Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Love Monkey 

Spoiler alert: if you, like, TiVoed Love Monkey last night, and don't want to know any of the plot details, stop reading now.

As the son of a lawyer, I was often amused as a kid that my father never watched TV shows about lawyers. He always insisted the shows weren't realistic, and that bothered him. I had no reason not to believe him. After working some years in the music business, I became convinced that any show about the music business would similarly fall short of anything close to capturing the realities of the job.

And it's probably true of just about any profession, and just about any show, including (perhaps especially?) reality shows. It holds that the more you know about a topic, the greater the chance you will find fault with anyone else's account of said topic. If you've ever read a story about your neighborhood, your company, yourself, or whatever in a newspaper, blog, or any outside source, you can easily point out any factual errors, of which there are likely to be many. This isn't because journalists are not doing their jobs, though some of them obviously may be careless; it's because it's really hard for any person not intimately involved with a situation, organization, or personality to grasp the entirety of something they're not really familiar with.

It's with these low expectations that I watched the premiere episode of Love Monkey last night. The new hour-long CBS comedy stars Tom Cavanagh of Ed as an A&R executive in New York City. I don't watch a whole lot of prime time network TV, but I enjoyed the first season of Ed, and not just because the bowling alley the show was centered around was a 15-minute drive from where I grew up in North Jersey.

In Monkey, Cavanagh's character—either conveniently or confusingly also named Tom, depending on your point of view—is more or less a mix of his previous titular Ed and of John Cusack's Rob Gordon, the protagonist in the film version of High Fidelity. So Tom can recall Sid Vicious' real name at the drop of a hat, he offers a misplaced testament to the greatness of Metallica's Ride The Lightning in mixed company, and and professes such a penchant for Bob Dylan that he gives his sister (who's married to a character played by Jason Priestley) a copy of The Essential Bob Dylan as a baby shower gift (in a double-jewel case, when the actual dual CD was packaged in the slimmer 2-CD "brilliant box" as we who peddle CDs call it), all the while mugging away with his "aw shucks ain't I a hard-luck yet happy-go-lucky kinda fella."

Not long into the episode, Tom gets fired from his A&R gig at Goliath Records for proclaiming naively idealistic sentiments about art taking precedence over business at a meeting run by the presumptive boss, played in a guest role by Eric Bogosian. Though clearly dramatic, this turn of events does hold some ring of truth; anyone asinine enough to pull such a stunt in an attempt to upstage the boss—in any corporate atmosphere—actually would run the risk of getting canned. Soon after, Tom gets dumped by his girlfriend, a singer whose music he never really liked.

By the end of the episode, poor ol' Tom lands on his feet. He gets hired as head of A&R for an indie label where he can work with a young singer/songwriter he had tried to sign to Goliath, and he instantly develops a flirtation with an attractive woman who works in the office. Ah, if only things were so easy for the many friends of music business friends mine who have lost their jobs and their girlfriends/boyfriends/spouses.

At least some of the show was shot on location in New York. One scene takes place on the island in Times Square between 43rd and 44th Streets, with the Viacom building clearly visible a block northwest. The Chelsea Hotel is The Chelsea Hotel. A gig that takes place at The Slipper Room was indeed filmed there, I've been informed—I initially wrote that it didn't look authentic to me. But TV lighting has a way of making the real seem fake.

The opening montage featured a few predictable and reasonable locations as establishing shots (e.g. CBGB) but also included the likes of Terra Blues—an untrendy Bleecker Street blues/folk joint that is not likely to produce a major-label signing anytime soon. The music in the show, at least some of which was chosen by consultant Nic Harcourt of KCRW (he's also listed as a producer of the series), was pretty good, if far from risky—early Talking Heads during Tom's visit to CBGB with the prospective artist he's courting, "Mr. Brightside" for the closing shot of Tom and the new office hottie pretending not to check each other out in an elevator.

Final verdict, after one viewing: a reasonably entertaining, watchable show. The writing is passable, there are some potentially interesting characters (some more interesting than others), and ultimately, despite the ham-fisted "cool music" references a la Gilmore Girls, the music business angle is mere window dressing for a show about a single thirtysomething guy lookin' for love in all the wrong Manhattan places. It's far from a "can't miss" show and one that, much like Ed, is bound to run out of steam pretty quickly. If you're home on a Tuesday at 10 p.m. and you don't feel like watching Anderson Cooper 360 or SVU, it's not the worst way to waste an hour of your life. You'd probably be better served by shutting off the set and reading a good book, but that's generally the case.

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