Tuesday, August 15, 2000
New York Television shows have always been more interested in people who make TV than people who watch it.
Series that mirror TV's own insiders range from such classics as "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" to Showtime's current "Beggars and Choosers," which lampoons the execs of a struggling TV network, and the new CBS fall sitcom "Welcome to New York," which will focus on a TV weathercaster very much like the young David Letterman.
Meanwhile, when it bothers to reflect upon its audience, TV's brain trust typically pictures a viewer as someone who is lazy, lowbrow, maybe even deranged.
Just consider these couch potatoes from TV present and past: Doug Heffernan on "The King of Queens," Al Bundy on "Married ... With Children," Homer Simpson, Beavis and Butt-head.
You get the point.
Now comes "Twitch City" with the last word on sofa spuds.
A shrewd, funny comedy, "Twitch City" has a rabid following in Canada, where it was produced and first seen. Now it's your turn. The 13 half-hours will air two per week at 9 p.m. Central on Bravo starting Wednesday.
Couch potatoes won't exactly feel flattered by the portrait of Curtis, a Toronto twentysomething whose IQ is debatable but who surely qualifies as lazy and deranged.
Even so, in the hands of "Twitch City" writer-creator Don McKellar (who also stars as Curtis), chronic TV-watching is characterized with long-overdue respect.
In the castoffs-furnished bachelor flat that he never leaves, Curtis watches TV all the time. His TV and the FrootyO's cereal on which he subsists provide the only color in his world. But that's plenty for him.
His other needs are met no less successfully. As the series begins, Curtis supports his lifestyle by subletting a spare room to Nathan, who, in turn, invites his girlfriend Hope to move in.
Any TV watcher can foresee how this could be a household rife with comic possibilities. After all, Nathan (Daniel MacIvor) is a prig who disapproves of Curtis in every way. Hope (Molly Parker) is a soft touch who is desperate to see normality in even the strangest situation. ("I've stayed in places way worse than this," she insists when Nathan blows up over Curtis' lack of housekeeping.)
And don't forget Curtis' TV, wherein reside his virtual flatmates, in particular Rex Reilly, the host of a daytime talk show. As played by "The Kids in the Hall" alum Bruce McCulloch, Rex is a robotic-mannered hybrid of Jerry Springer and Geraldo as he wallows in such topics as "I Slept With My Mother" and "I Look Like Joyce DeWitt."
It's Curtis' TV that provides the electronic twitch for "Twitch City," a teeming undercurrent to the embattled calm, the pent-up eeriness that lives outside the tube.
Eerie? Midway through the first episode, Nathan disappears. Ninety minutes pass and he still isn't back from his trip to the corner grocery. Turns out he's been jailed for inadvertently killing a vagrant with a sack of cat food.
When this news reaches Curtis, he uncharacteristically swings into action: He rents out Nathan's room. To a pair of suspicious-acting Asians wearing trench coats. Who fill the room with crates of pineapple-almond cookies.
"Why do these cookies take priority over me?" asks Hope on finding herself room-less.
Curtis proposes that she move into the hall closet.
At first, Hope resists. Although Curtis insists on calling it the guest room, Hope observes that not only is the room awfully tiny, but it has a bar across it for hanging clothes.
"You could put a bar across the Sistine Chapel," Curtis argues. "Would that make it a closet?"
"Yes," Hope replies. "A really big closet with a great paint job."
But, of course, she relents.
No less craftily does "Twitch City" win over its audience. A closet? A guest room? The Sistine Chapel? The difference is only a matter of degree.
In short, expect to see at least a little of yourself in Curtis and the world he occupies. But any similarity, however much it makes you twitch, is too funny to worry about. Especially when Curtis and Hope eat those cookies.