Monkey See, Monkey Brood

The WB's Tarzan is a gloomy Hamlet of the jungle

So I'm generally disdainful of the whole "metrosexual" thing, because it's kind of sexist (why shouldn't guys dig pedicures?) and kind of classist (what, suburban guys aren't gellin' like a felon?). But every once in a while, an obnoxious label turns out to be extremely useful. Therefore, I can say with complete confidence that the WB is a network filled with metrosexuals, and their evolution has wrought Tarzan, sulker of the jungle.

Remember, the WB gave us Dawson Leery--a wannabe auteur with fantastically fussed-over hair and so much emotional baggage, he held an entire clique pinned beneath his histrionics for years. The WB gave us a Portrait of the Metrosexual as a Young Man with their Superman saga Smallville, starring a pretty and tormented Clark Kent--less credible as a Man of Steel than as a Man with a Blue Steel stare. (Lex Luthor, meanwhile, suffers not from a genuine evil streak so much as a raging case of the Daddy Didn't Love Mes.) The WB is responsible for unleashing sensitive killer vampires, undead lads with a strong sense of colors and pronounced preferences in footwear. It makes perfect sense that this network would think a pouty Tarzan would be a good fit.

The baboons back in the jungle liked to admire my abs, too: Travis Fimmel in 'Tarzan'
the WB Network
The baboons back in the jungle liked to admire my abs, too: Travis Fimmel in 'Tarzan'

And Tarzan does pout like a pro. He glowers. He sulks from beneath a curtain of hair so lush, the sensible thing for his evil uncle to have done after first clapping eyes on wild young John Greystoke would have been to dispatch a team of chemists to the jungle to discover the botanical ingredients for a fiendishly expensive shampoo. Tarzan is supposed to represent the primal and direct honesty of a man who's been raised far from the corrupting influences of civilization. (Actor Travis Fimmel grew up in Australia!) But this Tarzan was raised by the kind of apes who were well aware of what primatologists were writing about them and their social structures. He's less likely to triumph by native wit than by plot contrivance.

Over the course of the show, we have Jane (now a cop) trying to solve a murder mystery that may or may not lead back to John. We have John doing his best Nell imitation as the scientists hired by evil uncle Greystoke try to figure out what makes the boy tick (the fanatical adulation of millions of girl subscribers to Teen People?). And we have a clash of the cult-figure actors as Mitch Pileggi and Lucy Lawless glare at each other and try to sell dialogue like this:

 

Pileggi:This fight between me and John is almost...primal.

Lawless: Animal metaphors. Cute. Remember, I can be a real bitch.

 

Now, I don't expect Tarzan to spout one-liners like Oscar Wilde; apes have always struck me as more inclined toward slapstick. But there's no excuse for the humans on this show not to show some dark wit. The total and unrelenting seriousness reminds me of the later Batman movies, where Joel Schumacher completely squandered Tim Burton's fantastically baroque and inky milieu. Tarzan falls prey to the same somberness: The sets are gorgeous with ghostly, green-lit buildings stretching up into an impenetrable mist and streets perpetually shimmering with the sparkle of traffic lights on rain puddles. The shots are carefully crafted to give you the impression that New York is bigger and scarier than the usual TV budget will allow.

And only Tarzan--who, we've already established, is something of a moody monkey--actually seems to inhabit his environment. This Tarzan runs through the streets clutching his shirt to his chiseled chest instead of happily swinging from fire escape to scaffolding without a thought of accessorizing. It's no fun trying to be king of the New York jungle if you're Tarzan. It's just so unfair, and nobody understands him--and then it's time, again, to have a good brood on a ledge somewhere.

Tarzan may finally have reason to sulk: Although the show hasn't been canceled yet, production has been halted. Say what you will of the metrosexual man, but admit that you're going to miss him some day in the near future, when the style sections are touting the crazy sex appeal of the heavy-gutted, Quebecois lumberjacks of the Outdoor Life Network.

 
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