Saturday, October 07, 2006

Another Fraktastic Week In Television

Get used to it, I'm officially an addict.

Oh, gosh. What a terrific five nights of TV. I know it shouldn't matter. I know these programs are pure, fleeting pop, and on-air only as long as they shake their money-maker. But I just don't care what the avatars of high culture tell me. Some of these shows....some of these shows tell stories with such depth and richness, it's not hard to see why people don't go the movies as often anymore. Television has real, live genuine storytellers these days. With the guts to buck the trend and tell their tales on the small screen.

Friday Night Lights -- I can't say I've seen a more genuine show this year than Friday Night Lights. And I don't just mean in its portrayal of the game of football. But in its raw, authentic detail to the craft of telling an engaging story. Not since Homicide have I seen a group of actors unequivocally dedicated to being parts of a greater whole, selling their short slice of screen time like their lives depended on it. While it wasn't the flashiest or funniest or most technically sound pilot of the season, Friday Night Lights sure was the most earnest. Here's to hoping it finds the audience it so richly deserves.

Veronica Mars -- Going from gut-wrenching, small-town life to the ever-witty, crime-solving life of Veronica Mars (now with natural collegiate flavor!) is going to be a tough Tuesday night transition. But come on now, sugar. Even though my love for Veronica Mars is roughly on the same plane as my love for Lost, I wasn't quite so VM-hungry for the season premiere in light of my rerun binge (if you haven't seen it, it's new to you!) this summer. Regardless, a good time was had by all. I'm going to say it right now: Veronica Mars might have the keenest wit of show on TV. What am I saying, "might"? It does. This show is solid gold, mutherfrakker, and it held the ratings of its Gilmore Girls lead-in relatively well. The opener might have been a bit complex for new viewers, with all the references to previous seasons, including the subplot involving Veronica's dad, but people, come one. Watch this show, or I'll have to do something crazy. Like move to Vermont. Oh, wait...

Lost -- There's alot of fan criticism directed at Lost because the show won't come out and give any straight answers. What is the island? Who are the Others? What do they want? And a host of others. Some fans want to do away with the flashbacks altogether and get on with the story of the island. But once you do that, all you're left with is a Twin Peaks season two or the last four years of the X-Files. Peaks couldn't last any longer than the Laura Palmer mystery, and though a brilliant show, it ended after two seasons. And X-Files expanded its alien mythology too far too fast, so that eventually its new mysteries seemed half-baked and barely-hearted (in addition to all the internal contradictions). The mystery of Lost is what hooks us; but it's the peeks into the character's pasts that make it so rewarding. There's dozens of shows this year with mysteries, but not one has shown the ability to tell a story like Lost did tonight. J.J. Abram's welcome return as co-writer (his first ep since season one) was badly needed. And I think it's about time we started talking about an Emmy for Matthew Fox. (I mean if Keifer Sutherland can, why not?)

The Nine -- If there's one new show that promises to be as complex and entertaining as Lost this season, it's The Nine. Heroes, while casting a pitch perfect mood and crafting a compelling story, has yet to show the kind of characterization found on Lost. The Nine just about matched it. The flashbacks to the bank robbery serve the same purpose as the scenes in the present do in Lost -- they get under our skin and don't let go. But The Nine is a bit like Lost in reverse. Instead of the bulk of the characterization coming in flashbacks, The Nine will handle the characterization facet in the present; its flashbacks will be what fans want to see more of. It's a kind of near-genius storytelling technique that ought to serve the show quite well. And it doesn't hurt that they've put some great talent in front of the camera (and behind it as well: director Alex Graves, who cut his teeth on the camera-heavy work of ER and the West Wing). All in all, a compelling pilot episode, and tied with Heroes for my favorite pilot of the season so far. The Nine, however, has a leg up on Heroes plot-wise; something I'll get into a little more after another episode or two.

Smallville -- Thursday nights are pretty meh for me TV wise. It's bring home the bacon night for the networks (companies like to buy commercials on Thursday night right before the shopping/movie watching weekend, and networks can charge a higher rate because it), but there's not a whole lot I want to see. Ugly Betty is a nice show, and I hope it makes it and all, but it's not really my cup of tea. Grey's is pretty much ho-hum, and Six Degrees is downright boring. Smallville should be my Thursday breath of fresh air, but this season has been entirely underwhelming so far. The premiere had its moments, but come on! It was the return of General Zod! This shoulda been epic! This shoulda been a two parter! This shoulda opened long lasting consequences for the Clark-Lana-Lex relationship! Lana tried to kill LexZod with that ice dagger thingy! LexZod punched a fire poker through Lana's hand! Clark got the stuffing beat out of him! Yet, ho hum. Super-powered Clark saves Lana from LexZod just after Lana blacks out, which we've seen a gazillion times before. Lex can't remember his battle with Clark after Zod gets exorcised. Again, no beans spilt. Again, more of the same old boring. The least they could have done was stretch this out to epic proportions over the course of two weeks! But I have remind myself this is no Lost, and it probably doesn't have near that kind of budget from the CW. Instead, we get one quasi-exciting episode, then back to the same old same old. If episode two was any indication of the quality of season six's remainder, let's hope this season is Smallville's last.

Battlestar Galactica -- The only returning show in television that I'm picking up for the first time this season is BSG. It was news of the alien occupation that piqued my interest, and after catching a couple of reruns over the past couple of weeks, I was immediately hooked. BSG has all the elements of good science fiction: new worlds, techy spacecraft, and commentary on contemporary life through the lens of the fantastic. But BSG is not your ordinary space opera. It's what's called "sci-fi realism," eschewing bright sets and static camera work for a feel that would be more familiar to viewers of ER or single-cam docu-dramas. In the world of BSG, its hard to tell the good guys from the bad, as the human race (numbering less than 50,000) fights for its survival. Escapes are made, leaving behind friends. Elections are tampered with, by well-intentioned people. And with season three, we have an occupation to deal with, complete with a human insurgent movement, govt collaboration with the Cylons, people being held without trial and suicide bombings. Battlestar Galactica somehow pulls it off without too much "preachiness." Sure there's some, but if Jack Bauer is our post-9/11 James Bond, then BSG is the Star Trek of our current Administration. So a little preaching is to be expected.

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