I hate Leap of Faith.
Sorry for revealing so much up front, but the creators of the latest timeslot-after-Friends disaster don’t feel compelled to leave anything to the imagination, so the rest of us might as well oblige. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time: Friends, which is about six single (or formerly single) people living in New York City, has been the most watched sitcom on television since the end of Seinfeld, which was about four single people living in NYC. What’s more, Sex and the City, about four women in various stages of love, sex, and marriage in NYC, is the most watched comedy on cable, as well as a multiple Emmy winner. So, why not give Jenny Bicks, a writer-producer of that program, her own sitcom within the networky confines of NBC, and give her a choice timeslot? Let me count the ways.
1. The Premise
Wherein Faith Wardwell (charisma-free Sarah Paulson, last seen not making a mark in the WB’s Jack & Jill) leaves her fiancé, David (Bradley White), at the altar for Dan (Brad Rowe), a young beefcake actor who auditions for a commercial in the ad agency where Faith works. It’s about sex, see. But it’s only about sex because her near-marriage wasn’t about love, see. That’s what the whole series is about, sex and love, see. Forget that the ol’ leave-the-fiancé-at-the-altar routine is the oldest trick in the sitcom book (Rachel did it on Friends, Susan did it on Suddenly Susan, Diane did it a couple of times on Cheers). What Faith’s “leap” sets up is simply another shallow look at shallow people finding shallow companionship in a city that’s much deeper than all these clichés make it out to be.
Sex and the City suffered from similar problems during its first two seasons—namely, the women talked as if they were writing each other emails and didn’t want to leave anything out, lest we misunderstand them. The result was an exhausting parade of stereotypes in designer shoes and punch lines begging for a laugh track that wasn’t there. It makes you wonder if Bicks was responsible for all those lifeless episodes and that Sex and the City‘s improvement is a direct result of her departure.
2. The Characters
This hypothesis would explain the similar banalities in Leap of Faith and the early days of Sex and the City. There’s Faith, the aforementioned lead character and fiancé-dumper. She’s the Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker’s character on that other series) of Leap of Faith, a woman who’s going through an early-adulthood crisis of conscience because she feels she hasn’t done it with enough guys. Her friend and co-worker Patty (Lisa Edelstein) is the female id (Kim Katrall’s Samantha on the other series), always ready to hop on Faith’s shoulder and whisper—rather, scream—in her ear that, hey, men have been getting away with it (“it” being a laundry list of promiscuous behavior) for years, so why can’t women?
Her other friend, Cynthia (Regina King), seems to be nothing more than a cynical cheerleader (somewhere between prim Charlotte and high-strung Miranda from Sex and the City) and you-go-girlfriend stereotype of a black woman. Andy (Ken Marino, whose hilarious turn in last year’s Wet Hot American Summer let him say much more about sex in limited screen time than he’s allowed to do with much more time here) is a sensitive straight-guy hipster who lives downtown and prefers vintage t-shirts to Brooks Brothers suits. He also seems to be half-stereotyped and half-missing, as his main occupation seems to be getting advice on dating from the other main characters.
In other words, he’s a pussy—a word you’ll never hear on the series, but we’ll get to that later—whose solicitations would better suit him as a woman. In fact, his personality is so indiscernible from those of his female friends that you get the impression he was originally intended as a woman and changed to a man for the sake of demographic diversity. Likewise, the supporting cast of Faith’s high-society mom (Jill Clayburgh), acerbic boss (Tim Meadows, who has got to be worthy of more than this lame role and his lamer one in the canceled Michael Richards Show) and erstwhile romper room pal (Rowe) are perhaps fine for demographics, but awful characters.
3. The Storylines
The battle of the sexes is well-worn territory, and Leap of Faith shows no interest in exploring. In one episode, Faith and Patty are told to come up with a female perspective on golf clubs. See, it’s funny because women hate golf—hate it. Meanwhile, Faith takes her bed-buddy relationship to the next level by inviting Dan to the Ice Capades with her, then runs into David and his date at the driving range five days after skipping out on the marriage. It’s at that range that Patty learns about golf’s “sweet spot” (neither the first nor the last of the sexual innuendos) and—surprise!—becomes a golf fanatic. Add to that Cynthia’s love-hate relationship with Faith’s wedding dress-worshipping mom and Andy’s date with an uptown girl, and you’ve got more zaniness than a pack of Twizzlers. Fortunately, everyone on the show seems able to talk without taking breaths, so the ridiculously wordy script manages to fit inside the sitcom’s allotted 22 minutes.
4. The Network
But none of those words will be too risqué because, much to the chagrin of Jeff Zucker (the programming head at NBC who famously whined last year about how the networks couldn’t keep up with HBO’s quality programming because they couldn’t say dirty words or show private parts), it’s still network television. When Patty presents her artistic concept for the golf club campaign, what she’s come up with is a red and black spiral that’s painted with wavy lines and vivid colors. She says it’s the visual representation of the “sweet spot,” and the male suits stare at it in bewilderment. If it were Sex and the City, or any HBO series for that matter, Patty could then yell, “It’s a PUSSY, gentlemen!” thus completing the gag and clearing things up for the denser viewers. Alas, she can’t do that, and you realize in one fell swoop that a character like Patty and a show like Leap of Faith need to be able to complete their thoughts, no matter how dirty, if we’re to buy into it.
5. The Guilt
Being an M-rated series trapped in a TV-14 timeslot isn’t the only reason for not tuning in to Leap of Faith. Yet, what bothers me most about the series is that it makes me feel like a sexist. I watch Leap of Faith and think that the women on it are shallow, boring, unfunny, and stupid. And I know that, if these characters could talk back to me, at least two and probably all of them—Andy included—would deem me too traditional to understand their cool lifestyles and modern problems. Do I really not understand them, or are they so ridiculously self-centered that only one subsection of one clique in one city (or maybe two—we shouldn’t leave out all the banal ironists who inhabit L.A.) really has such uninteresting problems?
Sex and the City was initially overrated because it dared to take sex from a woman’s perspective seriously, despite painting its lead characters with broad, clichéd strokes. Now that it’s gotten past that, it truly is one of the best and most consistent series on television, as well as a groundbreaking program that doesn’t write off women as hapless patsies or lovable sluts. Leap of Faith, however, revels in its stereotypes and does for the women’s perspective what, say, Inside Schwartz or Men Behaving Badly did for the men’s perspective. Those shows got canceled, and hopefully this one isn’t far behind.