Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What I'm Watching... So Far. (Part II)

Very quickly – yes, I watch a lot of TV, but it’s mostly due to the fact that I’m home with my daughter a lot (I’m “working” from home) and because of the lovely TiVo my extraordinary wife picked up for me for my birthday. We mostly just watch things we’re interested in now... we don’t channel surf that much anymore. Besides, because I have a young child who I’m trying to keep off television, we’re trying to have the TV on less.

I covered the new shows last time, so I’ll go back through the line-up and get back to the shows returning from last season. There really are just a few shows from last year that I’m still watching.

“Desperate Housewives” (Sundays at 9 PM, ABC)**

Okay, so everybody complained about a lackluster and relatively directionless second season, but they seem to be back on track in terms of putting the desperation back into the housewives’ lives. The season is definitely structured into acts, with these first few episodes setting up just enough for the rest of the season. It’s just a guilty pleasure.

“Prison Break” (Mondays at 8 PM, FOX)**1/2

Last season, this was the most compelling show on TV for me (remember, I don’t watch “Lost,” nor do I continue to watch “24”). Driven by Wentworth Miller’s quiet portrayal of Michael Schofield, the man who plans for everything, last season was one long tease. Every episode had you guessing about how they were going to pull off the coolest prison break-out ever.

This season, it’s become more difficult to match the magic. I think Fox’s decision to split this show into two halves (one in the fall, one in the spring) is contributing to the odd pacing of this year’s episodes. It took a year to get out of prison, and three days to find the long-lost money of D.B. Cooper? With as much publicity the eight have had in breaking out of Fox River Penitentiary, they can still round around 4 or 5 at a time in oddly mismatched clothes? There have been a few too many close calls and absurdities this season for my taste.

Still, there are few shows that can match Prison Break’s intensity and pacing within each episode. While the season feels disjointed, each episode seems to work on its own. It’s having to know what’s going to happen and the intensity with which each episode is filmed that’s keeping me around. I think the show will pick up again once they get past this lost-treasure nonsense. The spring should bring a more interesting story arc as they move to resolve the conspiracy that surrounds Lincoln’s imprisonment.

“Gilmore Girls” (Tuesdays at 8 PM, CW)**

Okay, so “CW” stands for “Columbia-Warner,” two of the biggest entertainment conglomerates in the world, but it’s still a stupid name. Even dumber was the decision to retain “7th Heaven” as one of the CW’s initial shows (after having the “series finale” air at the end of last season?!). But worst of all was probably the decision to let Gilmore Girls creator/producer Amy Sherman-Palladino go over a contract dispute.

Granted, I think that Sherman-Palladino was looking to set the CW up to fail last year with the unusual storylines that ran through the show, but at least you could count on her wicked sense of pop-culture banter that pitter-pattered its way through the show. While the first few episodes of this season have cleaned up some of the messes, without Sherman-Palladino, the heart of the show seems to be in arrhythmia. Characters seem to be washed of most of last year’s detritus, but it’s almost like when Bobby came back on “Dallas.” You feel like the characters you love are back… but it’s not quite right. It’s like the CW erased part of who the characters were to start again. We’ll stick around, but I think it’s the beginning of the end for this show.

“House” (Tuesdays at 8 PM, FOX)***

I admit it… I want to be House. Who wouldn’t want to be a doctor, speak their mind, get away with almost killing a person two or three times a week, and yet still always be right. It’s like watching my dream come true. The mysterious-disease-almost-kill-a-patient-but-ah!-I’ve-got-it formula of the show is getting old, Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of House makes it worth watching every time it’s on. Too bad those MLB Playoffs are cutting into the doctor’s screen time. At least it’s not as heavily serialized as many of the other shows on this list.

“My Name is Earl” (Thursdays at 8 PM, NBC)***

I admit it… I want to be Earl. Who wouldn’t want to be a lucky s.o.b. who wins $100,000, hangs out at a motel with his brother and their hot maid friend, was married to Jamie Pressley, and only has to go around doing the best he can? Last time, I gave this show two stars, and now after watching a few more episodes, it’s got three.

Last season, I didn’t quite know what to make of this show. Was it smart and insightful or just plain stupid fun? This season, I can definitely say that it’s both. Jason Lee and Jamie Pressley are hilarious, and the flashback sequences are priceless. Earl’s quest to right the wrongs of his life is captivating and oddly compelling. Makes me want to wonder what I’ve done wrong that I can correct to get this karma monkey off my back.

“Grey’s Anatomy” (Thursdays at 9 PM, ABC)**

McDreamy blah blah blah. My wife would watch an hour of Patrick Dempsey eating a sandwich. While the show has some interesting characters, I just want to slap Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith. Talk about whiny and self-absorbed. She was sooooo much hotter in the movie “Old School” than she is in this show. I think they titled this show Grey’s Anatomy because everybody’s had a shot a Meredith.

The first season was better when you were focused on the lives of five fresh interns. You got to see them react to the same situations in their own ways, while wondering how they were going to get along. Now, they’re so separated, you wonder how they’re going to integrate the five back together. At least Katherine Heigl and T.J. Knight do a great job as the show’s hearts.

“ER” (Thursdays at 10 PM, NBC)*1/2

I still remember the first episode of ER that I watched, a videotaped episode in the fall of 1994. It was so moving and real, I knew I had to watch it, because it had a chance to be great. Its characters were compelling and the situations they faced, while set in the frantic world of the ER, felt like something that could happen to you. It was a great show, for a few years, until it hit a lull about three seasons ago.

With the original leads gone, it had to find new characters and a new direction. The show kind of wandered for the past three seasons, but I’m more drawn in this season. They’re still settling in on the characters that will drive the show, but I think they’ve done a good job focusing on Goran Visnjic, Maura Tierney, Mekhi Phifer and Parminder Nagra this year. While there’s not the heart there was with Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle and Juliana Marguiles (I know, I know… but George Clooney didn’t contribute to the warm-fuzzies), they’ve at least found a relative direction and have tried to create stories around a more limited cast. The first couple of episodes of the season were a bit rushed, but the last couple have seemed promising. The next few episodes with the addition of John Stamos (a good casting move, with a questionable character) could set the table for a fully rejuvenated ER, or they could signal the continuation of the slow spiral to the end.

“Numbers” (Fridays at 10 PM, CBS)*

Being a geek who likes math, I was excited when CBS debuted this show last year. Admittedly, it’s not the most compelling show with the most compelling characters, but I do like the fact that it puts math up on a pedestal, basically saying that you can do anything if you have a few numbers. The math is a little more than Calculus I, but it is always nice to see something thought of as geeky put into a better light. I don’t know why this show is on at 10 PM, since the theme seems to revolve around accepting math into our lives and the crimes aren’t any more gruesome than on some episodes of Law and Order.

Anyway, that’s a round-up of the stuff that I watch these days. You’ll notice that there’s a bunch of shows that are missing: CSI (in all incarnations), Without a Trace, Law & Order (again, all incarnations), The Wire, and every reality TV show out there. I think that I enjoy shows about relationships, which all of these shows are based on. I do catch CSI in syndication every once in a while, and I’ve heard that The Wire is excellent, but since I’ve started back to work, I’ve had to cut back on what I’m watching, especially with basketball season approaching.

BTW, I did watch the pilot episode of “30 Rock” (Wednesdays at 8 PM, NBC) with Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, and Tracy Morgan. It was average at best. I love the actors in it, but it almost seems a parody of NBC’s other show about late-night TV, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” Granted, it is supposed to be a parody, but aren’t parodies supposed to be funny? Alec Baldwin is great, Tina Fey is subtle, and Tracy Morgan is a little over the top. I didn’t feel like it covered or stabbed at anything new, and it was sluggish in terms of its pacing. The jokes stretch from Alec Baldwin’s hammy overacting to Tina Fey’s quiet jabs at the everyday absurdities that surround us. It was a pilot, so it might get better. It just needs to go more over the top.

One last thing – since “Heroes” is a hit, I’ll push you to watch the other two shows I really enjoy right now: “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “Friday Night Lights.” I don’t know why “Studio 60’s” ratings are falling, but they shouldn’t be because it’s a well-written show with a lot of heart that’s well done.

I know that “Friday Night Lights” isn’t reaching the audience it should because people think it’s only about football, but I assure you that’s not the case. It’s a show about the pressures of life and the relationships we use to get through them, set in a football context. Besides, the New York Times likes it.

No comments: