Friday, September 15, 2006

"Your wife is a furniture hooker!": Thursday gleanings

In this nether-week before the real season kicks off on Monday, all there was to sate my viewing appetite were Fox's fledgling sitcoms, although there were also some strange goings-on in yesterday's Colbert Report, if anyone caught that. For weeks, Stephen Colbert has been urging his fans to vote in droves at a Hungarian website to name a new bridge in that country after him. Dutifully, his fans have obliged and Colbert demolished the opposition (which included Chuck Norris and Jon Stewart) and emerged triumphant. So, we were treated to an extremely odd scene where the Hungarian foreign minister presented Colbert with a Hungarian passport and invited him to Budapest for the naming ceremony. Apparently, there's a small issue that Colbert is not yet deceased, but I'm hoping it gets smoothed over. Colbert's meteoric rise in notoriety is becoming ridiculous, but I still adore the guy, which must explain the bizarre desire I have for Colbert to succeed in this ridiculous task. I'm not alone in this either, which must explain the fact that Colbert recieved some 20 million votes in the website poll. There's still a lo-tech culty feel to the Report: even though it can be hit-and-miss, it's very impressive that the man can sustain my attention with what is basically four different one-man shows a week.

Moving on to Fox's comedy power hour, and I really can't decide which of these shows is worse. Til Death has a better cast, but the premise is so weak it really can't sustain the attention despite Brad Garrett's reliable mugging. In this week's episode, Joy (the older wife) is convinced by Steph (the younger wife) to use her wifely wiles to convince Eddie (the older husband) to accept feminine furnishings of the house. Steph says it works on Jeff (the younger husband) all the time. But Eddie is so bored of his wife, he decides to decline her offer of sex for the chance to pick out furniture. That premise isn't just boring, it's DEPRESSING! In fact, this whole show is fascinatingly grim. The writers aren't sparing any quarter: Eddie and Joy really do seem desperately bored by each other. Even in their final reconciliation scene of the episode, Eddie was reading a meat magazine over Joy's shoulder. And the young happy couple won't last long either: so far, Eddie's predictions of a slippery slope into horrible tedium for Jeff & Steph have been correct. I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to handle this show--if I want depressing TV, I'll turn to FX, thank you very much.

Fox's other offering is the truly dire Happy Hour, which still seems like a really aimless rip-off of How I Met Your Mother to me. The central premise of Happy Hour seems to be that today's 20-somethings should drop their half-caffe lattes and start indulging in good old-fashioned alcohol at all hours to chase the relationship blues away. Or something. I like the alcohol idea, now if only they could weave in a few good lines and make the cast (other than the extremely alluring Beth Lacke, who's like a less shrill, less anorexic Debra Messing) vaguely stand out. I remember there being complaints last year about Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother being an uninspiring leading man, but his doppleganger here is a literal non-entity. Not only can I not name either the character or the actor, I don't even think I could describe him to a police artist if he mugged me. The plot of the episode I just watched also escapes me, but I remember that it was 75% flashbacks and 100% not funny. Once all the other new shows start debuting, I don't think I'm going to be able to hang on, even for the delightful Ms. Lacke.


Company (Original Cast Recording)

Oops. Forgot I had some company this week. So posting may be a bit light.

I'll try to get some end of the week gleanings up tomorrow or Saturday, but I've got a review for House Next Door to work on too.

So if you don't see me, bug David for some stuff.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"The odds are good, but the goods are odd": Further Tuesday gleanings

David here, chipping in on Todd's Tuesday analysis:

First off, I caught the second episode of Nip/Tuck's fourth season despite myself. I figured that maybe things might wind down a bit after the bombastic premiere, and I was mostly right. We were spared the tsunami of kitschy guest stars: only the talented Sanaa Lathan remained from the premiere, although already we've discovered she's a double-crossing gold-digger who's being blackmailed by the lesbian mafia (I'm guessing there, but if the real storyline is any less ridiculous I'll eat Christian's surgical scrubs).

Instead, the episode ploughed straight into three of the big season themes: Christian's possible bi/homosexuality, the health of Sean and Julia's approaching child and Ryan Murphy's swiping at Scientology. Yes, after casting the Paxil-promoting, Cruise-baiting Brooke Shields as a psychiatrist (in a performance about as wooden as the mahogany desk Christian quickly mounted her on), now troubled Matt is quickly being sucked into the world of Thetans and credit card details. It's not the worst plotline in the world, but after the maelstrom inspired by South Park last year, it just feels like Nip/Tuck is late to the party. Methinks Murphy's hopes of raising further ire from Tom Cruise and his bonkers entourage may be misplaced.

All this considered, I have a feeling I'll be tuning in again next week, even though nothing about this week's episode grabbed me at all. Todd often complains that Six Feet Under's major flaw was its lack of subtlety, but SFU has nothing on Nip/Tuck. The use of patients-of-the-week to illustrate the main characters' turmoil is often painfully clumsy, every story twist is practically spelt out for the viewer, and any emotion is multiplied to the extreme. But, Julian McMahon and Dylan Walsh are great! And it's shot real pretty. And I want to see if they're going to dispatch Joely Richardson anytime soon.

I also took in the pilot of ABC's new Men In Trees, which Todd handily slated just below. It's almost too easy to dislike this show: the show's influences (aka the shows creator Jenny Bicks shamelessly ripped off) are blankly obvious. There's no need for me to mention that this has all been done before with Northern Exposure, but I'm going to anyway. All that Men In Trees does is take Northern Exposure, but swop the protagonist's gender and add a dash of the men from Mars, women from Venus posturing of Sex and the City, a show Bicks worked on.

However, I still found myself vaguely won over by Men In Trees. Mostly it's the excellent cast: Abraham Benrubi (the adorable giant Jerry from ER), Derek Richardson (who somehow struck a very sympathetic figure in the decidedly nasty film Hostel) and the esteemable John Amos are among a strong ensemble who anchor star Anne Heche. Heche, happily, does not resort to the histrionics she can sometimes be guilty of, instead underplaying the fish-out-of-water antics of her character Marin Frist, who is literally Bridget Jones meets Carrie Bradshaw. The proposed plots for the series are hardly exciting: there's a possibly troubled marriage, a budding geeky romance and, of course, the obligatory will-they-won't-they nonsense between Marin and the aloof Jack, played with lazy charm by James Tupper. Still, there's a charming comfort factor to it all, and the writing and performances manage to keep it just afloat. Plus, Northern Exposure has been off the air for 11 years! So, until the blessed day Custer reaches our sets, I'm willing to make do with this.


A fifth season for The Wire

After the Deadwood debacle, it's nice that one minimally-rated HBO show will get to live out its natural lifespan. Alan Sepinwall has the news.

Rumor has it season five will focus on the media. I can't wait to see what former journalist David Simon has to say about THAT.


Things are getting strange, I'm starting to worry/looks like this could be a case for Mulder and Scully: Tuesday gleaning

Didn't get a lot of time to get to much beyond House tonight, but it was sort of worth the effort.

House fought the aliens tonight, and House won. With the help of his wacky team, he figured out why a kid was having vivid alien abduction nightmares AND why the kid kept bleeding uncontrollably from the, er, well, where the kid would be probed. In the meantime, he made one of the show's wackier diagnoses (which basically boiled down to an undetected identical twin lurking in the bone marrow, heart and brain -- no really) and confronted the alarming specter of his leg pain.

As with many episodes of House, this one felt like a filler between the episodes where the writing staff can bend the formula a little and really do something they find interesting. I was a big X-Files fan, so I enjoyed the illness, and I have to admit that the diagnosis wasn't a tumor (finally).

I'm a bit disappointed that the conspiracy to keep House's miracle cure from last week a secret from him crumbled so quickly. I suspect this is slightly more realistic, but I was looking forward to seeing Cuddy and Wilson's scheming reach new heights. Of course, it would have been hard to keep this from anyone in a small, enclosed space like a hospital, but that could have made for an interesting storyline. As it was, it felt like an up-and-back (a plot point that gets you right back to where you started) stretched out over two episodes. Kind of a cheat, in other words.

Saw the last 10 minutes of Men in Trees, too, and it hasn't grown in my estimation, though it's charmingly filmed and I like the locations they're using. Unfortunately, the last 10 minutes had that truly abysmal voiceover, read by Anne Heche. I call a general moratorium on crappy voiceover for the 2007-08 development season.

Tomorrow will be a catchup day. Promise.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What you'll be spec-ing

Fear not, wannabe TV writers! I have surveyed the new TV landscape and have predicted WHAT you will be wanting to watch for spec script purposes.

If you like multi-camera sitcoms:

The Class -- This is pretty much your only option, but it's pretty cute, and CBS will now have four (well, technically three, but How I Met Your Mother has a laugh track at least), count 'em four, multi-camera shows worth writing specs for in a row. Praise be!

If you like single-camera sitcoms:

LOTS of stuff to pick from, but I would hedge my bets on. . .

Knights of Prosperity -- A good time slot, a winning ensemble and a great concept (plus, Mick Jagger, though I guess they may not have him past the pilot). The writing is a bit frat-boyish at times, but the creators also worked on Ed, so one has to assume they'll see their way past that.

30 Rock -- Scrubs at a TV show. Of course, it's being heavily reworked, so I have no idea if it will remain any good, but them's the breaks, folks. I'm guessing this could become the next Scrubs -- a small, rabid fanbase.

Help Me Help You -- There's some potential here, and you'd get to write for Ted Danson. TED DANSON!

If you like procedural dramas:

Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. . .

Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. . .

Shark -- But, really, stick with CSI or House.

If you like dramedies:

Two fine choices in a field that can be undercrowded. . .

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip -- To a degree, this is a guilty pleasure for people who think they're really smart, but it's fun in its own right too. You'd have to be able to write Sorkin-ese, and while it's easy to copy on its surface, it's also maddening to get perfectly right.

Ugly Betty -- I have a suspicion this would be fun to write. It looks like NOTHING else on American TV.

If you like sci-fi dramas:

You're kind of out of luck after last year when all of those sci-fi shows premiered and failed.


Jericho -- If you like post-apocalyptic stuff, this is where it's at.

If you like serial dramas:

Boy are you in luck!

The Nine -- Possibly a big, breakout hit, though it's so wedded to its bank robbery flashback structure that it could be as hard to spec as Lost.

Kidnapped -- Some say it's the next 24. I don't see it, but it should be fun to write if you like to write police stuff with a bigger structure over it.

Brothers & Sisters -- Because you know you've wanted to write a big, dark adult soap.

Six Degrees -- J.J. Abrams has gotta be able to figure out how to make this work, right? A great timeslot, so it could take off.

If you like teen shows:

Friday Night Lights -- Go. Run. TiVo season pass now.

Of course, all of these could be canceled immediately. But that's the business of show!


"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.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years later. . .

The time since the attacks is both a blip and an interminable span, stretching out behind us.

It seems I should say something, but, really, there's nothing to say. I've been acutely recalling the chaos of the day, even in South Dakota, the lines for gas, the attempts to get through to friends in New York, all of it.

But, really, there's nothing I could say that would match this. So go read the stories. And take your own moment to remember.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

"...So yeah, we're werewolves."

You can find TV on the Radio's awesomely ridiculous video for the lead single off of Return to Cookie Mountain, "Wolf Like Me" here. The cheezy "Thriller?!"


Too Little, Too Late

Since I have been desperately behind in...everything that I enjoy lately, and I DO want to start blogging again, I thought I would do a randomly pointless string of posts about recently released albums that everyone has already talked about ad naseum, that have yet to be heard by me. In the coming weeks, particularly when I get my own computer, I hope to finally hear these hyped albums and weigh in with my late, and largely useless thoughts on them. First up:

Outkast, Idlewild

I hadn't really been looking forward to this nearly as much as I thought I would. Stankonia has, more or less, reached unquestionable classic status in most circles, and you'll find no argument from me. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, however, I found largely disappointing due to its unabashed grandness, and some times superfluous existence. There is a solid LP contained therein, but it is mostly a chore to listen to these days. Speakerboxxx seemed to find the right balance of elements in most instances but, on the whole, the double LP was simply unsatisfying. I mostly enjoy the idea of Idlewild. I've yet to see the film, but it seems to be something suited for Outkast in a very big way. I've heard "Mighty O," which is a perfectly acceptable single in the forum of main stream hip hop a slight step above the normal fare. However, it is certainly nothing special...which is something of a let down right off the bat. "Morris Brown" is routinely amazing. Unfortunately, upon multiple listens, I've found that most of its off-center charm comes from the absolutely stellar production (Whistles? Marching bands? Come on!) and not so much from Big Boi's oddly timed flow--which, in the grand scheme of the track, is sadly peripheral. Still the song is a wonderful testament to the simple power Outkast can generate from packaging and a brilliantly contrasted attention to detail. I don't really expect much out of Idlewild. However, if I could get two or three tracks on the superficially satisfying level of "Morris Brown" my expectations may very well be exceeded.