Now that the fall TV season has begun in earnest, it’s time for me to get back to the main intent of this blog, and talk about what entertains me. To start, here’s my current TV viewing list:
Prison Break on Fox
I didn’t expect to enjoy this as much as I did last year. After the first seasons of Oz gave me enough hard-core prison anal rape drama to last me a lifetime, I was wary of another prison show. But it turned out to not be a prison show so much as a Mission: Impossible-type caper show. Now that the characters are out of prison and on the run, it’s more like The Fugitive with an ensemble cast, and I give Fox credit for letting the show evolve with the story. Plus it’s well made.
The Class on CBS
I decided I needed more comedies in my TV diet, and this one was getting good reviews in TV Guide. But the pilot didn’t really hook me. Then I saw most of the second episode at work, on my break, and found myself laughing. And really, that’s all I ask from a sitcom: that it makes me laugh out loud. So I gave it another shot, and it’s grown on me.
Heroes on NBC
This one was getting a lot of buzz from the comics fan community for obvious reasons. (Those reasons being it’s about superheroes, and it’s got comics creators Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale on staff.) But when Yahoo put the pilot online to preview, I really enjoyed it as a work of television. I love shows about an ensemble of characters who aren’t necessarily all connected by something simple and obvious like a workplace or a family or whatever, so I look forward to seeing how all these disparate characters end up weaving in and out of each other’s lives. I love the surprises and cliffhangers, like discovering that Pete actually can fly, or that Hiro can travel through time. And it’s a show that isn’t afraid to show people frozen alive, with their skulls cut open and their brains scooped out.
Plus, it’s one of the few new shows that’s doing well enough to be considered a hit.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on NBC
And despite the massive hype, Aaron Sorkin and Matthew Perry’s return to series television is not a hit at all. I’ve read criticisms that it’s too much of a TV insiders’ show, or that the subject isn’t important enough, or that they don’t show enough of the comedy, for a show about making a live comedy show. I say, do you have to be a cop to enjoy CSI, or a gangster to enjoy Sopranos? (Maybe you do, since I’m not a gangster, and I don’t like Sopranos. But plenty of people do.) I don’t know how movies about making movies do, but for me, Studio 60 is just a workplace show that happens to be about television. And I don’t really want to see the actual sketches that they do, so much as I want to see the process and the characters. If I want to see a sketch comedy show, I’ll watch SNL or MadTV.
What I want to see is the characters under pressure to produce on deadline and from forces outside. The stakes don’t need to be huge, because that’s the sort of stuff I do every day, too, and the stakes aren’t huge in my life. I want to hear Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford and Steven Weber and Amanda Peet and Sarah Paulson and Tim Busfield spouting off that rapid-fire Aaron Sorkin dialogue I came to love in Sports Night and West Wing and A Few Good Men. And that’s what I’m getting from this show, and I’ll miss it if it goes away.
The Street on BBC America
Haven’t actually seen the first episode of this, since BBC America kindly let it run longer than it was scheduled, and so I didn’t record the whole thing. But it’s about the people living on a single street, with each episode focusing on a different group, as I understand it. So it’s an anthology show, sort of, mixed with what I talked about above on Heroes, watching how almost-strangers pass through each others’ lives. And it’s written by Jimmy McGovern, who created Cracker, one of my favorite shows of all time.
NCIS on CBS
This has been a favorite for over three years now, and I’m not stopping watching it. Detractors can call it CSI Lite, but it’s the characters and humor that keep me coming back (and the lack of same that keep me away from the CSI franchise).
House on Fox
The previous two years have been fantastic; why stop watching now?
Friday Night Lights on NBC
Was totally going to give this a pass, despite the presence of favorite actor Kyle (Cloud of Pink Mist on Grey’s Anatomy) Chandler. But TV Guide gave it a rave review, plus it also stars Connie Britton, from Spin City and The Brothers McMullen. So I watched the first episode, and it’s shot in this nice, pseudo-documentary episode that really makes it very watchable. Which is a good thing, because I really don’t like football, and I still want to keep watching this show.
Help Me Help You on ABC
Okay, I loved Ted Danson in Becker and I loved the therapy background of the original Bob Newhart Show. And NBC’s decision to show two Law & Order shows back to back on Tuesdays completely burned me out on that franchise in just one night. So I decided I needed a sitcom, and this sounded good. And it’s gotten mixed reviews, and I’m not laughing at it as often as I do, say, My Name is Earl. But I am laughing, so I’m planning on sticking with it.
(Although this is what’s keeping me from watching Veronica Mars, which everyone says I should watch, and which I was almost willing to give another shot to. But I’ve tried to watch it twice, and both times, it didn’t hook me enough to keep watching. So I have to stick with what I know I’m enjoying.)
Bones on Fox
What I said above about NCIS probably applies to Bones, too.
Lost on ABC
I can’t actually respect the view that nothing happened during the second season of the show. I think there’s far too much fixation in the Lost fan community on just wanting answers to the mysteries, but if you don’t spend time on the characters, you get a soulless, shallow time-waster like Vanished (which will probably soon live up to its name). Or The Da Vinci Code. But the fact that Da Vinci is such a success probably shows what the public really wants.
(I’m not knocking Da Vinci Code as a work of nonfiction. But as a novel, it’s crap.)
So I’m okay with the interior of the hatch not being some sci-fi, James Bond villain stronghold, and I’m okay with not having the show answer all its questions right up front and then spinning its wheels for three or four years. I think the show is giving out information at the right pace, and balancing plot and character just fine.
And I loved the opening of this season. This is still one of my favorite shows currently on, and I’m really looking forward to the way this season is structured, with a relatively self-contained six new episodes in a row, then off until January or February, and then the rest of the season all in a row, without being interrupted by reruns.
The Nine on ABC
I just watched the first episode today, and I was totally caught up in it. I like the storytelling structure, where we see the effects of an event before learning the cause. I look forward to filling in the blanks, more than I would if things were told in a straightforward, chronological order. I’ve read complaints that the flashback structure just rips off Lost, but this is hardly the first time this sort of structure has been used. So you short-attention-span mother scratchers can just shut up.
Plus, it’s got a cast I really like, especially Tim Daly, Kim Raver, Scott Wolf, and Camille Guaty.
My Name is Earl on NBC
I don’t think I can really say anything about this show. I laugh harder at this than anything else (except maybe The Venture Bros) and that’s something I really need.
Smallville on CW
I’ll admit, I’m starting to feel a little guilty that I’m still watching this. On the one hand, I like seeing how they’re steering Clark Kent in the direction of becoming Superman. On the other hand, the actual individual stories are getting a little too cruel and exploitative to the women characters to be comfortable. I’m getting tired of seeing every female character either being a victim or evil, and I’m getting more tired of seeing them getting beaten up and tortured. Or photographed in the shower, and for me to get tired of that says something.
So we’ll see. Because I haven’t actually seen the first two episodes of the new season. So this may be dropped in favor of Ugly Betty.
The Office on NBC
Just started watching this show this season. It’s nowhere near as good as the original British version, because it’s still played too broadly. Plus they can’t seem to figure out that if you’re trying to make something look like a documentary, you can’t shoot it shot-reverse shot. But it’s making me laugh, which, again, is something I want to be doing more of. So…
Ugly Betty on ABC
I watched the first episode on ABCs web site, since I’m already recording Smallville and the NBC sitcoms. But I really liked the characters and the story. It had just the right tone for the subject matter, I thought: not too broad, not too serious. So I had sympathy for the characters. I plan on continuing to watch it online, but if Smallville fails to hook me this season, that may change.
Grey’s Anatomy on ABC
I’m not sure how it snuck up on me, but this is another favorite drama, right up there with Lost.
Six Degrees on ABC
Again, another show about people drifting in and out of each others’ lives, and I’m really enjoying it. Plus, it’s got some favorites in the cast (Campbell Scott and Erika Christiansen) and it’s produced by Lost/Alias/Felicity creator JJ Abrams. And while he’s probably not as heavily involved in this as he is in the shows he’s created, it’s got a lot of the same qualities as those shows. (And his involvement is why I’m going to give What About Brian another shot tomorrow night.)
ER on NBC
Yes, it's been on forever, and yes, it isn't as good as it was 13 or whatever years ago. But it's still good, it's still a show I enjoy, and it still has Parminder Nagra on it (which is why I came back to it after a number of years away).
Doctor Who on SciFi
This isn’t a show; it’s a way of life.
Men in Trees on ABC
If I hadn’t enjoyed Anne Heche’s performance in Everwood so much last year, this would have been completely off my radar. But I did see her, and found her quirky delivery/performance really appealing. And while this show really does feel like a mash-up between Sex and the City and Northern Exposure, I don’t so much mind, because I like both those shows. More importantly, it seems to have recaptured what made both those shows special and interesting, instead of just copying the surface details. So it’s a total chick show, but I’m hooked.
Battlestar Galactica on SciFi
I don’t believe in any sort of must-see TV, but seriously? If there are people not watching this just because it’s science fiction and called Battlestar Galactica, it’s their loss.
Scooby and Shaggy: Get a Clue! on CW
The jury is still out on this Scooby-Doo Meets Venture Bros thing, but in the meantime, I’m still watching it.
Legion of Super-Heroes on CW
Back in the 1980s, Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes were two of my favorite comics. The idea that either of them would ever be turned into cartoon series was unthinkable, let alone that they would be any good. But they were, and they are, and even though I almost wish I were ten again and watching them as a kid, I’m loving them just fine now.
The Batman on CW
While the 90s cartoons are arguably better, I’m enjoying this new Batman cartoon quite a bit. I like that it’s more action-oriented then the earlier cartoons, because my Batman comes in many flavors.
Flight 29 Down on Discovery Kids
I love this little half-hour drama about a bunch of high-school kids trying to survive on a desert island after a plane crash. It’s like Lost like Campbell’s Chicken Soup is like prime rib. The kids are well-written and well-played, and writer DJ MacHale manages to get a great deal of drama out of these kids struggling to figure out what they need to do to survive. When I was a kid, I remember watching half-hour live action dramas for kids like Ark II and Space Academy. Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and Fox all used to do stuff like that, and now it’s just this show and Power Rangers Mystic Force, as far as I can tell.
Everybody Hates Chris on CW
As the first week’s ratings showed, Sundays at seven is just an awful time slot for a show like this. It’s already being moved to Mondays. But it’s still hilarious, and for a show about a black family in 1984, it’s very universal.
The Amazing Race on CBS
Easily deserving of its multiple Emmy wins. I love the whole visual excitement of seeing so many different countries, and I love that the challenges actually have something to do with the cultures of the country, instead of being completely random.
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on ABC
It’s totally emotionally manipulative, and chock full o’ product placements, but it’s all for a good cause. And I end up crying like a baby every time they shout out to move the bus. (And Paige Hemmis is cute.)
Desperate Housewives on ABC
Loved the first season of the show, but I was watching the second season very much out of habit. With the third season, they seem to have done away with the idea of an overarching mystery, and this may be a good thing. Instead of finding something contrived to connect the stories (like the Betty Applewhite story last year), it may be more comfortable to just tell stories about the characters. However, I’m already growing tired of the story of Lynette vs the mother of Tom’s other kid (whose name I can’t even think of right now, which shows how invested I am in that story). So we’ll see how long this one holds my attention.
Brothers and Sisters on ABC
To be honest, I probably would have given this one a pass if they hadn’t hired Greg Berlanti (creator of Everwood) to run the show. Between him and Ken thirtysomething Olin behind the scenes, there looked like a chance for greatness. And it is, indeed, turning out to be a very good family drama. No fancy gimmicks, but I honestly can’t think of another show like this currently on the air. It’s just well-written and well-acted, and it deserves to be one of the two most successful new shows on TV this season, along with Heroes.
The Wire on HBO
Considering how finally the third season ended, I was very surprised to see this one back. But back it is, and already renewed for a fifth season. Which is great, because it’s a very low-key, down-to-earth, realistic-feeling series, and there aren’t enough like those around. (It has that in common with Friday Night Lights, which is probably why I’m enjoying both of them so much, even though neither one is about a subject that I would have thought I’d have wanted to watch.)
So that’s the overview; as the days go by, I’ll be trying to write something specific about each episode as it airs.
Lest it sound like it’s nothing but TV for me, I should mention that I just finished reading Never the Bride, the latest novel by Paul Magrs. Another fantastic work of Northern English Magic Realism, and perhaps one of the best sequels to several classic works of British fantastic literature I’ve ever read. Highly recommended