Bye Bye Bram

Ouch! Bram & Alice just got the ax. That means that half of the new
shows cancelled to date were ones that I chose to watch. I’m cursed, I tell
ya, cursed!

Published in: on October 31, 2002 at 11:30 am  Comments Off  

Season to date

Well, we have reached the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end.

It’s not a hard line. There are still a couple new series yet to debut,
ABC’s Dinotopia and Fox’s The Grubbs (although both have been
pushed back from their original planned start dates, and no one should be
surprised if the latter series never surfaces.) And some old favorites,
such as The Simpsons, have yet to return for a new season.

Still, the dying has begun. Three series have been cancelled. Two
were cut down quickly, as both That Was Then and Girls Club were
dropped after two episodes.

The stylish Push, Nevada was allowed a full six episodes, and
went down with its style intact. The final episode started with an
explanation for the town mystery (if a problematic one), but if you
thought this was designed to be a closing episode, guess again. The
explanation, delivered with the sort of rapidity that made it look
shoe-horned at the last minute, quickly unravels to reveal that larger
mysteries go unsolved. There is no tidy rerunnable miniseries here.
Not, mind you, that stories that stretch over many episodes have done
that well in reruns, but the emerging DVD market is a great aftermarket
for such tales. The DVD of the first season of 24, all of which
makes up one big story, is an apparent success. That bodes well for
getting DVDs of things like Murder One and Wiseguy, shows
which don’t lend themselves to catching random episodes here and there, but
which are hard to commit to watching reruns on a daily basis.

The second season/second storyline of 24 launched last night.
As expected, they are going to make Jack Bauer and what remains of
his family on-going victims of various cruel individuals (not that
Jack didn’t always have a cruel streak in him as well, which we are
amply reminded of in this episode.) And I doubt I’ll stick around for
it. Jack’s daughter is already in the hands of another Abusive Man.
Seeing her go through another season of being Girl
Victim is not something I care to do. (There would have been great,
great satisfaction if, when faced with this new abuser, we had it
suddenly demonstrated to us that she had spent the intervening year
taking self-defense classes. That would certainly have announced to
us that they’re not just stretching out the already paper-thin
content of season one. No such luck, alas.)

Back to the cancellations: the odd thing is not that shows are
already cancelled, but that so few are. Usually by now there have
been more shows that simply didn’t measure up in the ratings.
I won’t try to analyze what part of the longevity of new shows
is due to a vast amount of quality (although I’ve noticed little),
what part is due to network resignation to the fact that they
can’t launch big hits any more, what part is due to networks
starting to believe in giving shows time to find their legs, and what part is due to
flagging attention for older hits like Frasier and The
Drew Carey Show
allowing the new shows to get ratings.

So with all these new shows still on the air, what am I still watching?
Not much. I watched Push, Nevada right through the last episode, still
enjoying its lead character. Life With Bonnie is a must. Bram &
Alice
still gets my viewership, even though it hasn’t reached for the
Frasier-when-it-was-good tone I hoped it might or even the Will & Grace
level of basic-sitcom-interaction-but-with-something-beneath-the-surface, and
seems willing to hover in tome at some point between that latter series and
Two Guys, a Girl, & (Originally) A Pizza Place. I finally caught
a second episode of Firefly, and while not addicted to it, will
continue to watch it when I can. American Dreams entertains but
does not fascinate, and I may stop watching now that The Simpsons
will be back. And last but far from least, Boomtown continues to
be my kind of storytelling. I’d actually be a little happier if it
didn’t have to focus on the same set of continuing characters every
episode, but I’ll accept that as part of the ride that I’m taking.

Meanwhile a quick note for the DVD crowd: complete DVD sets of the
past decade’s greatest drama (My
So-Called Life
) and greatest comedy (SportsNight)
are coming out soon.

Published in: on October 30, 2002 at 11:29 am  Leave a Comment  

Girls Club, Scrubs note

“I hope you don’t confuse me with the kind of lawyer that defends guilty
people.”

I swear to G-d, that is an actual line of dialog from GIRLS CLUB,
the new lady lawyer series from David E. Kelley. A criminal defense lawyer
said this in the courtroom, during questioning, and the judge and
DA did not break into peals of laughter for some reason. It was a Serious
Moment.

That line might make sense if this were some sort of broad
comedy; it is not. It is, at heart, a drama with some attempts
at David E. Kelley’s patented over-the-top moments, but the
patent has run out and the top is not even seen.

Three pretty young lawyers are cursed with working in an
office where they are expected to do their jobs well, the
horror! And some of their clients may not be honest, oh my!
But they do achieve some victories — if you can root for someone
when they find a clever way to extort money from innocent folks.

The show started with a big-breasted woman in a tight top
that failed to hide areolas waking her carefully-tossled-hair cutey roommates
to talk with them. It felt like I was watching some Showtime
cable film in which former Penthouse Pets played sorority sisters.
Then it segued into the Bowie/Queen collaboration “Under Pressure”
while some nice tricky camera work showed us people living under
pressure. And that was where the show peaked. Despite appearances
by a variety of actors that I like in supporting rolls (Bill Cobb,
Felicity Huffman, Giancarlo Esposito) and directing by Todd Holland
(who made Malcolm In The Middle what it was when it was good, and
whose small-screen credits include The Larry Sanders Show, Twin
Peaks, Friends, Max Headroom, and My So-Called Life, so he’s been a
class act), this show falls down on concept and writing, and I
don’t foresee it getting up.

It’s not the saddest thing of the season, though. A new show not
being very good is to be expected, and it’s a temporary disappointment at best.

It’s not even the second saddest thing of the season; that award goes
to Saturday Night Live, following up a fairly strong season with one
that is averaging about one laugh per episode. Even at its best, SNL has
always been hit-or-miss, but the hits make it worth it. At the moment,
however, I see little excuse to wade through the non-comedy being
presented.

But the saddest thing of all is the ads which are trumpeting the newest
addition to Scrubs. They’re taking the finest new comedy of last
season, one which built itself a nice little following, and to make it
even better they’re adding Heather Locklear!

Heather Locklear??? I have yet to see a sitcom star with
less sense of comedic timing or delivery. My wife and I used to
sit aghast and unbelieving as she would kill any possible comedic
moment on Spin City, a show which had never quite lived up
to being the sum of its parts but which utterly fell apart when she
was shoehorned in. To allow her on another sitcom is a case of
dubious judgment; to put her into a quality work and announce that
as if it were some sort of special treat for the viewer is sad, sad,
sad indeed.

Published in: on October 21, 2002 at 11:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Birds of Prey

I was predisposed to liking BIRDS OF PREY, the new female
adventure series on The WB. I was expecting something that would tie
the sensibilities of Buffy in with the mythos from the
Batman comics. And I was disappointed on both ends.

The set-up is that Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl now planted
firmly in a wheelchair, acts as the brains of a superpower duo while
Helena Kyle, the love-child of Batman and Catwoman, handles the physical end of
crime-fighting. They are joined by a teenage lass with ill-defined
psychic powers, and together they fight crime in a highly stylized
version of “New Gotham”.

The dialog is stiff, lifeless, and inhuman. The visual style
uses a lot of photographic tricks that distract from the story
rather than enrich it (which, admittedly, copies the method of
some popular comics of a decade back). As for the links to the
Batman mythos, they rely on it in the worst ways. There are
things that get said which only make sense if you already know
some of the Batman material, and not just the stuff you see in
the movies. When Barbara explains that she had another name
before she was known as Oracle, that statement makes sense…
to those who have read the comics in which she is known as
Oracle. However, unless I missed it, that was the first time that
the Oracle name was mentioned in this show, and since Barbara
and Helena’s operation is secret, there doesn’t seem to be anyone
who would know Barbara as Oracle.

Meanwhile, the richness of the Batman mythos is wasted as
we have a Joker without insanity, a Harley Quinn without joy,
a Catwoman who cannot defend herself, and an apparently cowardly Batman.
What we end up with is a lifeless, humorless spectacle with
little sense of adventure.

About the only redeeming aspect of this is the very appropriate
casting of Dina Meyer as Barbara Gordon. She manage to convey the
sharpness and intelligence that comics writers John Ostrander and
Kim Yale had given Oracle when they established that identity
after Alan Moore had Batgirl crippled. Making Oracle seem intelligent
is no small achievement, given that the script actually conveyed
little if any of that intelligent. (Hey everyone: there’s a business
partnership in which three of the four partners have been killed.
Whose your main suspect? Anyone? Come on, someone out there must
have the answer…)

Still, that’s not enough to save the show. A shame, given the
effective (if often repetitive) reimagining of Superman that the
WB has given us in Smallville.

Published in: on October 10, 2002 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Bram and Alice

The new sitcom BRAM AND ALICE had a very rich pilot.
Bram is a one-time great writer clinging to all of those
great writerly traditions: a ravenous love-em-and-forget-their-names-in-the-morning
sexual attitude, a far closer relationship with the whiskey bottle,
finances which focus on who can be borrowed from and how
little can be repaid, and a penchant for not actually getting
any writing done. Alice is a struggling young writer, not able
to keep an apartment in New York, with one small sale to her
credit. She is also Bram’s long-since-forgotten love child,
who has just discovered who her father is and has gone to
look him up.

The pilot focuses on their meeting, which is one of those
sitcom scenes where two people are having two different
conversations, unaware that the person they are talking with
is on a different page entirely. Alice thinks (correctly) that
she is talking to her father; Bram assumes that she’s a former
one-night stand of his who just might be worth a second go.

The characters are well-formed, with richness to them that
goes beyond their stereotypical set-up. The humorous material
is delivered well, and these are characters I want to spend
time with.

My main concern, however, is that the characters seemed
so designed for this pilot that I wonder if they can
sustain a series based around their on-going relationship.
Now the daughter is living with the dad; what will this lead to?
Will the makers of this show be able to deliver consistently?
Tune in and find out; I know I will.

Published in: on October 8, 2002 at 7:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Greetings From Tuscon

Okay, I was wrong. It’s not that long between reviews — not because
there are any more premieres (although Sunday will see the launch of
Bram & Alice, but it will be additional days before I
can review it), but because I forgot about the one series
that had gone unreviewed: GREETINGS FROM TUSCON.

This is actually a nice if unastounding family sitcom, well designed
for the WB version of the deceased ABC TGIF line-up. While it does fit
the pattern of modern sitcom families, featuring the wacky dad and the
far more reasonable mom (a combination which I suspect arises from
male sitcom writers who picture themselves the wacky ones in their
clans), some of the chemistries are not. We’re dealing with a somewhat extended
semi-Latino family, including a spicy grandma, a ne’er-do-well uncle (performed
rather weakly, alas), the mean sister, and the young male protagonist.

This breaks no new ground, but the humor is consistently constructed,
and while the jokes and insults are peppered in, most of the humor
builds from the central premise of the episode. This won’t be the sitcom
that changes the world, but if you need something tohave on while you do
the crossword puzzle, this is better than most of the new crop.

Published in: on October 5, 2002 at 7:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nat's away

Just a quick note that it will be a while before the next TV review, primarily
because most of the shows have already debuted and we’ve entered a quiet period
(no new shows until Sunday) augmented by the fact that
I’ll be going away for a few days to celebrate my aniversary.

Published in: on October 3, 2002 at 7:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Less Than Perfect

In the category of “shows whose title beg for bad reviews” is
LESS THAN PERFECT. A workplace comedy, it takes an overly-chipper
earthy woman from the downtrodden masses of the 4th floor of a big
office building and puts her to work with the snobs on the 22nd floor,
home of the network news. Of course, to keep the ensemble tight the snobs
are only represented by two people, the downtrodden folks are represented
by two people besides our lead, and there is only one other person that
counts, the distinguished news anchor who is egomaniacal and always
prowling for sex, but is not a snob.

I sat there watching, considering if the conflicts worked,
considering the talents of the various cast members, considering
whether it was really created by one of those 22nd floor types
who just assumed that the 4th floor types would be so mentally
focused on them. And then I realized that if I was focusing on
all this, it didn’t really matter in my review, because I was
not being amused.

I’m not saying that there was anything wrong with the show,
there are certainly some talented folks on some level. But
I don’t watch sitcoms to find writers or actors to respect.

Published in: on October 1, 2002 at 7:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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