Another Fall is upon us, and with it a slew of new shows on our TiVo. Many of them are me-too copies of last years success stories. I sat down on the sofa one night a few weeks ago to create some new Season Passes in the TiVo. The obvious intention here was to record some shows that I thought might be worth watching this year. Now, I’ve actually been hunting-and-pecking on this post for about two months now (since September), which explains why it’s so long. However, I figured there’s no point in breaking it up now.
Angela and I recently got the first season of ABC’s Lost on DVD (see also ABC’s site).. I had downloaded the first part of the pilot episode over bit torrent in the Spring to check out what all the buzz had been about1. I was really impressed. It is a very stripped down and elegant suspense drama. While there are no overt sci-fi or horror elements, you get the feeling that aliens from another world, dinosaurs, or zombies are about to pop up from behind a tree at any moment. I highly recommend this DVD set for your next 24 hour obsess-o-thon. So far, the second season is not disappointment, either. In the same vein of The X-Files, one of my all-time favorites, for every answer you get, at least two new questions are raised. Maddeningly addictive stuff. So far, this season has been just as mysterious and fascinating.
This brings me to the fact that sci-fi is seeing some resurgence on television this season, with three (count ’em, three!) alien invasion shows: Threshold on CBS, Surface on NBC, and the subtlety named Invasion on ABC. I’ve set the TiVo to record the first two on their first-run time slots. Invasion is up against Law & Order on Wednesday nights, which is a pretty dumb move in my opinion. Who puts a 120-pound teenager up to fight the 500-pound gorilla of network cop-shows, even if the genre is different? Well, at least they (CBS) have the good sense to re-broadcast the show on the following Saturday evening (or at least they were for a while, and Sci-Fi Channel is re-broadcasting Surface, which is very cool).
Anyway, I was looking most forward to Threshold, which centers on a super-secret government team which was put together following a protocol for the event of an alien invasion. The author of the protocol, Dr. Molly Caffrey (played by Carla Gugino), is the commander of the Red Team. Very early in the show, we learn that the aliens mean us harm and it is up to the Red Team to stop them, but if only they new how. I was excited about Surface, if for no other reason than it has an ensemble cast that included Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent), Brent Spiner (Star Trek TNG‘s Data), Charles S. Dutton (Roc and Alien 3), among others. All things being equal, an ensemble cast lends itself to much richer and more complex plot lines and an nearly endless supply of sub-plots. Further, those are some damn fine actors. Of course, that all then depends on the writers. So far, after watching four or five episodes of Threshold, I’m not so impressed with the writing. The techno-babble jargon feels like just that; just a bunch of words that neither the writers nor actors seem to comprehend the meaning of (which was always my problem with Star Trek2). Also, the whole plot-line seems to have a less gritty feel than I would prefer for this sort of show. One reason for perhaps all of this is the fact that Brannon Braga, producer of the past few Star Trek incarnations, is the Threshold‘s producer (although he’s recently announced no more Trek for him, for now). This might explain why it has some of the feel of Deep Space Nine or Voyager, which aren’t a couple of my favorite shows. Lastly, while a two-hour series premiere was great, since then I can’t help but feel like that was setting up the formula for the rest of the episodes: aliens are loose, tune in each week as the cast captures the next one. That sort of thing may work for Law & Order or a sitcom, but not on a drama. The plot has been developing somewhat, but nothing that is really making me come back each week. I’ll keep my hopes up and keep watching, but I think this show’s got a short lifespan.
So far, Invasion is my pick of the three. The show is the story of a small Florida town in the Everglades recovering from a recent hurricane, which brought with it some mysterious lights. A large portion of the town’s citizens begin to act slightly differently after the storm. Focusing on the lives of the extended family of two ex-spouses, the show is full of mystery revealed in increments just large enough to believe and just small enough to make you want more. The show has a cast of mostly as-yet-not-known actors. The only actor I was at all familiar with was William Fichtner, who plays the stone-faced Sheriff. The characters here seem to have so much depth and personality. This, along with incredible cinematography, gives the show has a much more appealing and realistic tone when held up to the light and compared to Threshold. Also, I enjoy the slowly unfolding plot line here, as opposed to the dumped-in-your-lap-and-clean-up style of Invasion. Each episode leaves me more interested than the last and dying to know what’s going on.
Over at the once drama powerhouse that is NBC, there’s Surface, which is a story about a series of individuals who have each, in different ways, come to realize that the world’s oceans are now host to remarkably large sea creatures. The show focuses on a marine biologist from Carolina (Dr. Laura Daughtery, played by Lake Bell), a good ‘ol boy from Louisiana (Rich Connelly, played by Jay Ferguson), and a teenage boy in South Carolina (Miles Bennett, played by Carter Jenkins). These characters, along with the rest of the cast are excellent in the show. While Bell seems a little uncomfortable with the scientist role, she handles the jargon better than most on Threshold. The CG effects for the creatures are sometimes a little goofy and I get the impression that these things are really just Falkor from The Neverending Story. However, the writing is good, the acting engrossing, and the score by W.G. Snuffy Walden, who wrote the theme to The West Wing, is some of the best music on any television show. I’m sure to tune in each week for this show.
Smallville is hands down the best Superman on film (with add due respect to the late Christopher Reeve, it wasn’t his fault, it was the directors’). Shows why television is a great medium for comic book style serialization. The new film is going to have a rough time convincing people that Tom Welling and the rest of the cast shouldn’t have been in it. Plus, as Angela keeps reminding me, this show has some really good looking people on it.
Back for one last season is my generation’s favorite TV-girl kicking butt on Charmed. (Yes, me and many of my friends discovered that we really did like girls by watching Allysa Milano on television.) This season, so far, has been one of the best yet. Angela got me hooked on this show and as much as I hate to admit it, I really do enjoy it. Of course, sometimes the girly-ness gets so bad that I just have to grit my teeth and hope that they’re wearing tight clothing. Yes, the estrogen flows strong with this one. Oh, in case you had ever wondered, Angela’s Flickr I.D. is a play on "the Charmed Ones."
On the funny-front, I’ve set messieur TiVaux to record The Office, both the original on BBC America (re-runs) and NBC’s Americanized version. I was impressed that the American show captured the humor in the English show. A lot of that credit goes to Steve Carrel (The Daily Show). He’s made a career of playing the foolish ass that Ricky Gervais wrote and acted so well himself. If you haven’t given the NBC version of this show a chance yet (possibly because of the whole Coupling debacle, you’re missing out. I’m also recording NBC’s My Name Is Earl, mainly because I’ve been willing to give Jason Lee a chance at entertaining me. So far, the show has been one of the better half-hour sitcoms I’ve seen. The premise is fairly unique and the aforementioned Jason Lee has really found a great character. The supporting and guest cast also help to make the show very funny and interesting. I was concerned that the show was going to be overly formulaic, but so far, each week has given some variety and also furthered an overall plot line (you know, that thing that most half-hour comedies lack).
In the same vein as my Lost discovery last Spring, I also decided I’d check out Fox’s Arrested Development. Okay, it being Fox and having seen some commercials that the network put together, I had very low expectations. However, I gave it a chance because people who’s stuff I read online seemed to hold it in high regard and usually that many award nominations don’t go to completely worthless shows. Well, I only wish I’d started watching the show sooner as it is one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen. I typically find situation comedy somewhere between uncomfortable and annoying, but this show strikes some sort of perfect cosmic balance. I really fall for shows where the characters are just a notch over-the-top; just too much "character" to be for real but not so ridiculous that it seems forced and Development really hits it on the nose. I’ve actually mainly been catching up on this show via Netflix and it is like some sort of sick addiction. A new disc comes in the mail and I can’t do anything for the rest of the day other than watch the show and every last deleted scene.
Sadly, as I’ve mentioned, the fate of Arrested Development never looked very bright. Just like so many other great shows, it seems to have never been given much of a chance (think Firefly here). It seems as though Fox as nixed the show during it’s third season. I can only say this: if this show were to be put over the internet, in DVD format only, or film, anything; I’d buy it. It’s just that good.
Will the new season bring about a new administration on The West Wing, possibly Republican? The show is starting to show some age by reliving some of the former season’s plot lines (what, crisis in the middle east, Donna and Josh have trouble communicating, people are running for president?). Of course, isn’t that just like life: same news, just different faces? Sometimes the plotlines that echo the headlines feel a little shoe-horned into this show, especially since Aaron Sorkin quit writing on the show. However, I will continue to watch as long as they keep bringing on the incredible acting talent and writing that has made this show the powerhouse it is. This season, particularly the two presidential candidates played by Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda, have lived up to previous seasons. The live debate episode left Angela and I wondering why couldn’t real politicians act like fake politicians?
Law & Order is still around, of course. The show has a great cast, as always, and manages to produce some really great episodes playing on the latest scandals and tragedies. However, as my mom pointed out, it would be nice if they would actually let the females play the lead on more episodes. I mean, after so many years, they’ve got the room to experiment. However, the most formulaic show on television seems to just not want to play with what works. Of course, that may be why Invasion now gets recorded on Wednesday nights while Law & Order gets to wait until Spring re-runs.
There is no one left on the show of the original cast on ER, and I’m still interested. Okay, so that mostly has to do with my long time crush on Maura Tierney (big Talk Radio fan, here) as well as my fan-boy attraction to Parminder Nagra. The new talent and the writing is still consistently some of the best drama around and the show is willing to take risks and mix things up sometimes (but not enough, in my opinion). However, Angela takes some real offense at how pharmacists get portrayed on the show, and I can’t really say I blame her. It seems like there some as-yet untapped subplot lines to be found there, but no, they seem to just get ordered around by the doctors and nurses. If they can have social workers guest for episodes, then why not a pharmacist character? In all seriousness, the writers really should look into having a real character in the hospital pharmacy or possibly a pharm student doing some rounds on the show. If you write for E.R. and are interested, please contact Angela. Seriously.
Numb3rs makes me have hope for America that a drama about math could be so popular. The shows back for it’s second season with a slightly different cast but also with some more developed plot arcs which run from show to show. I wouldn’t mind if they even showed some faliability in the hero mathematician at this point. After all, we’ve all figured you can do anything with math, so let the guy screw up for once.
Reality Television (?)
Jamie and Adam of the Mythbusters seriously make me consider changing careers. I’d love to get to hang out with them, at the very least, anyway. I have a hard time stomaching most reality television, but this show gets it right. There’s enough of their personalities in the show for that "good television" aspect, but also enough science and wacky inventions to entertain your inner geek. I was really glad to see the "build team" also getting some billing on the shows title sequence, as well. They’re also great television personalities.
The Daily Show is pretty much the only reason I haven’t fled to Canada since last November. Now, Steven Colbert has his own show, The Colbert Report, which is equally entertaining. However, I still love Stewards disarming sense of humor. He really seems like the guy in college that we all wanted to be friends with. Colbert is sometimes a little bit too much like Bill O’Reilly; that is to say, a total jack-ass.
Angela also has gotten hooked on NBC’s The Biggest Loser. I have to say, given my total disgust with reality television, it actually does seem to be the best of the lot3. At least they promote health and personal responsibility.
- I downloaded the first part of the pilot of Lost several months back. I had read good things about the show and thought I’d give it a try. I didn’t want to see one of the episodes from the middle, knowing that the show built upon all the previous episodes. So, I got to downloading. Angela got into the show after a little bit and we decided we’d like to see some more, thus buying the DVD set of season one. I hope ABC understand that even though I broke the law, they and their advertisers are now making revenue they would have never gotten otherwise. [↩]
- Okay, perhaps it’s unfair of me to single out Star Trek for this. However, they always seemed like the worst offender in all of science fiction. Have a problem with your warp drive? Well, just have the engineering staff build a quad-dimensional, time-shifting confabulation out of their communicators and some chewing gum. You’ll fix the flaky plot device with an equally goof-ball gimmick. The best science fiction doesn’t use techno-babble for plot lines. I mean how often interesting would a period film be if all they dealt with was technical [↩]
- I also hear really good things about CBS’ The Amazing Race, but I’m really not that interesting in getting into the reality competition scene any deeper. These are gateway shows that lead to things like American Idol and The Real World. [↩]