Wednesday, October 04, 2006

New on the tube

The new TV season is upon us, and some TV executives are getting a little antsy. Seems that the first week of the season was less than stellar, and the new shows aren't really catching on. Part of the problem is the staggered start the networks have been using for a few years. Part of the problem is that there is more to do than watch TV. Part of the problem is that a number of new shows are just so-so.

I thought I'd throw out some mini-reviews of the new shows I've seen. I admit I haven't seen any new sitcoms. In fact, the only live-action sitcom I watch with any regularity is My Name Is Earl, which can be quite hilarious. (The Office, on after Earl, is uneven and if I tune to CBS after Earl I can catch the fun bits of Survivor.) 30 Rock starts next week; I think I'll give that a watch. Other sitcoms don't seem to be on when I'm willing to watch TV.

I should mention that I spend a lot of time with the TV on, but I don't spend a lot of time actually paying attention to it. I spend more time surfing or working on my web page at night than I do watching TV. I usually have it on in the background. For some reason I find the sound of the TV on less "empty" than, say, turning on the stereo. I should turn on the stereo more often, though...

Anyway, here are the shows I have seen:

Vanished – Fox, Monday

Premise: A senator's wife is apparently kidnapped. Two FBI agents and a TV reporter investigate, uncovering a web of secrets. Think 24 meets Missing, with a dash of CSI.

This show is so bad that I couldn't watch more than 20 minutes of it. The characters are incredibly cliched. The main FBI guy is haunted by a child killed in front of him. The TV reporter is so focused on her career that she interrupts sex (with her cameraman) to head out on the story. Oh, and she's obnoxious, too, bringing up the dead kid the first time she sees the FBI agent. The agent arrives at the scene of the wife's disappearance. He learns a suspect touched a chair, but instead of having the crime lab guys fingerprint it he does it himself. Yeah, that's going to look good when the suspect goes to trial (what am I saying, you know the suspect will end up dying by the end). There were other ludicrous, or just plain obvious, scenes and the dialogue was horrid. I didn't even make it to the 30 minute mark.

Heroes – NBC, Monday; airs again Thursdays(?) on SciFi

Premise: Several average folk start displaying super heroic powers. At the same time, a professor investigating these occurrences is murdered, and a shadowy bad guy is keeping tabs on these new "heroes". Meanwhile, there have been several murders where the victims seem to have been frozen in place and had the top of their skulls cut off and their brains removed. If that's wasn't bad enough, it looks like New York is toast in a month...

This is my favourite new show. Hey, I'm a sucker for superhero stories. The premise of this show is also close to that of the roleplaying game Wild Talents (which won't be mailed out until December 18, grr!). It's different, and quirky, and tensely written. It isn't hitting CSI ratings numbers, but it is in the top 25, which is a good start, I suppose, for something this unconventional.

I like the characters. There's a high school cheerleader who is invincible, a pair of brothers — one of whom is running for public office — who can fly, an artist with the ability to paint things that happen in the future, a police officer with telepathy, and a Japanese salaryman with the ability to warp space-time. Another superheroic character is a woman with some sort of alter ego she witnesses in a mirror, an alter ego that she can't control. There's also the professor's son who may have no special abilities but who is involved in the unravelling of the mystery.

This is NBC's attempt to capture the Lost audience. I hope it lasts! They have a lot of support for it. I haven't checked it out, but they are posting a comic book on the NBC web site each week after the episode airs.

I see that Emerson, the maker of the In-Sink-Erator garbage disposer, is suing NBC because of a scene in the pilot episode. The invincible girl puts her hand in one, messing up her fingers, which pop back to normal a couple of seconds later. Apparently the suit is arguing that the scene hurts their product's reputation, but they are really suing over the use of their trademark.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – Monday, NBC

Premise: The behind-the-scenes look at the making of a Friday night variety/comedy show that is roughly based on Saturday Night Live.

The show is by Aaron Sorkin, the man behind The West Wing. It stars Matthew Perry (from Friends) and Bradley Whitford (of The West Wing) as a writer/producer team. Also in the show are a whole bunch of character actors you've seen before.

Overall the show's dialogue is well written, and the acting is top notch. It's getting a whole raft of great reviews. So why does the show seem so flat to me? And not just me, as it shed 4.5 million viewers from the first to the second week (the premiere episode had 13.4 million viewers). It's hard to do a drama about comedy. The show is also very preachy, following the lead of The West Wing. It is trying to be balanced, but you can see that it's more left-leaning than right-leaning, which makes it's pro-right bits seem forced. Also, the skits from the TV show they are producing are way too long. Okay, sure, introducing the new writing team with a Gilbert and Sullivan parody was a neat idea, but did we have to see most of the entire skit? It went on, and on... much like one of those SNL bits where you think, "Yeah, the first minute was funny, but I get it now! Move on!" You can tell the writers are thinking, "Gosh, we are so clever!" Uh, no you're not.

I probably wouldn't watch this at all if it didn't come on right after Heroes.

Jericho – Wednesday, CBS

Premise: The prodigal son returns to the small Kansas town of Jericho. Soon after arriving, some sort of nuclear catastrophe happens over the horizon, with a mushroom cloud blooming over what they assume is Denver. In the second episode it is believed that Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Diego are also gone. The town must now survive whatever has just happened, and at the same time figure out what happened. Skeet Ulrich is the prodigal son, and Gerald McRaney is his father, the mayor.

This is another show that's not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. I missed the first episode, so my impression is from the second episode. The characters seemed a bit two-dimensional. The episode was chock full of the type of "ticking-bomb" plot devices that TV loves. The town had to get everyone into shelters before radioactive fallout — arriving in a storm. Inside that, there isn't enough room at one of the shelters, so they have to get everyone to a nearby salt mine (and blow up the entrance, to protect the folks inside of course). A pair of escaped convicts posing as cops are found out by a local girl, who manages to get to their cruiser and call for help. She's seen dialing up the channels of the radio from 1 to 8, with 8 being the channel on the faux cop's walkie-talkie. Instead of adding to the suspense, they simply sucked the suspense dry... and ended the issue with a typical TV cliche.

The plot elements are like junk food: empty calories in the form of action sequences. For instance, the folks in the mine, are they there simply to give the characters another ticking-bomb plot tonight (i.e. dig them out before they suffocate), or are they going to discover something in the mine? My guess is that it's all action.

Alana wants me to run a post-apocalypse roleplaying game at some point. For this reason I'm interested in Jericho. Unfortunately, unless the writing improves I'm not sure I'll stick around. I'll have a better idea tonight. They were worried about fallout; let's see if they mention radiation getting into the ground water and contaminating everything, or if it will all just "wash away".

Shark – Thursday, CBS

Premise: Sebastian Stark is a top-notch criminal defence attorney (James Woods) who gets a killer off the hook, only to have the killer strike again. Guilt drives Stark to "do the right thing" and become a prosecutor. He's now using his expertise playing for "the other side". Meanwhile, his teenaged daughter has decided to move in with him — leaving the divorced mother — because "he needs her". Jeri Ryan (from Star Trek: Voyager) is the D.A. who hates Stark and his methods, but is growing to respect him in spite of it.

The idea of a series based on personal redemption is interesting, and James Woods is fun to watch. Unfortunately, the show comes over as a blah attempt to turn House into a court room drama (complete with a gaggle of interns). The scenes with the daughter are touching, but obvious and drain the life out of the show. The tempo comes to a screeching halt every time the daughter shows up. There's a reason House doesn't spend much time on House's personal life, and when it does it's mostly from his perspective.

Court room shows are so prevalent that it's hard to imagine how they can surprise us with the court scenes. So far, they haven't. The supporting cast is kind of so-so, too. Woods is a manic tour de force, but the episodes are quite forgettable after the show is over. And, let's face it, Woods is no Hugh Laurie.

* * *

That's it, I think. I don't remember seeing any other new shows, so if I did that's telling in itself.

Tonight Lost, season 3 starts. We rented the last disc from Blockbuster on Monday (for free, with a coupon courtesy of Coke) so that Alana could catch up. Friday is the start of the new season of Battlestar Galactica on SciFi. I only saw two episodes of House this season, and I doubt I'll see any more until October 31 — they may be just repeats while Fox plays the baseball playoffs, and for this month it is on opposite Lost.

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