Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Friends forever: Monday gleanings

Often when I'm lazily watching daytime television I'll happen upon a repeat of Friends, and I usually find that's a nice option to settle for. Easy laughs, not too threatening or challenging, and the cast have great natural chemistry. Now, it's a little early to be making such claims, but I think CBS's excellent How I Met Your Mother, which premiered its second season yesterday, is the heir to Friends's sitcom throne. This article agrees, comparing the show to Cheers and Taxi. High praise for a show that gets okay reviews and is basically a moderate hit? Maybe. But I find HIMYM a joy to watch and yesterday's episode was, for me, the high-point of the young 06-07 season so far. It has a genuine, friendly 20-something New York feel and its jokes hit 90% of the time, but most importantly it has one of the best-gelling ensembles on television. Even though it has a bona-fide show-stealing performance in Neil Patrick Harris' cheesy womanizer Barney, and two other recognizable TV vets in Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel, everybody balances each other out perfectly. When the group is together, they hit a fantastic comic rythym and their zingers never sound scripted (pity about the hollow laugh track, though). Even in Friends, there were always a few character pairings that didn't really fly (how often did you see Rachel/Chandler, or Monica/Joey, or Phoebe/Ross?), but the friendships of How I Met Your Mother have never felt false so far.

Appropriately titled "Where We Were", the premiere picked up right from last season's finale which had finally united will-they-won't-theys Ted and Robin but broken up the reliable couple Marshall and Lily. Compressing the summer months of Marshall's moping and Ted and Robin's burgeoning romance into 22 minutes was a smart move: the impacts of the breakup and the new relationship were keenly felt, and now the show's writers can play with those situations in more interesting ways after quickly laying the groundwork. Also, it means they don't have to contend with their five characters being two couples + Barney, which is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Already the seeds have been sown for trouble ahead for Ted and Robin--their brief spats during this episode were defused by their puppy love, but such cannot last forever (as the future-Ted narrator Bob Saget assures us, they are not meant to be together). This bodes well for Marshall, played by the goofily charming Jason Segel, but I look forward to a few episodes of he and Lily trying to survive the couples scene on their own. Although I think HIMYM will probably never progress beyond from being a moderate hit, you never know! Cheers was a flop in its first season, right? Thus, onward! This show can only get better!

Talking about Friends, co-creator David Crane has a new show before HIMYM called The Class. See what I did there? This is a FRIENDS-themed post. The Class is a sitcom about an elementary school reunion and the disparate people it brings together, with hilarious consequences. But my first reaction was, "Huh? Elementary school? Really?" Who on earth goes to a grade-school reunion 20 years on? And remembers anyone from grade school, let alone has a history with them? But, no matter. There's definite promise to the premise, and the ensemble that's been assembled has some promising names--although, as many critics are pointing out, the limited scope of ethnicity in the cast rears its head here as it did in Friends. There's nothing too radical going on here plotwise either, with three potential couples already matched from a cast of just eight, which may prove a problem if the show ends up lasting.

My personal favorite among the cast is Lizzie Caplan, who played a fairly non-threatening punk in Mean Girls and deploys sarcastic bromides with similar effectiveness here. She'll likely be paired with the puppy-dog Jason Ritter if their opposites attract, as these things tend to do. I couldn't make as much of an impression of Andrea Anders, who was adorable if one-note in Joey, as she was saddled with the brunt of the pilot's dramatic moments. It'll take me a couple more episodes to get a handle on the others, but I'm happy to oblige. With Crane and veteran director James Burrows at the helm, The Class is in safe hands. It's never going to be anything remotely daring, but if the seemingly talented ensemble (the show's definitely a good pair with How I Met Your Mother) gets it right, they have plenty of solid material to play with.

Finally, how can one make a post ruminating on Friends and not mention THE show of the 06-07 season, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which premiered on NBC last night? Starring Matthew Perry among others, and created by Aaron Sorkin, there's almost too much to recommend this show. Todd already pinpointed Studio 60's flaws over at The House Next Door, so I won't go into too much detail here. I'll just say that despite Sorkin's ridiculous belief that TV is in a tailspin from which only he can save it, this show is brimming with promise. The nine-minute opening sequence is particularly astounding to watch, even after so many imitators have attempted to emulate director Thomas Schlamme's fluidity. But an hour-long TV drama about a sketch comedy show certainly isn't as dramatically rich a premise as The West Wing, even with Sorkin behind the helm. Nonetheless, Studio 60 is basically required viewing, and I'll certainly stick with it for this season unless it really reeks. Which it won't. I mean, hello? AMANDA PEET!

As for Prison Break, well I can't shoehorn Friends into an analysis of that show. Also, watching it just leaves me exhausted. Maybe Todd had some thoughts. I just hope they re-introduce Haywire soon. Cause if there's one thing Prison Break needs to be, it's CRAZIER.

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