2005 Fall TiVo Season

Anoth­er Fall is com­ing, and with it a slew of new shows on our TiVo.

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.

Science Fiction

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.”

Comedy

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.

Drama

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.


  1. 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. []
  2. 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 []
  3. 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. []

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