Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rich, naked, and wild

The only really disappointing part of the new TV series The Riches is that Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver’s characters impersonate a wealthy couple whose last name is Rich. The Riches premiered one week after ABC introduced The Wedding Bells, about three sisters who work as wedding planners and whose last name is… Bell. At least one TV critic wrongly described the show’s title as a pun. No. It is not a pun, and certainly not clever, to give a protagonist a last name that comes straight from the title you’ve already decided on. The title Sex and the City would not be a pun if Kim Cattrall were the star and her character were renamed Samantha Sex. (The show might have been better, but the title wouldn’t have been). Crossing Jordan, about a medical examiner named Jordan Cavanaugh, is not a pun. Grey’s Anatomy, about a medical intern named Meredith Grey, is not a pun. If you know that Grey’s Anatomy is a medical reference book, you can guess that the show is about a doctor even if no one is named Grey, and if you never heard of the book, the title makes no sense. Grey’s Naked Anatomy would be a cheap bit of wordplay, if not an actual pun, but it would probably make people think of an orgy with the casts of Matlock and Murder, She Wrote. I would watch O’Malley’s Naked Anatomy, if T.R. Knight became the star of the show. The Wild Wild West was not a pun just because its lead character was named James West. But I give Aaron Sorkin for not giving us a President Jed West in The West Wing. Misspelling a word does not make for a pun either. The Munsters qualifies as a witty name only if it’s about grotesque cheesemakers. House is a pun, but a lame one. Hugh Laurie’s brilliantly deducing doctor is named as a homage to Sherlock Holmes, but the name Gregory House always makes me think of Egbert Souse (with an accent on the "e"), a screenwriting pseudonym used by W.C. Fields. The worst name in television history is Robert Ironside, the wheelchair-bound detective played by Raymond Burr in Ironside. I hated that show because it came on after The Flip Wilson Show when I was a kid. After watching Wilson’s variety hour, with its inoffensive humor and transvestism, I’d have to run over and turn the channel before I was traumatized by Ironside’s opening credits, with its air-raid siren score and a cartoon of the title character being gunned down into paralysis. Anyway, not only is Ironside a tasteless pun for someone in a wheelchair, the character had the name before he became handicapped. I had nightmares of baby Raymond Burr coming out of the womb in a tiny wheelchair – just like his father, his grandfather, and several generations of Ironsides. Television has given us some clever names. The Sopranos works because it has a triple meaning: It tells us that the characters are of Italian descent, that there will be melodramatic moments reminiscent of opera, and that emasculation is a major theme of the series (think of Tony’s mother). The Guidos or The Castratas wouldn’t have worked quite as well. All in the Family’s Archie Bunker had a good name, hinting at “arch conservative” and “bunker mentality.” Columbo was clever, as the title character was constantly discovering things – clues, not continents. The Rockford Files also hit the right note: Jim Rockford sounded tough, but he wasn’t named after a gun, like Baretta. Echoing the Midwestern city of Rockford, Illinois, also gave the character an everyman quality. But the best TV character name of all time? That would be Arrested Development attorney Bob Loblaw, author of Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog.

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