Saturday, June 09, 2012

All-American Girl

It's a funny thing. I've followed Margaret Cho so long since All-American Girl that I've kind of forgotten that it's where she was first cemented in my mind as a pop culture presence.

The other day, however, I was reminded. I can't recall by what. It occurred to see if by some chance it was a fluke item available on Netflix Instant. It wasn't, however a quick search showed a DVD set had been produced by Shout Factory, and even more fortuitously for me, it was available from Austin Public Library.

At that point, of course, I checked it out and watched it. That's the point I'd have left out of my movie version of this otherwise greatly cinematic tale. We'd see me on the computer glorying over the discovery of DVDs in the library system and cut directly to me putting the first disc into the player. That felt awkward when I wrote it that way, however, while this padding feels entirely necessary to the completed blog post.

Watching it now, I can't say how much I watched in 1994. I know I watched it occasionally, and certain bits and episodes were definitely familiar.

The thing that stands out for me now is what a fascinating document of the process of a network tinkering with a show. It's probably nearly perfect.

First of all, Cho was young and inexperienced, so easily led about.

The second important factor, however, is that the cast is excellent. Because there were not enough parts for Asian actors on television, there was nothing to keep them from having any casting deficiencies.

So, basically Cho and a few minor details from her life and stand-up act were molded over what can only be described as "generic sitcom". Cho's character, "Margaret Kim", has a strict mother, an amiable and charmingly but awkwardly wise father, a wacky grandmother, a "perfect" older brother and... a younger brother...

I mean no offence to actor J.B. Quon, who played Margaret's younger brother Eric, when I say that this younger brother is obviously tacked on. Not because he isn't played well, but because he has no role. He plays well off Amy Hill as Grandma Kim. I think he might actually be there as an excuse to have Ashley Johnson as his spunky white best friend.

I think you can see where Rosanne Barr or Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David struggled in the early seasons of Roseanne and Seinfeld to move their concepts away from the "generic sitcom" that existed, to one extent or another, in their basic concept.

I suspect an older, wiser Cho could have worked to force this into something that stood out. The talent is certainly there, as are hints of the ideas. Unfortunately, it flails about, never finding a tone. I think focusing on Margaret Kim as an adult human in the world with her family as a home base could have been solid, however with such a major undertaking it must have been create and cast her massive family, and to pay each of those talented actors to come in every week, it simply always had to come back to them.

In the end, on the last episode, they even more desperately tried to revamp the entire concept, practically from scratch. Even with Diedrich Bader as one of her new roommates and a sexed up Mariska Hargitay as the sassy bartender at the local watering hole, this is one of the worst half-hours of television I've ever endured.

The only thing I'll credit the final episode with is that Grandma Kim, the only holdover, aside from Cho, from the original cast, nakedly name drops Friends, leaving no doubt at all what the intended target of the revamp was.

For all of that, I enjoyed it. I like Cho. I love Hill and Clyde Kusatsu, who played her father. I always love B.D. Wong, even if his character here is a bit flat. Jodi Long gives a great performance and brings real humanity to the role of the mother, despite it being a role that the writers seemed to struggle getting a handle on. Maddie Corman and Judy Gold deliver whenever they get a chance as the two friends.

Someday I might even buy it. It sounds like a pleasant thing to be able to put on whichever lazy Saturday afternoon I choose to watch it, and that's more than I'd give most "generic sitcoms", so there's something in there...

And, well, here's this:

Have a good night.

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