Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"His pancreas is gonna explode because his brain is on fire!": Tuesday gleanings

'Twas, I thought, a solid season premiere of House. I thought some of the forced jocularity from the good doctor was a little, well, forced, but I like the way David Shore and the other writers are slowly delving into this character, bit by bit.

It was great to see Kathleen Quinlan (Oscar-nominated at one time for Apollo 13) again though, no? One of the great things about the dramatic TV resurgence of the last few years is that it has taken over-the-hill character actors who can't get the time of day in major Hollywood studios and given them meaty parts to play, even if they're only on for a week. The Buffyverse continues to cross-pollinate the rest of the TV world, too, what with Clare Kramer (season five's Big Bad, Glory) playing the yoga girl who had scurvy.

If anything, I thought, this episode tried to do a bit too much. The yoga girl was tacked on a bit perfunctorily. I get what the writers were going for, what with House testing out being nice to people and all, but we never really got a sense of her as a person, and the best episodes of House personify the patients quickly and handily.

Fortunately, this was all counteracted by the week's true medical mystery, the man who hadn't walked or talked or anything for eight years whom House thought he could cure. This story was well-built, pitting House's own team against him and finally giving House's superiors the chance to say no to him. After his long hallucination in the second season finale and his self-diagnosis (leading to the cure of his leg pain), House has gotten cockier, readier to trust his gut, damn the evidence presented to him. Wilson recognizes that this could eventually lead to his downfall, but for now, he's saving people left and right.

I really liked the scene where the man in the wheelchair slowly regained his sensation, attempting at first to move his arms, then stand, then talk. It's a frightening thought, being trapped in your own body, and House dramatized it without doing too much crazy stylistic stuff.

A final note: It was marvelous fun to see Hugh Laurie do the Tom Cruise in Risky Business slide and skateboard, but I think seeing House play with his newly healed leg is the sort of thing that doesn't need to be seen every week. I also like the show's tacit acknowledgment that the leg pain was just a crutch, an excuse to be cranky.

Could it be that while other shows introduce malcontents as heroes, the show that made them popular is going to soften its malcontent just a bit?

Also checked out Standoff again and liked it less than the first time. If the House premiere was trying to do too much, Standoff was trying to do too much times two.

The problem, as I see it, is that Standoff is about five different and very interesting shows crammed into one, not very interesting show. There's a cool action-drama about the tactics used to end hostage situations. There's a procedural about sussing out the minds behind the hostage situations. There's a sort of "chess game" show about using strategy to outthink the hostage takers. There's a fairly classic "banter" show. And there's a romantic comedy. All of these elements are jostling for attention at the same time, and while a superior writer can pull that many different goals off, this writer just can't.

I really admire the decision to just dump us in the middle of the story, but why couldn't we have backed up a few months to see the relationship between the two leads when it was in its new and exciting infancy. Was it really all about sex, as the lead guy maintains? Or were there other feelings there (the show hints at them, of course)? By dropping us in near the END of the relationship, the show cheats us out of a lot of the stuff we might want to see in a romance set in the world of hostage negotiators. In some ways, this episode feels like a February sweeps episode forced to be a pilot. The audience is growing more sophisticated, but it still wants to see the most interesting parts of the story.

That said, I wouldn't be surprised by a high rating for the show. The first scene really catches your attention, even if you don't really care about the guy betraying his girl (since you don't know them yet). And the story about the son of the senator turning Muslim terrorist only. . .not really. . .was well-executed, if a tad predictable (and the implications of the mother/son relationship -- while not straying over into incest -- were yishy enough to take one out of the scene -- if you're going to do that sort of thing, go whole-hog and really shock us).

All in all, though, I don't think Standoff will be worth a return visit.

I'll try and TiVo Nip/Tuck. I really came to dislike the show about halfway through its second season, but friends assure me there's still a lot there to admire, and some critics say it has returned to form after what was said to be a disappointing third season (I didn't watch).

Backing up, though, what, exactly, went wrong with Fox's development this year? The network has to sort of play it safe, since it's so weak without Idol but so strong with it, so I understand the desire to really hit the procedural and traditional sitcom formats hard, but this is a network that used to routinely turn tired genres inside out and try new things. This year, they just feel like CBS. And the CBS clones aren't even GOOD CBS clones like House or adequate CBS clones like Bones. They're just CBS clones.

When one says that Justice is the best new show on Fox, that's honestly not a compliment to Justice.

Tomorrow: Do I watch anything on Wednesdays right now? Oh yeah. Project Runway and Bones and maybe something else.

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