Usually, I’m happy when Asian Americans are cast as regulars on television shows. If they’re relatable characters and are seen enough, they help gain better acceptance for our people. This is especially important in places where there are few Asians and the way they’re treated is often based on stereotypes people have seen in the media.
Then again, there are Asian TV characters written so dumbly that we can’t wait to see them go. Or hurt. Or mangled. Or electrocuted. Or run over by a dump truck. Or violently murdered. Take your pick.
A few years ago, Entertainment Weekly included Dr. Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurty) of “Heroes” as one of those characters they’d love to see killed off. Season after season, he kept trusting the wrong people and therefore joined the wrong side against the other cast members, once dumbly injecting an untested formula that turned him into a murderous spider creature (“Gee, I’m shocked anything went wrong!”). After a while, you just wanted him to disappear.
Another NBC show, “Smash,” is filled with an array of stupid characters doing stupid things (apparently just to add drama) that make you roll your eyeballs so much they hurt. So I was actually happy when it was recently announced that several characters would be written out of its second season, including Dev (Raza Jaffrey), the boyfriend of Karen Cartwright, played by the star of the series, Katherine McPhee.
For one, Dev, an Asian Indian from England, is a dumpy looking guy with a stupid personality. His British accent doesn’t help as he’s often difficult to understand and seems removed from everyone else around him. Two, he’s emotionally needy. While his girlfriend was busy working on the potential Broadway musical on the life of Marilyn Monroe, he felt neglected. He felt more sorry for himself when he was passed over for promotion.
It was bad enough that Karen was leery of his sexy co-worker (who eventually made a pass at him; after kissing her back, he stopped it from going any further). One night, after a series of bad timing incidents between him and his gf, our dumpy hero tries to make up for it by proposing to Karen when she’s under huge pressure to pull off the musical’s preview. She doesn’t immediately say yes (remember, he’d been acting needy for a while) and has to go, leaving him … once again feeling sorry for himself.
After finding Karen at a cast party (instead of being with his studly self), Dev angrily tells her he could’ve slept with his co-worker but didn’t (what, you thought you got points for telling her that now?!) and practically broke up with her. He went to the bar feeling sorry for himself (did I mention he’s needy?) where, conveniently, he sat next to Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty), Karen’s rival for the part of Marilyn.
They meet for the first time, and even though they’re aware of their relationship to Karen, sleep together.
WTF?! Of all the stupid … Feeling guilty the next morning, dumpy Dev brings Karen flowers. Later, he re-proposes to her and she says yes (no!), yet he can’t find the ring (he left it at Ivy’s apartment — ouch!).
On the night of the first preview, Ivy’s bumped from playing Marilyn in favor of Karen, so Ivy “lets slip” the fact that she and Dev had a one-night stand. Devastated, Karen almost doesn’t go on until persuaded to by the sleazy director.
Here’s a sample of some of the plot points that’ve driven people up the wall: Debra Messing plays the musical’s lyricist, Julia, who keeps bumping into actor Michael Swift (Will Chase), someone she had an affair with the last time they worked together. They do so again after he’s cast as Joe DiMaggio in the current play. Even after Julia insists he be fired so her marriage can recover after her husband finds out about the two of them, the producers bring him back.
Every time Julia and Will are alone, the sleazebag (who’s also married with kids) tries to kiss her and Julia stares at him as if she’s hypnotized and can’t do a thing to stop him. And her son Leo is also written stupidly. He’s 16, yet when he finds out his parents have decided to put off adopting a girl from China because they’re both too busy, he breaks down and cries. Why would he care? Wouldn’t he be jealous of the attention the little kid would receive?
Then there’s sleazy Ellis (Jaime Cepero), who eavesdrops on conversations, quits working as the assistant of the musical’s composer without telling him so he can work for a producer played by Angelica Houston, poisons Uma Thurman so his gal pal Ivy can re-assume the role of Marilyn, and is finally fired by Houston when he admits to it.
Ellis is supposedly straight, but the actor is clearly gay, so we don’t believe it when we see him in bed with a woman. In the end, he comes across as a stereotypically sleazy gay guy. Maybe the network made his character straight so he wouldn’t be perceived as a negative gay character, but he can’t pull it off at all. It’s all very strange.
Another turn-off: Houston (will someone please tell her her bangs have never worked?) is 60 — and looks older — yet keeps trying to act sexy by showing her cleavage. Then we see her making out with a guy 20 years younger. Yuck!
The executive producer of “Smash” was fired months ago, but apparently, the show was already completely filmed by that point because she was writing episodes until the finale. Now that someone else has been brought aboard, there are gonna be a lot of changes (thank God!).
Not only will Julia’s temptation Will not be back next season, her husband Frank (Brian d’Arcy James) will also be gone (how’ll they manage that?), as will Ellis and the aforementioned Dev. I applaud three of those four choices (Frank never offended anyone; if anything, we felt sorry for the guy).
Why do I continue to watch this train wreck of a series? Katherine McPhee. She captivated me as a contestant on “American Idol” with her amazing, seductive eyes and cheek bones, which perfectly framed her gorgeous face, especially on her playfully sexy version of KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” I already knew she was a great singer; who knew she could hold her own as an actress? She’s fascinating to watch.
Inspiring Contestant Department: I’d had my share of watching Gordon Ramsay swearing at contestants on his past cooking shows, so I was not looking forward to er… sampling another one of his three (!) Fox shows, “Master Chef.” But after seeing that picture of contestant Christine Ha in The L.A. Times, I had to. Ha, a 32-year-old graduate student from Houston, became blind in 2003 because of a rare auto-immune disease. Yet somehow, she made it into the top 36 of the competition, now in its third summer season.
Each week, those aspiring for the title have their dishes tasted by three judges, including Ramsay (thankfully, he doesn’t swear much, nor does he throw his tiresome temper tantrums) with the worst cooks sent home (there’s a “bottom three” and one of them is eliminated). Despite her other senses being heightened, I cringe for Ha because of the obvious disadvantages of her situation. Although she has an assistant who’ll pick the utensils and ingredients she needs to make her concoctions, others run around to get them in place while Ha walks at a slow pace with her walking stick.
On Monday night’s competition, one of the judges criticized a cook for the way the meat looked. How would Ha even know what hers looks like? Whereas visual presentation is apparently one of the elements being judged, how can Ha have any sense of hers? On Tuesday night’s show, when Ramsay explained what was in the “Mystery Box” (they had an hour to make a meal out of what was in it), others could see the elements and decide which to use in their dishes. Ha explained that she had to memorize what was there and tell her assistant what she wanted.
There are two other Asian American contestants: Michael Chen, a 19-year-old meteorology student from Austin, and Felix Fang, a 24-year-old food runner from L.A. who made the best dish from the Mystery Box and got to choose which of three tough dishes her fellow contestants had to cook (she chose risotto).
In the preview for next week’s show, we see Christine Ha in tears, and she tells the camera she honestly feels that she’s going home. “Master Chef” airs Monday and Tuesday nights on Fox.
Your Chance to Go to a TV Show Taping: “Sullivan and Son,” an upcoming TBS sitcom starring Korean American Steve Byrne, tapes in Burbank on Tuesdays. The script run-through goes from 1:30-4:30 p.m. (only July 3 and 10 are open for those) while the actual taping goes from 4:30-9:30 p.m. (June 19 and 26, July 3 and 10). MANAA is trying to get at least 10 people to attend a taping as we get paid per head and are using this as a mini-fundraiser and to check out a rare series starring an Asian American. If you’re interested, email me and tell me which dates and times work for you.
Another Plug: On Saturday, June 30, 7 p.m. at the Renaissance Hotel, I’ll be part of the “Diversity in Hollywood” panel discussion sponsored by the Multicultural Motion Picture & Television Association. Other panelists include Grace Wu (executive vice president of casting, NBC), “Sparkle” and “Girlfriends” producer Mara Brock Akil, actor Rex Lee, Screen Actors Guild National Director David White, and MMPA President Jarvee Hutcherson. It’ll be moderated by Shaun Robinson of “Access Hollywood” and a correspondent from Variety. Tickets are supposed to be between $15 and $25. If you want more info, send me an email.
Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.
For all of the “Dumb” reasons Guy Aoki illustrates about the TV show “Smash,” those are exactly the reasons that Smash is my #1 show on TV. I couldn’t wait until the next week’s episode. I talked to the TV about the passivity of Julia or about Ellis’ scheming eavesdropping. It’s called a soap opera and it was delicious. And then there’s Katherine McPhee’s ‘cherry on top’ voice. Perfection.