Thursday, September 11, 2008

Do Not Disturb - The Writers Should Have Been

I've got good news and bad news for the people behind the new FOX comedy Do Not Disturb (yeah right, like they pay attention to me). The good news is that the first episode wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. The bad news is that my expectations for this show were so low that the only direction it could possibly go was up. Well that's not entirely true; my expectations for The War At Home was lower than this and that show managed to be even worse than I expected. Do Not Disturb really wasn't as bad as I expected but make no mistake, it was bad.

The show is set in a small, high end hotel in New York and focuses on the misadventures and foibles of the places employees. I managed to miss the first couple of minutes of the episode but quickly picked up the essence of the plot. An article came out detailing the sexual "adventures" of an anonymous member of the hotel staff in various parts of the hotel. This leads Rhonda, the hotel's head of human resources, to hold a sexual harassment class specifically directed at the hotel's manager Neal. Neal is a natural born horn-dog with a variety of "smooth" moves. Neal claims that he can stop his behaviour at any time and sets out to prove it. There are a couple of subplots along the way. In one Nicole, finds that she's been dropped by her modelling agency. It's important to her that she keeps working as a model for reasons that seem logical to her at least. In another subplot Larry, who is gay, worries that he's not being seen as sexually attractive since he's been in a committed relationship for some time.

Now I broke the discussion of the plots at this point because it's hear that things fall into a trap. The plots that I've outlined to this point are hardly daisy fresh, but there are ways to spin them in an innovative way. Too bad that the writers take them exactly the way that you'd expect them too. Naturally, as soon as Neal pledges not to get involved with anyone at the hotel he encounters a gorgeous woman named Tasha who is almost as eager to do with him what he wants to do with her. And naturally, at almost the instant that her sexual harassment class ends Rhonda gets involved with a member of the staff who is one of her employees, Billy the security guard for the hotel. Of course Rhonda and Billy have to sneak around to find a place to have sex, and naturally enough they get caught by Neal who has succumbed to the charms of Tasha. She has an excuse for what she was doing in the hotel's electrical room with the security man. But of course Neal attempts to bluff Rhonda into revealing that she's as bad as he is in this particular case by claiming that he had security cameras installed and those cameras have caught Rhonda's various trysts with Billy.

The other subplots unravel in the same sort of ways. While Nicole looks like the current trend in models (skinny to the point of anorexia) it is Molly who tries offers to help by hooking Nicole up with her modelling agent. Nicole doesn't believe that Molly (who is a heavy woman) is a model until she comes across a magazine with Molly's picture on the front – Molly is one of the busiest plus sized models in Indiana. Naturally Nicole gets a modelling job... as the new face of crystal meth addiction. Similarly, in the plot with Larry, his straight slacker co-worker Gus tells him that to regain his sense of being sexually attractive he should go to a bar and flirt with a guy. And naturally, the guy that Larry chooses to flirt with just happens to go to the same yoga class as Larry's partner. And while Larry reports that he and his partner fought at first, they had great a great time making up. Even the denouement to the main plot is predictable. When he reads the article Neal immediately states that he hasn't done have the things that are listed in the article. We then cut to the front of the hotel where Molly is talking to a young guy, telling him that the article could have gotten her into trouble...but they sex they'd had in the hotel was going to keep on happening!

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned what most of the people that I've mentioned do at the hotel. That's because, except for Rhonda, Neal and Billy (whose security uniform consists of a tight fitting black T-shirt with the word "Security" on it in big white letters) I don't know what any of them do. That would have presumably been included in the actual Pilot episode of this mess, but FOX decided to air a "stronger" episode first and hold the Pilot for a later date. If this is FOX's idea of a strong episode of this series I am truly frightened by how bad the "weak" Pilot must be.

The acting in this show is about as good as what they're given to work with. I've never been a big fan of Jerry O'Connell who plays Neal. The only thing I've really liked him in is as Detective Woody Hoyt in Crossing Jordan, however I've found most of his other work going back to his Canadian series My Secret Identity to be quite annoying. Casting him as an arrogant, egotistical, womanizer doesn't exactly endear him, or really play to his strengths as an actor. I wasn't too aware of Niecy Nash before – I've never watched Reno 911 – but she does what she can with the material here. Too bad it's such pedestrian material. The other characters, with the possible exception of Jolene Purdy aren't given much more than basic "types" to work with – the airheaded skinny model (Molly Stanton), the slacker (Dave Franco), the insecure gay guy (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) – and they don't lift things above those "types." However it is the writing rather than the performances that is at fault here. The writers have set up a definite "good guy-bad guy" relationship between the attractive but superficial "upstairs" people, led by Neal, and the less attractive but smarter downstairs people who do the real work, led by Rhonda. It's just about as pat a solution as you are likely to find. They've also made the choice to go with the standard sitcom responses to the problems that the characters had. They took the path of least resistance as far as writing this thing and as a result haven't delivered anything special. But even then the writers are at least partially absolved by being forced to work within the constraints of the concept for the series. The producers are giving us yet another workplace comedy and not coming up with a way to set it apart from the mainstream beyond the theory that it's about an internal conflict between the "upstairs people" – the ones attractive enough to work with the public – and the "downstairs people" who aren't attractive but are at least as essential for the hotel to run properly. It's been done before and it's been done better. There are directions that the series could have taken that would have lifted it out of the realm of the cliche. One need only look to the British series Hotel Babylon to see what can be done can be done with the idea of a high end hotel and the staff who work in it that doesn't involve adversarial relationships or the same bog-standard stories and scenarios that were mined out years ago.

I mentioned in my review of Fringe that it is easy to write about shows that you feel are good and shows that are bad but that it was hard to talk about mediocrity. Nothing in this show rises to the level of mediocrity. Mediocrity implies that there are directions that exist that could improve a show if the producers were brave enough or innovative enough to take them. In the case of Do Not Disturb you might be able to improve the show, but that would take a new cast, writers who were willing to take different directions on standard plotlines, and a new concept might not hurt either. This isn't the worst sitcom that I've seen but the truth is that I have seen better sitcoms than this cancelled and even I will admit that those shows deserved to be cancelled. While this show doesn't suck as badly as I thought it would it also doesn't come at me with any reason why it should survive. If this show is still on at the end of the year I won't be surprised, but I won't be happy either, particularly if better comedies have been cancelled.

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