Is it possible for a TV series to "jump the shark" in only its second season? Human Target, my favorite new action spree of 2010 and FOX's obvious hope to succeed Kiefer Sutherland's 24 for testosterone-driven, blow-'em-up, male fantasy appeal, returns with fresh episodes at 8 tonight (Channel 2 in Detroit). The show has undergone significant changes since last we saw it, and they are not changes for the better. But before we get into a discussion about how girls ruin everything, let's first define that shark expression for the benefit of the uninitiated.
People who work in or around television are often insular enough to assume everyone understands their esoteric lingo, and it's amazing that a phrase originated from a sitcom episode in 1977 still holds meaning. "Jumping the shark" refers to the climactic moment of a three-part episode that opened the fifth season of Happy Days on ABC. The gang leaves the malt shop to visit Hollywood, and Fonzie (Henry Winkler, now doing insurance commercials for seniors), wearing his leather jacket over swimming trunks, answers a challenge to his manhood by waterskiing over a confined shark. The saying refers to that moment in a show's life when you know its premise has made a sharp turn in direction, started its downward trend and never will be quite the same again. Human Target may already be at that point.
Based loosely on a popular comic book of the same name, Human Target has the same outrageous, fanciful spirit. Soldier of fortune Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) gallivants around the world protecting clients from certain death by having assassins go through him to get to their quarry, along the way surviving enough gun battles, hand-to-hand brawls and death-defying leaps to make James Bond jealous. It's mindless entertainment, brain candy. Guys like mindless, but apparently not in large enough numbers to impress a network. The show's first-season ratings were so-so, especially for a series that premiered alongside the last season of 24, and Human Target spent the summer sweating out rumors of cancellation.
I can almost hear the FOX boardroom executive now. "You know what else guys like? Women! What this show needs is more women!" And so the female quotient of series regulars has been increased 200 percent — from none to two. After the kidnapping of Chance's handler-boss Winston (Chi McBride) is quickly resolved from last season's cliffhanger, we're introduced to Ilsa Pucci (Indira Varma, Luther), a billionaire British widow whose life may be in danger from the same forces that offed her husband. By the end of tonight's episode, like old Victor Kiam years ago on those Remington shaver commercials, she likes the job Chance does so much that she buys the company. Her financial boost takes the operation's loft headquarters from shabby rattrap to ultra-high-tech command center, losing a measure of unique cachet in the process.
(Your best black activist voice here: Oh, so now she's the boss! The black man, Winston, was the boss, but that's not good enough! Now they got to bring in a woman to be HIS boss? And she's not even from this country! What kind of bull is that?)
We also meet young Ames (Janet Montgomery, Entourage), a pretty but incorrigible street thief and congirl whom Winston remembers ruefully from his days as a cop. By the second episode she's in the opening credits, meaning she's likely here to stay. She ends up "teaming" (if that's the right word) with the show's most interesting and enigmatic character, Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), whose stubbled, bespectacled sadism stands in stark contrast to Ames' perky perpetrator. The longer she hangs around him, the more Guerrero melts from brute to babysitter.
I'm not trying to be a misogynist here. I likes me some women, and they are fun to look at on TV. But neither of these ladies improves the plot or the program's pace, nor is either the type of character who men would lust after or female viewers tune in expressly to watch. Their attraction doesn't outweigh their distraction.
So while its action set pieces, particularly in a bank lobby and a sleek skyscraper, are still outstanding and the scenes shift from San Francisco to Nepal to Geneva and back again, Human Target is not as compelling a show as it was, or could be. The shark is circling. Women.
Say it ain't so, Jon & Joe: Baseball's offseason isn't only the time to dump managers and players. Next spring, for the first time in 20 years, the voices describing ESPN Sunday Night Baseball won't belong to Hall of Famers Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. The sports net declined to renew Morgan's contract and has offered Miller the option of continuing as its radio voice on Sundays.
ESPN play-by-play vet Dan Shulman, who calls a great game, is almost certain to be the choice to replace Miller, joined by Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine if he's not managing again. While Miller's mellifluous tones surely will be missed, I think the move is a good one. I have a friend I've known for 20 years and I love the guy, but I've heard every one of his stories at least two dozen times. Morgan ran out of new stories a long time ago.
Networking: I cannot believe it's mere coincidence that the day after the Republicans regained the House in midterm elections, NBC announced the end of production for its new spy hour Undercovers. Remember when I suggested the success or failure of an action drama with two black leads was practically a referendum on the Obama administration? The people have spoken. ... FOX has given the ziggy to Running Wilde too. ... Conan O'Brien destroyed Jay Leno in the ratings in his late-night return on TBS, as might be expected, but the world order is slowly returning to normal. Hope so. I can't stand that ass Conan.