THE PHILANTHROPIST: When Naivete Meets Arrogance

I’m a tiny blue dot in the midst of the reddest county in one of the reddest states in the US of A (thanks for overtaking us, Oklahoma!). I’m also a TV lover who is crazy about much of the oeuvres of both Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson (oh, how I miss Homicide: Life on the Street, for example). So I’m pretty much smack on the nose the target audience for The Philanthropist, a combination of action-adventure stories set in exotic climes and the tale of naive rich people (lead character Teddy [Rome‘s James Purefoy] and his friends/co-workers) coming to realize they could use their power and money for good. As Sam Seaborn once said in that great liberal wish-fulfillment show The West Wing, “Let’s forget the fact that you’re coming a little late to the party and embrace the fact that you showed up at all.”

And I’ve tried to be their audience–I’ve been trying for over a month now, because a show with that pedigree and that subject matter that also features Jesse L. Martin (best known for Law and Order: Original Flavor, but also much loved for being a baseball-playing alien on The X-Files) and Michael K. Williams (the great Omar Little on The Wire) should be pretty much my favorite thing in the world. Instead, watching The Philanthropist is like having someone read hectoring op-ed pieces at you. Since the show inexplicably uses a voiceover narration framework to explain the story as it unfolds, it is like having someone literally read hectoring op-ed pieces at you.

And these op-ed pieces are the worst flavor of the genre, as they combine the indignance of someone who, as an educated adult, ought to have known better discovering a social problem and screaming at everyone around them about it with the arrogance of someone who thinks their recent discovery of a social problem makes them superior to everyone else. A recent episode’s in-show commercial for sponsor Bing had Williams’ problem-solver Dax make the following astonishing statment when asked about troubles in Burma:

“Hellish. I’ll tell you, that place needs more help than what Teddy and I can give.”

Really. A rich guy and his muscle can’t waltz in and set straight in a week a country with a history of warring kingdoms, of being a British colony, and of being ruled by a military junta for nearly fifty years? Really? I’m shocked and disappointed at this failure–surely men of your poise and talents could have expected to unroll centuries of complicated political machinations. Why didn’t you just stay another week? The characters reflect the show–it certainly means well, but its own high opinion of itself is undercut by its slapdash approach. If this is what my neighbors think liberals are like, no wonder they dislike the whole crew. If only we could introduce them to Sam Seaborn instead.


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