. Something about Victor's family, his sister turning into a snake, large, pulsating gray spheres, and Warren's loyalty to his oldest friend -- and before you know it, they're speeding through the North Dakota badlands in a '86 Ford Crown Victoria, police package and everything, on their way to the Yukon.

The series does look good. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if that will be enough to plug an hour long post hole on UPN for a whole year. Undoubtedly madcap hijinks lie ahead for the pair -- some supernatural (the press kit dubs it as 'Twin Peaks meets Route 66 with groundbreaking cinematography') -- some romantic (they stopped in Minneapolis to pick up Hudson Leick (Callisto on Xena) for a few episodes -- and I have to admit, she looks good on drugs) -- and some comedic. I have no idea where this one will end up, but at least they get credit for trying.

"Herbie, the Fuck Bug"

Ever wondered what happened to Herbie the Love Bug? Well, after his misadventures in Brazil, some flunky at Disney must have forgotten to file the trademark forms in time, because Herbie is back -- this time in full-bore bass-thumpin' fake-tits money-shot porn style. Apparently, after his heyday in the 60's, Herbie was sold to a struggling porno movie producer, and he bacame the staff car for the gang of appropriately wacky but lovable losers of Machu Pichu Productions.

Yes, it's on cable. Showtime, in fact. Series with sex consistently draw the biggest audiences for premium channels, but since there seems to be some law preventing them from making a series called "One Hour of Naked People Fucking, Every Week, With Occasional Facials', they have to hide their pornography behind either art school dropout cum perfume commercial cinematography (Showtime's "Red Shoe Diaries"), incomprehensible plot justification (HBO's "Strangers"), a 'documentary' veneer (virtually _every_ HBO documentary), or going-through-the-motions "Twilight Zone" knockoffs ("The Outer Limits", "Perversions of Science"). "Herbie the Fuck Bug" seems to be the first attempt to spackle pornography over the cracks of a cheesy sitcom, but it winds up with the most traditionally pornographic structure of them all: there will be a few minutes of comic dialogue, and then the characters will walk onto a set, and, presto, three minutes of gratuitous fucking.

The characters are mostly pornogrphic mutations of standard sitcom types. Here they are, each labelled with the character from Cheers they most resemble. Lance is the veteran male lead, handsome and vain, but eminently likeable (Sam Malone). Wilson is the young buck, handsome, strong, and good-natured, but dumb as a brick (Woody). Mary, the fluffer, is a sweet young thing fresh off the bus from Wisconsin, with a fresh face and dreams of stardom (Woody, but smarter and in drag). Desiree is the aging star; finicky and petty, but with a heart of gold (Rebecca). Jeff, the director/cinematographer/dialogue writer, is the intellectual, pompously irritated at being stuck in pornography (Frazier Crane). And Martin is the father figure, the producer -- he's well meaning, but a little spacey (Coach).

And Herbie's role in this? Every week, he saves this band of castaways from their own folly. The pilot starts out, promisingly enough, with a little vignette about Lance accidentally cumming in Mary's mouth when she wasn't expecting it -- and he refuses to apologize. But that problem is soon dwarfed by the financial problems of the company: on the verge of bankruptcy, their only hope is the next production, the fantasy themed "The Neverending Orgy". But Martin forgot to mail in the shooting permit applications on time! Certain doom approaches, unless Lance can hand deliver the permits before five pm. But he can't drive Herbie's standard transmission, so Mary has to drive. In true Herbie form they careen maniacally through the traffic of LA, only to arrive at the office at 5:01, just as the permit clerk is closing up. They beg and plead with him to approve the permits anyway -- and he finally agrees, at the cost of a hot three-way. Cue music.

Subplot #1 resolved, they head back to the studio. This being a sitcom, Lance and Mary start getting along again. This being pornography as well, they pull over at a rest stop for some anal action on Herbie's hood, as Herbie flashes his lights appreciatively. Subplot #2 resolved. Cue credits. I wonder if we'll get guest appearances by Harvey Korman and/or Don Knotts?

-- Jessica Pracht

with Ken Waters & Monica Arnzen


Copyright 1997
James D Thomas