(Over the course of a few days, SDD will be offering up its thoughts on what the networks may do with their lineups next fall as they enter the time period when they consider what to cancel and what to pick up. This is only based on unverified gossip and a little guesswork based on what networks have done in the past. We'll go alphabetically by network, and if you want to see what we predicted for ABC, go here. And here's last year's CBS prediction. Don't consider any of this official news. It's just our predictions.)
by Todd and Jon
Officially, I think, it's time to give up predicting the decline of CBS. I've been doing it for years and years now, and it never comes true. Some crime dramas go up, and some crime dramas go down, but it appears the public will never tire of the genre as a whole, which would pretty much doom the network. Sure there are signs that the network is on the way down, but pretty soon it will launch some new show just like all of its other shows, and that show will take off and be a huge hit, even though I won't know anyone who watches it, like NCIS or Criminal Minds (even if CM has cooled a bit -- it seems to gain odd strength from going up against Lost, and when Lost was moved, CM went down too).
As I said, there are warning signs, but they've been there for years and years. Sure, they're more glaring this year, but I've learned to not believe anything about CBS. As the only network that actively courts the above-49-year-olds, CBS should be dominant for years to come, as networks become less important and younger people do more time-shifting with TiVos and watching of shows online. CBS will stay strong, confident in the older audience it draws in.
But CBS DOES want younger viewers -- indeed, it wants to be loved something fierce. All it wants is a big, watercooler hit like the other networks all have. It used to have Survivor and CSI, but both shows are long in the tooth. The Amazing Race is over-the-hill. How I Met Your Mother has Internet buzz, but hasn't ever been able to turn that into huge viewership (and fie on you, CBS, for not putting it after the Super Bowl!). And Jericho has fizzled, thanks to a long hiatus that kept it out of sight and out of mind, then returned it directly opposite American Idol.
So, for the first time in a good long while, CBS has shows on the bubble -- indeed, it didn't renew a bunch of series early like it did last year. Mother, Jericho, The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Class and Close to Home are all in danger of one fashion or another, and The Unit might be too (though rumors don't seem to indicate so). Most of these shows have been damaged heavily by Dancing with the Stars and American Idol, two of the only shows that CBS simply can't compete with (even the aging CSI puts up good numbers against Grey's Anatomy). The ratings for all of these shows would guarantee instant renewal on any other network (and, indeed, if Mother or Christine are canceled, I wouldn't be surprised by another network picking them up, either together or a la carte), but on dominant CBS, there's no way they'll come back.
Still, CBS won't cancel all of these shows, and, indeed, I would bet on only The Class, Jericho and Close to Home getting the boot. And I wouldn't even be surprised by a Jericho renewal. What's more, I would expect an oddly schizophrenic lineup next year, as CBS tries to chase both the audience that made it the number one network (with new procedurals) and younger, buzz-hungry viewers with projects like Viva Laughlin!, Babylon Fields and Swingtown (all three reported to be pet projects of CBS executives). It should make for a weird year at CBS, but as long as there are three CSIs, the network should stay on top. (Check the pilot list out to see just how wide-ranging CBS' development is this year.)
Right now, the only show definitively renewed for next season is Survivor, but expect announcements from CBS within the next few weeks about the other shows that are coming back. Who knows? Maybe some of the presumed bubble shows will be on the list as well.
Before we take a look at what the network will likely do next season, let's run through the nights it has right now.
Sunday: CBS' gambit of moving Without a Trace to this night hasn't paid off as well as it might have hoped. Behind CSI, it was a monster hit. On its own, it's just another well-performing crime procedural. Cold Case, on before it, does well, as does The Amazing Race, though it can be affected by sports overruns. 60 Minutes kicks off the night, and the show's rich deal with CBS means that the network has the most trouble with sports overruns, often seeing its primetime lineup pushed well into the 11:00 hour on football nights.
Monday: The four comedy line-up was doing even better when Rules of Engagement entered and kept holding on to over 90% of Two-and-a-Half Men's audience. How I Met Your Mother was a solid lead-off for the night (and grew slightly in the ratings), and Old Christine performed pretty well. Only The Class really failed to take off, and it grew through the season too. CSI: Miami was the night's number one show, and all was right with the world.
Until Dancing with the Stars hit. There was thought that the show, which has a sizable older audience, would conflict most with Deal Or No Deal. Instead, that show held firm, and CBS' young-skewing comedies, as well as Prison Break, took the biggest hits, putting Mother and Christine in the dire straits they're in now. CBS won't stand for third-place on a night, and here's one that may see major retooling.
Tuesday: CBS may never figure out how to program the 10 p.m. hour. Both Smith and 3 Lbs. failed, leading to a repeat wheel. NCIS and The Unit perform admirably earlier in the evening.
Wednesday: Jericho looked like the show that would finally give CBS some buzz and solve their problem of what to put on at 8 on Wednesdays. Instead, it left the schedule for weeks and weeks and turned into a ratings sieve. Still, some executives reportedly love the show, and it could get a second chance. Criminal Minds and CSI: NY close out the night in style.
Thursday: Survivor leading into CSI leading into Shark is a potent lineup, but it's not the lineup of Survivor into CSI into Without a Trace from a few years ago. The new ABC lineup has put dints in the armor of all of these shows, especially Survivor, which is approaching freefall (though not there yet).
Friday: No one really challenges CBS on Fridays, but their decision to ditch the well-performing Close to Home in favor of a new show is really just about the network needing new blood and having too few slots to put new shows in. Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs should stay.
Saturday: CBS was the last network to abandon this night (and their Saturday lineup in the '70s was perhaps the best lineup in history), but they do better with crime show repeats here than they did with new programming, so it will likely stay abandoned.
Now for some predictions.
7 p.m. -- 60 Minutes (tick tick tick tick tick tick)
8 p.m. -- How I Met Your Mother (new night)
8:30 p.m. -- Fugly (new series)
9 p.m. -- Cold Case
10 p.m. -- Without a Trace
CBS reportedly wants to add an hour of comedy somewhere on the schedule and would like to use Mother or Christine to do it. Since Mother is a self-starter, Jon and I are betting it will head off the new bloc. Most think the new comedy hour will go on Wednesdays, but we're going to bet on The Amazing Race decamping for a new time slot and leaving this open. This is a pretty stable night, though, so we wouldn't be surprised by it staying exactly the same. Still, by using comedies, CBS would have more flexibility in avoiding sports over-runs, something they have to be conscious of. CBS has a surprising wealth of strong comedy pilots to choose from, but Fugly, from the creator of My Name Is Earl, sounds like it might mesh well with Mother's young audience.
8 p.m. -- Rules of Engagement (new time)
8:30 p.m. -- The New Adventures of Old Christine
9 p.m. -- Two-and-a-Half Men
9:30 p.m. -- The Rich Inner Life of Penelope Cloud (new series)
10 p.m. -- CSI: Miami
Time for Rules of Engagement to prove if it's a bona fide hit. I toyed with moving Christine to Sundays and putting Mother after Men, but the fact that that show's in trouble even with an increase in ratings indicates that somebody up there probably doesn't like it. CBS has proven star-resistant as of late, but they probably won't be able to resist Marisa Tomei in Penelope (just as they couldn't resist the stars of Shark or Smith last year), and CSI: Miami is the night's number one show when Dancing isn't around.
8 p.m. -- NCIS
9 p.m. -- The Unit
10 p.m. -- Swingtown (new series)
I toyed with moving The Unit to 10 and sandwiching another guy-type show in between the two, but I just couldn't justify it or find the right show to go with. Still, the rest of the night is solid enough, especially NCIS. The Unit had better regain some of its first season audience in season three, though. Finally, Swingtown is a primetime soap about swingers in the '70s. There's really no good spot for it on the schedule, but it will probably make it, just because the execs are so excited by it.
8 p.m. -- The Man (new series)
9 p.m. -- Criminal Minds
10 p.m. -- CSI: New York
It should come as no surprise that CBS has what sound like the best crime shows in development, and The Man (about LL Cool J playing an undercover cop who also has three adopted kids) seems like it might have the right sort of goods to crack the CBS lineup. Other than that, the night is strong. Perhaps a comedy bloc will go here, but that would mean LOTS of new shows, and CBS isn't fond of appearing weak.
8 p.m. -- Survivor (The Amazing Race in between Survivor seasons and in the summer)
9 p.m. -- CSI
10 p.m. -- Shark
The idea of splitting the season between Race and Survivor is an old one, and we think it may come to fruition this year. Other than that, blah, blah, blah, the same.
8 p.m. -- The Ghost Whisperer
9 p.m. -- Babylon Fields (new series)
10 p.m. -- Numb3rs
Babylon Fields, a zombie comedy, reportedly, might work well between the sci-fi-ish Ghost Whisperer and the male-skewing Numb3rs. Or it might not. Your guess is probably as good as ours when it comes to what CBS will pick up.
8 p.m. -- crime show repeats
9 p.m. -- crime show repeats
10 p.m. -- 48 Hours Mystery
If any network decides to broadcast Saturdays this year, it'll be CBS, but we're not betting on it happening.
We're betting CBS will stockpile a couple of crime dramas for midseason, in case all else fails, and Protect & Serve seems like a good bet. We also wouldn't be surprised by Viva! Laughlin coming on for a quick run at midseason, as well as a few other comedies, perhaps led by I'm in Hell or The Captain.
To be honest, CBS has some uncertainty this year, and that makes the network fun to predict for the first time in ages. Let's hope they respond to the challenges they face by trying some new and different things, rather than battening down the hatches and trying to turn into a crime monolith.
Tomorrow: The CW just tries to hang on long enough to not be off the air in 2009.
Friday, March 30, 2007
If you don't already know what to expect from The Tudors, the credits will tip you off. Closeups of characters staring lustily into the camera are intercut with romantic pursuits through opulent hallways and a hefty dose of violence and sex. It's grand history reimagined as borderline-tawdry soap opera. The images recall HBO’s similar, superior Rome, which recently ended its run. But by the end of the Tudors pilot, you’re used to the fact that this isn’t the next great TV drama. It's just old-fashioned trashy fun -- a bodice-ripper that aspires to more but never quite gets there.
If The Tudors works at all, it's mainly due to Jonathan Rhys-Meyer’s central performance as Henry VIII. Henry’s desire to produce a male heir and his overactive libido arguably changed the world (or at least the institutions of the Catholic Church and marriage), and the show’s publicity materials definitely embrace that aspect of the Henry story. Rhys-Meyers plays Henry as something approaching a rock star. He strides in and out of scenes, seduces women almost by looking at them and wanders through life with a perpetual sneer. This isn’t the most original acting choice in history, but Rhys-Meyers has so much fun with Henry’s sheer debauchery and lust for sex and violence that you forgive him fairly quickly. When Henry decides to go to war on the slimmest of pretexts, it doesn’t feel like a commentary on modern events so much as the outgrowth of a spoiled rich king's impetuous desires (then again, maybe it does feel like a commentary on modern events).
Check out the rest.
(Over the next few days, SDD will be offering up its thoughts on what the networks may do with their lineups next fall as they enter the time period when they consider what to cancel and what to pick up. This is only based on unverified gossip and a little guesswork based on what networks have done in the past. We'll go alphabetically by network, and if you want to see what we predicted for ABC last year, go here. Don't consider any of this official news. It's just our predictions.)
by Todd and Jon
ABC is like a weird blend of the strengths and problems of all of the other networks. It seems ascendant, even though most of its big shows are down this year (sometimes significantly). But it also seems poised on the precipice of disaster more often than not. Like CBS, ABC is reliant on one type of show (procedurals for CBS, soaps for ABC), but that one type of show plays well to its audience. Like NBC and The CW, ABC has a lot of holes, but they have fewer holes than either of those other networks. And like Fox, ABC does much better when it has its reality hit (Idol for Fox, Dancing with the Stars for ABC) around to raise all of its boats.
The network did renew 14 shows early, including one show thought to be on the bubble (Men in Trees). Trees should be back in the fall, and it looks as though the show will have a larger number of episodes to air, as the show was pulled to make way for October Road and then Notes from the Underbelly. The other 13 were Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, Brothers & Sisters, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Boston Legal, which should all be back in the fall; Lost, which should return in January; Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor, which will air in the early fall and spring (though I really have no idea on Bachelor); Supernanny, Wife Swap and America's Funniest Home Videos, which will likely be used to plug holes; and Jimmy Kimmel Live, which airs in late night.
That doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for shows on the bubble. For a while, it looked like Knights of Prosperity, retooled around Ray Romano, might make the schedule, but those hopes seem dim now. According to Jim and George Lopez have probably outlived their usefulness (though I wouldn't be surprised by a midseason order for one of the two, especially if Notes bombs). What About Brian is a possibility (oddly), but ABC doesn't feel the need to suck up to J.J. Abrams anymore. And October Road will probably be back, unless it completely tanked in its first showing without a new Grey's as a leadin. Pretty much everything else outright tanked, including Six Degrees and The Nine, thought to be two sure things last fall (oddly, the three ABC pilots that succeeded most were all shows the network seemingly had little faith in at first). We'll presume that Notes will bomb, but if it does well in its three weeks after Grey's, don't be surprised if it comes back -- ABC is hungry for a half-hour comedy hit, and this fits well with its target audience.
What is that target audience, exactly?
If it wasn't obvious, ABC is after women. Preferably young women, but it's just as happy with older women. And if you look at the slate of pilots in development, that much holds true. Really, the only two significant shows on ABC's schedule that aren't female-centric are Lost, which is an anomaly that may be in danger of cancellation if it can't shore up its flagging ratings next season, and Boston Legal, which does really well with rich people, whom advertisers love (for obvious reasons).
The most important thing ABC did this fall was add shows to complement the four shows it launched in the 2004-05 season (Housewives, Grey's, Lost and Legal) and Dancing with the Stars. It may seem like the most important thing the network did was to move Grey's to Thursday, and that was certainly a big benefit, but the network will be happier in the long run to have shows like Betty and Brothers. It certainly looks more stable than last spring, when it canceled everything but What About Brian (and that show's renewal seemed inexplicable). If Notes takes off, something like 50% of the new series for this season will have been renewed.
Let's run down the network night by night before making predictions.
Sunday: Home Videos is a solid performer in the 7 p.m. hour, while Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has flagged a bit at 8. Still, the show is big enough and flows well enough with Housewives that it will probably stay there. Desperate Housewives has flagged a bit as well, but it was up to season one levels in the fall before mysteriously losing those viewers, despite a creative uptick. Still, nothing juicy storylines can't fix. Brothers & Sisters doesn't hold as much of the audience of Housewives as Grey's did, but it does well enough, especially with upscale (read: rich) households.
Monday: Dancing with the Stars has helped out here, but this was an outright disaster for much of the year, especially when The Bachelor wasn't here to do some heavy lifting. Brian never really grew its audience, and the female-friendly reality shows are more cost-effective hole pluggers.
Tuesday: Again, Dancing has helped here (especially in the fall), but ABC's failure to use that show to launch any hit comedies or game shows has left Boston Legal pretty much stranded, even though it holds its own.
Wednesday: This used to be a solid night for ABC, until the viewers that left Lost last spring due to a combination of repeat anxiety and American Idol interest didn't really come back in the fall. A move to 10 essentially chased away all of the family viewers, and the show is in dire straits right now (even though it still pulls in around 12 million viewers per week). It hasn't helped that more dud comedies have led into the show (even the critically respected Knights) and that The Nine and Day Break both failed so phenomenally.
Thursday: Amazingly enough, ABC's wacky gambit to win on Thursdays with Grey's has mostly paid off, as this is the night keeping the rest of the schedule afloat when Dancing isn't around. Betty has been solid (though it and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader compete for so much of the same audience that one will have to blink soon), Grey's has been one of the two biggest game-changers on TV (only Idol surpasses it -- and that's on the down slope while Grey's continues to go up), and Men in Trees and October Road have stanched the Six Degrees bleeding in the 10 p.m. hour.
Friday: After Men in Trees left this night, I had no idea what was on anymore. I think Videos, followed by Grey's repeats, followed by 20/20? I know Six Degrees came back at some point, and. . .like on every network but CBS, this night is a mess for ABC.
Saturday: ABC, the one network making noise about doing original programming on this night, aired college football in the fall, then movies in the winter and spring. Football did pretty well, so it will probably return. This might be a good night for ABC to develop a game show or one of the Oprah reality shows it has ordered up.
Now, let's look at the fall might look like.
7 p.m.: America's Funniest Home Videos
8 p.m.: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
9 p.m.: Desperate Housewives
10 p.m.: Women's Murder Club (new series)
Jon really believes that ABC will set up a comedy bloc on this night in the 8 p.m. hour (consisting of Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, featuring SDD favorite Jayma Mays, and The Thick of It, from SDD favorite Mitchell Hurwitz), but I think EM:HE is too valuable to them as a lead-in to Housewives. But his idea was intriguing enough that I offered it for your perusal. Otherwise, the same-old, same-old, until 10 p.m., where ABC may launch its latest shot at having a big, procedural hit.
8 p.m. -- Dancing with the Stars
9:30 p.m. -- Family of the Year (new series)
10 p.m. -- Men in Trees (new night)
Dancing has done quite well here in its early showings, so it will probably stay here to knock the tar out of the other networks (weirdly, it affected CBS' young-skewing comedies more than it did NBC's Deal or No Deal, thought to be pitched at a similar audience -- but more on that tomorrow). ABC, as mentioned, is desperate for a comedy hit, and the buzzwords are female-centric and family-centric (if gossip can be believed). Family of the Year will have a recognizable cast and a funny hook, plus it won't skew as lower-class as the more Roseanne-like The Middle (brief note: How sad is it that the networks so want the richer viewers that a show like Roseanne would struggle to get on the air today?). Finally, I will get Men in Trees in the old Northern Exposure slot if it kills me. The show was probably always too light to go after Grey's, and it did well out of Dancing last fall (in one showing, albeit). There's room for the show to grow, though too much of its prospective audience may be watching CSI: Miami.
8 p.m. -- Dancing with the Stars (Results Show)
9 p.m. -- Brothers & Sisters (new night and time)
10 p.m. -- Boston Legal
This is the night every predictor has predicted (though, admittedly, every predictor had Grey's going to Mondays last year and look how that turned out), simply because these three shows all attract the same upscale demographics and flow well with each other. Both B&S and Legal have room to grow, and Dancing would make a killer lead-in for the two.
8 p.m. -- October Road (new night and time)
9 p.m. -- Private Practice (Grey's Anatomy spinoff) (new series)
10 p.m. -- Dirty Sexy Money (new series)
And so ABC goes back to the drawing board on a night it looked like they might dominate for years to come. Jon, again, thinks that ABC will go with a comedy bloc at 8 p.m. (bringing back George Lopez and following it with American Family), and I think that idea makes more sense than the Sunday night bloc, but I think October Road may make the move here just to have one returning series (other than Lopez) on the night. Plus, it really feels like an 8 p.m. show. There's some talk about the Mr. and Mrs. Smith series filling that time slot, but I think that may end up moving to midseason to shore up a night in trouble with Lost (since it should get a big pilot sampling), and Jon thinks it will be a debacle that doesn't even make the air. The one thing pretty much everyone agrees on is that the Grey's spinoff will hold down this night, and it should get a big sampling -- at least at first. Quality will determine if that sampling holds (well, quality and whether the show is substantially different from Grey's). Dirty Sexy Money, another wacky soap, though reportedly one with a great script (and look at the cast!), closes out the night.
8 p.m.: Ugly Betty
9 p.m.: Grey's Anatomy
10 p.m.: Football Wives (new series)
The first two hours don't need fixing, and Football Wives following Grey's is pretty much conventional wisdom at this point (which probably means it will end up stranded on Fridays or something).
8 p.m.: The Middle (new series)
8:30 p.m.: Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office (new series)
9 p.m.: All Fall Down (new series)
10 p.m.: 20/20
Jon's got October Road and Men in Trees filling up those slots, which, honestly, makes more sense than my schedule (especially Trees, which always did very well on this night), but ABC's not strong enough to build big nights everywhere, so here's a night full of shows that will likely fail. I'll take a flyer on All Fall Down based on Rina Mimoun (late of Everwood), though I really think ABC will plug a mystery series in there, and I'll also go with the half-resurrection of TGIF. 20/20 stays put.
8 p.m.: College Football
Because what else?
I expect ABC to pick up a handful of shows for midseason, including Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I would bet on one of either Marlowe or Suspects making it and probably Pushing Daisies as the token critical acclaim show. Bedrooms & Boardrooms, sort of a male Grey's Anatomy in the world of CEOs, probably has a shot as well, as do a host of comedy pilots, including The Thick of It and Christina Applegate vehicle Sam I Am.
But, honestly, ABC's development is just so good that they could really throw just about any new show on the schedule and have a halfway decent shot. But they'd best tread carefully -- this is the year that will show us if ABC is the next CBS, building an iron-clad schedule that cannot be picked apart, or a flash in the pan.
Tomorrow: CBS just wants to be loved. After it gets done humiliating all of the other networks.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
I know that everyone's all, "Blah, blah, blah answers" and "Blah, blah, blah characters we like" and "Blah, blah, blah Nikki and Paolo are Satan," but I liked this episode. Even if I'm the only one on Earth who did (and, honestly, Libby wasn't enthralled with it at all, so I'm probably all alone out here), I liked just how weird the whole thing was, how meta and how self-loathing it was.
At this point, Lost's main mystery is such a huge tangle that the producers either have to drop it entirely for weeks at a time or just resolve the damn thing. Since they're going to run for at least another season, they've got to do the dropping it thing. Hence, we get the episode where Hurley fixed up a van or weird morality tales (ripped from the Twilight Zone) like this one. I'm not sure this is a particularly GOOD episode, but it's at least something different. It's odd that in a season when everyone's bemoaning just how serialized shows have gotten, the show that made everyone go serialized is aiming at being less serialized (though that doesn't seem to have been popular with fans).
I'm not sure I like how the show blatantly inserted Paolo and Nikki throughout its history (though I have to admit the effects work in inserting them into the crash sequence was pretty
seamless), but I'll wait to see if they do anything more with it before declaring it an outright dud (and would Ben really lie out his entire plan like that for Juliet -- I don't think it's very likely at all). It just seemed. . .odd to have Paolo and Nikki discover all of this stuff before the regulars, but I think it was also a weird commentary on both fan fiction and the way we make ourselves the centers of our own stories. Paolo and Nikki just didn't think to tell anyone because they were the only two they cared about.
Random note: Kiele Sanchez looks very nice in a bikini top.
Back to the commentary.
I don't want Lost to suddenly turn into the standalone show, but I think hours like this are necessary to keep the central mystery from becoming any more labyrinthine. The hour didn't necessarily rehabilitate Nikki and Paolo (who were doomed from the start, even though they were introduced the exact opposite way of the Tailies, whom fans also hated), but it did put them in a new context (though if spoilers a friend told me are accurate. . .I don't even want to think about it).
Anyway. Being buried alive is one of my greatest fears, and here was an hour that built to it with a nicely chilling ending that effectively made the regular characters the villains of the piece. It wasn't perfect storytelling, but it was good junk food TV.
Or, as Alan Sepinwall pointed out, it was better than the tattoos episode.
I know some of us did it months ago, but I think it's time to name Friday Night Lights the best show airing on television right now. It certainly helps that The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood and Galactica are all off the air right now, but the fact that Lights could give any one of those four a run for its money shows just how great this show is. It started out as very good with the promise of improving to must-watch, but it's grown into maybe the best network television series in many, many years. It's more ambitious and more closely observed than any other series on network right now, and it only grows more confident in its abilities to tell the stories of the small town it chronicles so well from week to week. Even the off episodes are better than just about anything else on television.
And almost no one is watching.
This is one of the things that frustrates me about TV. The times when there's a series that the critics and audience can agree on are few and far between. Now, obviously, critics who watch TV for a living will shy away from the predictable and sometimes all you want when you get home from work is a little mind candy. That's fine. I get it.
But there are also scads of people out there who complain about how My So-Called Life or Freaks and Geeks or Arrested Development were canceled and then ignore shows of that level in their very midst -- namely, this one. And this is going to just turn into another show, caught up with after the fact and bemoaned when we all had the chance to save it RIGHT NOW.
Look, I know the network TV model is broken. I know watching on DVD is way more fun than watching from week-to-week (which breeds resentment at any show, just because you have to wait and have no control over how the story is doled out). But. . .COME ON! Jump in over the next two weeks. Because I'm going to roll my eyes at you when you say, "How could the network cancel this?!" It's a two-way street people -- if the networks put good shows on, we have to WATCH them.
Anyway, tonight's episode, featuring a Mud Bowl was damn near perfect. While the show has taken pains to be Not About Football, it needs to return to that well from time to time, and this was a good example of it doing that. The football was compelling, the sense that this is the way the game was meant to be played was palpable, and Saracen's evolution from stuttering kid to football star is complete. I'm sure the team could lose state, but at this point, it won't really matter, I think.
And the plots surrounding the football were pretty great too -- especially the quest to turn the cow pasture into a field. The one thing that made me wince was the Tyra rape -- not because I didn't think it was possible, but because it seemed so set up -- rain storm, one guy in the restaurant, no one else around, etc., etc., etc. The show quickly redeemed itself by having Tyra rescue herself, rather than Landry doing so, and the moment between the two when she was completely vulnerable was incredible. I hope that the show doesn't try to shoehorn these two together (I can't imagine it doing so), but I liked their interactions here.
Heck, I even liked the Jason-coaches-Matt storyline, complete with a too-obvious closing line ("You ever thought about being a coach?"). I didn't see how the producers would keep Street on the show next season, but now I do. And the two actors playing these two kids have such great chemistry that I want to see more. And, hey, what about that scene with the settlement? Wasn't that a pip?
I love that the show is wrapping up its storylines more or less. Because people like YOU aren't watching it and are going to catch up on DVD, and say, "That was great. Why didn't they make more?"
Only two left. Enjoy it while you can.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
I'm the only person in the history of the world who didn't like the movie Groundhog Day. But, honestly, I've always been okay with that. The repetition was grating (though I imagine that was the point), and I never could bring myself to watch it again. That being said, I've been thinking about that movie an awful lot lately, particularly when it comes to Tuesday night and American Idol.
I mean, really, AI is just the same, rehashed crapola week after week. The same people are good, the same are mediocre, the same horrendous. *sighs* So honestly, what's the point? What new idiosyncracies can I possibly find to snark about this week? Well ... let's find out:
1. Lakisha Jones - "Last Dance": How much better did LaKisha look tonight than she has every other night out? Finally, the girl showed up and did something different. I, for one, really enjoyed the attempt at an upbeat jam, along with a pair of ass-kicking boots she should have broken out long ago. This was a fine showing for a non-fave of mine and caused me to be hopeful for the rest of the evening.
Which, I soon found, was a little hasty.
2. Chris Sligh - "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic": There are a lot of things that Chris Sligh is. For instance, he's different. He, um, has curly hair. And I'm sure there are other attributes to his character that I really could care less about, but ultimately, what we learned tonight, is that Sligh is no Sting. Not even a little bit. Week after week, watching Sligh perform becomes more and more arduous, as he becomes ever more hesitant and awkward, stilted and uninspired. Plus, he's in a perpetual game of Marco Polo with the beat. Not cool. Not in a singing competition. Nothing doing.
3. Gina Glocksen - "I'll Stand By You": Gina Glocksen is not long for the AI world. See, I completely agreed with the judges when they told Glocksen that it was her finest performance to date. The problem is that her best is just not good enough. Even with a perfect song choice, with a perfect showing, Gina Glocksen does not have the chops to take on the big boys this season, personality-wise OR talent-wise. So congrats for a great night, Gina, but don't get too comfortable.
4. Sanjaya Malakar - "Bathwater": Ehh ... just, no. Okay, America, no. Listen ... watch it, and then maybe you can tell ME what to make of this. But ... no.
5. Haley Scarnato - "True Colors": See, now, I could have done without yet another scantily-clad Scarnato performance. But no, America, you insist on Haley the hussy sticking around for yet another week. I miss the good ol' days, where people like Haley would get stoned upon leaving the house, but nowadays, it's perfectly acceptable for her to flounce around in front of millions of viewers in various stages of undress and subject the innocent (i.e. ME) to their whisper-singing week after week. What have I done to deserve this, America? TELL ME THAT! (Actually, I kind of like her. . .er. . .singing ability. Yeah. -- ed.)
6. Phil Stacey - "Every Breath You Take": Great, yeah, THAT'S what I needed ... the vision of THIS GUY stalking me ... *sighs* Him AND his over-sized boxing gloves. Besides the skeezy factor, Stacey did quite well this evening, and I was glad to finally hear one of the judges (albeit, the crazy one) mention his weird verse vs. chorus song stylings. That being said, it's entirely possible that good ol' Phil sounded so good because he wasn't as absolutely pathetic as Chris Sligh. It's a thought.
7. Melinda Doolittle - "Heaven Knows": Yeah ... I'm running out of things to say about Melinda. I mean, I still love her to pieces and she had a fine performance tonight, but, hmm, where do we go from here? And I guess that's where my fears lie ... where does one go from here? There's no real way that Doolittle's journey can be this easy, and one cannot help but be afear'd wondering when exactly America will turn on her. After all, it's only a matter of time.
8. Blake Lewis - "Love Song": For the second week in a row, I find myself in the odd position of not liking Blake Lewis as much as the judges did. This weirds me out, as Lewis is one of my favorite performers and one that I look forward to every single week. What threw me off tonight was the fact that for the first time, Lewis' song stylings struck me as very "American Idol Does ..." if that makes any sense. Granted, it was, "American Idol Does ... The Cure" but it was still very pop-y and kinda false for me. That said, Lewis is at least attempting to make AI kind of cool, and I continue to respect his choices. Though, how weird is it that he's the male frontrunner? (I actually think it was that God-awful 311 cover. -- ed.)
9. Jordin Sparks - "Hey Baby": Gah ... this was not very good. I love Sparks to pieces and find her to be just the cutest thing, but Lord ... this just didn't work tonight. However, even though it wasn't her finest showing, Sparks was still energetic and young, cute and appealing, hell, even memorable which is still half the battle with 10 people left. I just don't want her to get eliminated. Let's hope next week is a little smoother for her.
10. Chris Richardson - "Don't Speak": Okay, I'm sorry. I just don't get the Chris Richardson love. He's just so very ... meh to me. I've gotten over the cute thing, and beyond that find him bland and not very special. His runs are irritating and the super sappy thing makes him seem like a tool. So ... yeah.
Being that I'm rewriting this on Wednesday night (fie to you, Blogger!) we'll skip my usual predictions and talk a bit about the Idol that wasn't.
Chris Sligh was eliminated Wednesday night, and I can't say that I was surprised and/or disappointed. Sligh, after a promising start, had been falling apart for the last few weeks and essentially just looked like he was hanging on for dear life. He never found his comfort zone (or the rhythm) again and America sent him home for it. Farewell, Mr. Sligh ... your hair (and not much else, really) will be missed.
This week on House, there were two casual sexual relationships among the six regulars (one dormant, one extremely active), there were crazy dream sequences, and there was even a tiny little political theme (Gulf War Syndrome!). But there was also MARC BLUCAS. Now, I'm no big fan of Marc Blucas (for those of you who don't remember the name by sight, shame on you! He was Buffy's bland love interest Riley Finn from seasons 4-5) but his appearance got me thinking about actors I dislike on shows I love. Like Jared Padalecki on Gilmore Girls, or Teddy Dunn on Veronica Mars or the aforementioned Mr. Blucas. I often find while I actively want such actors to get off of my favorite shows, I feel general warmth and support to them in all their other actorly pursuits. And tonight was no different--not that Blucas was particularly great in his role (as usual for the poor patients of this show, he was just made to act out various major maladies as his health rapidly deteriorated), I just wanted him to succeed. And he did fine. So I will issue him an unnecessary rave review, from the goodness of my heart: MARC BLUCAS FOR THE EMMY!
Let's move on from Marc Blucas, shall we? Geez, why are you crazy readers so obsessed with MARC BLUCAS!? Anyway, the case of the supposed Gulf War Syndrome vet was either a little complicated or just didn't capture my attention well enough, because I can barely think of what happened to summarize. Well, basically, he didn't have Gulf War Syndrome. He had some other wacky hereditary syndrome that accounted for all the strange unconnected symptoms he was showing off. Funny how many of those go around, isn't it? Really, the soldier story wasn't explored at all (when I said there was a tiny political theme earlier, I lied)--instead, to grab our interest about this patient, the cold open was House's realistic war dream involving getting his leg blown off and a lot of POV shots of Marc Blucas. Symbolic! And a little creepy! House not being one for such supernatural nonsense, took the case only to figure out who the soldier was and where he had seen him before. Now, you don't need to point out to me that a recurring theme on this show is House's supposed lack of interest in the patient's maladies, but in this episode I think he REALLY couldn't care less--all he wanted to know was where he knew the guy from. Which was kinda funny. If mean to poor old Marc Blucas.
Now, we didn't find out his connection to House until right at the very end (surprisingly enough - that's sarcasm, by the way) when good ol' Greggy realized he had seen the Blucster sucking face with Cuddy at a party a couple years ago. Given that this episode had not been heavy on the House/Cuddy flirting, it was a fun little curveball that shed more light on their sexual history (it appears they've done the deed at least once) and their current status (Cuddy told House to get over her, although in a jocular way, and as he floundered for a comeback, for once it seemed she really was the boss of him). Here's hoping for more on that in the coming weeks (for those of you who don't know, House is repeat-free until its finale). House has always had far more crackling chemistry with Cuddy than Cameron, who was letting her hair down with Chase on numerous occasions throughout the hospital this week. I like Cameron more than some (although a poll on fox.com says 60% of viewers want her and House to get together, I'm usually picking up on negative opinions about her) but she seems more suited to this fun new tryst she's gotten herself into. Maybe because Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer are involved in real life.
Of course, plenty of fans would argue House and Wilson should get together, which is Slash-Fiction bleating I tend to ignore, but they had some great banter at the urinals in this episode, which I'm sure set off the imaginations of many a net-boff. I rather enjoyed the other subplot in this episode, House's distended bladder due to his overuse of Vicodin. Didn't bring anything new to the character, was just a funny and nicely yucky problem for him to be struggling with. Especially the wonderfully gross dream image of urine flooding out of the cath-bag in his pant leg late in the episode. Just the right kind of nasty!
I'm picking this show up again after abandoning for the past couple eps (for reasons so complicated it would blow your mind just to read them - aka I'm very lazy), so here's hoping some people are reading this. God knows enough of you are watching it!
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is Modest Mouse's first album since their crossover surprise Good News For People Who Love Bad News, and quite easily exceeds that album in tone as well as content. Sure, Brock's vocals always have that same dissonant, semi-clever, cheerfully pessimistic ambiance that has gotten the band this far, but there is a vigor here that seemed lacking on Good News... You could speculate that Marr's arrival to the writing process has a lot to do with this, but I'd go ahead and give Brock all the credit in this regard.
While the oddly structured, blissfully strange quirks of an album like Lonesome Crowded West seem to be a thing of the past for this group, when it comes to "mainstream" rock they seem to be a cut above the rest in terms of quality as well as style. While, by early Mouse standards, their recent work may seem painfully... accessible, they are are a group who seem to consistently set up expectations for themselves, only to exceed them.
On We Were Dead... Brock seems to carefully put the world on his shoulders only to then spit in its face with his boiling cynicism and oh-so-clever prose. It's never really that Modest Mouse is dark or depressing...not REALLY. Brock is like that guy you know who always seems to have a negative view on life, but insists that he's a "realist" above all things. This particular aesthetic is offset with Marr's prickly yet silvery soft stylings, and a rhythm section that is as loose and chaotically compelling as anything put behind the band before.
Marr's decision to become a full-time member of the band didn't change the identity of the group necessarily, but it certainly seems to have (ironically enough) injected a little more life into the formula. With this, Modest Mouse's fifth album, they've now fully established themselves as a mainstay within the American rock landscape. We Were Dead... is far from the best work they've released, but that Mouse is long gone. For this version of an accomplished, talented rock group...it's about the best we could hope for.
So, at a time when Prison Break should be doing what it does best, it instead disappoints on almost every level. ‘Fin Del Camino’ (Spanish for 'End of the Road') wasn’t an awful episode, but considering it was the penultimate offering and dealt with the (final?) fate of Theodore ‘T-Bag’ Bagwell, it felt disappointingly inconsequential. Its premise – all of the main characters (apart from Sarah and Kellerman) converging in Panama, all with bloody intentions – was full of promise, but the episode was even duller than last week’s ‘Panama’ (an episode that existed mainly as a lead-in to this one).
First off, T-Bag’s scenes were a major disappointment. The writers have done nothing with the character all season – beyond having him spout various rape euphemisms and lick his lips a lot – although lets face it, this character was never going to work outside of a prison setting anyway. Lately he’s spent most of his time lugging around Westmoreland’s millions while evading various pursuers, although he did find time to make use of that $50 million by buying himself a quite fetching straw hat. This week he ran away from people a bit more before finally facing off with Michael, who displayed a rather random aptitude for close-combat and brought T-Bag down in a matter of seconds. Personally I was expecting a particularly gruesome death for T-Bag – the only possible satisfying conclusion for his character, in my opinion. But apparently the writers disagreed, so instead Michael administered his own personal brand of justice by driving a knife through T-Bag’s left wrist, most likely leaving him handless. Kind of clever, I guess, but also an extreme let-down. One can’t help wondering, ‘That’s the best idea you could come up with? Really?”
The same thought came to mind during Mahone’s scenes. The show has often tried to soften previously villainous characters and make them more sympathetic to the audience, with varying degrees of success. It worked with C-Note, mostly because he was so likeable and charismatic (a lot of credit for this should go to Rockmond Dunbar, who always maintained his character’s credibility). In the case of Mahone, however, I ain’t buying it. His relationship with his wife (Callie Thorne, sleepwalking through a tiny role) feels vague and underdeveloped, while his apparent remorse at his crimes comes and goes at random intervals. If the writers need Mahone as a straight villain, that’s all he is; when they’re in an especially ‘deep’ mood, they revert him to a tragic soul who only commits horrible acts of necessity. There’s no continuity to it at all, despite the best efforts of William Fitchner, who deserves better material than this.
The redemption of Paul Kellerman, on the other hand, has been more successful. I’m not sure why – his sudden remorse at all his crimes has basically come out of nowhere, and even after it was introduced he’s still killed a fair few innocent bystanders. Yet this plot is, for me, by far the most arresting at the moment. I can only put it down to Paul Adelstein’s fantastic performance. His delivery, his physical mannerisms, everything about him in season two has impressed me to no end. This week his suicide attempt was foiled by his gun jamming, leading to a confessionary scene with his amusingly decent sister where he lamented all his sinister deeds. Finally he stepped forward to testify at Sarah’s trial (just as she was about to be handed down a twelve year sentence). Personally I liked all of it – though it did benefit from the dullness of the other storylines.
Last week I made a point of stressing this season’s atrociousness because I felt it needed to be said before I was distracted by what I assumed would be two lively final episodes. It appears I was worrying prematurely – but I sincerely hope that I did have some cause for my expectations. Still, few of the strands set up for next week’s finale (‘Sona’) seem especially exciting. At this point, maybe I’m just hoping against hope.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
The producers of 24, apparently just now realizing they couldn't completely coast off of prior seasons greatest hits, whipped out the Rainman homage we have to assume they've been dying to use for a while, turning tonight's episode into the story of two brothers (who would be played by Ben Affleck and Andy Richter in the movie version) who find their very ordinary lives as computer hackers disrupted by the whirlwind that is Jack Bauer. This being 24, the brother who got them into this mess isn't really the good hacker. His brother, Brady, is, and Brady is also autistic, which means that we get to see lots of scenes full of Hollywood shorthand for autism, followed by Jack staring pensively at these kids and seeing that, yes, sometimes a hard life does mean the easiest thing to do is get in bed with the terrorists. Because, dammit, all caretaker brother wanted to do was provide a red pepper-free environment for autistic brother. Is that so hard to do?
I don't mean to make it sound as though I'm making light of autism, because I assure you I'm not. What I'm making light of is the rather bizarre decision by the show to turn much of the episode over to Jack's adventures with Brady and his attempts to coach Brady through a tense terrorist standoff. I could actually foresee an episode where Jack coming in contact with someone who is physically incapable of following all of his orders RIGHT NOW, DAMMIT! could both frustrate him and give him an opportunity to show off his ingenuity in the clutch, but the Jack and Brady scenes felt too much like something out of a really bad buddy cop movie starring Steve Guttenberg. Everyone would learn a lesson at the end of that movie, and while 24 didn't come right out and say it, you could tell Jack was impressed to learn that Autistics Are People Too.
Still, that was probably the episode's highlight. For as weird and contrived as the plot was, at least 24 hadn't really done anything REMOTELY like it in the past. The rest of the episode was made up of bits of episodes past, the show apparently trying to cash in on its glory days.
I have a friend named Luke, who loves 24 more than almost anyone I know (even more than David, who used to be a huge 24 nut before he got too cool and British for the adventures of Bauer and Co.). Even more than 24, Luke loves Tony and Michelle. I think if the U.S. allowed polygamous relationships with fictional characters (and if his wife was, like, totally cool with it), Luke would marry Tony and Michelle and then just sit around their house, grinning happily while they bantered or argued about whose turn it was to take out the trash or paid the electric bill or something. Of all of my 24-crazy friends, though, Luke has been most frustrated with this season, and particularly with its attempts to ape old storylines, because, you see, the characters 24 tried those storylines with first (as Luke rightly points out) were so much better and so much more compelling than the characters 24 is trying the storylines with now.
As an example -- tonight, we saw Nadia and Milo hook up, even though Nadia had just been tortured by Doyle for crimes she didn't commit (SEE, KIDS? TORTURE DOESN'T ALWAYS PAY!). The problem with this was that Tony and Michelle had done the same thing in season two, shortly after a nuclear bomb went off (or shortly before -- something to do with a bomb at any rate). The idea that this would happen is sort of ridiculous, but 24 has always given its non-Jack relationships that "Love Among the Ruins" type feel, and Tony and Michelle's sudden consummation pointed to that. Milo and Nadia, two characters we care nothing about, can't spur the same feelings in us, so we just think about how much better Tony and Michelle were. Ditto with Wayne Palmer (who I still like thanks to retroactive love for Principal Wood), who now finds himself with a Vice President (WHO'S EVIL) who questions his ability to lead the country and seems poised to invoke the 25th Amendment to strip him of the office (just as happened to Wayne's brother David). When David was removed from the presidency, it was a chilling moment, echoing all sorts of feelings many had that they had no control over who was or wasn't president. This just felt sort of stupid because VP Evil (much as I like him) is clearly such a Snidely Whiplash stand-in.
So there you have it. 24 repeats old plotlines, does them with characters and actors you don't care about and calls it a sixth season. At this point, I'm mostly watching out of habit, and I doubt I'll buy the DVDs (OK, I know I won't buy the DVDs). 24, I kid because I love, but let's try harder to find that "one big idea" you talked about not finding this year in an EW interview in year seven, okay?
Did you know there was a new Everybody Hates Chris last week? Because I sure didn't, until I saw it lurking and waiting for me on TiVo several days after it aired. So you get a special two-fer, darling readers. You're so lucky!
Anyway, Chris has been so consistent in both what's good and what's not so good about it this season that it's probably better that I do two at a time anyway. So let's start with last week's episode, which had Chris morphing into a DJ briefly (and I found it sort of unbelievable that he would be so good straight off, but what do I know?) and impersonating James Brown (see above) when he ruined his mother's copy of Brown's The Payback. He feared her wrath, then tried to find a new copy, the final wad of cash he dropped on the cost of NOT being a DJ (an amusing runner, but how did he get THAT MUCH cash?). I liked Chris' excitement at getting a big gold chain, and I really liked Tyler James Williams' James Brown impersonation. Williams is a gifted mimic (notice, earlier in the season, how Williams' delivery of the jokes in Chris' campaign speech mirrored the delivery of the real Chris Rock -- a fact first pointed out by friend o' the blog and newly minted TV writer Kenny), and when the show gives him a chance to indulge this talent, instead of just being the awkward young teen he usually is, he almost always makes the most of it.
I think Chris is at its best when it's examining the relationship of Chris to one of his parents, and this episode was good at showing how Chris didn't want to disappoint his mom, but ended up doing so anyway (and I loved the record skipping gag with the gospel choir at the end of the show too).
But I couldn't mention this episode without talking about Julius' fear of rabbits. I know the writers get a lot of mileage out of giving such a big guy amusing foibles (his love of soap operas being another), and seeing Terry Crews freak out at seeing a rabbit at the magic show WAS pretty awesome (especially since they found a neat way to make it explainable, featuring clips from Night of the Lepus, of all things), but I wouldn't be a good Buffy fan if this didn't immediately make me think of Anya's rabbit-phobia.
So that brings us to this week, which was another pretty good show, but seemed a bit egregious in its use of Chris Rock's narration (though, again, the meta-gag featuring grown-up Tasha almost made up for the whole thing). Rock is always the deliverer of most of the traditional jokes on the show, but the writers can use him as a crutch a little too often, even if he's a pretty reliable crutch to go to.
The episode focused on Chris' relationship with his other parent (when he elected to go to a movie with a girl instead of to a baseball game with his dad, only changing his mind at the last minute to then find out that the tickets his dad had gotten from his brother-in-law were fake). Williams and Crews don't have a ton of scenes together, but when they do, it's always a treat, just because the two have such a nice chemistry and the writers really understand this relationship and never oversell it, the way Chris' relationship with his mother sometimes can be.
Speaking of his mother, her attempts to keep her brother from dating the woman at the salon were pretty funny, as it let Tichina Arnold yell a lot (always funny), and I also liked her quest for a Billy Ocean photo for Tanya (which had a great closing gag with the Billy Dee Williams photo). Arnold usually has more to do than this, but even in weeks when the focus isn't on her, she's a consistent scene stealer.
So do any of you watch this show? Judging from the ratings, I guess not.
Monday, March 26, 2007
One of the great pleasures of long-form serialized TV is an episode when a long string of seemingly unconnected plot threads tie together to reveal something approaching a grand master plan. The build-up to these moments is often frustrating, and it can make even the most stalwart viewer question what he or she is doing wasting their time with a show, but when the payoff comes, if it’s any good, it can be an experience unlike any other in art. Certainly a well-crafted novel or film can have a twisty plot that resolves in unusual ways in the waning passages, but neither form requires the sheer investment of time that a television series does. A TV drama can take a whole season of 20-plus episodes to unfold a story (or, in the case of a very few, the course of a 100 episode-plus series itself). With a novel, you can skip to the end. With a film, you know it’ll all be over in two-to-three hours. With a television series, you’re along for the ride for months to years.
That makes a big payoff all the more important. When The X-Files fizzled to an end, it frustrated viewers so thoroughly because of the time they had invested in the series. Because of the time element, television fans tend to be unforgiving, which makes episodes like Battlestar Galactica’s “Crossroads, Part 2,” written by Mark Verheiden and directed by Michael Rymer, vital to a series’ success. Fan complaints about the series’ third season have been legion, ranging from the meandering nature of the plotlines to a new lack of menace in the Cylons (whom we learned much about before they disappeared for roughly a third of the season) to a long string of episodes that seemed to exist only to provide character development, instead of the plot momentum the series had blended with character development in its first two seasons. If “Crossroads, Part 2” didn’t negate all of those criticisms, it certainly made the case for the series as an intimate examination of the personal problems of a fleet at war, tempered by big action sequences and even bigger plot twists.
See the rest and comment here.