TV REPORT CARDS – THE OTHER NETWORKS
Fox is without a doubt the most unpredictable network (and I mean that in a bad way). Their upfront schedule diverges in several areas from their aired schedule, and I don’t even know if their three part season plan is still in place. They have cancelled most of their interesting shows of the last few years by the end of their first season (Firefly, True Calling, John Doe, etc. - with the notable exception of the OC and 24 – and maybe Arrested Development, which I don’t watch), and they jumped the most shamelessly on the reality bandwagon. They cancelled Tru Calling (a show that they had renewed at the time of the upfronts) by just dragging their feet on starting production, finally making the announcement that it was cancelled about a week before new episodes were to start. All this lead to a period (until November – Fox’s phase 1 season) where, for the first time in the network’s history, I wasn’t watching a single show.
The OC has started back now, though, and the signs look good. The OC was basically my favorite new show last year, getting better and better, and extending its season until it crashed in the last third. After a stream of perfect episodes around the holidays, there was only one good episode after February – the second to last (Vegas trip) episode, which was outstanding by any measure.
The first episode of this season was a snoozer, but it was obvious that the producers and writers were doing heavy lifting to get the rails of the show back in place. This has resulted in a couple of fine episodes, including the much remarked upon comic club episode, where comic talk had to eat up 10 minutes of screen time, surely a record for and mainstream drama. Adam Brody is in relatively good form, although he seems to have had a cold the whole season so far. Everyone in the cast is in pretty good form except for Marissa, who, it almost seems, the writers want lame her off of the show. Her involvement in the show at this point doesn’t seem necessary. Anyway, besides the first episode plot cleanup project, the year is off to a good, but not roaring start.
I’ve seen only the first episode of HOUSE, the medical drama(dy) with Hugh Laurie, and it looks to be pretty good, but I need a couple of more eps to truly weigh in. And until 24 and American Idol start (I know, kill me now), that’s all the Fox.
This is the station of the shows I almost watch. Never watched Charmed and Gilmore Girls (though I will if DVD’s become available for multiple seasons and I can catch up), which I would probably like, I missed trying Jack and Bobby and the Mountain, and I’ve heard some of the other shows are good from friends and family. But, since Buffy and Angel went bye-bye, I watch no WB.
Never watched any substantial UPN in the past (I tried a few shows that weren’t too bad, but got cancelled). But VERONICA MARS is a destination unto itself. My earlier review
Came off a bit harsh in retrospect, as I was still struggling to find the show’s wavelength. The “afterschool special” issue I referred to has largely disappeared, although the show does maintain a specific teen show charm. The Vibe I failed to isolate in my initial post was the Rockford Files vibe – the resourceful and likeable, if beaten down and outsider-y, individual that is competent out of sheer will, but is still looking for something to complete their lonely and damaged souls. The shows also have the “brutality” I went on and about in common. The show has been getting better and better at a fierce rate, and has an upward trajectory compared to the other really good new show’s (Lost) flattening progression. This is a truly great show. There, I said it.
Overall, the season is better than I thought it would be, and has some really good new shows. If only they had kept Global Frequency on the schedule, TV come January would kick ass like it’s 2001-2 (the last truly great season).
MORE TV REPORT CARDS – CBS
CBS is a tough network for me to write about. They definitely have the most shows that I watch, but have no particular passion for. This probably fits in with the “passionless quality” mandate the network has seemed to have since the Eisenhower administration, but in the beginning, I got quite a buzz off of CSI. How are things stacking up:
COLD CASE: Put this on the list of shows that I watch cause’ my wife does. My feelings on this show have basically not changed since the pilot aired – solid worthy production, good but unexciting writing, no outstanding charisma in the otherwise decent cast (the Peter principle is in operation here – I think the lead would make a great 2nd character, the second character would make a great supporting cast member, etc.). The major strike against it is that is about the 100 millionth OK cop drama on the air right now. My thought after the pilot (as now) was “pretty good but superfluous.”
The show has one specific thing to recommend it – its device of using period music to set the tone of the flashbacks. They tend to collect songs not just from the era of the scenes, but which indicate the culture that the story is happening in, and counter pointing the plot/theme. This could get heavy handed quite easily (as the “Who’ll stop the rain” rainy scene did in the pilot), but whoever does the selection, in general, misses seeming on the nose, and has a good ability to choose songs that evoke the memories, without making you queasy.
I’m sounding too harsh, though (I have a tendency to be overcritical – I love Veronica Mars, for instance, but you really wouldn’t know it from my review). This is an enjoyable show that just doesn’t grab you and shout, “watch me!” And in this TV landscape, that would have been enough to make me drop it if my wife didn’t like it so much. Anyway, this show, after improving just a little better during the first third of last season (its first), has had a constant quality level ever since. The further exploration of the main character’s life (a sure danger sign) has peen toyed with, but is still bearably at arms length.
TWO AND A HALF MEN: My wife loves this show, and often watches without me, and I wish she wouldn’t, because I rather like it too. Since Joey fell by the wayside, this is the only comedy I’m watching (which is because it may be the only funny one on). I think this show has improved, and every episode I have seen this season has been excellent.
The CSI’s: When the first CSI aired, I thought, after a respectable period of gelling, that it was the best new show of the year (competition – Ed which was great out of the gate, but had a slow fade/don’t care anymore problem present from the end of the first season). The end of season one and season 2 were fabulous. When CSI Miami started, there was an immediate diluting effect noticeable on the writing pool, such that there seemed to be an allotted number of great eps, whether they had one or two shows. This got better, especially for CSI Miami that may be the best of the bunch right now. The original CSI can still put up great episodes, but everyone seems a little tired (or maybe just distracted). The real casualty, however, is the premature third installment, CSI:NY, which is the first of the shows I have considered dropping. Now, out of faith, I am giving it time to get its act together, but I already have a bad feeling about where they are going with Melina Whatername’s character (did I write about her emotionally forlorn shower? I thought I did but I can’t find it anywhere – must have been on a message board), and Gary Senise seems incapable of either the line delivery or charm-despite-the-personality-disorder of the other two show’s central characters. The real hit, though, is in the secondary characters, where the other two shows wound up really shining. Maybe they will develop with time. So – CSI, treading water, good but tired; CSI: Miami, hitting its stride (although they are really overdoing the water episodes this season – getting the most of the Coast Guard helicopter rental, I guess); and SCI:NY, struggling out of the gate.
DR. VEGAS: Gone, so can’t say much about it except that I’m not surprised. Joey Pants’ character was annoying, unbelievable, and a little ill conceived (what exactly was his job, anyway). The premise was hard to swallow, and the women in the cast seemed like they might have had a spark, but were poorly used. Rob Lowe wasn’t bad, the show could be fun at times, but it was confused as to how it wanted to portray Vegas (and as a fun show, LAS VEGAS has it beat all around). I didn’t hate the show by any means, and I’m a little sad to se it go, but I’m not surprised, and I won’t loose any sleep.
Next up… the OTHER stations.
COMICS COMICS COMICS
As you can tell by the last post, I just wanted to get back to the comics again. I will finish my network scorecards as soon as possible, and I have a lot to post on coming up. But for now, I wanted to talk about some recent comics.
Golden Plates #1, AAA POP COMICS: This is an interesting project from several standpoints. One, why hasn’t this ever been done before? As soon as I heard about the idea of a strait adaptation of the book of Mormon which is lengthy and will take a few years to produce, by a real artist, but could then be re released in different formats for years seems like such a great idea, that one wonders why no one has tried this with the old or new Testament. Second, I’ve never been aware of Allred’s religious affiliation, and I can’t help but wonder what’s going on there – what’s the motivation behind him doing the project. Third (corollary to #2) is this Allred’s project from now till when he finishes, or will he do anything else in the meanwhile. Lastly, the text on the inner front and back covers is uncredited, and sounds like something that would have been written by the writer/artist as an explanation or mission statement, but, again, it makes me wonder what made the project happen? That said, the art’s great, including the color art, and the adaptation reads good in a Classics Illustrated kind of way, but I lent this to a Mormon friend, and I’ll let you know what he says about the accuracy of it when he gets back to me.
BPRD The Dead #1 (Of 5): I can’t say anything you haven’t already heard. I like the feel of these Guy Davis drawn issues, and I hardly noticed it when Mignola dropped out of doing the full script, but these minis are more tightly continuitied end to end then most of Marvel’s continuing series. This should definitely be one long series if they intend to carry on this main meta-storyline.
Challengers Of The Unknown #6 (Of 6): Everyone has analyzed this to death, so let me take a brief, more superficial crack at it. I like Chaykin, and I liked American Flagg a whole lot, but coherence has never been his strong suit. The last two issues salvaged this series which, before then, was well drawn and designed, but hopelessly indistinct and muddy. I also read Twilight recently (the little remembered 3 volume prestige book from the early(?) 90’s that Chaykin wrote and Jose Garcia-Lopez drew the living crap out of), and it is obvious to me that Chaykin is a page design genius, has a nice art style, and tackles wild ideas, but is just not a great storyteller. In Twilight, Garcia-Lopez’s page compositions are instantly understandable (while actually incorporating Chaykin’s stylistic tics such as talking TV heads), which helps tame the scattershot nature of the story. As I said, the last two issues of the Challengers series are the most lucid, and thus recovers somewhat from the truly disjointed early issues.
Detective Comics #800: First story – pure frigging crap. War Games has been awful and has ruined every Bat-book it hat touched. Even Brubaker’s Catwoman was completely unreadable. I’m glad it’s over, but the scars may last. The last third of the issue, which is the first Lapham story, is so much atmospheric fluff, and doesn’t bode well, but hopefully this story was done just to set the tone of Lapham’s Gotham, and this is not what we will see every issue.
Intimates #1: I liked this, but it required a lot of concentration for a story that wasn’t exactly highbrow literature. Casey is hit and miss with me, and this looks like I will probably like it well enough, and the text crawl used as pop-up video exposition is a nice idea. We’ll see.
Question #1 (Of 6): Good art can’t save the lack of any point.
Astonishing X-Men #6: This series is really cooking now after a sluggish start. This feels like the real X-Men somehow.
I want to comment on Avengers #503 (#88), Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes #1 (Of 8), and Avengers Finale #1, but I’m out of time… tune in next week for my reaction!
Last Sunday, I read more comics in one day than I ever have before. By the end of the day, I couldn’t take one more panel, but it was glorious. I had about 5 weeks DC backlog, and at least 2 weeks of everything else. This discrepancy has to do with the fact that I read my comics in an odd order – any Byrne or ABC comics first, usually followed by Vertigo, then Image, then the Independents, then Marvel, then DC. And within each group, I read strictly alphabetically (except for the independents, which are alpha by company first, then alpha within each company). This is not really due to some obsessive compulsiveness, but is generally in ascending order of how big the stack is on an average week, and it mixes things up so that I don’t read all the best comics first, and then peter out. But when I get behind, DC (with, on average, the largest stack) starts to get bulky.
As long as I’m spilling my crazy O-C habits, I also have a weird segregation tendency in my books that has an associated unusual hierarchy. I have separate John Byrne long boxes (4, with an additional 2 magazine sized boxes), and all Byrne’s stuff goes in there no matter what (I always promise to write a big thing on my Byrne fetish, but not today). Vertigo’s are filed separately (3 boxes), and ABC’s have their own short box. Dark Horse used to have its own box, but I wound up with just over one long-box of them, and then started buying from them at such a low rate that I merged them with the rest of the independents to keep from having the dreaded loose-box syndrome. Image (5), Valiant (3), DC (about 10 or 11), and Marvel (about 15 or 16) have their own sections, with all other heretofore unmentioned comics filed by company in the independent section (6 boxes). Don’t get me started about the bookcases and magazine boxes.
One odd tendency I have is to file all Wildstorm in the Image boxes, despite the fact that DC owns them now. Since I buy a lot of Wildstorm, this skews my perception of how Image is doing, and a couple of years ago, when people began to talk about how poor Image was doing, I thought “wow, I still sure buy a lot,” but when I subtracted the WS titles, I found “gee, I buy almost nothing from image except Savage Dragon, Powers (not Image anymore), and the Kirkman stuff.” I also file Rob Leifield’s numerous superlatively named offshoot companies with the Image books, as well. The weird thing is, I’m not consistent about this, as I file the new issues of Powers with Marvel, along with other counterexamples I can’t dredge up right now. All the Bones are under Cartoon books, however.
One last weird thing is the question of where you file any inter-company cross-overs. This requires a hierarchic scheme, which, for me, is Byrne, Valiant, Image, Marvel, then DC. Other smaller companies are variable (if Defiant, which I – shudder – have every published issue by, were to have crossed over with anything but Valient, it would be filed with the Defiants, unless Byrne did it).
Is anyone else this weird?
TV REPORT CARDS: NBC
In our last post, ABC picks up a new show that I love, and one I’m violently ambivalent about (but interested in) doubling the number of interesting shows form last year. How does NBC fare?
L&O, various: These are the baseline shows against which the other dramas are judged. Year in and year out, they keep a consistent, if not exciting, level of quality, which is an absolute marvel. I watch random episodes when they come out, catch some reruns on cable, and the level seems consistent again this year.
CROSSING JORDAN has been quite good. I get whiplash watching the non-primary characters come and go, but the stable cast is all good. This is another show I warmed to over time. When it first aired, I thought it was quite inaccurate as to medical and pathologic knowledge and technique, but now I have Medical Investigations to compare it to. Many good characters have developed, including Jerry O’Connell’s Woody (the little man-child is a scream, and he doesn’t flinch in playing an incredibly silly character), Bug, Nigel, and Macy. I’ve warmed to Jordan a bit, though attempts to dither with her character always seem to fall flat. Axe the councilor and the DA, though (yuk). Their half of the crossover with Las Vegas was the better half, and was an above average episode. The show seems healthy now after last season’s stutter start (due to Jill Hennessey’s pregnancy). The show is a bit inconsistent, but is as good as it’s ever been.
LAS VEGAS This show continues to flesh out (no pun) it’s guilty pleasure goodness, with only two relative dud episodes so far this season (the Crossing Jordan X-over finale and the episode with Sam boffing a Boston lobsterman for… well, lobsters). Several episodes are series bests (e.g. the George Hamilton episode). The show is fun fun fun, and has developed well, and has the two silliest male cast members on TV who aren’t Woody Hoyt.
LAX was the season’s first casualty of shows we actually watched (Hawaii and Father of the Pride were two NBC shows we sampled a few of, but never committed to). This perfectly watchable show just didn’t have what it took to weather the move to Wednesday. See earlier posts
for a discussion of what I liked about this average show.
WEST WING: Missed the premiere, and didn’t care, so I’ve dropped it. Probably will catch this on DVD. Networks – this is one problem of late start dates for shows in decline.
JOEY: Don’t want to start on this. Suffice it to say the writing was horrible but got better each episode, and the one with the party was pretty good, but my DVR can’t handle 3 things, so I haven’t seen it in several weeks.
MEDICAL INVESTIGATION continues to suck slightly less than the pilot did. My favorite episode was the North Nebraska State University episode, which was filmed at USC so obviously that anyone who had never been west of the Mississippi would know it (the Olympic stadium, the USC crest, Tommy Trojan, and yes, the big letters USC, all appeared in the episode). So the whole show is sloppy, not just the medical fact checking. Lets face it, though: this show is hamstrung by its formula. The reversals are all predicated on the investigators being convinced they are right, steamrollering over everyone in their path, finding out they are wrong, redirecting, and then being sure they’re right again. Repeat x4, then close. I almost want to start a website dedicated to the inaccuracies in this show, but that smacks of desperation. The fact that I’m watching the show is desperate enough.
So NBC doesn’t fare that well with 2 good returnees, the L&O’s (that I don’t usually watch new), some relatively failed shows, a show I hate so much I watch it.
BACK AGAIN – TV REPORT CARDS: ABC
Excuses – last few weeks have been like a blur. A week in Disney. Family visiting. Starting Atkins. Haloween. My Birthday (November 5 – yay! Guy Fawkes Day). Election. Middle son (Chase)’s birthday. Playing catch up at work. These factors have not completely obliterated my time to post, but have occupied my mind enough to shut off that little nattering voice in my head that this blog is an outlet for. So, here’s to hoping for more regular posting from here on in. What... the holidays are coming? Crap.
Better make with the TV update – I’m a little behind in my comics reading, and maybe I’ll be more inspired in that direction after I catch up a little. So, how’s the season developing? Maybe I’ll just tackle ABC today.
LOST continues to be my favorite new show of the year, though I’m sure it’s about to hit the same Abrams wall that Alias did. The non-stop nature of the dramatic stuff has led to a sense of constant propulsive conflict, and I don’t know how they are going to brake efficiently before the show overheats. The force feed character reveals have come uncomfortably fast, and the individual characters have not had enough time to develop a relaxed sense of organicity (is that a word?). The show is still great, but I just here the ticking time bomb in the background – that “they can’t keep it up” feeling. Really great writing on most episodes, good characters, some nice acting – I’m cringing for the downshift, though.
EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION is the best home improvement show going, with the most charming collection of lead “designers.” Last season (the show’s first) burned out a little near the end due to the diluting of it’s A-team (Ty, Preston, Paul, Michael, Constance, and Paige/Tracy – can’t tell the last two apart, sorry) with fill ins and a wearing thin of the formula (each episode I wait longingly for the moment they start freaking out because they don’t have enough time to finish the project –wait can’t they just take an extra day, surely they have scheduled some time for overages- but they need to because the peace corps volunteer who’s adopted child needs a earwax transplant or else his head will explode really DESERVES this). My favorite part of the show is imagining what the 6 year old, who gets her room with a pink castle and a cloud bed, will think she’s 15 and her wheelchair bound broke single father whose wife died in a bus crash can’t afford electricity much less redecorating. Hopefully we’ll get EXTREME MAKEOVER HOME EDITION REDUX – RECTIFYING OUR SHORTSIGHTEDNESS in a few years. Aaaaaanyway, this year is off to a good start, with the A-team in place, but no real tweaking of the formula. This will probably wear a little as the season goes on.
DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES: This is a tough one. My wife really likes this show. I kinda half like this show. There is no doubt that it is well produced, and well put together. But let me hedge a bit here. I more or less hated SEX AND THE CITY when it first started. This was due to the fact that there was not one character I liked. I began to like the show, however, when I realized that these four awful people suffered for being such wretched human beings. It became like a karmic comedy to me… they shit on someone and then get (sometimes literally) shat on. I will likely have the same arc with this show.
At the moment, I actively dislike two of the four main characters in DH: Lynette (Felicity Huffman) and Gabrielle (Eve Longoria). I like Felicity Huffman (she was great on Sports Night, blah, blah), but she is trapped within a hideous character: a former business professional (who was, of course, very very good at her job), who decides to do the stay at home mom thing and is utterly overwhelmed. This is a thankless role, where she runs around, angry at her barely-recognizable-as-human kids, being shamed in front of all the world as an incompetent mom, but is saved by the shred of ruthlessness in her soul, and by the fact that she really, after all, loves her kids. The truly objectionable part is that at the end of the day, “it’s all worth it” because she loves them so much, but we really don’t see any loving contact except that forced by the need for the proper heartwarming denouement in each episode. There is nothing here I actually want to witness on a weekly basis.
I don’t even remember Longoria from the recent Dragnet series (which was a great great show), so it’s like she’s a new face. Gabrielle’s household in the show is the worst of them all, as she cheats on her appallingly bad husband with a high school student. His gambling addicted, meddlesome, my-son-can-do-no-wrong –and-I-hate-his-wife mom is over for an extended (permanent?) visit. So that’s three people I can’t stand in one house. There is no one to root for and the show seems to be passing no judgments over Gabriella’s deplorable behavior and lack of any humanity.
Maria Cross’ Bree is also not eminently likable, but she has, due to the series’ best performance, been subtly and gloriously humanized. This is the one character-with-problems in the show you can really understand and root for. Even though she acts almost insane at times, you really hope she gets through this and becomes a happier person. Again, I chalk this up to Cross’ outstanding job at developing the character.
Susan (Teri Hatcher) is the most instantly likable person on the show, and is the every-woman character that has no internally induced issues. All the “bad” is due to her crap husband, neighbors, and bad luck. Her and her daughter have some chemistry, and I like her love interest Mike (James/Jamie Denton from the late kinda great Pretender), though, for the only positively portrayed male character on the show, they haven’t developed him a whole lot. I like most of the stuff with her, when the writers aren’t humiliating her Which is a lot, actually.
A couple of troubling issues –
1. The show as a whole views men as animals in the landscape, and the primary role of most of them is as the object of anger (runner up – object of desire). The hostile two dimensional portrayal of men may turn some men (such as myself) off. There is no male character (except possibly Mike) to identify with (unless you have a poor self image). This may be a show that most men like as much as women like the three stooges.
2. The women always seem to win in the end. Though they may suffer indignities, the show always ends with the women winning their individual battle for the episode. I don’t want the ones who act badly to get away with it or to see the good ones humiliated on the way to their (more or less) happy ending. The only one with no constant happy endings has been Bree, who appears to be in a downward spiral. So Bree, who I feel for, gets punished, Susan, who is blameless, gets humiliated, Gabrielle, who’s soul is a sucking vacuum, gets off scott free all the time, and Lynette, angry and bitter creator of bad children, smites her enemies and is happy with some inauthentic hugs. Love those endings.
3. I can’t escape the feeling that the “mystery” super-story is a bunch of hooey, and I wouldn’t look for any kind of decent payoff.
4. The voice over narration of Mary Alice is extremely poorly written, with really bad puns that even Arnold couldn’t save.
5. The show is, on some level, just plain meanspirited.
And that’s everything I watch on ABC until Alias starts again. Tune in next time for NBC.