By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García
Scenes from a Roundtable Conversation
Mahsino (before watching the show):Am i the only one troubled by the new NBC show the Philanthropist? I’m seeing a lot of “white guy saves defenseless colored folks” in the promos.
maybe it’s just the Heroes announcer that’s making me suspicious, maybe I’m just itching’ to snark on something …
Andrea (via email, in respose to Mahsino): it’s everything you saw in the promos and more …
Oh, how right they are.
“Based on” the work of real-life billionaire Bobby Sager, The Philanthropist might have had good intentions behind it, but as the series head into its’ third week, it instead veers horribly south of honoring Sager’s endeavors — if you didn’t know the guy, this show would make him look like a self-involved, almost pitiable nitwit.
The show’s titular do-gooder, Teddy Rist (an over-his-head James Purefoy), we keep getting reminded, is almost a bigger victim than the people he decides he wants to help – in the first two episodes, POCs. Sager’s bio doesn’t spell out when his own commitment to charitable work began, but in Teddy’s case, the flashpoint comes when, while being evacuated from a flood in Nigeria, he rescues an abandoned boy and flashes back to his own son, who has been dead for nearly a year.
This is all well and good as a starting point for Teddy as a character. But he’s written so schizophrenically you can’t take him seriously. As he spends the first episode retelling the plot to a skeptical female bartender, all we’re shown supports Teddy’s rep as “reckless” and “a playboy,” going so far as to sleep with a Nigerian doctor (Bonnie Henna) after he delivers medical supplies – on foot, while evading angry rebels and suffering from a friggin’ snakebite – to a village near the one destroyed in the flood. I’m tempted to call the Sager Foundation and do some fact-checking: So, did Mr. Sager ever hook up with a Nigerian doctor under a resplendent sky? Partake of an orgy with call girls supplied by a local drug dealer? … Hello? Hello?
At the same time, though, we get no evidence of Rist’s supposed business acumen. He tells the barkeep he built his company “by the bootstraps, no need of a bailout” — how Republican of him – but he’s so constantly put-upon he’s more like a bargain-basement Bruce Wayne, more Hugh Grant than Howard Hughes. His apparent shock – shock, I tell you! – in the second episode at learning his company is doing business with the shady military junta in Myanmar/Burma exposes him as criminally uninformed. About all he knows how to do is offer bribes.
Though he’s opposed at every turn by shady government officials and has his sanity questioned by his best friend and partner Philip (Jesse L. Martin) and Philip’s wife Olivia (Neve Campbell), only one person – the doctor he sleeps with in Week One – actually calls Teddy out before she gives in: “This is about you,” she says, and for a blessed few seconds, Teddy doesn’t have an answer. But, hey, no time for self-examination – he’s got a continent to save! And the subplot concerning Teddy’s grief over his son fails to attract the desired sympathy; it just makes the rest of the company look more incompetent for having a guy who’s obviously traumatized continue to represent the company publicly.
None of this, of course, is to be blamed on the Sager Foundation, which looks to be doing legitimately good works not only in Africa, but in Afghanistan, Iran and with the Dalai Lama, to name a few examples. But in making his journey “sexier” to American audiences, NBC and The Philanthropist only succeed in dredging up the worst White Man’s Burden stereotypes. You would think that, since we’re ostensibly dealing in fiction here, there would be an opportunity for someone to ask Teddy, “Hey, there’s little girls in New York City who need kidneys, too; why aren’t you out sleeping with their doctors?” But, hey, no time for self-examination – there’s women in Paris he has to save this week!
As you might imagine, the members of the Algonquin SnarkTable were similarly non-plussed by this show.
Diana: You’re not the only one. The natives in charge are bad and corrupt, the only people who “help” are the drug dealers who want to be just like Teddy, and the good doctor who can’t resist Teddy’s sweaty, snake-bitten charm. Puhlease! I actually liked the doctor until she fell for the okey-doke.
Arturo: For the purposes of the show, it makes some sense – “conflict” and all that. But you’d think that a company which already has a financial stake in the area, as we learned in the second episode, would already have some officials in the bag. You would also think that a “great businessman” like Teddy would’ve at least known about the deal with the Chinese company way before it went through, right?
Andrea: But remember, Philip Maidstone admonished Rist for not reading what he puts on Rist’s desk. It would also seem to me that another skill a great businessman would have is, well, reading–something ol’ Teddy can’t seemed to be bothered with. And the creative staff really didn’t hone their Picking Up on Satire skills ‘coz they did take “How Not to Write about Africa” seriously.
Arturo: “Losing your son. That must be so harsh.” Worst dialogue in television history or all of recorded history?
Mahsino: That whole bar scene was just- ugh. Why? Once I heard the Mohinder-Lite narration, I started raising eyebrows.
Diana: The only thing cheesier the dialogue was the music montage scenes, especially when one of the songs was Men at Work’s “Down Under.” I felt like I was watching bad music videos on a local access channel.
Andrea: Yeah, Diana, I shook my head for the sad state of music videos and local-access channels at that point.
Arturo: Okay, bedding the doctor in Nigeria was one thing, but scoring with the one in Myanmar, and keeping another man’s wife so close makes me wish this was an FX show, where Teddy would turn out to be an a-hole in the end. How ’bout you?
Mahsino: I didn’t make it to episode 2, but I have a feeling that Teddy’s going to take his friends wife and the writers will somehow try and make it seem justified.
Diana: I also did not watch episode 2, but I can see your point, Arturo. In order to give a the full “cad” effect to Teddy, cable is better. Your comment made me think of Christian on Nip/Tuck. The show’s creators need to decide if they want to be edgy or merely “meh.” I don’t have hope that they are going to push the envelope.
Andrea: I watched the second episode and completely missed Rist sleeping with the doctor. Perhaps it was because I was too appalled by the fact that Mister Theodore felt so entitled– oh, I’m sorry, compelled –to break into Lim Wai’s home because his question about his company being involved in Myanmar was more important than his acting in a threatening manner toward her. And I guess the fact that Lim Wai was a Buddhist (and an Asian woman) meant that she’d accept this dude’s unlawful entry into her home? Just. No.
Arturo: To borrow Andrea’s line, your take on Jesse L. Martin as “The Responsible Negro,” and Michael K. Williams as Kato — err, I mean Dax?
Mahsino: They defiled my image of Omar. That’s unforgivable.
Diana: Tokens, both of them. That’s a real disappointment because Jesse L. Martin is a very talented actor and I think he’s better than the lead actor. [Not having premium cable, I'm not familiar with Williams.] Jesse deserves a substantive role and not merely a background stint. FAIL.
Mahsino: What pisses me off is the fact that the hero makes a living raping the natural resources of third-world nations and then goes and wonders why they don’t welcome him with open arms. It would be like the head of Firestone tire company asking why doesn’t the Liberian gov’t give them a pat on the back for every good deed they do on “the continent”. It’s called fixing what you broke – you don’t get a gold star for it. I can’t feel for this guy. I’m rooting for him to fail.
Diana: Ok, I watched it for the sake of the Table and to get my snark on. Racial issues aside, I found the show to be totally unbelievable. What is the DEA doing in Nigeria and why would they just leave the man in the jungle. And why were they walking around Nigeria in dark suits? I can just see every new episode from now on–Teddy does some heroic philanthropic act and gets to bed some exotic beauty as his reward. Seems like the producers need to tack on a PSA about HIV and STDs at the end of every show.
Andrea: I’m waiting for the news to reveal that Madonna and Angelina Jolie financed this show.