I’m doubtful that God has a Writers Guild card, but that hasn’t stopped the broadcast networks from plagiarizing Him. (OK, OK: Him or Her. I am nothing if not theologically flexible.) Clearly, the new fall season is a massive Hollywood paraphrase of Job 1:21: The networks giveth, and the networks taketh away. For every fascinating Hostages or Betrayal, there is a brain-death-inducing Dads or The Goldbergs.
Wednesday night is a near-perfect encapsulation of the season theme, with ABC offering up the amusing, endearing, female-buddy sitcom Super Fun Night, while NBC imposes an irksome remake of the 1960s cop drama Ironside that the ACLU may use for fundraising purposes but is otherwise unfit for human consumption.
The original Ironside, though it plays much better in memory than on a DVD, was innovative for its day (1967-1975). Starring Raymond Burr as wheelchair-bound police detective Robert Ironside, it was the first network show with a disabled lead character, and one of the first cop dramas in which the police used their brains as much as their guns.
NBC’s remake, with Blair Underwood in the title role, gets no points on either score. In fact, when it comes to progressive sociology, Ironside is getting hammered for not casting a disabled actor as Ironside. (Why it’s OK for an actor to pretend to be a cop but not to pretend he cannot walk is a question for another day.)
But Ironside’s manifest failings go well beyond the political incorrectness of its producers. It is a dank and ugly affair, with Underwood playing a dour, Nietzschean superhero who is encumbered neither by his paralyzed legs (rendered useless by a criminal’s bullet) nor petit bourgeois considerations of law and morality.
Even from his wheelchair, Underwood’s character can whoop any bad guy who comes along, and he can do so without all those bothersome technicalities of “evidence” or “due process” because he is always right. If Ironside beats up some harmless-looking guy, rest assured he will turn out to be a pedophile kidnapper; if Ironside breaks down a random door, there will, of course, be a corpse inside; if Ironside ransacks the apartment of a suicide, it’s a certainty that she was the blackmail victim of a pimp or a drug dealer.
And if Ironside takes a pretty girl to his apartment for the night, rest assured she’ll leave with a big smile, because his paralysis apparently begins well south of his hips.
Super Fun Night is perhaps no less contrived than Ironside, but it’s a lot more — well, fun. It stars, and was written by, plus-size Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson, who until a few weeks ago was best known to U.S. audiences for her role as a splendidly annoying roommate in the raunchy rom-com Bridesmaids.
As scene-stealing as that role was, it apparently paled beside the twerking jokes she planned to do while opening for a Miley Cyrus concert last month, which, when leaked, got her booted from the gig. A grateful America now giddily awaits Super Fun Night, and won’t be disappointed.
Wilson plays Kimmie, a young lawyer whose career is looking up — she’s just gotten a big promotion — but whose social life remains the same giant zero it was in high school, where she had to go dateless to the senior prom with her equally nerdy girlfriends, Helen-Alice and Marika. (“Everyone laughed at us, even Wheelchair Becky,” one of them morosely recalls.)
A decade later, the three are still BFFs and the highlight of their geeky week remains their Friday Super Fun Night get-together. (Last week’s theme: troll dolls.) “It’s not like any of us are getting married or having babies,” Marika observes wistfully. “We don’t even have houseplants.”
But the others are worried that Kimmie’s promotion — and some attention from a handsome new partner at her firm — will break up the gang. Her attempt to reassure them with a night out together at a hot downtown club ends in predictable but hilarious catastrophe. Warning: If your deepest fears involve being caught in public in weird underwear, Super Fun Night may be too intense for you.
Super Fun Night has a whiff of Ugly Betty about it with its plucky band of size-16s trapped in a witheringly hostile size-6 world. And occasionally the dialogue can pierce your heart, as when a defeated Kimmie tells her friends: “Let’s just leave going out to the pretty and popular people.”
But any time it’s in danger of growing over-earnest, a wisecrack reels it in. Even the mean stuff is funny. How can you not laugh when a doorman refers to the women as “eye broccoli”? And then join them in plotting revenge.