Thursday, September 07, 2006

"Sweatin' like a ho in church": Wednesday gleanings

Some lessons in casting.

Through the weird and wild wonder of the TIVO machine, I ended up watching Justice, the show that aired last here on the West Coast, first. I jumped in about 10 minutes late, but the show was pretty much the same as last week.

Fortunately, it was boosted by having the wonderful Amanda Seyfried on board. Seyfried, of course, was the dumb blonde in Mean Girls before moving on to a season-long gig as Lilly Kane in the first season (and second season finale) of Veronica Mars. Most recently, she was a regular as Sarah, the daughter who was most questioning of the family's lifestyle on Big Love. In tonight's show, Seyfried was a bit over the top earlier, when she was doing the whole, "The nice, sweet girl actually has a horrible temper!" scenes, but she managed to really sell the scene where her testimony devolved into a crying jag as she recounted the tale of her love with an older, richer, married man.

Seyfried really sold the ambiguity of her character's guilt or innocence, so it automatically made the rest of the show more interesting. A procedural rises or falls based on its guests. CSI became so successful because its casting agents had a real eye for interesting guest stars to play the suspects of the week. House also has a good eye for this sort of thing. The accused in the pilot of Justice was not nearly as interesting as Seyfried's-gawky-farm-girl-turned-Hollywood- hottie-gone-horribly-wrong.

The regular cast was as good as could be expected -- in other words, the other actors got out of the way and let Victor Garber ham it up. And that's always a path to success. Or entertainment. I don't rightly know anymore.

On the other hand, the lovable crank has become a television archetype in record time. And the problem is, I just don't care enough about Garber's character to learn why, exactly, he became said lovable crank.

Project Runway is maybe the best cast reality show out there. In some ways, this cast is weaker than the second season's cast (I haven't seen much of the first year), but it's still full of the sorts of "characters" you don't see on other reality shows (or on many scripted shows for that matter).

I think the biggest problem with this season has been the growing lack of insight into the design process. Earlier seasons showed where the contestants drew their inspiration from in greater detail (unless I'm vastly misremembering -- and correct me if I am). This season, the show seems more interested in interpersonal drama. There's nothing wrong with interpersonal drama, but the creative element always set Runway apart, and it's a shame to see it go, even if it's for bizarre only-in-reality characters like Vincent, the man who thinks pajamas are good party wear (I defer to the general consensus that the guy should have left for his weird robot hat in -- week one, was it? -- but his genuinely bizarre nature has added some randomness to the whole deal.

Fortunately, Vincent has left the show. He didn't really deserve to be there any longer (and I would have traded him for sweet, good-natured Allison, who had the nerve to expose Heidi Klum's hatred of the moderately curvy and was thus ousted), but he occasionally made for good television.

Now, though, we're really down to the class of the bunch, I think (Allison aside), and I'm intrigued to see how the final few shows play out (assuming I have the time to keep up as the fall season revs up).

Speaking of reality, since we get a lot of hits from search engines about reality shows, expect some regular coverage of the big reality hits from a person with a far greater stomach for the genre than I fairly soon.

Bones was the final show of the evening, serving up a twisty-turny narrative that was a tad too predictable (aside from one truly interesting twist) but mostly well-played. While the gradual softening of Bones herself is still a bit mystifying, it's allowing the show to play a bit more with its sense of humor.

The case centered around the body of a mother discovered with the body of a dead baby. While in the first season a very serious case of a dead child nestled uncomfortably with joke writing, in this episode, the humor grew more naturally out of the characters and didn't feel as ill-at-ease. The dead child also played nicely (if over obviously) into a subplot about Agent Booth's child and Bones' realization that she can't quite have an ordinary life (nicely left as subtext when the same sentiment has too brutally been text in the past).

That said, the show's guest casting is still all over the map. A scene with the perpetrator of the crime that should have been moving or creepy or something just sort of flopped around laughably. Really, once you leave the safe confines of the Booth/Brennan scenes, one never knows what you might get on this show, and that's kind of a shame.

I don't know if I'll stick with Bones this season (Jericho, 30 Rock and Top Model will take precedence in my house), but it's certainly an interesting enough diversion when there's nothing else on.

Tomorrow: Catching up on stuff I've missed. And David reviews the season premiere of Nip/Tuck.

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