Playmakers

I was slow checking out Playmakers, ESPN’s drama series. This is partly because I never tune to ESPN, so it wasn’t in my mind, and partly because I was half-thinking it was on HBO, a network that I do not subscribe to.
I did, however, catch 2 episodes this weekend, and it is a respectable attempt at a drama. The setting is the fictional Cougars football franchise, a setup that gives plenty of opportunity for intensity and heightened emotions.
The show is well shot and well acted. The episodes I wtched focused on a couple key characters, so I don’t yet have a sense of how many of the other guys are really the focus of storylines and how many are mere window dressing.
The show is shot in letterbox format, and ESPN uses the blank area at the bottom for a constant crawl of sports scores and news. That does prove distracting. The series also airs on ESPN’s High Definition channel; as more a fan of drama than of sports, I would hope that they air it without the crawl there. But I would not be surprised either way.

Published in: on September 29, 2003 at 12:42 pm  Comments Off  

The Lyon's Den

When it was announced that The Lyon’s Den, Rob Lowe’s new Sunday night NBC series, was set in a D.C. law firm, many folks (well, I, at least) assumed that it would be a politically-oriented drama much in the mold of The West Wing, Rob’s former series.

We (well, I) were (was) wrong. Depsite an episode subplot that let them comment on Nigerian capital punishment and the inclusion of a Senator among the driving forces of the show, at heart this program is less West Wing and more Dynasty, with some of The Practice. Lowe’s character is an upstanding lawyer for a cheap clinic branch of a major DC law firm who finds himself caught in the darkness and schemes of that firm, with various characters whose machevellian motives are not fully clear. Thrown into that is a typical single-episode law show story where one of Lowe’s clinic coworkers represents a mentally disabled man on trial for murder, replete with a “surprise” twist that should have been immediately blatant to anyone who has watched at least a dozen episode of lawyer shows.

There are a couple pieces of interesting casting. Rip Torn plays Lowe’s seemingly-corrupt senator father, and Kyle Chandler of Early Edition and Homefront plays against his innocent face as a sinister member of the firm.

The show is produced with class, but it’s not really a classy show. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use it as a guilty pleasure-type show. It’s probably worth watching a couple episodes on that basis.

Published in: on September 29, 2003 at 12:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cold Case

Set in Philadelphia (my old stomping grounds), Cold Case is about a police detective solving old crimes.

It opens with ehr on the site of a new crime, one that looks far more interesting than the case that the episode is about. It’s hard to make an old crime something we care about. It’s even harder when you’re trying to push some bloated class-struggle plot into it. The solving of the crime was simply a procedural lacking in particularly interesting procedures.

No reason for me to return to CBS Sundays for this one.

Published in: on September 28, 2003 at 11:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

10-8

The first episode of 10-8 started out with a crime stop that turned out to be a training exercise. Again. That’s been the start of at least three new series premiers this year. It’s hard to surprise people like that (and particularly hard in this case, as the “criminal” being confronted was clearly Ernie Hudson, who had been advertised as one of the cops in the show.

This is a show about a rookie on the L.A. Sheriff squad. Only it’s a version of L.A. where a bunch of interesting things happen to a rookie on the first day. And most of them aren’t believable. And most of them aren’t actually interesting, come to think of it. It’s a trie version of cop work, and there’s nothing really going for it.

Published in: on September 28, 2003 at 11:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Joan of Arcadia

If Friday night brought us the worst new sitcom of the season so far, it also brings us the best new drama. Joan of Arcadia spins the tale of a female high school student who finds that G-d is talking to her through strangers. This does not settle well on Joan, a fundamentally normal girl in all visible respects, but she also finds that it is not something that she can walk away from.

Joan’s conversations are set in a context where her father, the police chief, is faced with the hunt for a murderer of young ladies, and her mother is faced with a son who has lost the ability to walk and the will to do much else. Questions of faith and hope face the members of the family. Even Joan, who believes she is facing G-d, does not automatically follow all that he says.

This show does not seem evangelical. Rather, it does what much of the best drama does: display human nature by putting humans in interesting situations.

I’m very interested in seeing where it goes. There’s a risk that it could turn into an Early Edition, with G-d asking Joan to intervene to improve others lives each episode, but I think they’re aiming for something richer than that. (Which is not to denegrate Early Edition, which I felt was stylishly done at times.)

There are some folks who will find the whole subject matter uninteresting. I recommend that you see the show, see what it is actually doing, before you judge. You may be surprised.

(Joan’s parents are played by Joe Mantegna and Mary Steenburgen, both well cast (a minor surprise for Mantegna, who is often miscast in rolls that call for someone more brutish.) Amber Tamblyn, who I’ve not seen before, plays Joan. Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter and former “San Pedro Beach Bums” actress Nancy Morgan and thus grandson of both Tex Ritter and Congressional Medal of Honor winner John “Red” Morgan, plays the brother in the wheelchair. But the lucky ducks are the folks who get to play G-d. They are purposely casting unknown actors in those roles. Talk about a nice thing to add to an empty list of credits!)

Published in: on September 27, 2003 at 5:17 pm  Comments (1)  

Miss Match

A few years back there was a very fine, short-lived series called Cupid, in which Jeremy Piven played a guy who brought couples together because he believed he was Cupid (and may have been right). The ads for Miss Match led me to expect something like that, about a person who was convinced of her own competency in that regard.

But really, at heart this Friday night NBC show is about a person trying to deal with other people’s image of her. Alicia Silverstone, not used this well since Clueless, plays Kate Fox, a divorce attorney work in her father’s firm. She has to deal with her father still seeing her as his little girl and thus not giving her respect as a lawyer. She has to deal with her boyfriend’s view of her as a willing participant in whatever he has planned. And, because a wedding column in the paper mentions that she had brought the married couple together and had done so on a couple previous occasions, she has to deal with a surprisingly large amount of people thinking she has strong talent as a matchmaker.

While trying to shed the first two images, she chooses to embrace the third, thus giving the series a plot. And so she faces the bumpy path of matchmaking, of struggling with the human heart.

The pilot was certainly watchable, although there is a risk that the stories could turn formulaic. We’ll see if the folks behind this show can play that initial spark into a romantic fire or not.

(I will note that she is a good divorce lawyer largely because they tell us she is; she occasionally seems riled to find that someone is taking perfectly legal steps to secure the best possible outcome for their client. That’s the sort of failing that’s common in supposedly good TV lawyers.)

Published in: on September 27, 2003 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Handler

The Handler (CBS, Friday) is about an FBI undercover squad headed up by Joe Pantaliano (well, by the character Joe plays). Now Joe is a talented actor normally cast on the other side of the law; personal favorite performances include Risky Business where he played Guido, the Killer Pimp, and Bound, where he plays a money launderer who actually ends up washing money.

This show appears to be meant as an acting vehicle, more interested in giving characters emotive moments or chances to do impersonations than it is in having a plot that builds to interesting, unexpected, or revelatory things. (Perhaps I’m not seeing it fairly; there is one surprise built into the first episode, but it was spoiled by the CBS preview DVD.) However, the continuing characters really don’t have much character established in the first episode, so it’s hard to be won over by this. This show isn’t actively bad, but it is uninteresting.

Published in: on September 27, 2003 at 1:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hope & Faith

There are two problems with reviewing a really bad TV show. One is that you have to watch a really bad TV show. The other is when you have to write the review, picking from the vast numbers of ways that present themselves to describe the badness. Because the worse something is, the more creative ways the mind presents to destroy it.

At the moment, my mind is swimming with ways of shredding Hope & Faith.

Starring Faith Ford in the title role that isn’t named "Faith" and Kelly Ripa in the role that is, this ABC Friday night sitcom is about a plastic actress, fired from a soap opera, who comes to live with her plastic sister, her cardboard husband, and their extruded plastic children in their split-level set. Nothing seems real, nobody reacts like a human, none of the comedic attempts are actually humorous, the attempt at being touching is the most mawkish and rote attempt at sitcom pilot cliche (the hard-to-live-with new house guest actually passes a Valuable Lesson on to the child, thus making the parent realize how much the guest is needed around despite their destructive presence… a hard scene to work when done well, no that there was any risk of that.)

I just sat through this show muttering "this is sooooo bad" over and over again. Unless you feel like spending a half hour doing the same, skip this show.

Note: The show apparently had a pilot where the husband was played by another actor, rather than Ted McGinley. Now, Ted can do quality work in things ranging from the serious sitcom SportsNight to the fun goof film Revenge of the Nerds, but…. well, if you click the link above, you’ll see why his coming into a cast is worrisome, at least if you’re familiar with the concept of Jumping The Shark (a meme that I think has burned through its usefulness.)

Published in: on September 27, 2003 at 12:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Coupling

Grrrr…. a browser crash just ate my blog entry on Coupling, and I haven’t time for this now. Basically, this remake of a British series doesn’t have racier material than other racy sitcoms, just more of it, leaving less room for other things. Has moments of humor, a couple good performances, and I expect to watch a bit more. I’ve liked the small doses of the British version I’ve seen, but it may be something where a small dose is enough.

Meanwhile, both Friends and Will & Grace are off to a slow start this season.

Published in: on September 26, 2003 at 10:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Speaking of banter and The West Wing

The new production and writing folks behind The West Wing had it easy for last night’s season premiere. Picking up the story where series Aaron Sorkin had left it, they were dealing with one of the darkest moments on this series. With President Bartlett’s daughter kidnapped and Bartlett himself turning the office over to the Republican Speaker of the House, the mood in the White House was very dark with no one in much of a bantering mood.

That’s a good thing, because as SportsNight viewers may have noticed, when Sorkin’s name isn’t on the writing credits, the banter doesn’t sound quite right. Other writers seem to have trouble catching the light, quick rhythm of his scripts. And without director Tom Schlamme there to adjust things, the wrong banter on West Wing could have seemed jarring. So the new team gets a transitional episode or two, either to try to find the Sorkin voice or to rebuild the series in their own voice.

John Goodman was, of course, the proper person to cast as the temporary president. He can pull off the impressive carriage while still having at base a folksy, real guy charm, the sort of thing that is a strong asset for a candidate and also served Goodman richly on Roseanne. And it was nice to see that John Amos is still filling the role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, despite also being a regular on the new sitcom About The Andersons.

The jury is still out on how well the show will survive the switchover, but I’m willing to wait and see.

Published in: on September 25, 2003 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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