5 random observations about current TV shows (Commentary)

1. “10 Things I Hate About You” recently returned, and it hasn’t missed a beat from its run last summer. Although it more openly admits to being aimed at all ages, “10 Things” is treading the path paved before it by “Lizzie McGuire” and “Zoey 101” — two other shows about teenagers with humor for adults. For example, when Kat complains about how the school is “violating our Constitutional rights,” Bianca says, “God, you’re like a live feed from C-SPAN.” It’s slightly too witty for believable teen-speak, but it’s just right for adults who find the clichés of teen worries equally relevant and absurd.

2. Lauren Graham’s character on “Parenthood,” Sarah, is 38 years old, and the guy she almost dated — her daughter’s teacher, played by Jason Ritter — is 26. According to the half-your-age-plus-seven rule, she is allowed to date him. It works out on the nose, in fact. But she chose not to because her daughter had a crush on him. I think that’s a silly reason to dump your potential soul mate. Perfect matches don’t come along often, but heartbreak comes along regularly. What a great opportunity that would’ve been for Sarah’s daughter to learn that lesson at a young age, when the pain sears it into your brain and prepares you for life.

3. I wasn’t as blown away by “Glee’s” Madonna tribute episode as I was supposed to be. Sure, a couple of the musical numbers are good, as is the case in every episode, and it effectively brings Madonna back to my consciousness (although my impression of her remains the same: a few catchy songs and a lot that I don’t care for). But I don’t believe that Sue Sylvester is a Madge fan; she seems too old. I don’t believe Will is a fan; he is a straight guy. And I don’t believe the kids are fans; they seem too young. Interestingly, Emma is probably the best candidate (imagine her as a closet Madonna buff at age 9 or so), but the writers don’t go there. The problem is that everyone kept generically talking about how much they love Madonna, as if the episode was quickly penned by someone who doesn’t quite love Madonna. Only Puck provides an alternate view. None of this is a criticism of Madonna; as I understand it, she allowed “Glee” to use her songs free of charge, and that’s cool. I’m just saying that “Glee” wrote a mushy love letter, and a truer love letter would’ve been to explore everything controversial and bizarre about the singer’s life, and then summarize with, “But for all that, she’s written some pretty catchy tunes, hasn’t she?”

4. The previews for “Happy Town,” which premiered this week on ABC, play the sound of a child reading a nursery rhyme over the top of searching-for-something-in-the-dark scenes. It’s a cliché, but sometimes I don’t mind clichés as a starting point from which to launch something original. I don’t have faith that “Happy Town” will display much originality, but what the heck, I’ll give it a chance.

5. I love how Erin on “The Office” is always more dimwitted than you (and the characters around her) assume her to be. Take the scene last week where Pam tries to console Erin — who is crushed by learning that Andy had dated Angela — by using a metaphor about how she had dated someone at the office other than Jim. “Was it Andy?” Erin asks, shocked. TV has lots of dumb characters, but Erin is a remarkable achievement: She’s a simpleminded character who we always forget is simpleminded. It’s brilliant partly because we’ve all encountered someone like that, and partly because TV has been in a “men are dumb; women have to put up with them” phase for a long time, and Erin breaks that mold.