|TV writers take digs at Utah, Mormons|
|By Vince Horiuchi |
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
|BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - New rule: Television needs new jokes about Utah and its people. |
TV's view of Zion seems to be confined to ultraconservative, closed-minded Mormons who refuse to have sex. At least that's the sense viewers might have after a recent barrage of TV series - ranging from HBO's political comedy show "Real Time with Bill Maher" to "Desperate Housewives" and "Cold Case" - took well-placed shots at Utah.
For political comic Maher, whose talk show ends with a segment about the state of America called "New Rules," the Beehive State is a favorite target. For example:
"New rule: The next reality show must be called 'America's Stupidest State.' We'll start at 50, and each week, if your state does something really stupid with, say, evolution or images of the Virgin Mary, you'll move on to the next round. Of course, the final five will always end up being Alabama, Utah, Kansas, Texas and Florida. Sorry, Tennessee."
Another of Maher's "new rules" tagged the state's residents as nothing but prudes.
"New rule: [Romance] at the office is not a reason to lose your job. If it was, the unemployment rate in America would be 80 percent. This week, the CEO of Boeing - or as it's now known, 'Boing!' - had to step down because he was having an affair with a nice lady from accounts receivable. Who gives a damn?! When did this country turn into Utah?!"
"That stuff is out of our control," said Mark Bennett of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, about how Utah is portrayed in TV land. "We have to acknowledge that and move on. All of us in the business of promoting Utah, we try to make lemonade out of lemons."
A sampling of television series that included recent digs at Utah and its residents:
In the mega-hit "Desperate Housewives," Mary Alice Young, the character who killed herself in the first episode, came from Utah, where she kidnapped a baby. And one of the main characters, Edie (Nicollette Sheridan), said she could never visit Utah because it's too conservative.
An episode of the police series "Cold Case" built an entire story around a crazed and repressed Mormon murderer from Provo, even making reference to his "garmies."
"Entourage" is an HBO series about a movie superstar and his close friends. In one episode, they go to the Sundance Film Festival and crack endless jokes about polygamists. One cocky agent says the festival is "just a chance to try and [have sex with] a Mormon."
Next year, HBO premieres its newest drama, a modern-day look at a polygamous family living in Salt Lake City called "Big Love." The series is produced by actor Tom Hanks ("Band of Brothers").
Two new series debuting this fall include references to Utah and Mormons. In the Fox sitcom "Kitchen Confidential," about a screwball chef and his new restaurant, one of the cooks fears being fired. "I can't go back to Utah," he cries out. "Have you ever eaten in Utah?"
And in the ABC midseason series "Emily's Reasons Why Not," the premiere episode has the main character, played by Heather Graham ("Boogie Nights"), trying to start a relationship with the new office hunk. When he refuses to even kiss her after their first date, Graham and her friends suspect he is gay. But - surprise - it turns out he's Mormon.
"It wasn't a commentary or to examine a religion at all. It was an unexpected plot twist," said the show's creator, Emily Kapnek. "For us, it was trying to create another twist on who might not want to sleep with Heather Graham."
"Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry, who grew up in Orange County, Calif., and had Mormon friends, said he created a back story about Mary Alice Young and her troubled family originally living in Utah to contrast with what happens to them in the series.
"The way I look to the Young family is that they were good people caught up in a bad situation, and I just thought it was interesting they were coming from a kind of conservative place," Cherry said. "I thought it said something about their past and what their values were before this stuff happened to them that led to the mystery."
One of the biggest challenges faced by the convention and visitors bureau, Bennett says, is that people outside Utah - with no thanks to Hollywood - keep recycling the same perceptions.
"It's just a given we'll come up against the Mormon culture thing and potentially polygamy and the conservative thing," he said. "Those are challenges but also opportunities to educate people."
Preston Hunter, an active Mormon and webmaster of LDSFilm.com, which tracks references to Mormons in film, television and the entertainment industry, says most jokes made about Mormons in television are actually compliments.
"The biggest joke in the Hollywood and television canon is you look to Latter-day Saints as people who are not hypocrites," he said. "I don't find that offensive."
While he's not bothered by the cracks, Hunter is perturbed that TV shows don't have normal Mormons as recurring characters or that they portray Mormons as one-dimensional.
"Where's the LDS cops in any of these shows?" he said. "Why is it in the original cast of 'CSI' [set in Las Vegas], there isn't a Mormon in a city with 10 percent Mormons?"