Monday, September 26, 2005

TV Update

So I managed to squeeze out that last post completely on comics during TV premire week. What was I thinking! I figured I’d better get some opinions up on the new season before the cancellations start to hit, though.

PRISON BREAK: I need to comment on this show because, just a few posts ago, I called this the only new show I was excited about this season. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the premiere – I lost my critical objectivity. I initially saw a bit-torrented version of the pilot, which I watched on a computer screen, and really liked. Specifically, I thought they did a good job achieving a big reversal before each commercial break, which made the show feel like it moved at a good clip. Although I noticed some tenuous plot elements, I felt the show misdirected and moved passed them nicely (maybe watching in a small window helped). Then the reviews hit, and everyone blasted the show for its lapses in plot logic and overall silliness and now I have to actively resist reacting to the reviews of the show when I feel negative thoughts (did I really not like that, or is it just the critics talking?). For instance, when the main character whittles a bolt to use as an Allen wrench on a toilet screw, his placing the head of the bolt against his tattoo (instead of just inserting it in the head of the toilet screw which was right there in the same room) feels like an attempt to make the tattoo look useful, and I groan. But would I have been able to look past this (or even thought about it for more than a second) if a voice inside my head wasn’t saying, “look - this stuff just doesn’t work.” I guess what I’m saying is that the critical response has hampered my enthusiasm for the show, and now I’m seeing the flaky stuff, and it’s harder to get past. I still like the show; I’m just not as high on it now as I was initially.

HOUSE: Strangely enough, this show has been sluggish out of the gate for the same reason the OC was slow to start its second season – the most compelling actor had a cold while filming. Like the 2nd season of the OC, I expect this show to get back up to snuff soon, but still a lackadaisical start (especially considering the second to last episode of last season, which won the writing Emmy, was clearly the show’s best). They haven’t used Sela Ward at all yet.

While I was watching LOST’s first episode of the season, it seemed mighty good, but the more I thought about it, the better it got. Easily the best hour of the new season so far.

REUNION came incredibly close to loosing me completely in the first 20 minutes or so. There was a lot of really sloppy writing, very clumsy setups of a few of the situations, and some huge character problems. For instance, I instantly disliked, but was not interested in, the Tom Cruise character (I call him this because of the 4 Risky Buisness references in the first half of the show alone) and the other male characters seemed to be complete non starters. But the show did pick up towards the end of the first episode. I think one of the big trends for pilots this season is starting badly, or at least very coldly, and showing improvement towards the end of the hour (the other HUGE example of this is Nightstalker, which has the most soporific opening 10 minutes of any pilot I've ever seen). Episode 1 gets going in its last half as some of the emotional punches start to connect, and the characters get a little more exposure. The second episode, although it had less character issues, didn’t show any improvement in the writing department, which is where the show could use the most work. There is a moment in the episode (one character stands up and screams “nature calls,” leaving the other two characters in the room to have an conversation that is all important to advancing the plot) that is so un-natural, that I was jarred right out of whatever immersion in the narrative that I was able to develop by that point, and it generally takes one hell of a lot for this kind of shoddy transition to cause me any problems (I’m a 80’s TV vet, dammit). Interesting premise that looks DOA on execution.

I refuse to talk about the OC, a formerly great show, on the grounds that it might cause me internal hemorrhage.

BONES will succeed or fail on the basis of whether they can put together a writing staff that can provide better plot material for the lead actors to work with. I thought David Boreanaz basically "got" his character right away, and managed to inject enough charm so that I didn't rankle so much that the character is a bit creaky and hackneyed. Emily Deschanel, however, seemed to be trying to wrestle her character for control in the first half, and there was an interesting internal friction as a result (the character seemed overly developed in the script, and the actress seemed like she was trying to avoid the dialogue/exposition landmines to actually find the character she was playing). Toward the and of the first episode, this seemed to be actually working to her advantage, as she was employing that confusion/awkwardness in the character, which helped counter the "Mary Suism" some have pointed out. But never have I seen so many absolutely useless secondary characters. They really did a good job of giving us leads that can carry the show, but (as the X-Files shows) this kind of program just doesn't need all this other character baggage (plus which, this is a forensic anthropology show, so there must be a lot of travel a lot and you can't drag the whole cast along, unless you are "Medical Investigation" and have a (bullshit) transport plane and Batmobile to run around with). I would be shocked if at least 2 of these characters are not gone by the fifth episode.

SUPERNATURAL is a classic decent WB show (like Smallville) were casting blandly attractive actors seems more important than acting chops, but the show seems to work, and develops some nice tense moments in the first two episodes. I’ll watch anything with Wendigo in it, anyway.

HEAD CASES: My wife liked it. It’s cancelled. No need to go on.

SYRVIVOR has managed to really hook me all but two of its (what, is it eleven now?) seasons. I have faith, and bringing back Stephanie and Bobby John (sp?) was a nice touch. The early (as in just off the boat) incredibly hard reward challenge is nice to watch the fallout of. Survivor is one of only two reality shows (the Amazing Race being the other) that have been able to maintain both quality and watchability.

THRESHOLD: Whew, boy. This one is tough. I like the ideas in this show a lot (bioforming – i.e. alien invasion by taking over the organisms already on the planet - is a great one), everyone wants Karen Cisco to finally lead a show that doesn’t get cancelled, and the horny dwarf is a hoot, but crap! The show hasn’t really (after 3 hours) given me any indication that it is going to do anything interesting. This show is paradigmatic of the current season’s sturdy and serviceable, but bland and undistinguished shows. Nothing of any real interest has happened.

The CSIs: Warren Ellis is the only person who agrees with me that these shows have gotten more interesting to watch as abstract art films as they go on. All sorts of experimental film techniques are used to fetishise body fluids, and the shows different visual themes that make each distinct are miraculous. Meanwhile, the shows are well written and have watchable actors and actresses. All except for CSI:NY which sucks.

LAS VEGAS had a really odd opener, which does a reboot on the show after only two years. The episode took some very interesting character turns, but seemed to lack conviction (this should have been a two hour premire, just to let the “I’m not coming back…, OK I’m coming” reversals have more room to breathe). I just finished watching Twin Peaks in its entirety, and let me say that, although always limited, Lara Flynn Boyle looks especially wooden in Las Vegas in comparison. And the pony tail makes her look like Cindy in Jimmy Neutron (the second best animated lookalike in the past few months, as Michael from Big Brother looked exactly like Syndrome (Buddy) in the Incredibles). Some fun stuff and interesting moments, but felt a little forced getting from point A to point G in one hour.

INVASION: probably, after review of the play, the best pilot of the new shows, but I will reserve judgement for now.

SURFACE: I will also readdress this after a few weeks, but, out of all the shows I’ve seen, this had a pilot that was MUCH better than I expected judging by the reviews. I have no idea how this show could work week in, week out, but I was pleasantly surprised by the casting and writing. I like the Louisiana guys a lot.

MEDIUM: Interesting start, but we really have no change in the status quo after some diverting “has she lost her powers?” mumbo jumbo. As I have said before, I really warmed to this show after a chilly start (I really thought the pilot was bad), mostly due to ceasing to think of it as a real life psychic show and starting to look at it as a realistic superhero show. The fact that the family life somehow feels more authentic (and actually loving) than anything else on the air helps.

So far, the surprise of how good the last season was has given way to a season of the meh’s (good but not great! is the motto for the new shows). To be continued.


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