Tuned In

Big Shots: Are We Not Men?

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Michael Vartan was on Alias. Joshua Malina was on Sports Night and The West Wing. Dylan McDermott starred in The Practice; and Christopher Titus, in his underrated self-titled Fox sitcom. You could easily see these men leaving those shows and saying, “Well, that’s it. I’ll never do a series this good again.”

In ABC’s Big Shots, they set out to prove themselves right. An unpleasant, platitude-filled attempt to make a male Sex and the City, it may manage to end the battle of the sexes by alienating both genders equally. (A real male Sex and the City, of course, would last two minutes, would have no dialogue and would mostly involve watching porn.) The dramedy is about the love lives of four business bigwigs, but what it wants to be about–and reminds us hamhandedly and obsessively–is What Men Are Like Today.

Turns out we’re a bunch of complete tools! We have just about everything, yet we’re unsatisfied with it. We whine incessantly. We have the troglodyte mindset of less-evolved Mad Men characters–complaining about our nagging wives and their demands–yet we think we can cover it up with a little metrosexual wardrobe and hair product. And hey, that might all be completely true–but not only is it an off-putting premise for male and female viewers, but Big Shots doesn’t have the wit or good humor to sell it.

HBO’s version of the “male Sex and the City,” Entourage, at least has the sense to be about a set of Hollywood chuckleheads who realize they have charmed lives. Big Shots’ crybaby CEOs were born on third base, yet spend all their time complaining about the long run to home plate. That is, when they’re not spouting supposedly zeitgeisty truisms like “Men: We’re the new women,” which might make a mediocre feature in Details magazine but can’t sustain a series.

Malina and Titus are unimpressive here, though it’s hard to blame them exactly, since their characters are such cliches: a philandering nebbish and a thoroughly whipped hubby, respectively. McDermott has the more central role as cosmetics CEO Duncan, and unless he’s going for some sort of arty, plumbing-the-depths thing, he flubs it badly. Duncan seems meeant to be some kind of rakish, charming Lothario, but McDermott renders him oily, sleazy and grubby; he looks like he could use a shower, and after watching him for a few minutes, you feel you need one too.

Vartan gives the best performance here, as the show’s sad-eyed “moral center”; his performance is so human and thought-out, in fact, that it’s distractingly out of place in this collection of cliches. When we watched the pilot, Mrs. Tuned In commented, “He seems like he’s in a different show,” and it’s true. Vartan looks like he believes he’s doing an actual Quality Television Series. It’s so cute! And so sad.

Enough beating up, though: these actors deserve to go on to better things, and my guess is they will, sooner rather than later. The only hope for Big Shots is if the largely female Grey’s Anatomy audience enjoys it because it confirms what they already believe about the other gender. This would be good news for Big Shots’ cast, but reason for the rest of us men to worry.