Saturday, April 05, 2008

BSG Saturdays: Season 4, Episode 1, "He That Believeth in Me"

Returning in our hour of greatest need, Battlestar Galactica began its fourth and final season (depending on if you follow the Sci Fi Channel’s rather asinine nomenclature of a season that will essentially be split into two smaller ones) with a dull, seething roar. “He That Believeth in Me” wasn’t a slam-bang premiere, outside of its opening space battle, but it contained enough roiling tensions to hopefully placate fans who lost faith in the third season, during a long string of stand-alone “personal” stories that served to flesh out other aspects of the ragtag fleet and (in too many cases) bore hardcore fans to tears. While Battlestar is, in many ways, a post-genre work (it’s only tangentially a science fiction tale much of the time, and when things like technobabble pop up, they often infuriate), the very genre it belongs to carries with it a legion of fans looking to nitpick each and every thing about the show they passive-aggressively love (one poster on the Television Without Pity boards questioned how Starbuck could have heard of a Petri dish if she had not grown up on an Earth where Julius Richard Petri had invented the thing). To that end, Battlestar often feels like a show at war with itself and perceptions of what it’s trying to do, and the tug-of-war between its small, personal side and its operatic side that indulges in things like a complicated mythology involving lost colonies and Biblical references galore is occasionally what makes the show fascinating—when it’s not leading to things like last season’s poorly thought-out “The Woman King.”
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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

NBC unveils fall, winter and summer schedules and makes the world safe for talking cars again

"So," said Ben Silverman, looking down upon the masses from his perch atop his terrible, terrible tower, "it's quality you want, then?"

"Not really!" said the masses, but a few of them shrugged and said, if they were going to be watching his network, they might as well have a few things on that didn't make them feel like slitting their wrists.

"FINE!" thundered Silverman, raising his arms in a terrifying pose, as fire flew down from the sky to meet him in mid-air (for, as the masses had suddenly realized, Silverman was now floating well above the ground). "I SHALL GIVE YOU YOUR FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS AND YOUR 30 ROCK. BUT YOU WILL HAVE TO WATCH SHOWS ABOUT TEENAGE MERLIN AND HIS PAL ARTHUR!"

"Well, in most representations of the figure of the Arthurian wizard," said the professor of the Arthurian legend class I took in college (the one I use the most often in my day-to-day life), "Merlin is already an old man and a mentor to Arthur, or, as he may have been known, Art-vahr."

"SILENCE!" said Silverman. "I CARE NOTHING FOR YOUR THOMAS MALORY. WE SHALL DO THE STORY OF MERLIN AND ARTHUR AS YOUNG MEN THEN!"

"But," said my professor, "they weren't rough contemporaries. In fact, they were. . ."

"SILENCE!" said Silverman, roughly dispatching my professor with a flick of his wrist. "I SHALL ALSO RENEW LIPSTICK JUNGLE!"

Everyone had to agree that without Lipstick Jungle, Simon Crowe would have had nothing to do here during the long strike, so they were mostly amenable to this, even if the show was sort of dumb.

"ALSO. TALKING CARS!" The masses, who had enjoyed Knight Rider in the '80s, gave an indifferent shrug. "AND ER. DID YOU EVEN KNOW THAT SHOW WAS STILL ON? I WILL BRING IT BACK JUST TO KILL IT AND BATHE IN ITS BLOOD!"

"We like The Office," the masses said.

"THEN I SHALL GIVE UNTO YOU A SPINOFF AND MORE HOURLONG EPISODES. TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING!" Silverman was truly a brutish and angry god, though he, too, had to answer to a higher power. "YOU ADVERTISERS. IF YOU DO NOT LIKE THIS SCHEDULE, I SHALL CHANGE IT FOR YOU."

The advertisers thought this was pretty sweet.

In the meantime, I, brokenhearted over the cancellation of 1 Vs. 100, had turned to the soothing power of YouTube. "Hey," I said, "did you know that they killed Lonelygirl15? Because I did not. At least I won't have to do a Super TV Preview this year!"

NBC's schedule and new show descriptions are available in this press release or after the jump.

NBC PRIMETIME SCHEDULE FOR FALL 2008-09

*New programs in UPPER CASE (with the exception of "ER")

MONDAY
8-9 p.m. "Chuck"
9-10 p.m. "Heroes"
10-11 p.m. "MY OWN WORST ENEMY"

TUESDAY
8- 9:30 p.m. "The Biggest Loser: Families"
9:30-10 p.m. "KATH & KIM"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

WEDNESDAY
8-9 p.m. "KNIGHT RIDER"
9-10 p.m. "Deal or No Deal"
10-11 p.m. "Lipstick Jungle"

THURSDAY
8- 8:30 p.m. "My Name Is Earl"
8:30-9 p.m. "30 Rock"
9- 9:30 p.m. "The Office"
9:30-10 p.m. “The Office”/ “SNL THURSDAY NIGHT LIVE”
10-11 p.m. "ER"

FRIDAY
8-9 p.m. "CRUSOE"
9-10 p.m. "Deal or No Deal"
10-11 p.m. "Life"

SATURDAY
8-9 p.m. “Dateline NBC”
9-10 p.m. “KNIGHT RIDER” (Encores)
10-11 p.m. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (Encores)

SUNDAY
7- 8:20 p.m. "Football Night in America"
8:20-11 p.m. "NBC Sunday Night Football"


NBC PRIMETIME SCHEDULE FOR WINTER 2009

*New programs in UPPER CASE (with the exception of "ER")

MONDAY
8- 9 p.m. “Chuck”
9-10 p.m. “Heroes”
10-11 p.m. “THE PHILANTHROPIST”

TUESDAY
8- 9:30 p.m. "The Biggest Loser: Couples"
9:30-10 p.m. "KATH & KIM"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

WEDNESDAY
8-9 p.m. "KNIGHT RIDER"
9-10 p.m. "Deal or No Deal"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order"

THURSDAY
8- 8:30 p.m. "My Name Is Earl"
8:30-9 p.m. "30 Rock"
9- 9:30 p.m. "The Office"
9:30-10 p.m. “THE OFFICE” SPINOFF
10-11 p.m. "ER"/“The Celebrity Apprentice”

FRIDAY
8-9 p.m. “Deal or No Deal”
9-10 p.m. "Friday Night Lights"
10-11 p.m. “Life”

SATURDAY
8-9 p.m. “Dateline NBC”
9-10 p.m. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (Encores)
10-11 p.m. “Law & Order” (Encores)

SUNDAY
7-8 p.m. Specials/"Dateline NBC"
8-9 p.m. Specials/“MERLIN”
9-10 p.m. Specials/"Medium”
10-11 p.m. Specials/"KINGS"


NBC PRIMETIME SCHEDULE FOR SUMMER 2009

*New programs in UPPER CASE

MONDAY
8-9 p.m. “American Gladiators”
9-10 p.m. “AMERICA’S TOUGHEST JOBS”
10-11 p.m. "Dateline NBC"

TUESDAY
9-10 p.m. "America’s Got Talent"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (Encores)

WEDNESDAY
8-9 p.m. “SHARK TAGGERS”
9-10 p.m. "America’s Got Talent" (Results Show)
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order" (Encores)

THURSDAY
8- 8:30 p.m. "The Office" (Encores)
8:30- 9 p.m. “THE OFFICE” SPINOFF (Encores)
9-10 p.m. "Last Comic Standing"
10-11 p.m. "THE LISTENER”

FRIDAY
8-9 p.m. "CHOPPING BLOCK”
9-11 p.m. “Dateline NBC”

SATURDAY
8-9 p.m. Drama Encores
9-10 p.m. Drama Encores
10-11 p.m. Drama Encores

SUNDAY
7-8 p.m. "Dateline NBC"
8-9 p.m. "Monk"
9-10 p.m. “Nashville Star”
10-11 p.m. “KINGS” (Encores)


2008-09 NEW SERIES DESCRIPTIONS:

NEW DRAMAS

MY OWN WORST ENEMY - Henry Spivey (Christian Slater, “Bobby”) is a middle-class efficiency expert living a humdrum life in the suburbs with a wife, two kids, a dog, and a minivan. Edward Albright is an operative who speaks 13 languages, runs a four-minute mile, and is trained to kill with his teeth. Henry and Edward are polar opposites who share only one thing in common -- the same body. When the carefully constructed wall between them breaks down, Henry and Edward are thrust into unfamiliar territory where each man is dangerously out of his element. “My Own Worst Enemy” explores the duality of a man who is literally pitted against himself. And it raises the question: who can you trust when you can't trust yourself? The series is produced by Universal Media Studios. Jason Smilovic (“Kidnapped”) is the executive producer; David Semel (director of the “American Dreams,” “Heroes” and “Life” pilots) is the director and executive producer.

KNIGHT RIDER - On the heels of NBC's hit movie, the iconic 1980s television classic comes roaring back to life as an updated drama series showcasing the new customized KITT (Knight Industries Three Thousand) Ford Mustang. As the sequel resumes, KITT is absolutely the coolest car ever created: its supercomputer capable of hacking almost any system; its weapons systems efficient; and its body -- thanks to its creator's work and nanotechnology -- is capable of actually shifting shape and color. It is the ultimate car -- and someone will be willing to do anything to obtain it. "Knight Rider" stars Justin Bruening ("Cold Case"), Deanna Russo ("NCIS"), Sydney Tamiia Poitier ("Veronica Mars") and Bruce Davison ("Breach"). David Bartis ("Heist," "The O.C."), Doug Liman ("Mr. and Mrs. Smith," "The Bourne Identity") and Gary Scott Thompson (“Las Vegas,” “The Fast and The Furious”) are executive producers and David Andron serves as supervising producer and writer. Based on characters created by Glen Larson, “Knight Rider” is from Universal Media Studios and Dutch Oven Productions.

CRUSOE - Based on the legendary novel by Daniel Defoe, this is the tale of Robinson Crusoe. A young man leaves his true love to embark on an adventure -- only to end up shipwrecked on a remote tropical island for 28 years, completely detached from the life he once knew. His desire to return to his wife and his strong and unlikely friendship with Friday are the only things that keep him sane. While stranded, Crusoe encounters enemies and braves the elements. Equal parts “MacGyver,” “Castaway” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” this series is an inspirational tale of survival rife with action and comedy. Power Entertainment produces “Crusoe.”

KINGS -- “Kings” is an inspiring exploration of the timeless David vs. Goliath struggle. The show is set in a modern metropolis under siege where the fighting has gone on for too long and cost far too many lives. When David Shepherd (Christopher Egan, “Resident Evil: Extinction”), a brave young soldier, rescues the king’s (Golden Globe winner Ian McShane, “Deadwood”) son from enemy territory, he sets events in motion that will finally bring peace. Suddenly, David is thrust into the limelight, earning the affections of women -- including the king’s daughter. When he’s promoted to captain, he becomes the reluctant poster boy for hope. But for David, the line between his allies and enemies will blur as the power players in the kingdom go to great lengths to see him fall. From the director (Francis Lawrence) of the blockbuster movie “I Am Legend” comes the ultimate story of David vs. Goliath, and there’s no telling who will win. Sebastian Stan (“Gossip Girl”) also stars. “Kings” is a production of Universal Media Studios; Michael Green (NBC’s “Heroes”) is the executive producer. Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend”) is the director and executive producer and Erwin Stoff (“I Am Legend”) also is executive producer.

MERLIN - “Merlin” brings to life a new legend for a modern audience. “Merlin” is an exciting, hour-long fantasy series set in the mythic city of Camelot -- but inspired by 21st Century storytelling. Before Merlin (Colin Morgan, “Doctor Who”) and Arthur (Bradley James, “Lewis”) became legends, they were ambitious young men looking for adventure, hoping to live up to their family’s expectations, discovering love and finding their own true destiny, making mistakes along the way. The innovative, action-packed drama has cross-generational appeal and paints a picture of Merlin and Arthur’s early life that audiences have never witnessed before. Anthony Head (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Richard Wilson (“A Passage to India”), Angel Coulby (“Magicians”) and Katie McGrath (“The Tudors”) also star. A FremantleMedia Enterprises distribution of a Shine production for BBC.

THE PHILANTHROPIST -- This one-hour drama is about a rebel with a cause. Teddy Rist loves women, money and power. After the tragic death of his only child, Teddy has an awakening and becomes the world's first vigilante philanthropist -- a renegade billionaire who uses his wealth, connections and power to help people in need. He'll do anything to achieve his goals -- bargain with the self-righteous, trade with the nefarious and even tell the truth. Instead of spending $25,000 a plate at a fundraiser, he’s dodging bullets in third-world countries to hand-deliver vaccine. It's a global adventure that will take viewers to the ends of the Earth and will inspire them as well. "The Philanthropist" is produced by Universal Media Studios, Original Media and the Levinson/Fontana Company. Tom Fontana ("Homicide: Life on the Street"), Barry Levinson (“Homicide: Life on the Street”) and Charlie Corwin ("L.A. Ink") are the executive producers; Jim Juvonen is a co-executive producer.

THE LISTENER -- In this one-hour drama, Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik, “The Runaway”) is a 24-year-old paramedic living with a secret: he can read people’s minds. This telepathic procedural takes viewers into the heart of a tortured hero who struggles to solve crimes with his unique gift. Week-to-week, “The Listener” balances high-stakes drama with irreverent humor and sends Toby on an intellectual and emotional adventure. Ennis Esmer (“The Path to 9/11”) also stars. “The Listener” is a production of Program Partners and Shaftesbury Films. The executive producers are Christina Jennings, Scott Garvie, Michael Amo, Russ Cochrane, Glen Davis and Bill Laurin.


NEW COMEDIES

THE OFFICE SPINOFF - From Greg Daniels, the executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning American version of NBC’s “The Office,” comes the most highly anticipated comedy of the season in “The Office” spinoff. Audiences will follow another comic journey, complete with new faces and new locations, but with the same unique sense of humor and brand of quality from Daniels and his creative team. It's the next chapter of what viewers have come to know and love about “The Office.”

KATH & KIM -- They’re the most dysfunctional duo in suburbia. Kath Day (Molly Shannon, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”) is the mom, a foxy, 40-something divorcĂ©e who finally has time for herself and her valiant search for love. Kim Day (Selma Blair, “Hellboy,” “Hellboy II”) is the daughter, a self-absorbed princess recently separated from her husband who finds consolation in stuffing her face. When Kim decides to move back home, Kath reluctantly agrees -- but to Kim’s chagrin, Kath is not about to cater to her every whim as she has in the past. Based on the most successful comedy in Australia of the same name, Kath and Kim are two brassy women who prefer the finer things in life like acrylic nails, big hair and faux diamond chips. The series is produced by Universal Media Studios and Reveille. The executive producer/writer is Michelle Nader (“The King of Queens”) and the executive producer/director is Paul Feig (“Freaks and Geeks,” “The Office”). Gina Riley, Jane Turner and Rick McKenna also are executive producers.

SNL THURSDAY NIGHT LIVE - Dubbed "TV's funniest and most influential political player" by Entertainment Weekly, “SNL” expands its "Weekend Update" coverage to Thursdays in primetime for three live half-hour shows beginning October 16. With all of the excitement and attention around "Saturday Night Live" during the presidential primaries, the anticipation for the show's take on this Fall’s election will be at a fever pitch, "SNL Thursday Night Live" will keep the momentum -- and the laughs -- going. The program is a production of Broadway Video in association with SNL Studios. Lorne Michaels is the executive producer.


NEW ALTERNATIVE

CHOPPING BLOCK -- It’s time to sharpen your knives! It’s not just about the meal, it’s about the business of food. From the producers of “Hell’s Kitchen,” original rock-star chef Marco Pierre White comes to America to host the ultimate food fight on NBC -- a new reality competition set in the high-drama, high-stakes world of New York City restaurants. The cooks are given a grilling over the course of the series. The teams, which are made up of couples, will be tested in challenges that vary from having less than a week to design and revamp a restaurant space to planning a menu and creating a signature dish. The winning couple will get a chance to have their dreams come true -- opening their very own restaurant in Manhattan. The series is produced by Granada America.

AMERICA’S TOUGHEST JOBS - From creator/executive producer Thom Beers (“Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers”) and executive producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun, “America’s Toughest Jobs” is a new extreme competition series that will test 12 people who venture out of their safe, comfortable careers and are injected into some of the most challenging, dangerous and demanding jobs on earth. From logging high in the Oregon Forest to oil drilling on the Texas range, or from driving icy roads to extreme fishing -- each job requires guts and stamina, and they'll have to live up to the same standards as the pros. In the end, their new boss and co-workers will determine success or failure, and those who don't make the grade get sent home. Upping the ante, the annual salary of each job will be thrown into the pot until the finale, where one rookie will take home the well-earned cash. "America's Toughest Jobs" is created by executive producer Beers and is produced by Original Productions and BermanBraun.

SHARK TAGGERS -- From creator/executive producer Thom Beers (“Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers”) and executive producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun, “Shark Taggers” is a one-hour reality series that follows daring marine biologists as they track down the ocean’s top predators and hand-tag them with cutting-edge satellite transmitters or investigate bull sharks’ sudden attacks on surfers. The series is produced by Original Productions and BermanBraun.


NEW EVENTS/MINISERIES/MOVIES

THE LAST TEMPLAR -- In this four-hour miniseries, Oscar winner Mira Sorvino (“Mighty Aphrodite”) stars in an epic action-adventure tale about the greatest mystery of our time. At the New york Metropolitan Museum, four horsemen dressed as 12th century knights storm the gala opening of an exhibition of Vatican treasures and steal an arcane medieval decoder. For archaeologist Tess Chaykin (Sorvino) and FBI agent Sean Daly (Scott Foley, “The Unit”), this is just the start of a suspenseful game of cat and mouse as they race across three continents in search of the enemy -- and the lost secret of the Knights Templar. The miniseries is produced by MUSE Entertainment Enterprises. Victor Garber (“Alias”) and Omar Sharif (“Doctor Zhivago”) also star. Emmy Award-winning television impresario Robert Halmi Sr. ("Tin Man," "Gulliver's Travels"), Robert Halmi, Jr. ("The Poseidon Adventure," "The Christmas Card"), and Michael Prupas ("Human Trafficking") will executive-produce the miniseries.

XIII - “XIII” is a high-stakes cat-and-mouse thriller starring Val Kilmer (“The Doors”) and Stephen Dorff (“World Trade Center”). This adrenaline-charged miniseries begins dramatically as the first female U.S. President is shot dead by a sniper during her Veteran’s Day speech. Three months later, a wounded man is found tattered in a forest with no memory of his identity. The only clue is a tattoo on his neck, “XIII.” Could his lightning-fast reflexes and killer instincts betray him as the presidential assassin that the U.S. is desperately searching for? Submerged in a far-reaching conspiracy, which threatens to overthrow the entire government, XIII’s identity becomes the key to unraveling a complex and dangerous secret that will shock and excite. From the first bullet, this gripping action-thriller will leave audiences gasping for more. “XIII” is produced by Prodigy Pictures and Cipango.


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Monday, March 31, 2008

"I have one. It's called my marriage license.": How I Met Your Mother

While How I Met Your Mother's first post-strike episode had strong mythology but weak jokes and story and last week's episode had a strong story and mythology with a few good jokes, The Bracket was an out-and-out winner, taking what I can only assume was a mandate from CBS to include the NCAA tournament in some way and turning it into one of the better extended comic riffs in the show's history. HIMYM has always been good at gags where a long list of goofy nicknames rolls along, with each topping the last, and the scene where the gang debated the many women Barney had wronged built perfectly, even if the final four were not as funny as the others (Marshall's indignance when no one agreed with him that "Dead wife's kidney" was the winner was almost as good as Robin getting every single match-up wrong). And the rest of the episode was just as good, containing only a handful of clunkers. The pre-strike "How I Met Everyone Else" was better, but this is a strong second for the season and firm proof that the writers are back on track after a few meandering episodes early this season.

One of my favorite things about the late, lamented Newsradio (a show whose run has a surprising amount in common with HIMYM's run) was the way that every character had a different relationship with every other character. This must have been tough on Newsradio, which, at its height, had eight regulars with completely divergent personalities (as I opined in the top 100 list, this made Phil Hartman's death in many ways a death knell for the show itself, so inextricably tied was he to the rest of the series), but I think it's one of the best examples of this principle. I tend to like relationship-based comedy, which is just a step beyond character-based comedy. While I appreciate a show like Seinfeld, where the characters themselves were so distinct that they all related to each other in basically the same fashion (Kramer's relationship with Elaine, for example, was not terribly different from his relationship with Jerry), what really impresses me is a show with a well-defined ensemble where all of the players also have well-defined relationships -- again, think of Newsradio or Mary Tyler Moore, where a Ted and Murray scene would always be different from a Lou and Murray scene.

To a very real degree, this is part of the reason for why I've never embraced the American Office as wholeheartedly as others. The main five have vaguely different ways of relating to each other (largely -- except for Ryan -- taken from the British original), but how many really well-defined relationships do we have once we get out into the rest of the cast? Granted, this is probably a function of there being something like 15 regulars on that show, but someone like Stanley is largely only funny because of his point-of-view and the things he says, not from how he comes into conflict with Dwight or anything. In the larger ensemble, there are, of course, some really well-done relationships (Michael and Toby's weird animosity is one of the best things about the show), and the individual characters are so well drawn that this almost doesn't matter, but I still occasionally don't get the sense that these are people who have complicated pre-existing relationships. Compare this to 30 Rock, which in its second season, deepened a lot of the tertiary characters and their relationships to each other, to the point where even the most one-joke regular character (Kenneth) seems deeper simply because Frank exploits him in a different way than Liz does.

This is all a way of burning up a lot of space so I can get around to saying that I think that How I Met Your Mother is a show where all five of the regulars have really well-defined relationships with each other (well, actually, I'm not sure I've seen a Marshall and Robin scene, but, then, I haven't needed to). The writing and the energy in a Ted and Lily scene is different from the energy and the writing in a Barney and Lily scene. Now, of course, this is infinitely easier to do on a show with just the five characters (and notice how I said basically the same thing about The Office's central five above -- I apologize for nothing!). Tonight's episode, funny as it was, was also a fine example of how even an under-utilized pairing can make for great comedy. Witness Barney and Lily.

Now, Barney and Lily probably would rarely have occasion to hang out (and every time they've had a storyline together, it's been a unique event), but the rare times they do make for good television. Something in Barney brings out Lily's motherly side, while something in Lily makes Barney even more of a cad. Bouncing the two off of each other has been a good time in the past, and as long as the show doesn't strain too hard, I think it can be a good time in the future.

But there were even more examples of how the characters can flip and play off of each other, even in little one-offs. The ease with which Ted pointed out that Robin giggles when she lies rang true with the way their relationship had been so important to them and then so abruptly ended. Marshall and Lily's pride at each being the only other sexual partner the other had had was a terrific call to the way their marriage is strong and yet goofy. Even the gag where Barney had pretended to be Ted was shot through with the weirdly competitive camaraderie the two have.

"The Bracket" wasn't a perfect episode, but it was terrifically funny, and in its throwaway line at the end (about how the narrator would get to the woman tormenting Barney), it tossed in a bit of mythology for the rabid fans as well. The series has responded to the threat of cancellation the best possible way -- by making great episodes that almost demand it be picked up again. Here's to hoping for a third week of good ratings!

(Side note: I also watched The New Adventures of Old Christine, and while the show itself is a bit weaker than it's been in the past, Julia Louis-Dreyfus' work this season is absolutely terrific. Check it out while you still can. Also, Jason Alexander was on tonight, and it took me, like, five minutes to realize why that was stunt casting.)

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