Still Standing, CSI: Miami note

STILL STANDING is a generic family sitcom in the
as-many-jokes-as-we-can-cram-in mode. The only thing that makes
it rise above many of the other generic family sitcoms is that
the leads, Mark Addy from The Full Monty and Jami Gertz
from lotsa things, actually have some reasonable comedic delivery chops.
I’ll probably peek in on this from time to time, to see if they
have developed the material.
In the opening scene of tonight’s CSI: Miami, David
Caruso’s friend on the bomb squad has a chatty talk with him
and says they should get together for some beers later, just
before heading in to deal with the bomb. How many of you out
there figured he’d live until the theme song started? Nah,
me neither. We’re all too smart to fall for that.

Published in: on September 30, 2002 at 7:21 pm  Comments Off  

Boomtown

The folks who create BOOMTOWN know how to be thematic. The episode
opens with musings on the L.A. River, long since lined with concrete
yet still carrying with it runoff from the rare rains of Los Angeles. The
story of the episode is also a river, running a stream through L.A., yet
bring the run-off of many people along.

This is a cop show, and it is about cops, and those around them,
and other people as well. The stories are moved forward in chunks focusing
on an individual character — a cop, an ambulance driver, a young man
involved in the crime — but this is not Rashomon, we are not seeing
the tales as influenced by anyone’s interpretations of the events. We are
just seeing different camera angles on what really happened.

This is a good show. It tells stories, and its about people.

That’s not to say that it couldn’t grow askew. It could do what 24
did last season, clinging to an interesting format but letting the quality
of the material suffer. Certainly, they will have to work to keep from
repeating themselvs, or from letting the more soap-operatic portions of
the cops lives run away with the tale.

But I think we’ll see a good run of fine episodes out of this,
certainly the best drama to be unveiled yet this season. Judging from
the first episode, the people behind this show like telling stories and
listening to people talk.

So Boomtown (Sundays on NBC) is clearly recommended (with an
extra recommendation for people who liked my comic The Factor.
There’s some similarity of soul here.)

Published in: on September 30, 2002 at 9:20 am  Comments Off  

Robbery Homicide Division

There was a while there when cop shows were shows about cops.
The quality tent poles of this movement were Hill Street Blues
and Homicide. Now, however, we’ve returned to the Dragnet days when
cop shows were about crimes. ROBBERY HOMICIDE DIVISION is an
example of this shift. Oh, it’s far more violent than Dragnet
ever was (we see 9 shooting deaths in this episode), but it’s still
about the crime that the plot brings to light.

And if that level of violence makes this show a bit hard to look at,
believe it or not the show is harder to listen to. Between heavy
music, Spanish conversations, static-laden radio transmissions,
and simple mumbling, it’s often hard to hear what is being said.

The look is stylish, bringing a cold eye to stylish
Los Angeles sites. The performing is good. The writing gives us
no one to care about, though; the cops don’t engage us, we’re
not awed by or rooting for the criminals, and the victims are
dead.

Nor is it illuminating. This is not reality. If they have
7 people murdered each episode (that’s the murder count for
episode 1, including a dead cop who was — wait for it — just about to
retire
; the other dead folks were bad guys killed by return fire
from cops), then in a season this crew will cover more than half the
peopl killed in L.A. in a given year, as if most murders were interesting.
And if a cop-gone-bad (hey, he’s a Rampart division undercover narc
officer, was it supposed to be a surprise when they later revealed
he’d gone bad?) was the kingpin behind 7 killings, would they
really offer him a maximum sentence of one year in county so that
they could get his underlings? Rrrrright….

It’s not clear to me whether this was a stand-alone episode
or the start of larger stories, with the bad guys who were
quickly introduced and then left free part of some larger plot.
If the latter, they could possibly build something worthwhile.
I’m not driven to see more about the cops or the crooks, though,
so I won’t revisit it.

Published in: on September 28, 2002 at 7:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

That Was Then, Hack,

THAT WAS THEN, this is bad. a thirty year old shlmiel
wakes up to find himself reliving being 16 again, and tries
to fix his future problems by being a shmuck then. Realism
does not ensue, nor does excitement, hilarity, or interest.
The episode ends with him being back at 30, discovering
the he did change history, but he’s not satisfied with
the new version either so apparently he’s going back to
fix it again… if the series actually survives to a second
week.

When you name a series HACK, you’re just encouraging
reviewers to give you bad reviews. They want to use the lines
like “the problem with the series is that by its nature, all
its writers are Hack writers, and it shows.” For all I know,
Very Bad Things was a great movie, but with an
inviting title like that they were just begging for bad reviews.

From what I’ve seen elsewhere, Hack has gotten bad
reviews. And it deserves bad reviews. But I don’t think it
deserves reviews quite as bad as it is getting.

Hack stars David Morse (probably best recognized from St. Elsewhere)
as a Philly cop rightfully kicked off the force
for corruption, who has now turned to driving a cab for a living.
Seeking redemption, he helps those who need help — in this
episode, a man whose daughter ran away to Philly. Man in search
of redemption is a good theme, and there is some good texture
here, as the show manages to get the cool quiet feeling of
the nighttime even in its daylight scenes. And hey, I’m
from the Philly area, and I liked seeing the familiar sites
as this was shot on location.

But the scenes were often unconvincing (particularly the
climax), and I suspect there’s not quite enough in the character
to hang a series on. He’d be an interesting character in an
ensemble drama, but he seems a little hollow being given the
full hour to himself. Even the talented Andre Braugher (Homicide)
can’t add much as the cabbie’s old cop partner. I don’t see this
series ever quite putting together the pieces it needs to work,
but I’ll be glad if they prove me wrong.

It’s a late night of watching things from tape, so Robbery
Homicide Division
will have to wait for tomorrow. And because
of my limited number of VCRs, I wasn’t able to catch Greetings
From Tuscon
, so despite my promise last week, the review will
have to wait until the third episode. To make it up to you, I’ll
give you double your money back…

Published in: on September 27, 2002 at 7:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Good Morning, Miami, Without a Trace

Traditionally, NBC has had problems finding a good new show to
fill the 8:30 slot on Thursday. This year, they avoided the
failed guesswork of years past, and just slid a quality existing
series (Scrubs) into that slot.

Now the problem slot is 9:30, which they tried to fill with
a piece of drek called GOOD MORNING, MIAMI. Talented TV
producer shows up for a job interview for taking over a
drek TV show called Good Morning, Miami (see, life does
imitate art), falls instantly in love with the show’s hairdresser,
takes the job, and deals with the batch of wacky (yet uninteresting)
characters. Hilarity fails to ensue. Yeah, I was complaining yesterday
about the lack of new workplace sitcoms… but getting one didn’t help.

Tip to the makers of this show: a hairdresser working on a
morning show would not be leaving work at 5:45 pm, much less
feel the need to convince people she was leaving at 8 pm.
She’s a hairdresser — they don’t need her after the show
is over.

Tonight’s other premiere was WITHOUT A TRACE, a
police procedural drama about the FBI’s Missing Persons unit.
Think of it as CSI without dead people. Instead of CSI‘s
zooming-through-the-corpse effects, we get repeated crossfades between
the location where the FBI is currently investigating and what they
discover had taken place there earlier. The show kept me guessing
about the story they were unveiling, but the characters weren’t particularly
interesting. I’ve never been a fan of Anthony LaPaglia; he seems to be
slowly morphing into Alan Rosenberg, whom I do like, but Anthony hasn’t gotten
the likable portion yet.

All in all: if you’re into CSI, it’s worth looking at one episode
of Without A Trace, but I suspect you won’t like it as much.

Published in: on September 26, 2002 at 7:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

MDs

MDs wants to be M*A*S*H sooooo badly. Two wisecracking
doctors misusing and abusing equipment, having sex with the staff,
and generally making asses of themselves while the struggle to save
patients despite the entanglement of the bureaucratic system.

Problem is, Hawkeye and co. were working in a system that was
built for war, were trapped in that system, and their wild antics
were their way of surviving them. The doctors on MDs on
the other hand, work in a hospital they choose to work in. The
system they have to fight is the system they chose to join. The
HMOs want to watch cost, which is of course presented in purely
evil terms here… and while HMOs can be evil, they can also
through their savings make healthcare available to more folks.
Medicine costs money, more money than ever… and our “heroes”
here are using hundreds of dollars of hospital resources to
get a delivery of fresh donuts. They make poor doctoring decisions,
which of course prove to be the correct decisions,
demonstrating how handy it is to have fiction writers creating your
life. There’s a couple good performances here (and, for those
who pay attention, an uncredited vocal performance by Hector Elizando,
if my ears don’t deceive), but the central conflict is so manufactured
and the protagonists so smugly wrong that it’s not worth wading through.

Published in: on September 25, 2002 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hidden Hills

This year, it seems that almost every new sitcom is a domestic
sitcom, showing us the harrying problems of having a family.
There aren’t a lot of new work-oriented sitcoms, or
friends-hanging-out sitcoms; we’re not seeing teenage
werewolfs or talking cars. Yes, family is hard. Yes, we
get it. You’re going to have to tell us something more than
that to get us to laugh.
HIDDEN HILLS tries to do more than that, in its shot-on-location,
lead-character-narration style. Yes, within those classy trappings,
it also offers us gags about throwing dog poo and getting hit in the
nuts. Not a laugh in the load. No need to waste your valuable
TiVo space on this one. (In fact, you’d be better off without the
TiVo at all. Send it to me! I’ll make sure to fill it up with only
classy stuff.)

While the season premiere of FRASIER wasn’t great, at
least it was better than most of the episodes of the tepid
previous season. Here’s hoping it gets some of its spark back.

Published in: on September 25, 2002 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Haunted, Presidio Med, The In-Laws

Hey, Buffy fans: some of you may be of mixed thoughts about the
revival of Sunnydale High, but you gotta give Joss this: those
last two minutes showed that he still knows how to grab our
attention.

HAUNTED is the new show slotted to follow Buffy: The
Guidance Counselor
. The lead character is a detective who
is revived after flat-lining, to find that the near-death
experience has left him with the ability to see dead people.
If that description sounds familiar to you, you may be recalling
Michael J. Fox’s last great film roll, the overlooked off-beat
The Frighteners. But whereas that film mixed humor
with its thrills, Haunted is about as humorless as it
gets. Filmed in a dead color palette of grays and crimson,
the first episode included gore, child murder, and child
pornography. Now dark is fine, if it illuminates the human
soul, but thre’s no illumination here. What you’re left with
is a not-that-good TV version of a horror film, and that
doesn’t do much for me. Following the dark but humorous
and enlightening Buffy, this show is wanting much.

If there ever was a show that was designed to rerun on
Lifetime, PRESIDIO MED is it; it’s about a
San Francisco hospital-adjacent medical practice staffed primarily by women.
(It seems like Lifetime wants to hold on to some shadow of the network’s original
plan to be a cable channel for doctors.)

But that shouldn’t be taken as a denigration. The first
episode was enjoyable, with a quality cast playing likable
and intriguing characters. The men come off a bit one-dimensional,
but I’ll be glad to give them time to grow while watching
Blythe Danner and Dana Delaney play the more full roles.

Tuesday won’t be Presidio Med‘s usual slot, however.
The premiere was shifted to Tuesday so that it wouldn’t be
right against the premiere of MDs, another San Francisco-based
medical drama. People were quick to complain about placing two
similar series in the same time slot, refering to it as a mistake
and constantly pointing back to when two Chicago-based medical
dramas appeared against each other years ago. Excuse me? Yes,
E/R and Chicago Hope premiered against each other.
Was it a mistake? Well, all I can point to is the fact that the
less successful of the two ran for six seasons.
Presidio Med will be lucky to do so well. (And if the
ads are any indication, the rest of us will feel lucky if
MDs doesn’t do so well, opening up a space for a less
obvious and manipulative show.)

THE IN-LAWS is about a cooking student and his wife
who move in with her parents. Dennis Farina plays the intimidating
father-in-law, Jean Smart the more accomodating mother, and they
make a good couple in some ways. However, the laughs just aren’t
that strong, and after two episodes the conflict already seems
repetitive. They also have had “aw, he’s actually soft” moments
about Farina’s character in both episodes, and without giving
him the depth of an Archie Bunker it would seem to just weaken
the character. It’s not awful, but being that it is slotted up against Buffy
and Gilmore Girls, I don’t foresee turning this one on
again.

HIDDEN HILLS also premiered tonight, but I need sleep
and will view it and comment on it tomorrow.

Published in: on September 24, 2002 at 7:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Half and Half, CSI: Miami

UPN has added a new sitcom to its block of black character sitcoms:
HALF AND HALF. Half sisters, one raised by her mom in the city,
the other raised by both parents in upper-class style in the country, start
living in the same building. City sister, who is the clear focus of at least
the first episode, is resentful of country sister. And yet, they must learn
the power of family. Meanwhile, the two mothers hate each other, and dad
is vastly uncomfortable. In typical sitcom style, situations that most
of us would have long since learned to deal with are intstead treated
as if everyone has the most base emotion.
The characters may be physically attractive, but not people
you want to hang with. The lines are delivered awkwardly, and
the chemistry certainly isn’t there yet. This sitcom is Monday
night filler, which is basically all Monday night is at this
point.
Time was when successful sitcoms bred a lot of spin-offs.
That is far less true today; off the top of my head, the only
currently-running sitcom spinoff is Frasier, and that
is now an old show that waited for its source show to go away.
(The Tracy Ulman Show was not a sitcom, so The
Simpsons
doesn’t count as a sitcom spinoff.)
However, it seems to me that building franchises from dramas has become
ever more prevalent. In addition to the ever-present Star Trek
universe series, we currently have a Angel (spun off from
Buffy), Law And Order: Criminal Intent and Law And Order:
SUV
about crimes commited by soccer moms (both building on
Law And Order, although the latter also inherited material
from Homicide), and now we have CSI: MIAMI.
This new show, spinning off from a Las Vegas-based series
on forensic detectives, quickly establishes its different
location by setting the first story in the Everglades, a far cry
from the parched deserts of Nevada. The cast is certainly
staffed with respectable folks. David Caruso (looking a lot older
than he did on NYPD
Blue
, and far more still than the Shamrocks gang member
he played on Hill Street Blues) places Mulder to
Kim Delaney’s (Philly, NYPD Blue) Scully, he
running on emotion and instinct, while she (a recent widow)
working from science and careful investigation. These
varying attributes are overplayed and overstated, and not
much chemistry exists. In supporting roles are Khandi
Alexander (ER, NewsRadio) and Emily Procter
(which likely means that the Republican in the White House,
Ainsley Hayes, won’t be showing up on The West Wing
for a while, alas), putting forth small but more interesting
performances than the leads.
The focus is simply on finding out what happened from the
clues provided. The evidence on the CSI shows is often
biological in nature and thus not for the squeamish. And really,
since the characters are not (at least yet) generating any
emotional involvement, that’s all this is: more CSI, more
forensic detecting. The human element is weak; in the
first episode, while trying to hang the case on the
fashionable villainy of corrupt executives, they want us to
accept that because people had been cooking the books a little
for personal profit, they would simply sit around uninvolved
while a coworker was unexpectedly murdered. I don’t buy it;
people work in a very different way when caught in the moment.
All in all, if you like watching CSI,
you’ll probably like having this as well, if it doesn’t
wear out its welcome. I never became a CSI watcher, so
I’ll likely skip it.
On a side note: in addition to the season premiere of
Buffy (the series that is much better than anyone who
saw the movie had a right to expect — heck, its much better
than what anyone who hasn’t seen it is apt to expect), Tuesday
brings us Buffy fans a treat: the release of the soundtrack CD
of “Once More, With Feeling”, the grand musical Buffy episode from
last year. For more details, check out:

http://AAUGH.com/to.htm?B00006J3WH

Published in: on September 23, 2002 at 7:06 pm  Comments Off  

What I Like About You

What is there to like about WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU, a new Friday comedy on the WB? Not very much.
The set-up is that an over-eager 16 year old girl moves in with her big sister when
her father’s promotion sends him to Japan. Hijinx arise, and according to
formula hilarity should ensue… and yet, somehow the hilarity fails
to arrive. All of the delivery is over-bright, over-emphasized, leaving
nothing with any texture.

The good news? It’s got Peter Scolari, formerly of Bossom Buddies
and Newhart. The bad news? He plays the dad, which means he’s
moving to Japan and won’t be on the scene often. Not that it matters; I expect this series
to dissolve soon.

If I hadn’t taped this last night, I would have had no series to review today. Not only did no new series launch tonight, there won’t be any new Saturday series at all this season. Given how little is on Saturday now, there is really nothing worth watching on network prime time Saturday schedule.

Published in: on September 21, 2002 at 7:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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