Moving Pictures
Jul 02, 2010, 09:38AM

When Life Gives You A Lemon

I don't think Bradley Whitford can co-lead a TV show without channeling Josh Lyman. That's a good thing.

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Bradley Whitford just might save my summer from descending into dog day oblivion.

Whitford played the indomitable Josh Lyman—White House deputy chief of staff, loosely based on Rahm Emanuel—for the entirety of The West Wing’s seven seasons.  Lyman was arrogant, romantically hapless and a political wunderkind; he was easily one of the more durable and likeable characters on the show, and as a full-throated West Wing addict Whitford will always be Lemon Lyman to me.

But now Whitford constitutes one-half of The Good Guys, Fox’s new cop-buddy comedy send-up. His character, Dan Stark, saved the Texas governor’s son in 1985 and as such can’t be fired despite the fact that he has no idea how to do his job. Stark is stuck, mentally and fashion-wise, in 1985 (“the good old days”), when mustaches were acceptable and “probable cause” was a term for the lawyer nerds. Or something like that.

Seeing Whitford mustachioed and hapless is pretty jarring—with such a ubiquitous previous role, it’s both unfair and nearly impossible to not see Whitford’s current incarnation through the lens of Josh Lyman.* (Think of, oh, the entire cast of Seinfeld and it’s post-Seinfeld work…)

The show gladly dives into the thrift store box of cop-buddy camp: scene changes are punctuated with revolver chambers spinning and percussive gunshots; there’s a beautiful Camaro somewhere in there; and every episode involves some ludicrous shoot out. Stark’s foil is the go-getter Jack Bailey, played by Colin Hanks (son of Tom, with credits in Band of Brothers, The O.C. and Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny). Bailey and Stark work the small crimes desk at the station—stolen humidifiers and the like—but, with Stark’s endless prodding, find themselves in increasingly bizarre (some might use the word “implausible,” and those people would be feckless killjoys) situations that end with multitudes of bullet holes and some bad dude in jail. Bailey is the soft-eyed cutie in the show; his ex-girlfriend is the assistant DA (not unlike the real cop show Justified) and he wouldn’t look out of place on the now-dead-and-gone The Deep End.

Bailey’s various romantic interludes are pretty boring and, sadly, evidence of ratings-influenced writing. What other reason to break up the flow of hilarious and surreal dialogue between Stark and Bailey than to have a little something for the soft of heart to latch on to? It’s like the writers are paying their respects to the Romantic Pap That Sustains All of Television.

Thankfully Whitford isn’t afforded any distracting “depth.” He simply is, and he’s badass about it.

For a day or two this week, my blood pressure spiked when I saw that Hulu delayed posting the most recent episode of The Good Guys. There was some non-committal explanation like, “new episodes will be posted a little later,” which was terrifyingly similar to the linguistic histrionics Hulu went through when The Deep End ended up cancelled after six episodes (I really, really need to expel The Deep End from my pop cultural lexicon…).

And as if the world were conspiring against me, earlier this week I found out that Starz’s Party Down, an incredible sitcom starring a whole bunch of darlings from such darling shows as Freaks and Geeks and Parks and Recreation, isn’t getting a third season—just after I’d been introduced to it. I wouldn’t be surprised—just devastated—if The Good Guys was cancelled. The show feels like a second home. (Weirdly enough, “Good Guys” was the name of the sole strip club in NW DC my friends and I knew about in middle school. We never went—seriously—but it was a sort of high-water mark of middle school know-how.)

Anyway, Whitford carries this show, and he does so easily. The dialogue and the subsequent plotlines revolve around Whitford and his character’s penchant for absurdity. No mustache, no Good Guys.

Josh Lyman wouldn’t have it any other way.

*Also, for you West Wing nuts out there, this show also employs Diana-Maria Riva as one of the top brass officers. You may remember her as Edie from the Santos campaign.


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