There are things on television that are scary on purpose, and then there are those shows and individuals that are scary because they make one think, "here we go again." They don't mean to frighten us, and yet their very existence makes our hair stand on end worse than if we heard a bloodcurdling scream in the night.
The most recent inescapable TV example of unintentional scary was Jon and Kate Gosselin, but Jon is now well on his way to irrelevance, and Kate is plotting her next move in relative seclusion. The sound of Ellen Pompeo's narration on Grey's Anatomy used to be quite scary, but I've become accustomed to it over the years, not unlike those people on Hoarders who have learned that they don't mind the squashed dead cats in their parlor after all.
So what is it in the current television landscape that has taken their place as items of horror?
Leah Remini on The Talk: They always say that to be fair, you have to give a talk show several weeks before it can be properly evaluated. But after fewer than ten shows, it's already clear that Remini is going to be the big lightning rod on the panel of the new CBS weekday afternoon chat show. Even with six regular panelists, Remini's loud voice -- and her willingness to use it, a lot -- has made her stand out on the crowded set. It's not all her fault; Remini has the sort of New Yorky demeanor that makes it seem like she's raising her voice even when she isn't. But people used to the comatose rhythms of As the World Turns in that time slot don't really want Remini screaming at them about diapers, or anything else.
Hip-hop on Glee: The young stars of Glee are personable, and a few are very talented indeed -- at performing the types of showstoppers that we see on Broadway or in real high school show choirs. But while hip-hop and rap-influenced songs are dominant these days on the charts, the ability to perform them is totally beyond the range of anyone currently on Glee, and they really need to stop embarrassing themselves. Donny Osmond was more believable in his "little bit rock and roll" phase than anyone on Glee is doing Jay-Z, which is what we had foisted upon us in the season premiere. That episode also featured a character calling out Matthew Morrison's Will Schuester for his inability to rap, which was the show's way of acknowledging that these complaints have registered. They just need to remember that before they give us a very special salute to NWA.
Teen moms all over MTV: The original idea behind shows like 16 and Pregnant was probably a sound one: provide a glimpse into the struggles of girls who have seen their lives turned upside down by pregnancy and motherhood -- a too-early push into adulthood and a premature farewell to the world of carefree partying celebrated in most other MTV series. But then a funny thing happened. As anyone who has happened upon a magazine rack in the last few months is already aware, the girls featured on Teen Mom are now full fledged celebrities at almost a Gosselin-like level. So much for teen motherhood as a cautionary tale. What could be scarier than someone getting the message from MTV that having a baby as a teenager might be a pathway to fame and fortune?
Lucy Danziger on Boardwalk Empire: The new series from the imaginations of Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter is shaping up as the best addition to the HBO lineup in years. By all accounts, it presents a relatively realistic portrait of Atlantic City at the dawn of Prohibition. But one character is so broad and stereotypically ditzy that she seems to come out of a much earlier and less truth-based tradition of TV drama: Lucy, the showgirl paramour of the show's antihero, Nucky Thompson. The most recent episode of Boardwalk Empire gave us a little indication that Lucy might be more shrewd that she's been letting on, and let's hope so, because for the first few weeks, Paz de la Huerta had been portraying her as a nasal dumbbell on a permanent cough syrup buzz. It doesn't help that the most frequently naked actor in the cast has had some very obvious non-1920s looking enhancements made to her torso.
Kristen Wiig on Saturday Night Live: I hate to pick on Wiig, who really does have some talent. But while she was an instant success on SNL, the similarity of her characters (almost all of whom display a combination of nervousness, awkwardness, and failure to comply with social norms) has made the realization that we're about to be watching a "Wiig sketch" one of the most frightening experiences a TV viewer can have. She's not the first SNL cast member with an apparently limited range, but the problem has been her dominant presence -- she has clearly been the busiest member of the main cast since Amy Poehler left. Previous SNL mainstays like Phil Hartman, Will Ferrell, and Dana Carvey became prolific not because their characters were all the same, but because they could do almost anything sketch comedy required. There are indications that Wiig has become less prominent as the SNL cast has expanded this year. About time.
Any Dexter storyline that isn't about Dexter: Most well-done veteran series built around a central star know what to do with their supporting characters: either make sure all they do is support (24 was a primary example), or find ways to flesh out their personalities so that their subplots are still worth watching (The Good Wife). But Dexter, now in its fifth season, has never managed to do either one satisfactorily. The show needs to ease the workload on Michael C. Hall, so there are always a couple of non-Dexter subplots every week. But the love lives of his sister Deb or his other colleagues have never been interesting, and the ensuing boredom makes every episode seem longer than its fifty or so minutes. Angel is in jeopardy with Internal Affairs? No one cares! At least the murder of Dexter's wife has left us with one less dull presence this season.
Andy Rooney: Now that Larry King is getting ready to hang up his suspenders, this wizened veteran of 60 Minutes has become my designated Geezer To Pick On. The role model for the now 91-year-old 60 Minutes commentator should be former colleague Mike Wallace, who never officially "retired." His workload was gradually reduced, he had some health issues, and then one day he just wasn't there anymore. So why can't somebody at CBS arrange for Rooney to make plans for a similar long goodbye? At least Wallace was still coming up with occasionally compelling work until the end of his time on the air. Rooney hasn't had any new insights for ... gosh, twenty years at least? I don't blame him, because what is there left for him to say at this point? He's older than broadcast radio. He's older than the Warren Harding presidency. Marilyn Monroe has been dead for almost fifty years, and he's older than her. And besides, his eyebrows were scary even when he was a young stud.