Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Coal miner and wife, plus new shows galore

I honestly don't remember everything I've watched since I disappeared last week or thereabouts, so I'll just run through a lot of things before getting to the new shows that have debuted since I left.

--I hate it when reality shows bring back contestants who were ousted. It feels patently unfair, even if they try to couch it in, "Well, these people were really good at one time and just had a bad week, and that's why they're gone," like Project Runway did when it brought back Vincent and Angela. Really, it felt like the show just wanted to spur conflict when it more easily could have spurred my heart to warmth by bringing back Allison. We're two weeks from the end, though, and the show is starting to bore me. It's trying to be too much about the interpersonal conflicts and not enough about the creativity.

--I didn't really pay attention to Bones, but Libby said it was good.

--Survivor: Race-Baiting Edition ended up not being nearly as exciting as I thought it would be. All of the tribes ended up conforming to certain prevalent stereotypes and it STILL felt boring.

--The Simpsons was a Lisa and Bart story. These can be the show's finest half-hours, but this one was a little too chaotic, even if it had a solid series of laughs (most coming in the throwaway gags hidden in the periphery of the frame). Plus, the White Stripes cameo felt really shoehorned in, even more than these guest star bits usually do. Still, it was an interesting storyline to have Bart become a musical genius at Lisa's expense. The show has done the same basic plot before, but never this specific one, so it felt vaguely new.

--Family Guy was more annoying than usual. I never need to hear another "Weenie and the Butt" and/or 97.1 gag again. It got old. Fast.

--If you were to read these bits without having seen the shows in question, you would have NO IDEA what was going on.

--The Amazing Race 10 kicked off, and it did a much better job of incorporating its newer, more diverse lineup than Survivor did. The fact that there were 12 teams instantly tipped most race aficionadoes off that there would be a dual elimination week, I'm sure, but it felt like a cheat to have it come in the first episode, especially if it meant we had to lose the two, er, MOST diverse teams (the Muslims and the Indians). Both teams blame their eliminations on bad cabbies, and that may be true, but I can see why the show doesn't show such stuff, as it would be dramatically uninteresting. Anyway, the show's good eye for casting once again lands a bunch of interesting people, from the girl with the prosthetic leg to the all-too annoying cheerleaders to the just-stereotypical-enough gay couple to the former drug addicts who were also models (wait. . .what?) to the COAL MINER AND WIFE, who managed to be everything most people think is wrong with the South in one couple.

--David said more than enough about How I Met Your Mother. But, somehow, I think the show has continued the roll it was on late last season. The drama is still stronger than the comedy at times, and I can see why so many people are irritated that Ted and Robin are together (since we know they'll break up), but this is one of the few will-they/won't-they relationships I can think of where we know THEY WON'T, and that's interesting to me.

--A list of the shows I've fallen behind on while entertaining people is lengthy and includes (in order of my shame) The Wire, Brotherhood, Life on Mars, House, Prison Break and Gospel Bill.

Now, the new shows.

Really, there's no genre in television where the sheer skill of craftsmanship shines through more than the traditional (multi-camera, if you will) sitcom. If you know what you're doing, you can make really weak material seem funnier than it is simply through the effective use of the setup-punchline format and some zippy direction. It doesn't hurt to have a cast that's willing to play ball, but, really, one can appreciate a sitcom on the same level as a cabinet -- some of those cabinets are going to be so exquisitely crafted that they'll rise to the level of art, but most of those cabinets will have doors that open and shut and shelves that hold things.

The latter is how I feel about The Class. It's a particularly well put-together cabinet, but it's still just a cabinet. Fortunately, the show gets better as it goes along. If you tuned in to the pilot and felt the show really struggled against its completely insane premise (which feels like something tacked on to sell the show to the networks), fear not. Episodes two and three split the characters off and throw the competing storylines up against each other, even though the paths of the various people never really cross. This is good news for those of us who think the premise of the show is just too ludicrous to be believed.

To some degree, the show is overstuffed. In a single-camera comedy like The Office, an ensemble this huge feels natural because many of the ensemble members can be sitting in the background, behaving normally. In a show like this, where the entire cast is competing for the attention of the audience (often overacting, most noticeably in the case of Lucy Punch), it feels way, way too manic.

It doesn't help that none of the characters seem to exist beyond one-line descriptions in the minds of the creators. There's the gay one and the trophy wife and the sarcastic one and the boy next door. None of this feels remotely original, even when Lizzie Caplan is making the most of her sarcastic quips. Especially when compared to How I Met Your Mother, which airs afterward and has managed to create five believable characters drawn with nuance, The Class can feel shrill.

So, by stuffing the show with so many characters and not forcing them to share stories but also by never developing those characters, The Class manages to be a sitcom that experiments mightily with the form and then feels. . .like every other sitcom.

The worst thing about the show may be the storyline about the woman who is still bitter about her prom night ten years ago and her marriage to a man who may or may not be gay. It's the sort of thing that would have felt tired ten years ago, and the passage of time has not been kind.

But I liked quite a bit in this (particularly Caplan), and that's largely due to David Crane, Jeffrey Klarik and the estimable James Burrows. All three are sitcom vets, and all three make even the horrible moments of this show somehow bearable.

Somewhere in The Class, there's a great show struggling to get out. The ruminations on how bright, hopeful youngsters turn into bitter, sad adults are spot-on, and the idea that this is a genre-bending dramedy is an interesting one, but the show itself never quite gels, and its reliance on sitcom tropes will probably keep that from happening.

--My mixed emotions about Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip are up here.

Tomorrow, I'll get to Smith (mediocre), Jericho (above average for me but not the best for many others), Six Degrees (odd. . .but watchable) and Shark (strictly average). I'll also hope to catch up with some other stuff on the TiVos, including the other CBS comedies. Look for Libby's thoughts on America's Next Top Model as well.

1 comment:

David Sims said...

I watched some of Smith again and just thought M-E-H. I'll see the second episode but it's just so plain for such a crisp show. Everything seemed to be checking the boxes (romance, deceit, crazy guy, dead buddy, etc.)