Saturday, May 31, 2008

Don't call it a comeback...

This post is acting as a backdoor pilot for the RESURRECTION of my old blog: Satin in a Coffin.

Same stuff I was doing here, just a lot less people reading.

So come one, come all fans of overly verbose, pretentious musings on the world of music and the science

I could use the company.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

"I let you try on my homeless guy pants. C'mon.": DVR shenanigans

I'm in the middle of leaving a job AND moving, so time here has been scarce, but I've also been blitzing through all of the stuff I was letting get backed up on the ol' DVR, and it's time to let you know what I thought of all of it. Jump below for some thoughts on Eli Stone, Reaper, Chuck, Gossip Girl, Desperate Housewives, Brothers & Sisters, Grey's Anatomy, Ugly Betty and Supernatural (phew).

Back when I first reviewed Eli Stone, I spent the whole piece sort of couching my bets because while I liked the show all right, I REALLY liked something hidden inside of it, and it was hard to tell just what that was off of a handful of episodes. A lot of critics wrote it off as a self-conscious quirkfest from the get-go, but I resolved to watch the season as it rambled along and see if anything really took shape. Then, of course, I just didn't bother watching any episodes as they aired, until I found myself with the TV season over and nothing else to watch.

One of the problems with reviewing TV is that you just sort of have to make a gut judgment when you see a pilot and a few episodes. Most shows either don't live up to early promise or rise above early terribleness. The vast majority of shows settle into a mediocre middle, so picking out the one or two shows that will rise from that mediocre middle to genuinely good is a tough thing to do. I don't think that anyone should try to prognosticate all the time (if a pilot's lousy, the critic has a duty to tell the readers), but I do think that it's well within my bounds to say that a show's premise doesn't lend itself to lots of episodes or that the characters are pretty boring or whatever.

So, anyway, Eli Stone. When I watched the pilot, I kind of thought that there was something soulful and heartfelt buried beneath the quirk, and I trusted Greg Berlanti to bring that out. Hence, the mixed-positive review. Now, obviously, the show hasn't completely gelled (there's still a little too much quirk, all things considered), but when I slammed through the first season's episodes, I was surprised by just how many I legitimately enjoyed, particularly at the end of the show's first season run. The show settled into a nice groove, starting right after everyone found out about Eli's aneurysm, and the fact that the show made it pretty clear that Eli was, yes, a prophet from around episode six or so was also a relief. I still think the show's spirituality is too non-specific, but I'm glad that it didn't try too hard to dance around whether or not Eli's visions were somehow mystical in nature (going so far as to have the aneurysm removed in the finale).

I also really liked the way the show slowly built its own mythology, taking Eli for visits into the future (where he was married to the somehow impossibly cute Julie Gonzalo as the somehow impossibly cute Maggie) and showing the ways that his visions link together. It's not terribly complex, but it gives the show that FEEL that it takes place in a universe of its own (something Berlanti was good at on Everwood but has fallen down on in later series). Furthermore, the legal storylines, while kind of stupid in the early going, were getting pretty good toward the end of the run and weren't a chance for any characters to proselytize as on a David E. Kelley series.

Again, the show has moments when it totally, totally goes off the rails, but they got fewer and further between, and the last shot of the season was a killer, a perfect ending to everything that came before and, in its own way, a good cliffhanger. There's more to come, it said, and thanks to a generous scheduling department at ABC, we're going to get to see that more.

Speaking of shows that pulled it together, Reaper somehow managed a late rally that found almost all of the series' many elements picking it up in a way that didn't seem possible earlier in the season. That pilot, of course, was very funny, but then the show fell into a long rut of dull, unfunny soul-of-the-week episodes, when it seemed as if the show wanted to emulate Buffy, but only the worst episodes from the first season (and even then it managed to only hit about 50% of what those episodes accomplished). But the final five or six episodes managed to toss in a continuing storyline that made sense, up the personal stakes for all of the characters, do soul of the week stories that weren't terrible and increase the laugh quotient. The series so clearly wants to be Buffy that it's a little sad because it never quite will be (there are no characters here as instantly interesting and iconic as the first-season Buffy gang), but it's one of the better Buffy imitations to come along since the show ended, and I'm glad it'll get a second season to try to fix even more of its problems.

On the other hand, Chuck, which I really enjoyed last fall kind of let me down in the last two episodes of the season, which were both kind of dull, even if they let Adam Baldwin do a lot more. Insofar as Josh Schwartz's OTHER series, Gossip Girl, I find myself impressed by just how little I care about it. I realize that it's the hip show du jour, but I don't find anything in it that appeals to even my sense of a campy good time. I like the way the show looks, and I like the teen soap plots (I always do), but the whole thing just doesn't have even the wry sense of self that elevated The O.C. I realize I'm kind of in the minority on this, but there are so few characters here that I genuinely enjoy. It's pretty much just. . .Chuck. He's fun!

Then there's Desperate Housewives, a show I pretty much only watch in the highly promoted episodes. The season finale was fine, for this kind of show (particularly in the storyline about Lynette dealing with the demon child), but for every character I like (like Katherine and Bree), I just don't care about a gigantic handful of the others. I think that jumping forward five years was probably the right decision for the show, but at the same time, it felt like a desperation move (especially after so many other series have tried it). Still, I'm sure I'll watch the season premiere.

When it comes to the other three ABC soaps I watch, I really feel like Grey's Anatomy put things together after the strike, Brothers & Sisters mostly just capped off a season where it did a lot of things it did well just as well as it always did and Ugly Betty kind of dozed off. I realize it's kind of hip to hate all three shows (and believe me, I understand the complaints), but I really do enjoy all three shows when they're not making me roll my eyes, and Grey's, in particular, fixed a lot of things that were wrong with it (I had found the show almost unwatchable for almost two years). Whether this was because Shonda Rhimes figured stuff out during the strike or because she didn't have to worry about Private Practice, we shall see, but the series managed to redeem every character but Izzie, and Izzie's a giant ball of suck, so that was probably impossible to begin with. I even like MEREDITH again. Heavens to Betsy!

Then there's Supernatural, which I'm working my way through. The show's good and all, but there's a crushing sameness to it that makes it hard to deal with in long, concentrated dosages. It's like the CSI of the fantasy/SF world. Still, that episode where they were stuck in the jail was all kinds of awesome for a bottle show, and I love it when the show puts the brothers in impossible situations and forces them to weasel their way out.

Hopefully, I'll get something together for the Indiana Jones blog-a-thon on either the old Indiana Jones adventure games or the TV series (shudder), and I'm planning on a Lost finale piece, but don't expect much for the next couple of weeks.