Wednesday, May 23, 2007

TV Thoughts - Summer Finales & Fall Preview

I watch a fair amount of TV, it's probably my favorite medium aside from comics. And though there's a lot of it that's trash (say 99.99% of reality television, for example, if the 0.01% is Celebrity Poker Showdown and Dinner for Five), there's also a lot of good stuff. I always enjoy the Network upfronts at the beginning of summer, because there's always so much promise in what's going to come next. I know in my heart that, as per usual, most of the shows I like will struggle for an audience and die, leaving me frustrated with their sudden departures, but there's usually a flood of promising new series. Last season was especially promising. This season? Not so much.

But before I talk about what's coming up, a few words on what's going on. As I write this, I'm just about to sit down and watch the Lost season finale on Tivo. With the exception of the Hurley-VW bus episode, I've been really crazy about this season of Lost. I know many folks felt it jumped the Ezra James Sharkington this season, but I couldn't disagree more. Especially in the last half-dozen episodes or so, the show has started giving fascinating answers, raising even more fascinating tension and presenting the same elevated level of writing and acting that you just plain can't on a genre show, most of the time.

I hope it's good, because so far, my season enders have been downers. I was hugely disappointed in the lackluster Heroes finale, which spent a lot of time on weepy build-up that duplicated all the effort made in the previous excellent four or five episodes, and left too little time for a lackluster and illogical final fight with Sylar. Lots of build-up, disappointing payoff, and too many questions stopped me from enjoying it. Like why does D.L. go from mortally wounded to okay enough to lay around for a few hours before surviving, with no apparent medical attention? Why didn't Sylar use some abilities besides telekinesis when battling the assembled heroes? Why didn't Peter pull out some impressive abilities in that fight? Why couldn't Peter fly on his own, and if it's because he only uses one power at once, why was that never, ever mentioned, not even once, during the show? Kind of a crucial thing to leave out, if your big season finale cliffhanger is going to rely on it. I didn't hate the finale... it was solid enough that I still plan to pick up the DVDs. But after the notable jump in quality the show took in the last half of the season, it was disappointing to see it plummet down to the "merely OK" quality level that it begun the season at.

Veronica Mars? I'm disappointed that it's gone, but also disappointed by the ending. They were good shows, but the last episode seemed like the kind of thing that could have been an entire season arc, or at least one of their mini-arcs, and the payoffs would have been great with that much more build-up. I'm glad that Logan and Veronica didn't wind up together (I hated that relationship as a long-term thing, and much as I found Piz boring, I preferred him to gripy, bitter Logan. Nobody ever really seemed to match wits properly with Veronica in terms of her boyfriends, which is a shame) and the downer ending, while sad, did fit the general vibe of the show. It was also great to see Mac and Wallace return from invisibility to regain the roles they should have had for the last season and a half of the show. Season three was pretty weak, and I doubt very much I'll be picking up the DVDs. Again, not an awful finale, but a disappointing one.

All the sitcoms ended well, though. 30 Rock was brilliant and funny, The Office funny and kind of sweet with its turns in the Pam-Jim relationship, My Name is Earl kind of surprising in a "huh, where do they go from here?" way and How I Met Your Mother a cute, relatively fresh take on "the big wedding" episode that also features some notable turns in the Robin-Ted relationship and, as always, show-stopping moments from Neil Patrick Harris' Barney. OK, now that I think about it, not all of the sitcoms ended well. Seeing the J.D.-Eliot story rear its ugly head again in Scrubs put me on the edge of "What the hell are you doing?" rage. We've been there before, gotten all the mileage there is out of it, I'd rather see J.D. and Eliot in the just-friends relationship, the way they work best. Scrubs was a weaker season, and I'm torn... on one hand, I'm glad they get another season to try and do the final season right, on the other I'm wondering if it's going to get weaker still and go out on a weaker note.

Midseason and summer looks pretty great to me as well. Sopranos is doing that slow-burn thing really well, Entourage is fun again (although it still hasn't hit the addictive level for me it did during season two) and The Shield is amazing. The most consistently excellent show on television. And the teaser for Glenn Close's new show, a lawyer show that seems to be much more a gritty crime drama than another Shark or Law & Order, looks very promising. Midseason also brings the return of several shows that I like but don't love, like The 4400, Rescue Me and Big Love. Combine with several new shows launching from HBO (none of which look great, but I can never judge HBO on their teasers, which are inevitably weaker than their shows) and this looks like a good summer for TV.

Good thing, because the Fall season looks like it's gonna suuuuuuuck. I mean, there are returning favorites, like Lost, Heroes, the NBC Thursday comedy block (it's Must-See again) and How I Met Your Mother, but the crop of new shows is disappointing. And the shows I really liked this season, like Smith and Kidnapped, got killed early and thus, no season two. Even flawed shows that could have gotten better, like Studio 60, are gone, gone, gone. So it was up to the networks to come up with some fresh new shows to catch my eye again. And they failed miserably. Here's what I'm looking at for next season:

8:00 p.m. How I Met Your Mother (CBS) - Now that I've discovered this show, I can't get enough of it. It's not Arrested Development or even 30 Rock or The Office, but it's a good, solid, occasionally off-beat comedy with a great cast.

9:00 p.m. K-Ville (FOX) - This is a cop drama (strike one), but it's set in post-Katrina New Orleans (I have a fondness for the city going back to before Katrina, so I like the setting) and stars Anthony Anderson (who rocked the house in The Shield). Too bad it's opposite Heroes, meaning that I won't be watching it. In fact, given that this is the only series FOX has that holds any interest for me, it looks like I'm down from one or two FOX shows to none. Come January, they're promising a revitalized 24 (they've won me back once, with season four and five, but I'm not sure I'm up for another go-round after the crap they served up this season... if the show isn't centered on CTU and Los Angeles, I might be interested... if it is, I'm gone) and, more importantly, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. There's plenty of life in the Terminator franchise, and this could be really good. Of course, it's Fox and it's sci-fi, so it's probably doomed anyway.

9:00 p.m.: Heroes (NBC) - The finale may have been a bit of a letdown, but the teaser for season two was fun. Looking forward to seeing where they go from here.

10:00 p.m.: Journeyman (NBC) - A drama starring Kevin McKidd (whoever the hell that is) as a man who travels back in time to help people in trouble. The vibe I'm getting, for whatever reason, is that this is gonna be lame. I may or may not watch, depending on the advance word.

9:00 p.m.: Chuck (NBC) - The teaser for this one on the NBC website is kind of funny, with just a touch of Judd Apatow flavor (even though he has nothing to do with it, the show is in fact by The O.C.'s creator). It's a spy dramedy starring Zachary Levi as a regular guy who stumbles upon a second career as a government agent. Has potential, and Adam Baldwin as a supporting player, which is a plus.

9:00 p.m.: Reaper (CW) - And over on The CW, at the same time, is a show with a similar premise, except that the everyman stumbles onto a second career as a bounty hunter for the Devil, because his parents sold his soul when he was born. Neat enough premise, but it conflict with Chuck, which I'm more interested in, and which has the additional benefit of not being on the network that cancelled Veronica Mars.

10:00 Cane (CBS) - An ensemble business about a Florida rum family, with a good cast. Again, though, I just don't care much about the premise. If it's more crime drama than family drama, I might be onboard. But I doubt it.

Meanwhile, ABC offers up a show about the Geico cavemen. Somebody in programming must have lost a bet.

8:00 p.m.: Pushing Daisies (ABC) - Another weird premise, this one about a guy whose touch can bring someone back to life, but then he can't touch them ever again without undoing the gift. Too bad one of the first people he brings back is his girlfriend. Weird, intriguing premise, pushed over the top because the guy behind it is Bryan Fuller, of Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls.

9:00 p.m.: Bionic Woman (NBC) - I don't particularly care about a remake of the 1970s TV series, except that the teaser from NBC looks solid enough, and more importantly, one of the guys behind it is David Eick, who helped make another revamp of another '70s TV sci-fi series (Galactica) I didn't care about into one of my favorite shows. Not particularly looking forward to it or anything, but I'll give it a couple episodes to hook me.

10:00 p.m.: Dirty Sexy Money (ABC) - Got a mild interest in this one because of the cast, but I generally don't have much interest in the "rich people are such bastards" genre. If it's more Arrested Development than Dallas, that'll be one thing, but I don't think that's the vibe I'm getting.

8-8:30 p.m.: My Name Is Earl (NBC)
8:30-9 p.m.: 30 Rock (NBC)
9-9:30 p.m.: The Office (NBC)
9:30-10 p.m.: Scrubs (NBC)

10 p.m.: Big Shots (ABC) - I like this cast, which features Christopher Titus, Michael Vartan, Josh Malina, but it's another "how rich and powerful people live" show and quite frankly, I don't much care.

9:00 Moonlight (CBS) - A vampire P.I. - Hmm, where have I seen that before? I have serious doubts that this is going to live up to the moody, noir and yet fun vibe that Angel achieved, and I'm more expecting another half-hearted, quickly cancelled attempt at genre from the networks, who (with rare exceptions) don't seem able to pull them off. Especially bummed because this got picked up instead of the zombie show Babylon Fields... we haven't had a lot of zombie TV, as compared to the numerous vampire shows.

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