Blogging the TCA, Part 5: “Men in Trees”

 
 

This is a live blog from the bi-annual Television Critics Association conference.
See more TCA live blogging here.

It’s Men in Trees time on the last day of the TCA. I like this show,
and my mom loves it, but I stopped watching about halfway through last season
because there were just too many shows on the air and not enough time in the
day to watch them all.

ABC begins the promo for last season, and the cast files out on stage.
Anne Heche
looks great in her pale pink dress, and I like her hair
like this. She seems happy, almost giddy. I find myself instinctively rooting
for her. I’m a sucker for the underdog.

I don’t even recognize half of the rest of the cast, which is what I get for
tuning out mid-season. But where’s Sarah the prostitute? And Cynthia Stevenson?
And that bartender guy?

The promo ends and Anne starts clapping and yelling "yay!" No reaction
from the reporters. This is a tough crowd.

The first question is the first of many variations on the topic of why ABC
is running the last five episodes from the first season with the second season?
There’s no good answer except that ABC wanted the space to promote other shows.
Creator Jenny Bicks (seated between Anne and James, below) says they’ve since gone back and filmed
a "bridge" episode that will be inserted before the five from last
season.

The cast is waiting for the next question, but what they get is a deafening
wall of silence. We’re only two minutes in, and no one has a question? This
is not a good sign. Although I think this has less to do with the show than with the fact that it’s the last day of a very long three-week press tour, and everyone’s too exhausted to think.

Anne jokingly gets up to leave, saying, "That was great you guys!"
and Seana Kofoed, who plays Jane, says "Thanks for coming!"

I notice Lauren Tom, who plays Mai, is wearing
a gold jacket over a green dress. Interesting choice.

Finally, a reporter speaks, asking how it feels to be one of the few shows
coming back on ABC, that didn’t "crash and burn"? Creator Jenny
Bicks
says "We call ourselves the little show that could"
because fans followed the show when it was moved all over the map, and it aired
on Fridays. She calls it a "hopeful show, a show that makes people happy
when they watch it."

Lauren says that being a mom now and having two kids, she thinks the optimism
of the show is part of its success. Whatever, Lauren. I liked you as Julie on
Friends, but I really don’t like your character on Men in Trees.
I’m always expecting her to hand out fortune cookies and offer to do my laundry.
Sure, Mai is funny sometimes, but she reinforces stereotypes that Asian American
women still have to work too hard to overcome.

But back to the show. The other key to their success? "We have a lot of
good looking guys," quips Jenny. "And girls!" adds Anne. Thatta
girl.

In an attempt to get Anne to talk about her (alleged) affair with co-star
James Tupper, a reporter asks the cast "what they’ve learned about relationships
by doing this show." Real subtle.

Ty Olssson, who plays Sam aka "Plough Guy," talks
about a gay relationship we haven’t seen yet (it’s on the yet-to-air five episodes),
and Scott Elrod, who plays Cash and looks like he’s straight
off the cover of a Harlequin romance, says he’s learned to listen more. The
reporter prompts Anne to answer. She skillfully bobs and weaves. "One of
the things that has been so great to me is finding a family, how other relationships
other than your lover or romantic relationships there are other people around
you who don’t judge you and allow you to make mistakes. This cast and crew has
developed such a loving family and supportive group, I’ve learned to trust a
family that was chosen and so necessary in my life."

James Tupper, who plays Jack, says he learned that if a guy
gets in trouble, he gets to go fishing. Huh?

Someone asks what Jenny did to nurture the fan base for the show, and she mentions
the importance of the internet, and TV critics, and says her parents have been
working hard to get the word out, telling everyone they know to watch the show.
I don’t think she’s kidding. I think her parents really were calling everyone
they knew and asking them to watch their daughter’s show. I know that’s what
my mom would do.

A reporter asks Anne for a hint about what’s in store for Marin romantically
next season. Anne wisely refuses to give anything away, and morphs into talking
about how the show is about all sorts of relationships, and that Marin is going
to go through "quite a journey" this year.

Spoiler: Jenny says "there will be multiple suitors" for Marin,
and that "she will be living with more than one man this season."

There are a bunch of questions about the new time slot (10pm) and the day (Fridays).
The short answer is it’s all good, we don’t have to be the show that gets 20
million viewers, yada yada yada more spinning straw into gold.

Anne says the hours involved in making a TV series really are as long as everyone
told her they would be, but "I love this show, I love the writing, it’s
so much fun to do" etc. She praises the fact that there are more storylines
this year than just her’s, so now she can take a bit of a break. She actually
seems sincere.

There’s a question about the changes in the cast over the course of the first
season to the second. "All of the characters except for plow guy were characters
I knew going in that I wanted to introduce," Jenny says. I don’t know who
"plow guy" is, and I’m not sure I want to.

There’s a question about how fans reacted negatively to Justine Bateman‘s
character, who was Jack’s ex-girlfriend. "I got a lot of angry emails,
but they didn’t turn the show off," said Jenny, who attributes that reaction
to the fans’ investment in the Marin-Jack relationship. She thinks the audience
would have disliked any character that got in-between those two, but admits,
"I was very surprised by the anger towards [Justine's] character."
Me too! But then, I can’t think of Justine Bateman without remembering the scene
from Arrested Development where she tried to seduce her real-life brother,
Jason Bateman. Hilarious, and yet so wrong at the same time.

Spoiler: this season Marin writes another book!

John Amos, who plays Buzz, is cutting a country record. The
reporters don’t really know what to do with that. He says he’s going to be singing
on the show next season, but badly.

More questions for Jenny about the hold over episodes. Will it never end?

Spoiler: the bridge episode is shot as a fairytale!

Finally, a Very Serious Question: how is Elvis the racoon? "I’m glad you
asked this question," says Jenny."I got into a lot of trouble about
that. Raccoons are not native to Alaska … now there’s some contract renegotiations,
he and the dog are still not getting along well, so there’s some issues there.
But Elvis will be back." What a relief.

Anne is asked whether she took on any other film or TV projects during the
Men in Trees hiatus, and she says no, because she didn’t want to tell
her son Homer she was going back to work. She wanted to relax and "fill
my mind and my spirit" and spend some time with her son.

Lauren is asked about her character Mai, and she explains that "Mai is
based on my grandmother who came over from China, and my 3-year-old son. (laughter)
That’s exactly the way my grandmother spoke. I know sometimes the Asian community
is a little bit annoyed that I do that accent, but it helps me keep my grandmother
alive… if they feel like it’s offensive, they can turn the channel."
Yeah, nice try. That argument works in a world where there are so many Asian
American women on TV that you can play someone in a stereotyped way and it really
doesn’t carry much weight because it’s just one of many. But that’s not the
world we live in.

The last question is directed to Jenny: how does she feel about having Women’s
Murder Club
as a lead in? "I think any show that pulls in women will
help us out. To be honest, I haven’t seen the show, but I would guess from the
title that it’s oriented towards women."

With that, the moderator ends the session and the cast leaves the stage. The
mood in the room is just a little bit odd, like the cast was expecting something
more. But maybe that’s just my take on it.

Next up: Private Practice with Kate Walsh! And (ugh)
the inevitable Isaiah Washington questions…Look for that
blog post (my final one from the TCA) later tonight.

 
 

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