Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"I need tequila to get my karaoke on": Assorted gleanings

Lots of stuff watched over the weekend, and where was I? I was off playing Civilization IV on the new computer.

See? Priorities!

Anyway. . .

Forget what I said about NBC stripping down Sunday Night Football. The Thursday night game was just a warm-up to the "Manning Bowl," and said game had all of the chutzpah the Steelers and Dolphins apparently didn't deserve. To be honest, even though this was THE FIRST TIME that TWO BROTHERS faced off as STARTING QUARTERBACKS (or whatever), the game didn't really deserve that much build-up, much less cutaways to the Manning family in their luxury box, grimacing and looking uncomfortable. Both sons played great, Mannings. You can relax now.

I watched a little of The Path to 9/11 to see what had been cut and kept, and while I see where the pundocrats are coming from, I really think ABC should have been more worried that the thing was just a piece of over-the-top filmmaking. The camera was always roving, the editing was jumpy and had no rhythm to it and the weird decision to not show footage of the first tower being hit but THEN show footage of the second tower being hit from multiple angles was fishy. It was good to see Stephen Root, one of my favorite TV actors, in a dramatic role. Hopefully, this gets him more work, as he was probably the highlight of this overcooked mess.

Then it was on to the Fox comedies (at least the animated ones -- I wrote off The War at Home a long time ago). The Simpsons, while still a shadow of itself, manages to draw smiles with every episode. This is the second time the show has parodied The Sopranos, and the plot was probably a bit too convoluted, but I'm willing to trade a lot of that for amusing gags like The Godfather riff that closed the episode. Lisa taking the place of Kay was the kind of joke that snuck up on you, even as you were aware that it was coming at you full-stop.

Recently, I've been finding people online who claim that American Dad is the best of Fox's animated sitcoms. I bailed after the atrocious pilot, so I wondered if maybe there was something to their thoughts or if they were just latter-day Family Guy fans, looking for a new cult icon. So I watched the season premiere. And I can unequivocally state that the American Dad fans are wrong. This show is still a blend of warmed-over pop culture gags and baldly blatant political humor that has none of the scalpel-sharp precision of South Park or The Simpsons and none of the go-for-broke stupidity of Family Guy. American Dad fans? Shut up.

Family Guy isn't as good as every college kid says it is, but it's an enjoyable enough show to watch on a Sunday evening. Some of the jokes hit their mark, and the ones that don't aren't so bad that you just want to throw something at your TV. And the self-referential gags are amusing for now.

I watched last week's Life on Mars then, and damn, is this show cool or what? Out of all of the big British hits on our shores, I think this will be hardest to adapt, not because it's that conceptually difficult (a time-traveling cop show in the 70s shouldn't be that tough), but because the American impulse will be to make the show all about the time traveling conceit while ignoring the fact that the show works because the time travel aspect is always hanging around in the background. While I don't pay as close of attention to the show as I should (which isn't helped by BBC America's bizarre idea to run the show in an hour slot when they could air the whole thing in an 80 minute slot), it's visually arresting, and the 1970s policework is a nice break from the ultra-high-tech CSI wannabes on every other network.

Brotherhood had to wait, unfortunately. The Wire is waiting too, while Libby catches up with prior seasons.

Finally, Prison Break continues to bump off its regular (or, in this case, recurring) characters with a sort of homicidal glee. Unfortunately, by isolating all of its characters like it has, we're unable to feel the weight of what has happened. Even on 24, where the characters drop like flies, there's always a moment taken to let Jack Bauer reflect on just what this latest loss means to him (even if it's, literally, a moment). Shows like the HBO holy triumverate (Deadwood, The Wire and The Sopranos) and Lost are very acutely aware of the way death affects a community. On Prison Break, death is just more grist for the plot mill. To be honest, when I saw the executive producers talking this summer about how the show would be like American Idol (only with characters dying or being captured), my hackles were raised. Death is already cheap enough on every crime procedural out there; serials don't need to jump on the "everybody into the death pool" wagon. Sadly, I think it will happen a lot this season, and rarely with emotional heft.

Men in Trees debuts tonight. I give it a solid "Meh." I liked it more than some, but it has its issues, not least of which is that it's basically a gender-flipped Northern Exposure with more romantic comedy elements.

Tomorrow: House and another look at Men in Trees (I didn't get to see a final pilot). Maybe Brotherhood too.


Serbs In Kosovo are in Danger said...

I don't think you even watched American Dad. That review could have been written when the show first premiered but not now.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

No. Really. I did.

If what passes for political satire these days is a father sending his son to a refugee camp instead of a summer camp, then the end of the empire is at hand.