It was the best of shows, it was the worst of shows
Sorry, let me rephrase that: it was the best of shows, THEN it was the worst of shows. After its brilliant initial run proved it too sophisticated for a mass network audience, the lovely and genuinely charming Watching Ellie disappeared. Now it's back, in a grotesque, dumbed-down version with the same actors playing characters who have the same names and I guess are supposed to be the same characters. The only problem with this is that there is no character consistency; and indeed in the new version there are no characters at all, only are sit-com stereotypes. The 'humor', now that it can't be rooted in the characters (as, again, there are none) is reduced to the utterly predictable and insultingly stupid. (The man Ellie gave the finger to could have been her big break - what a shock! Her boyfriend isn't cheating on her, he's trying to further her career - who could have guessed?!) In lieu of the laughter that will no longer be forthcoming from the audience, the producers have kindly supplied the canned variety.
The original Ellie, as fans will fondly recall, allowed amusing events to happen naturally, preferring a handful of genuinely funny moments in a half-hour to five lousy punch-lines per minute. They didn't even require that each episode end with a joke. Audiences, confused and perplexed by the lack of formula (duh, what am I supposed to laugh at? duh, this sure isn't Will and Grace!) stayed away in droves.
Rather than making 'Ellie for Dummies,' why couldn't the show have been transferred to, say, HBO, where intelligent, laugh-track-free comedies seem to flourish? (Dare I point out that even Fox network, which airs Bernie Mac and Malcolm in the Middle, has recognized the value of the laugh-track-free, single camera, half-hour comedy?) Watching the 2003 version of Ellie is like having dinner with a former best friend who has since been lobotomized. And the food and the service are lousy too.
Many writers make the mistake of failing to invest their secondary characters with real personalities and details. Rebecca Miller, the screenwriter of "Personal Velocity," has made this mistake with her primary characters. They're not really characters at all, but sets of clichés (and small sets, at that.) Delia, for instance, is defined by three facts: she loves a man who hits her, she was a promiscuous teenager, and she has a great ass (a fact which is mentioned over and over -- it's her main personality trait, apparently.) The wonderful actress Kyra Sedgwick is wasted on this less-than-minimal role. (The movie also wastes the wonderful character actor Wallace Shawn in a role a potato could have played.) The second story, starring Parker Posey, is no better. I'll admit that I didn't get to the third. Is it possible that things pick up at this point?
Previous reviewers' comparisons to Lifetime Channel movies are entirely apt, and the idea that this piece of expletive deleted is feminist is therefore utterly absurd. The only thing keeping me from calling this the worst movie of the year is the fact that I haven't yet seen "The Master of Disguise."