Television

Trickster and Call Your Mother Won't Pull You from Your Stream Binges

Say ‘meh’ to these two midseason also-rans.

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  • Trickster. The CW. Tuesday, January 12, 9 p.m.
  • Call Your Mother. ABC. Wednesday, January 13, 8:30 p.m.

Meet the new TV year, same as the old TV year. As broadcast television continues unveiling its midseason replacement shows, it mostly looks like the same mix of tepid comedies and muddled foreign acquisitions as the COVID-crippled fall schedule. If only we had a way to vaccinate TV shows.

This week's best TV entry—though that's a phrase eligible for immediate entry into the Faint Praise Hall of Fame—is ABC's Call Your Mother, the latest in TV's apparently endless fascination with Baby Boomer parents caught on the wrong end of a new Generation Gap with their adult children. It's not the worst of the genre, but that's light-years away from calling it good.

Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer) plays Jean, an empty-nester mom out there in the cow-tipping country of the Midwest who has no idea that the reason her two twenty-something kids fled to Los Angeles is that they were sick of her chronic buttinskyism. (Yeah, that's a word; go ahead, Google it.) So when she doesn't hear from her son for four whole days, she flies out to investigate. Hilarity does not ensue.

Oh, there are a few chuckles. Jean's son Freddie (Joey Bragg, Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years later), turns out have taken up with an airhead whose profession is "social-media influencer." Daughter Jackie (Rachel Sennott, Shiva Baby) is dating a boss so ancient and decrepit that she's often mistaken for his nurse. Sedgwick is competently amusing as she rolls out a character who colors her hair with a Sharpie, hasn't had sex in four years and longs for a past in which "I was the first person Freddie called when he thought he lost his virginity." And students of broadcast-obscenity standards will long give it credit for crashing the network ban on the word "dick."

More often, though, Call Your Mother is unleashing punchlines that misfire or just plain miss. Show creator Kari Lizer has mostly been producing stillborn pilots since CBS canceled her mostly unwatched and utterly unlamented sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine in 2010.  Call Your Mother settles any lingering questions about why that might be.

The CW's Trickster is from another dubious genre, Canadian television. The CW, tangled in conflicting production deadlines created by COVID, tried to solve its problems by importing shows from other networks and countries—including Canada, which is sort of a country, if you don't look too closely. As somebody once said, Trickster isn't the worst of the genre, but that's light-years away from calling it good.

Trickster stars newcomer Joel Oulette as Jared, a phlegmatic and underachieving (which, honestly, is a fairly apt description of the series itself) teenager from western Canada's Haisla Indian tribe. Forced to support his unemployed, separated and more than a little crazy parents (his mother likes to send him off to school with a lit joint, his drunken father has just knocked up a girl who looks barely older than Joel), he's got little time for an actual life, which doesn't really matter because there's nothing to do in his bleak little oil town except get wasted and trip out.

In Joel's case, the visions start to get a little too weird, including his own doppelganger, a rapping raven and a girl with blue hair whose hookup line is, "Did you know there's a direct link between the industrial exploitation of land and violence against indigenous women?" (Oops, sorry. That last one turns out not to be a hallucination.) Whether it's all just the drugs or there's a little bit of witchcraft involved, who knows?

Trickster does achieve a certain underlying creepiness, but it's often hard to distinguish that from the general desolation of the landscape. And the show's touches of piquant Canadian witticism—customer at the fast-food restaurant where Jared works: "Working hard, or hardly working?"; Jared's drunken dad: "I'll drink to that, hell, I'll drink to anything!"—contribute to an overall impression of abrupt descent to Tundra Hell. (An impression greatly amplified by the placement on the soundtrack of a hip-hop version of the 1971 Canadian pop record Sweet City Woman.)

Trickster has already been on the air in Canada for a year. The reviews were largely ecstatic, not so much for the content but for its supposed dedication to cultural diversity—many of the producers and cast members were said to be Canadian Indians. That talk quieted considerable when series creator Michelle Latimer confessed her actual links to Indian ancestry were a little Elizabeth Warren-ish and then quit the show.

I myself wondered if show was even authentically Canadian, much less Indian. The first occurrence of "ehh" doesn't come until more than four and half minutes into the pilot episode, and "aboot" an astonishing 42 minutes into the second. On the other hand, the characters do watch Canadian football. Talk about sacrificing for your art!

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  1. I long ago gave up on hollywood film and television as a sign of quality. Listen to any of these comedies without the laugh track and see if you think it is actually humorous. Direct to netflix is also not good but it’s fine pablum for the masses glued to their twitter feeds afraid to leave their homes.

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  3. including Canada, which is sort of a country, if you don’t look too closely.

    Hey, it was the world’s first “post-national country” right up until COVID. Then it became a country again with borders and everything.

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  4. “the reason her two twenty-something kids fled to Los Angeles is that they were sick of her chronic buttinskyism.”

    So of course they moved to a City/County/State with governments overrun by buttinskyism and that have the power to fine, jail, or otherwise punish them if they don’t properly obey the dictates of the Government Overlords, who have no issue with violating or ignoring those dictates themselves.

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