Friday, September 08, 2006

"And so it begins.": Thursday gleanings


A quiet night for television, one of the last few before the real season begins.

The NFL on NBC looked nice. I'm more of a baseball guy, but it's always fun to be in football season, even if I don't watch every game. I was out doing things (near widescreen TVs, of course), so I didn't see every minute of the game or anything, but what was there was presented crisply and efficiently. NBC Sports has a real "just show me the stupid game" philosophy. They don't go in for artsy camera angles like ABC or obsessive technobaubles that cover the whole screen like Fox. It's a bit stripped down, and I like it, even if the John Williams composed theme song is a big step down from ABC's Monday Night Football riff with those three descending notes over and over and over.

Fox launched its two new sitcoms tonight, and they continued to be two of the worst new shows of the season (honestly, Fox, what's going on?). 'Til Death, I thought when I first saw it, was a mediocre script made slightly better by an excellent cast's willingness to go for broke. Seeing it again, I couldn't fathom what made the veterans Brad Garrett, Joely Fisher and Eddie Kaye Thomas and promising newcomer Kat Foster decide this was the vehicle for them. I can't imagine the script was that much better before network notes. Perhaps Garrett looked at it and thought, Yeah. I can wring the laughs out of that! But somehow I doubt it.

Anyway, the show revolves around the novel premise that as married couples get older, they have less interest in things they enjoyed as newlyweds. Also, it posits that women are only out to give men a hard time. Both of these, as I'm sure you can tell, are entirely new and original notions. The first time you watch this, you're sort of willing to give the cast some leeway. Garrett, mugger that he is, has an excellent technical sense of how to deliver a joke -- where to put the punchline, where to give a hangdog look, etc. Joely Fisher is his equal in that department. Eddie Kaye Thomas has a tendency to oversell, but he's easily balanced by the bubbly Kat Foster.

The second time you see this, the script hangs there limply, for all to see, devoid of jokes or original ideas or anything.

There's a bigger problem here, and it's a problem with the whole "hot wife/ugly husband" genre: You simply don't believe that Fisher and Garrett are really in love or ever really were in love. Everybody Loves Raymond (which, of course, starred Garrett) kicked off the whole genre, and its characters, nasty as they were, were always grounded in what was often an unpleasant truth: They loved each other. The show cannily showed us real moments of affection between the various family members, so when it eventually all went wrong, the humor was that much more effective.

No Raymond rip-off has managed to capture that finely tuned balance (it helped that Raymond was shepherded by old sitcom pro Phil Rosenthal). In all of them, the love of the hot wife for the ugly husband is treated as an afterthought, and the husband is only in it for the sex. No TV production cycle is as hermetically sealed as the three-camera sitcom production cycle, and that's probably why the genre in recent years has tended to view long-running marriages as smirkworthy freak shows. (It doesn't help, of course, that sitcoms believe that young = funny, often tossing aside great old hands at the art of writing funny for the Next Big Thing.)

So, in summation, 'Til Death. Not that good.

Eureka, which I caught up with tonight, may be finally losing me. I've been giving it the old college try (and I've liked some of the episodes well enough), but there's just not enough to it to keep me viewing on a night that promises to be the most punishing of the fall schedule. I'm glad that quirky, lightly amusing science fiction still has a place on the television dial, but the show could use a healthy dose of learning not to love itself so much. Ah well. I'm sure I'll check in again next summer.

At any rate, this week's episode was about lost loves returning and fathers and daughters learning to trust each other and. . .there was a robot.

Quite frankly, I couldn't describe the plot of any episode of Eureka (aside from the third one, which dealt with memory loss) in any great detail. That's probably a bad sign.

Then it was back to Fox. And if 'Til Death is garden-variety bad, then Happy Hour is atrocious, the worst new show of the season. Somewhere in all of this, there's the glimmer of a good idea, what with the attempt (apparently) to turn the film Swingers into a sitcom. And the sets look nice, I guess.

But, honestly, this is just a bad show, a classic example of trying to cram too much into a pilot. We don't get a tremendous sense of who the characters are, what their conflicts are, why we should come back from week to week. Fox seemed aware that this show wasn't horribly good, desperately underpromoting it, especially when compared to the all-out blitz for 'Til Death (at least here in Southern California).

If there's one reason I'm coming back, though, it's Beth Lacke. I missed the episode of How I Met Your Mother that Lacke was in last year (the only one I missed), and now I'm sorry I did. She sort of comes out of nowhere. I can't tell if she's a genuine comedic talent or if she's just trying that much harder than everybody else, but Lacke is one to watch -- curvy (by Hollywood standards), perfectly aware of her surroundings and blessed with a gift for unconventional line readings. When the show throws her and the lead in bed together by the end of the pilot (even though she's his boss and kind of doesn't like him), you sort of buy it because she does a good job of making you buy it. (Side note: I admired the guts to get the "will they/won't they" question out of the way right away, but, honestly, it could have been done with more grace.) Happy Hour is Lacke's show, and when it's canceled, I hope she bounces right back.

One final note: Why, exactly, has it become so hard for Fox to air its shows so they end at the right time? And, if it is that hard, why can't they tell TiVo they're going to run over. Constantly missing the last 30 seconds of Fox shows is starting to grate (though on the dramas at least all I miss are the "next time on"s).

Probably no thoughts tomorrow unless I finally get to Life on Mars. And sometime this weekend, I finally, finally defend Lost season two from the conventional Internet wisdom.

1 comment:

David Sims said...

I found 'Til Death really miserable. Not only is it so pedestrian, but Joely Fischer and Brad Garrett are just a dreadful couple! How many storylines could one really get out of this show before one kills oneself with boredom?