Monday, May 28, 2007

2007 TV RECAP

Once again, these are only the shows I regularly watch, with one exception. If you complain that Sopranos, or Heroes, on House, or one of the CSIs, etc. aren't on the list, it's because I don't watch them for one reason or another. Simple as that.


THE AMAZING RACE: ALL-STARS
Having only started watching TAR a few years ago, many of the All-Star teams were new to me, which made this more or less like just another season. Why is it that I've watched six different series of this show now and only been really satisfied with one of the winning teams (Uchenna and Joyce)? Even Survivor has a better win percentage than that, and I hate half of the people on that show.


AMERICAN DAD
I've gone from hating this show, to thinking it was the funniest animated program on TV, to being kind of indifferent. It's just not something that demands I watch it every week. Perhaps the next season can pick things back up.


AMERICAN IDOL
I don't actually watch AI, but surely I had to comment on the fact that the girl who won is about 6'3. She dwarfed Ryan Seacrest and looked like she could beat the hell out of him. Puberty hit this poor lass like a Mack truck.


DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES
Often a show goes downhill once one of the characters has a baby --- this is even its own category on Jump the Shark. But in this case, Marcia Cross actually having a baby in real life was the cause for this season hitting the bricks. Her delivery forced the season-long mystery to be fast-forwarded to about the two-thirds mark, which is shame since it was actually really interesting. The final eight episodes seemed kind of thrown together, and things didn't really get left on a particularly cliffhangery note. What the end of the season showed is that DH really needs the season-long mystery to tie it together. Without it, the show really is just a prime-time soap opera. Felicity Huffman deserves another Emmy. Actually, most of the cast did stellar work this year. DH in the hands of lesser actors would be awful.


FAMILY GUY
By now, they're even running out of pop culture moments for the cutaway gags. When it's on, it's still one of the meanest, funniest shows on TV. When it's not...yikes. You can tell the effort just isn't there in the episodes when they have one of Peter's five-minute-long fights with the chicken. I like the idea of the running gag, but five minutes out of a 22-minute show is a significant chunk. It's like the writers were thinking, "Hmm, came up a bit short this week. Ok, time for a chicken fight!"


LOST
Oh, you know this is getting its own post. Stay tuned. Namaste!


MY NAME IS EARL
One of the patterns I'm noticing about myself as I write this list is that I'm paying less and less attention to stand-alone TV shows. I'm faithfully tuned to serials like Lost and to deep comedies like The Office, but for 'miss an episode and you won't miss anything big' shows, I'm having trouble keeping interest. The one exception is My Name Is Earl. This might be the most underrated show on TV, and certainly the most underrated comedy. It's a step behind Office and 30 Rock, but not by much....maybe Earl is an A to their A-pluses. It's not totally independent from episode to episode, as the show is developing a deep roster of supporting characters and recurring gags, but for the most part, the premise of 'each episode is one item of Earl's list' is still holding strong. The show's recent Rudy spoof was amazing, in for no other reason than half the Rudy cast made cameos (and who the hell else thinks to do a Rudy spoof in 2007?). Earl also had one of the best season finales of the year, one that opens up a lot of possibilities for the next season. I'm guessing they'll let Earl out of jail after, say, six months in show-time in order to let Jaime Pressly have her baby.


THE OFFICE
So, Jim and Pam look like they're finally together. This was, as you'll recall, the denouement of the British Office's entire series (13 episodes). The American series passed that episode number ages ago, but now they're truly in uncharted waters in terms of the series' concept. I guess I should probably stop comparing the British and US versions, since the US version is entirely its own animal now, and in my opinion, just as ingenious in its execution. I'm not even worried by the increased episode total for next year (a number of hour-long episodes), since this cast and writing team can almost certainly handle it. This is yet another reason why casting a bunch of improv veterans was a brill move -- this cast know their characters so well by this point that they could probably do an episode on the fly at this point. Unlike Sam/Diane, Moonlighting, Niles/Daphne or other TV couples whose getting together took the steam out of the show, I have high hopes for Jim/Pam together doing nothing to torpedo the Office. Better they do it now than drag it out three more seasons.


SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
I'm more excited about SNL than I have been in years. This past year featured two instant classics (the Baldwin and Timberlake episodes), two really good episodes (the Barrymore and Shannon hosting gigs) and one very good episode (John C. Reilly). This is five more truly top-notch shows than SNL has had in three years. I'm loving the current move towards sketch-based comedy, as opposed to just generic spoofs of TV shows or politicians. These are the kind of skits that will be funny in 10 years, and won't be dated and unfunny by, like, tomorrow. The cast compliment each other very well. Even the musical guests were generally solid this year. I'm just outright raving here. Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta.


THE SIMPSONS
Here's another old warhorse that dusted off its saddle for a good run. The first half of the season was very weak, but there were a few really good episodes in the spring. The recent 24-themed episode was particularly clever, and the kind of really good spoof the Simpsons rarely does any more. Maybe there's hope to reach 20 seasons yet.


STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP
Welcome to Cancellationville. Population: you. Matthew Perry did a remarkable job of keeping his Chandler mannerisms in check until the very last couple of episodes. I admire his restraint.


SURVIVOR
Survivor followed up one of their best seasons (Cook Islands) with Fiji, which seemed like Cook Islands redux. The tribes were way more multi-cultural than usual, though unlike in Cook Islands they didn't draw attention to it. The twist this time around, instead of the tribe split by race, was less controversial but much lamer in actual execution. Apparently, giving one tribe all kinds of food and the best camp ever will give them an edge over the tribe that has a crappy camp and is reduced to licking water off of leaves. Gee, didn't see that one coming. This twist led to literally six weeks of crappy TV, since it quickly became apparent that the 'poor' tribe had no chance in the challenges. The season's saving grace was Yau Man, a 54-year-old Asian guy who is easily one of the best people in the history of the show. He won challenges due to outthinking everyone and figuring out the most efficient way to throw spears, shoot arrows, navigate courses, etc., in spite of being about 5'5 and maybe 120 pounds (plus he was on the poor tribe, so he was physically wrecked). The other big star was the guy known as Dreamz, a formerly-homeless cheerleading coach (I can't make this up, folks), who was so unpredictable that his weekly vote usually broke up alliances, caused for surprise eliminations, and kept everyone on their toes. It was one of those situations where, on paper, the guy was playing one of the best Survivor games ever, but the charm of it was that he didn't look like he had a clue he was doing it. You've got to love the concept of a game show where playing it extremely well and playing it cluelessly are so hard to tell apart.

Overall, Survivor: Fiji was an average series of the show, but I'm looking forward to next year's China series. Will they just be one big tribe to start? Will they give everyone an immunity idol and make it a game of musical chairs? Will Jeff Probst be run over by a tank in Tiananmen Square? Only time....will tell.


30 ROCK
The funniest new show on TV by a country mile. I'm very glad NBC renewed it, and hopefully Tina Fey can keep up the pace in the second season rather than be distracted by her upcoming film projects. The only way this show could get any better was if Alec Baldwin wasn't the worst father on earth. Rumour has it he wants off the show in order to spend more time with his kid (coughcoughandpursuemovierolescoughcough), though I doubt NBC will just let him walk from his contract. If they did, however, may I suggest the name Will Arnett? He already had a guest role as a rival NBC exec, and if Baldwin walked, Arnett could just slide right in as Liz Lemon's new nemesis/would-be mentor/ally. They could even make the role of NBC director of programming a revolving door every season, given that the joke about Baldwin's character anyway is that he knows nothing about TV and his real speciality is microwave ovens. Baldwin is amazing in the role and hopefully stays, but if he didn't, in GOB we trust.


TRAILER PARK BOYS
After years of the low-fi documentary style, it's weird seeing Trailer Park Boys in HD. That aside, the show has been the funniest its been in years. The new addition of the Collins family was a great idea, and I love how this season seems to be building towards an inevitable cameo from, of all people, Patrick Swayze. And now, CONKY is back! Dear lord. Those who know me know I'm awful at impressions, with six exceptions:

* Howie Mandel
* Louie Anderson as the dad on Little Louie
* Louie Anderson as Little Louie on Little Louie
* George Costanza (only on a good day)
* Conky

The re-introduction of this character is a godsend for me. Yes! Conky!


24
The phrase 'back to the drawing board' was invented for this season of 24. What a disappointment. It was essentially a Cliff Notes of the entire series, with nearly every major plot point cribbed from a past episode. Think about it: a nuke going off, a singular villain, a president assassinated and a VP stepping in, wacky hijinks with the 25th amendment, an inter-CTU love affair (Nadia and Milo, the infinitely crappier version of Tony and Michelle), trouble in the Bauer clan, CTU invaded....it was deja vu. Hell, the last episode even ended 10 minutes early, as if the writers just said "We know it sucked, let's get out of here early." At least they didn't end the season with Jack being attacked by the Family Guy chicken. Apparently the next series will be vastly different from the previous six in terms of concept and setting, with the only consistency being Jack Bauer stopping villains. Some suggestions:

* Bring back only the popular cast members. For the love of God, don't get write off Chloe just because she's pregnant. The core of the show is Jack doing crazy stuff with only Chloe's tech support to help him. Losing Chloe would also end my dream 24 final episode of having Jack and Chloe just make out for the last five minutes. You want a shock ending? THERE's your shock ending. Keep Karen and Bill Buchanan, who are awesome. Keep Morris, if Chloe is staying, though I'm kind of indifferent towards the character. President Daniels, a.k.a the lovably crazy Powers Boothe, can return. I like the idea of a morally ambiguous president, after the virtuous David Palmer, the slimy and evil Charles Logan, terrorist food John Keeler and overall lame Wayne Palmer. God, when did DB Woodside forget to act? He used to be great on this show, and on Buffy.

* Scale things back. Keep in mind the major threat of the first season was then-Senator Palmer being targeted by an assassin. From there, to quote Anchorman, things really escalated quickly. Soon it became nuclear bombs, killer viruses, threats of world war and a hundred other things in one day. Maybe the threat in season seven can be something, like, Jack has to stop a team of kidnappers who plan to snatch the kids of several different prominent Americans in one day.

* Stick a bit closer to the real-time gimmick. This season basically forgot about it. At least in past seasons, they kept certain characters out of action for most of an episode by making locations '45 minutes away from CTU' or something. This season, everything seemed within a 10-minute driving radius.

* Have Ricky Schroeder's character die between seasons. Poochy him out of existence. That guy was by far the worst actor in the history of 24, and that's saying something for a show that once had Elisha Cuthbert in the cast.

* End the Bauer family feud. The idea of 'the bluetooth guy' being Jack's brother was ingenious. The idea of Jack's dad being so evil that he would kill his own son, Bluetooth Guy, was perhaps even more ingenious. But it just didn't work out. James Cromwell disappearing for about 15 episodes during the season due to film commitments didn't help things, since his reappearance was like, "I'm back as expected! Grrr, I still hate Jack!" Let Philip Bauer's ambiguous death be final, and not an excuse to bring him back in two years as a surprise villain.

* Use more of the show's history. For example, the villain in season three had a grudge against Jack Bauer due to the same mission that spurred Victor Drazen's hate in season one. Characters like Aaron Pierce and Mike Novick have great resonance with the audience because they've been here since the beginning, so figure out a way to incorporate them even for just an episode cameo. Granted, this might be harder to do for 24 than most shows, since so many past characters are dead. But having, for instance, Mandy and Jack Bauer cross paths again for a couple of episodes next season would be fun. Throw a bone to the longtime fans.


THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER
If Dana White is so pissed off about guys coming on the show who just want to promote themselves and aren't serious about winning, here's what he can do. Step one: do a better job of casting. He can't weed out the wannabes during the audition process? Step two: a lot of guys seem content to be 'memorable characters' with the logic that they'll stand out more on their personalities rather than their fighting ability. They're often rewarded for this with a fight on the TUF finale card. If White wants to stop this crap, stop booking them on his cards. It's that simple.

TUF5 is the first edition of the series where it feels like a reality show, rather than an actual athletic competition. It's too bad because in terms of depth of talent, this might be the strongest season yet. There are about a half-dozen guys on the show who could make really strong lightweights. I'm sticking with my preseason pick of Joe Lauzon. Figure this one out: Lauzon, a fairly unknown young fighter, knocks out the heavily-favoured Jens Pulver in a huge upset last fall. Lauzon isn't offered a full-time UFC contract, but rather is given a spot on TUF. Who's one of the coaches on the show? Jens Pulver. By the way, BJ Penn is a much worse coach than Pulver, but he is going to just rip Jens apart at the finale. I'm looking forward to the Penn/Sherk or Franca title match in November.


VERONICA MARS
And so it ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Veronica Mars has never been 'bad' at any point, but in its final episodes, became something potentially even worse -- skippable. For example, 24 was worse than it's ever seen this year, but I was damned if I'd miss an episode just because I'd put so much investment into it already. But once VM switched its format from season-long mysteries to three-mysteries-in-the-season to, eventually, two-longer-mysteries-and-then-a-bunch-of-standalone-episodes, I really lost a lot of the need to watch. I saw the finale, but missed the previous two episodes leading up to it, and (here's the kicker) I didn't feel like I had missed a thing, plot-wise. I hated feeling this way about VM. Missing two episodes of Series One or Two (or even the first half of Three) would've set me back about ten years in terms of picking up clues to the big mystery or in character development. The only thing I missed were details about Veronica's love life. Jesus. If I wanted to watch Dawson's Creek, I'd watch Dawson's Creek. The saddest thing that can happen to a show is its loss of ambition. Alias, X-Files, Law & Order....there's a list as long as your arm of shows that just let their great concept devolve. The proposed idea for next season (it's four years later and Veronica is in the FBI) would've been interesting, but I didn't sign up for mysteries of the week. I don't want to watch Monk with Kristen Bell instead of Tony Shalhoub. Oddly enough, I would watch Wings with Bell in Shalhoub's role. And a bevy of hot, twentysomething actresses as Lowell, Roy, Fay, Brian, etc. I just think it would be funny.

In any case, the first season of Veronica Mars is one of the best seasons of TV I've ever seen. The first third of this season was just as awesome. Rent the DVDs.

1 comment:

Dallas said...

I'm waaaaiiiting for your lost post!