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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Breaking Worse

A popular meme making the rounds on YouTube re-imagines some of today's most popular television shows--"Game of Thrones," "The Walking Dead"--as if they were produced in 1995.  To me, the results are more reminiscent of the 1980's--I don't remember the '90's being quite so cheesy--but they are amusing nonetheless.

One remix presents "Breaking Bad" as an "Eight Is Enough"-style family dramedy.  Instead of the familiar image of chemical symbols rising through toxic meth-fumes, the show's "opening" features a cheery up-tempo pop tune over clips of the show's stars smiling, joking, and loving each other unconditionally.  The ncongruity of "Breaking Bad"'s unremitting gothic darkness transposed into the land of warm fuzzies makes for great comedy.

The problem arises when somebody at a major network--or in this case, ABC--decides that this parody would actually make for a good drama.  Such seems to be the case with "Red Widow."

I watched the pilot the other night--I have a lot of old stuff on my DVR.  The show is about a woman, Marta Walraven (Radha Mitchell), whose husband is murdered after he and his partners steal a cocaine shipment from a powerful gangster named Schiller (Goran Visnjic).  In order to settle her husband's debt--and ensure no further harm comes to her family--Marta agrees to work for Schiller.  Although she is awkward at first, I can already see where this is heading: If the show lasts, Marta will undoubtedly display a Walter-White-worthy capacity for violence.  As the daughter of a gangster herself, Marta already has the criminal instincts she will need to thrive in this business.

Unlike "Breaking Bad," though, where the corruption of a basically decent soul is treated with the seriousness befitting such a theme (although not without a generous helping of black humor), "Red Widow" cannot be taken seriously.

One ostensibly minor moment gives the idea: The plot of the pilot revolves around Marta trying to obtain the cooperation of a port supervisor, who will make sure that, when the time comes, a shipment of drugs will be placed on the "right" truck.  When she first approaches this supervisor, she is hopelessly awkward.  She is advised by her partner that she should use her "assets": "At least you're hot."  We next see Marta walking down the stairs in her house, wearing a micro-mini-skirt and heels in which, for some reason, she is stumbling.  She then accidentally sets off her newly installed security system when she opens her door, and frantically, haplessly, tries to turn it off.  Her son comes to the rescue and questions her wardrobe choices.  She brushes him off and proceeds to begin her seduction of the unsuspecting longshoreman.

I suppose the slapstick is meant to be funny, or at least to show us how ill-prepared Marta is for these dangerous undertakings.  But the bit with the alarm system just felt gratutitous, and I find it hard to believe that a thirty-something blond bombshell has never walked in heels before, especially since we earlier saw her dancing at her sister's wedding--and I don't think she was wearing sneakers.

Nitpicky?  Well, yes, but still, it's little things like this that make me wonder what this show wants to be--how seriously it means to be taken.  I realize that the major broadcast networks have an imperative to reach the broadest possible audience, and obvious gags are a good way to lighten the mood and assure the masses that this is a character they can relate to.  But if this is what is going to pass for long-form drama on the broadcast giants, they might be better off just sticking with ever-more installments of "The Bachelor" and "Dancing with the Stars."

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