Previously on “TV Land,” the continuing saga of last semester’s arts column had reached its dramatic conclusion. Our protagonist, Jessica Pena, had gone from a fresh-faced upstart to the worst possible level of humanity — someone who openly admitted to liking “The O.C.” Times were bleak, conditions were perilous. “Community” was postponed, “30 Rock” was nowhere to be found, and poor Jessica Pena never ate the Choco Tacos she had in her fridge. They’re still there, withered by the wintry frost of neglect and broken dreams. Also, she was away from her apartment. And now, as we enter the second series, we find our protagonist in a similar state of frigid suspension.
Call it what you may — a rut, a midyear crisis, the tragic existence of those Wal-Mart greeters — I’m in it. I’ve ditched the third person because this time, I’m serious. “TV Land: Season 1” was a wonderful experience. No doubt. But, an exhaustive one all the same. Porn, Conan O’ Brien’s beautiful body, elbow patches — I covered it all. And now, I’m afraid the well is dry, the bucket is empty and the container of horrible metaphors has imploded due to overuse. There’s only one solution. I need Leonardo DiCaprio.
I don’t mean sexually. I have a cardboard cut-out of Vincent van Gogh for that, thank you very much. Besides, Leo’s let himself go the way of a beluga whale. All blubber. No, I need early ’90s DiCaprio. That lanky, rebellious boy with the cornflower hair who shook up the seventh season of “Growing Pains.” He’s the only solution.
Before DiCaprio’s debut, “Growing Pains” was a fine show. It was a fun, if formulaic, family sitcom with a charming cast and and a pre-Evangelical Kirk Cameron. But, it had been on for six years. The jokes had all been spent. The two-dates-to-prom gag, the ole our-sister-is-fat wisecrack. Those good times were gone, and like my current self, the “Growing Pains” pals found themselves stuck with only one way out. Whisper it with me. DiCaprio.
Yes, they went the Cousin Oliver route, as it’s come to be known. It’s what happens when a TV show becomes a tad tired and thin. It goes away for the summer, or winter (there are no seasons in Los Angeles), and when the show returns — Voila! — there’s a brand new kid to make the good times roll once more. Practically every sitcom has done it. From the fairly mediocre “Family Ties” to the relatively mundane “The Brady Bunch” where Cousin Oliver first appeared, shows are constantly trying to update and retool themselves as fresh.
It doesn’t have to be a kid either. It could be a kooky uncle, a changed location, or my best friend, Sir Lester Butterfill XXIX, who will be joining me in this column as a gentleman of the finest tastes. Raised in the lost city of Atlantis by the son of Thomas Jefferson and Elizabeth Taylor, he retains the highest level of both intellect and opulence. He wears only the most exquisite crushed velvet, drinks Napoleon’s personal store of wine and puts Louis XIV to shame with his gold-tipped teeth and wigs crafted from the hair of orphaned albinos. More than Leo did for “Growing Pains,” Lester Butterfill is the only man who can bring this column up from its murky abyss.
It’s a murky abyss that so many TV shows fall victim to. They set up these characters, these frozen-food nutjobs like Jessica Pena, and certain patterns develop and things get comfortable. As an audience member, you become accustomed to the recurring sounds of canned laughter, you settle on the couch and you’re stuck. Eventually, you buy a robe half-off from Kohl’s. Next, you get thermal socks. Then, a full-on Snuggie and all of a sudden, you’re a human blanket — suffocating in your own filth and contentment.
That can’t happen to this column. It can’t be another “Brady Bunch” with crazy Cousin Oliver and his penchant for arson (I never watched that season, so I’m assuming). I need to turn the tables. Me and Lester are gonna take the world by storm with an entirely new column — bigger, badder and uncut.