Saturday, August 26, 2006

1,2,3, The Return of Some Old Favs

If it ain't broke, kill off some characters and add an actor from Melrose Place.

Returning television shows have a tough job -- they have to both catch the magic of previous seasons and continue to make old characters interesting, all the while introducing new people and themes in order to keep things fresh. Most shows aren't able to do it. Some get cancelled because people stop watching (see Alias). Others, inexplicably, keep going, year after year, long after they have anything left to say (see ER). It's rare that a TV show is able to string together a good five or six seasons, and keep ratings up in the process. Shows aren't allowed to build slowly over time anymore. Nowadays, they burst out of the gate, then fizzle into mediocrity. Alias, ER, the West Wing and 24 are perfect examples of shows that peaked early and were never able to recover.

For shows like Lost, Veronica Mars, Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy, 2006-07 could be their make-or-break year. Do they have the staying power to launch themselves for an extended stay on network TV? Here are my three returning shows for your life, that are actually for my life, but by extension, if this blog IS your life, then ergo these shows are for your life, too, except if you don't have a TV, and you still read this blog hoping I'll talk about politics or theology again, which maybe I will, but not until after the November sweeps.

1) Lost -- The "Season of the Hatch" was an interesting one. Mostly good, but some bad. In a bit of really lame-lameness, the creators decided to kill off half the new characters they introduced last year just because they couldn't figure out how to write them in an interesting and likeable way. They've done this before, with Boone and Shannon, and it's getting to be kind of a ridiculous crutch. This character is boring. Let's kill them off during sweeps week! But bygones, the hatch is exploded, bring on season 3!

Lost promises two blocks of no-repeat episodes this year, six this fall, then continuing in early 2007 with 17 more. The first block is supposed to answer all our questions about why The Others wanted Jack, Kate and Sawyer. And maybe about that giant foot, too. As long as we get a Hurley or Locke episode to boot, I think I'll be happy.

2) Veronica Mars -- Yes, I know I just wrote about this show earlier in the week, but having stuffed a whole season into my head since June, I'm super-crazy about season 3 of VM, too. Like I said before, Rob Thomas has promised three mini-mysteries across the course of the season, lasting six or seven episodes each. Plus, Miss Mars and Co. go to college. As any good Buffy fan ought to know, college episodes mean excitement: i.e., drinking, lesbians, snooty profs and general sluttiness abound. Regardless, VM ought to be it's snappy, snazzy self, with lots of Nancy Drew 2.0 goodness. And Kristen Bell? Still the cutest thing on TV. From my mouth to God's ear. Honest.

3) Smallville -- Score two for the new CW! After the mess that was Superman Returns (albeit a beautiful mess at times), it's time to get back to our generation's Superman, the boy/man Tom Welling. The other show I've been catching up on old times with this summer, Smallville is hurtling toward a sixth season that brings C. Kent another step closer to the big blue suit: A knock-down, drag-out slug-fest with none other than the notorious General Zod -- possessing the body of Lex Luthor no less!

Lot's of other things need resolving, too. Like, will Lana still have the hots for Lex now that he's a lunatic general from Krypton? Will Chloe still have the hots for Clark now that Jimmy Olsen is in the picture? Will Lois ever have the hots for anyone? And finally, can the sheer amount of teen-tear-jerk-drama be overcome by awesome fist fights between super-powered aliens? Come on kid Kal-El, show Bryan Singer just exactly what his movie lacked: Superman punching people through walls!

Honorable mentions:

  1. Family Guy -- Only because Adult Swim re-airs the episodes late at night. Sunday evening has never been a big TV night for me. I don't know why.
  2. Prison Break -- The one returning show that I'm 100% certain will be better this season than last. What was once kind of a lame bottle-show is now suddenly an updated version of The Fugitive for the 21st century. How can you flipping mess that up?
  3. Law & Orders/CSIs -- Boring copper/law procedurals should be forced to watch episodes of Life on Mars, then cancel themselves forever.
  4. Boston Legal -- I watched this show once. It was 17% funny. But I like James Spader, so maybe it gets another shot. Oh wait, it's about lawyers. (See #3.)
  5. Grey's Anatomy/House -- Medical dramas. I have nothing good to say. Which is sad because Hugh Laurie was a kick-ass Jeeves.
  6. Ghost Whisperer -- I used to think Jennifer Hewitt was pretty. Then I saw her with those bangs. I'm very confused now.
So that's it. I'm sorry if I insulted your show. Feel free to insult mine in return. Or better yet, insult J.L. Hewitt's hair. That way we can be happy together forever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

1,2,3, New Shows For You!

Ode to the days of hooded sweatshirts

It’s not fall, that’s easy enough to tell by a quick look at the calendar. But with the mild temps we’ve been having, you could have fooled me. It’s hoodie weather at night around here, which means it’s ye olde tyme for back-to-school, American football and a ton of new television shows, half of which won’t make it out of 2006.

What’s surprising this year is the sheer number of new programs that demand quite a bit of audience loyalty, from episode to episode, in order to understand the over-arching plot(s) of the series. Shows like Law & Order, CSI and (to a certain extent) ER consist largely of self-contained episodes -- meaning if you miss a few it’s still relatively easy to pick it back up. Yet as network TV loses ground to cable in the ratings game, they’ve gone to both cheaper programming (in the guise of reality TV) and shows that demand a higher level of audience allegiance. Sometimes it works (see Lost and 24), other times the shows can’t find a big enough audience, and they goes caput (see Invasion or Firefly), leaving fans more than a bit disgruntled, having invested so much in a story and its characters only to have it disappear forever (unless you’re lucky enough to have a creator like Joss Whedon, that is).

The networks are taking a risk by offering so many of these serialized shows, because if they don’t pan out, they could have a pretty pissed off audience, who are already getting more and more of their entertainment content on the web. I’m sort of a chronologically disabled uber-geek in the fact that I still really like TV, and really don’t want it to go anywhere. Maybe that’s a topic for another post, because it’s time to get to the new shows I’m looking forward to this fall. Excitement!

1) Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip -- Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme return, bringing their long, steady-cam takes and snappy, endlessly entertaining dialogue back to NBC. After having explored the sporting world and the DC Beltway, they’ve set their guns on Hollywood this time around. Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, D.L. Hughley and just about everyone else in the whole wide world star as the players and producers of an SNL-like sketch comedy show. Look for Sorkin to skewer his own back-stage shenanigans while writing and producing both Sports Nite and The West Wing, i.e., someone’s gonna be ridin’ the white pony.

2) The Nine -- The only new show that can boast the best time slot in all of TV -- that 10 o’clock hour after Lost -- The Nine follows the trials and tribulations of nine individuals who are held hostage during a 52-hour bank robbery. Each episode will start out with a flashback to the robbery, setting up how the lives of the hostages have changed since the incident, allowing all sorts of people to laugh, cry and have sex that they wouldn' t have had otherwise.

3) Kidnapped -- Surprisingly, another cop-ish type drama falls into my list of TV likes. In what looks like an engrossing premise, each season will follow one kidnapping case as FBI, police, and private investigators interact in their quest to solve the case. Who knows whether it will hold my attention or not, but what it’s really got going for it at this point is the involvement of Delroy Lindo as a part of the cast. So if nothing else, it’s good to see Dr. Ed 'Braz' Brazzleton (from The Core, silly!) on the small screen.

Honorable mentions:

  • Vanished -- Whereas Kidnapped involves an actual kidnapping, Fox’s version is a bit more ambiguous. The show’s creators haven’t commented on how they’ll deal with a season two (should they get there), because they’re adamant that the entire series will revolve on the disappearance of a Senator’s wife in the first episode. Unless it’s done right, this one might be long gone by New Year’s.
  • Heroes -- Heroes would have made my Top 3, but for the fact that NBC has yet to prove they have an air-worthy pilot episode for the series. Since sneak-peeking some scenes last May, the pilot has been re-edited in mysterious, as-yet-to-be-revealed ways in order to satisfy certain network execs. Usually pilot problems aren’t a good sign, but since it’s a show about normal people who find themselves with super-powers (starring the lovable Greg Grunberg to boot), I’ll be around for at least a few weeks to give it a shot.
  • 30 Rock -- Tina Fey’s half-hour, single-cam comedy about a fictional SNL-type show (yes, that’s two, count ‘em two, both on NBC!), starring Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Rachel Dratch and Miss Fey herself. Maybe this has the potential to fill the whole in my heart left by the cancellation of Arrested Development. Maybe not. But God knows The Office and Earl can’t, so I’ve got to look somewhere….
  • Jericho -- All I know about this show is that it follows a small, Midwestern town in the wake of a nuclear attack on American soil. And it’s on CBS. I give it a 10% chance to get to the November sweeps. Let’s see if the writing staff can execute on what’s at the very least an intruiging premise.
  • Six Degrees -- The latest drama from golden boy J.J. Abrams, this one looks to be more Felicity than Alias, as it follows the lives of six interconnected, young strangers in the big, bad city. Six Degrees basically sounds like The Nine but without the cool, bank-heist angle, and the previews ABC has shows so far have been ultra-schmaltzy, with some third-string, U2 rip-off band providing the soundtrack. I’ll give J.J. a chance, but with nary a secret agent or mystery island in sight, I’m not too keen on this one’s chances.
Sadly, there are no new series with an extraterrestrial bent, which means my X-Files fix will have to come from actual reruns of the X-Files. *Tear*

Uggh. Just thinking about how many of these new shows could suck is kind of a bummer. But if there’s just one Lost or 24 among the bunch, it could be worth the pain of a glut of crappy pilots. As for my returning faves, I’ve written way too much already, so we’ll leave that for another day.


“A little television is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely awesome.” -- Oscar Wilde.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

1,2,3 Summer Cable Craziness!

What I've been watching besides Cartoon Network

Oh those long months of summer reruns. Sure, there's plenty of hours every day to do those things you're supposed to do during the summer, like:

  1. Walk outside.
  2. Read outside.
  3. Bike outside.
  4. Sleep outside.
  5. Get nose burns outside.
  6. Get shoulder burns outside.
  7. Watch the Latino kids play soccer outside.
  8. Watch the Indian kids play cricket outside.
  9. Watch fighter pilots play pretend war outside.
  10. Refuse to, under any circumstances, run outside.
But those things can only fill up so many hours every day, leaving one with little to do during those lazy summer nights between 7-10pm (8-11 Eastern). And that's where the cable TV comes in. Summer is the time when many cable stations will air new episodes of their original programs. And because I'm blogging about TV all of the sudden, I thought I'd let ya'll know which of those shows I've enjoyed most.

1) Psych -- Relentlessly light and unabashedly fluffy, Psych is a Crime-Lite program in the vein of Monk, where the actual murder is really of secondary importance to the main characters. Sure, there's a crime to be solved in every episode, but the entertainment value of the show comes from interaction between Sean, a fake-psychic detective, and his friend Gus, the straight man of the comedy pair (played by old favorite Dule Hill of the West Wing). It's pure summer fun, never too serious for its own good. Crime's get solved, laughs ensue, sometimes there is singing. That's good enough for me.

2) Veronica Mars -- Okay, you're right. It's not cable and it's all reruns, but I've been watching it all summer regardless. I missed all 21 episodes of VM following the season premiere last September, and decided to make up for lost time by catching two episodes every Tuesday night as best I could. If you've never seen or heard of the show, it's basically Nancy Drew for the Gen-Y set -- Veronica Mars, teenage private investigator, who takes on cases for fellow students ranging from stolen laptop files to murdered pets, while assisting her PI dad on the bigger cases that crop up from time to time.

The show is tightly written and plotted out, with just the right blend of humor and whodunnit. While the bus crash mystery of season two is a bit hard to follow, it's still been a helluva good time sifting through suspects, witnesses and red herrings. Show creator Rob Thomas (no, not THAT Rob Thomas) has promised smaller story arcs for season three, giving new viewers more chances to jump on board the ol' VM train. And did I mention that Kristen Bell is about the cutest thing on TV ever? It's true.

3) Life on Mars -- From the fine folks at the BBC, Life on Mars tells the story of a modern day Brit cop, Sam Tyler, who suffers an accident and wakes up in 1973. Having no way of knowing if what he's experiencing is dream or reality, he finds himself living his life as a cop during a very different time -- when David Bowie was more than just that creepy guy with a glass eye.

It's funny that all of my favs this summer are detective shows, seeing as how I pretty much hate police procedurals. Life on Mars is the only one whose main character is a cop, but it's done in such a fun way that I can ignore that fact. The show doesn't explain what has happened to Sam -- if it's all a rather elaborate illusion, or if he's really living in the past -- and there are surreal moments when people from 2006, like his mother or his doctor, talk to him through his television set or in his dreams. The show revolves around how Sam's 21st century detective techniques, like his forensic skills and refusal to take money from local crime bosses, clash with the inspectors of 1973 Manchester. And the music is pretty much boss. Yeah, I said boss.

Honorable mentions:
  • Kyle XY -- A diverting little, family drama about a young man with no knowledge of his past who's taken in by a suburban family.
  • Smallville -- Catching up on reruns of a network show that I haven't watched in four years.
  • Eureka -- A quirky Sci-Fi Channel show about a US Marshall who finds himself the sheriff of an idyllic town of scientific geniuses.
  • Phil of the Future -- Basically the best kids show on TV. It takes the manic, kiddie-energy of Lizzie McGuire and adds the kind of comedy you might find Arrested Development or Family Guy -- albeit completely Disneyfied, of course.
Dishonorable mentions:
  • Blade -- Sacrifices all the fun of the movie in order to make it a more serious horror-adventure show. It's on Spike, so I guess I should have expected general suckiness.
  • Late Night with Conan O'Brien -- Too many reruns, dangit! Find a guest host already, Conan. Preferably someone named Andy Richter, cutting off pudgy, pretty-boy Carson Daly's hopes of taking over when Conan leaves for the Tonight Show in 2009.
Okay, that's enough TV talk. Until tomorrow when I'll probably write about the excitement of so many shows to choose from this fall! Ooooooh, I just shivered!!

Monday, August 21, 2006

1,2,3, Cartoons!

So apparently The Simpsons grabbed the Emmy for best animated series on Saturday night. Which is pretty much crap, because, while not a connoisseur of the cartoon world, I can easily think of a few series who were more deserving of said award. So here we go again -- Listsville!

1) Family Guy -- Yeah, it's crude as all holy hell. But it's funny as all holy hell, too. And has about the sharpest writing staff in all of television. When it comes to laughs per minute, Family Guy blows The Simpsons out of the water. Insert "low-brow socio-political satire", "pop-culture savvy", or "outright/over-the-top ridiculousness" for "laughs per minute" in that last sentence, and it still stands.

2) The Venture Brothers -- A little known gem on Adult Swim, Venture Brothers is an action-adventure send-up of just about every cartoon and comic-book in existence. It's got the unbalanced, mad scientist, the hulking, secret-agent bodyguard, the loquacious and pompous master of the magical arts, and its own version of the useless Wonder Twins. And it's funny. Real funny. What hurts its chances is probably the amount of nearly incoherent in-jokes about the genres it so mercilessly skewers. Lovers of Jonny Quest, the Hardy Boys and Marvel Comics ought to find it thoroughly engaging.

3) Tom Goes to the Mayor -- I don't even particularly like this show, due to its inconsistency from episode to episode, but with the schlock that Matt Groening has been putting out over the past few years, even this hit-or-miss Adult Swim pseudo-cartoon makes The Simpsons look bad. It's definitely a twisted show. But twisted in a good way. Like Groening used to be.

So Emmy voters, it's alot like that one thing Stewie said that one time on Family Guy:

Ha! I got your hat! Take that, hatless! Now go back to the quad and resume your hackey sac tourney! I'm not gonna lay down for some frat boy bastard with his damn Teva sandals and his Skoal Bandits and his Abercrombie and Fitch long sleeved, open stitched, crew neck Henley smoking his sticky buds out of a soda can while watching his favorite downloaded Simpsons episodes every night! Yes, we all love "Mr. Plow"! Oh, you've got the song memorized, do you? SO DOES EVERYONE ELSE! That is exactly the kind of idiot you see at Taco Bell at 1 in the morning! The guy who just whiffed his way down the bar skank ladder!
Yeah, just like that....

TV Is Here Again


Let's just own up to one thing. I really like television.

Books or films with ambiguous endings are the bees-knees to my little brain. Likewise for serialized storytelling in any form. And because both techniques allow for a more engaged audience (at least in my experience), those are the types of stories that really grab me by the Dungarees. Having stories expand within the confines of my own head is a favorite past-time of mine, most likely because I tend to favor art and storytelling as a subjective experience -- my experience, dammit! -- rather than as an objective author-to-audience broadcast with no room for feedback or multiple interpretations. Bor-ing.

What I mean by all that lit-crit-babble is that the stories I like best are ones that keep going, whether in my mind or on the screen/page. So while I enjoy films and books with concrete endings, I enjoy serials, if done right, even more. Sure, The Great Gatsby is a fantastic novel, but I've found more enjoyment in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien that I have in the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Maybe that's not a fair comparison, but it's true for me, nonetheless.

Following that (il)logic, maybe that's why I'm eagerly looking forward to new seasons of Lost and Veronica Mars, as well as a host of new shows following this kind of serialized storytelling technique. For the longest time, TV was so boring to me, what with the cut-and-dry CSI and Law & Order franchises dominating the airwaves. But now I'm actually excited about television again, which in my book is a pretty good thing.

Granted, all stories must have an end. But sometimes it's just nicer if that end lies five or six years down the road.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I've had it with these motherfucking critics on this motherfucking plane!

Sometime in the year that was Wisconsin/Chicago 2005 (not to be confused with the summer music festival Wisconsin/Chicago 2005, which existed only in my head), I watched an interview with Samuel L. Jackson on Conan O'Brien wherein a number of things were bandied about and discussed. At the tail end of the interview, Mr. Jackson offhandedly mentioned how he was doing a film called Snakes an a Plane, and that he had taken the part after having only seen the title page of the script. And with that I was onboard, too.

At some point doing the production of said film, known on the internets as SoaP, the studio big wigs were on the verge of renaming it Pacific Air Flight 121, to which Mr. Jackson and many others promptly stood up and said, "No, good sirs, that would be a mistake of untold proportions." (I'm paraphrasing, of course.) His objections, and the fact that some movie goers might unknowingly mistake SoaP with that other summer plane movie about a more serious and factual airline disaster, caused the studio to stick with Snakes on a Plane. Which, according to Chuck Klosterman, might have been a mistake.

While Mr. Klosterman holds the unfortunate belief that Appetite for Destruction is the best album of the 1980s, he is, for the most part, a very witty and oftentimes erudite observer of pop culture -- sort of like the Dave Berry of my generation. Only with more Schedule I drug references. And he's never written a movie starring Tim Allen, either. But one can hope.

Time will tell if Mr. Klosterman's prediction that SoaP's production and marketing strategy will spawn a whole host of fan-on-demand choose-your-own-adventure flicks. One can imagine the possible direct-to-DVD sequels to SoaP. (Am I the only one to have seen Anaconda 4 and Cruel Intentions 13 on that one rack in the back of Wal-Mart?) Yet, it's hard to figure how another movie could duplicate the type of internet buzz SoaP has enjoyed for the past few months, even while in its preproduction stage (ie, before principle photography had even started). Regardless, Mr. Klosterman's article on the Esquire website is a fun read, at the very least, for it's amusing anecdote concerning inappropriate comments shouted at movie screens during trailers for the aforementioned 9/11 airline film.

And also for its discussion of the concept of irony, a notion which, after some 20-30 odd credit hours in English Lit, I still don't completely understand.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

We're gonna come at you like a spider-monkey!

In between long bouts of jobless boredom and short periods of furious writing, I've been trying to stay on top of this year's USA basketball team, because, let's face it, any team with D. Wade, Carmelo and LeBron on the same roster just begs to be noticed. They're playing their first exhibition game right now in Vegas against Team Puerto Rico, running away with a 38-point lead. But before we get our hopes up (or brush aside a game that doesn't really matter), we would do well to remember a few things.

Most prominently, we handed Puerto Rico their asses in a 2004 exhibition game, only to have our asses handed to us later that year when we opened up against team PR in our first Olympic game. Team USA ended up going 5-3 in Olympic play, barely holding on for a bronze medal finish.

This time around, the US has gone for a more symmetrical approach in constructing their roster. This team has more balance, fewer holes, and is quicker and younger than the last squad. And new US coach Mike Krzyzewski has been emphasizing to his players the importance of their playing as a team -- in fact, THE team -- representing their country.

Out of the gate tonight we saw a team USA struggling to apply full-court pressure to a very quick Puerto Rican team. One advantage of having a coach like Coach K running this team is the respect he affords. If he wants them to play the game with a more international flavor, that's exactly what they'll do -- going back to college play with the full court press and strict zone defense. After a shaky first quarter, team USA pulled it together to take a permanent lead; and as the take-aways and fast court breaks started piling up, so did the point spread.

That trio of Wade, Anthony and James really is something to write home about, but the most important thing we saw tonight is the willingness of every man on the court to find the open shooter, whether in the lane or on the perimeter. Chris Paul's passing game is flawless. Kirk Hinrich and Gilbert Arenas bring an outside game that the 2004 Olympic team was sorely lacking. And with youth comes a hunger that might have been missing from that team as well.

This was the first in a series of games leading up to their first prelim on August 19th in the 2006 FIBA World Championship. Their next exhibition games come on the 7th and 8th in China against the Chinese and Brazilian national teams, followed by a five team, international mini-tournament in South Korea. And after that, the games start counting. Only time will tell if team USA decides to bring their A-game this time around.