Let’s try an experiment: pick two successful TV shows at random, combine them, and see what you get. My goodness, it’s dr. vegas. It’s like Las Vegas, only it’s a doctor show! It doesn’t have the upbeat slick sexiness of the show it’s (ahem) inspired by, and it’s doctoring doesn’t have the depth of a good doctor show, but Rob Lowe gets to show that he can be a good guy struggling to overcome his flaws so… well, it’s still pointless. Skip it.
Watching a new show which is driven by a mystery is a high-risk proposition. The odds are good that the series will be cancelled well before the mystery is ever revealed (a la Miracles or Nowhere Man), or with a quickly tacked-on solution (Push, Nevada). Often, there is no real intent to "solve" the mystery, since that would be the end of the show. And if they do solve it, there’s a good chance that the solution won’t live up to the quality of the mystery, or that once the central mystery is solved the show won’t have much of a place to go (Twin Peaks can be reasonably accused of both.)
But, with all that in mind, this season has brought us not one but two mystery-laden series that are worth paying attention to. The one getting the most attention is Lost, and it deserves a lot. A plane crashes on a distant and dangerous island, and the survivors begin to be aware that there was more to the flight and more to the island than meet the eye. Judging off the first hour, it’s a very well made series (no matter how well one could describe it as "Gilligan’s Island meets Scooby Doo"), the situation grabs, there are characters to root for. Better yet, it’s from the creator of Alias, who has a reputation of paying off on mysteries but building new ones to keep folks going (a reputation I won’t vouch for; I’ve only watched one or two episodes of Alias, although I may try doing the first season on DVD at some point.) Lost was, by the way, a tough show to watch the day before flying off to Hawaii. Well worth checking out.
The other show is getting less attention, and is a higher risk example, but it’s still worth checking in. Veronica Mars is about a spunky teen girl detective helping out her abandonedly-single detective dad. She faces two mysteries in her life: her mother’s choice to leave, and the murder of her best friend. The pilot makes it clear that these two mysteries and how they overlap would be the driving force here. Veronica’s own detecting and adventuring exploits seemed a bit over the top for me at first, but then I stopped looking at it as some sort of realistic drama and more as a Nancy Drew book with more emotional resonance, and by the end of the episode I was hooked. Helping matters was a fine performance by Enrico Colantoni as her ex-cop dad; he never really captured my attention as the photographer on Just Shoot Me (but then, my attention had long been rivited to Laura San Giacomo, for purient reasons), but his work on the film Galaxy Quest forced me to take stock of him.) Do check out this series. It is spirited and charming, intelligent despite not being realistic.
It’s like CSI: Miami, only it’s in New York!
Most stories start at the beginning and continue toward revealing the ending. Jack & Bobby starts at both ends, and works toward revealing the middle. It’s about a boy who will grow up to be president of the United States, and his brother, who will not make it so far. With an unsubtle anti-drug storyline running through the early episodes, and one of the brothers more a flat caricature than anyone that the viewer really interacts with, this series is not as good as it is classy. It is full of good intent and low on actually interesting material. Good cast (and hey, the guest appearance by David Paymer in the first episode sure triggered my quality meter) but after watching two episodes, I don’t feel the need for more.
But if you find American Dreams well worth watching, give Jack & Bobby a try.
If you watch any show long enough, they will eventually be inconsistent with the background material as originally presented. Either out of convenience or forgetfulness, the history will be retroactively changed.
In the case of Rodney, "long enough" took less than fifteen minutes.
The opening made it clear that this was a man who abandoned his efforts of being a stand-up comedian when he got married and had kids, who is just now trying it again. And yet, just before the midpoint break his wife lectures him that he’s constantly spiking any chance of success in life to chase his dreams of performing standup.
Beyond that: it’s a basic goofy irresponsible daddy show. Better than some; there are some funny lines in here. But all in all, it’s Generic Filler Sitcom Material. If you need another half-pound of sitcom, here ’tis.
One of the things that I left off of my status that I should have included is noting what show I watch more new episodes than any other: The Daily Show. For a “fake news show”, they often cut closer to the truth of the situation then all of those supposedly-balanced news shows, and sometimes (but only sometimes) they are more challenging to and get more out of their interviewees than the serious news shows. Their comedy bits are generally funy, often very very good, and they dance with brilliance more often than they have any right to.
The most blatant recent example of brilliance was a five-minute piece during the Democratic Convention on the wide diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints at the convention, and the conflicts that arrive from that. In fact, I was just sharing this bit yet again with a group of friends on Friday night, long after the convention is over. The piece had a very pro-diersity (and fairly pro-Democrat) tone.
As such, it was a little odd to see the writing team of that show accepting their emmy tonight — and see nothing but a string of white males.
I guess I’ve got two levels of status to keep up with here.
- I will probably be doing brief reviews of most of the new network prime-time fiction shows this season. However, due to my hectic travel schedule over the next few weeks followed by the impending birth of our daughter, I am neither promising to hit everything nor will it all be timely. Thanks to the wonder of ReplayTV, I can put off watching things for months!
- To give you context for the reviews, I should do a rundown of what my TV life is like these days. My biggest don’t-miss show is Arrested Development — of course, thanks to having a ReplayTV hooked up, I don’t always have to be there at a certain time to make sure that I don’t miss something, so I can actually follow a lot (far too much) TV. The once-good show that has slipped much in quality but I watch anyway is Will & Grace; the quality-dropped show that I’ll probably not watch at all this year is The West Wing. You can count on me catching Scrubs, The Simpsons, Malcolm In The Middle, Rescue Me, Faking It. You can count on me not watching any broadcast network reality show. Gilmore Girls are old friends, and Las Vegas is my guilty pleasure. I’m going through the run of Buffy for the third time, having watched most of them when they first aired, and then having introduced them to my wife in reruns, and now we’re just finished Season 4 on DVD and have Season 5 waiting for us (and various friends, including Scott McCloud and his clan waiting for us to finish each season so they can borrow them. My annual sports viewing adds up to maybe three NASCAR races and the Super Bowl. My purchase of a new Toshiba flatscreen (not, alas, flat panel) TV was worthwhile, because our previous TV died. But the ReplayTV has proven a great entertainment investment. And if I could magically make one lost season appear of any TV show, it would be My So-Called Life. So that’s the kind of TV geek I am.
Hawaii‘s action-laden high-stakes unlikely cop action echoes back to an earlier time of TV cop shows, to the days of car chases and attitude, to the days before the inside-the-human development of Hill Street Blues. In other words, back to the cop shows I found uninteresting.
(Oh, and speaking of shows named for places I’ll be visiting over the next few weeks, I thought that the season’s first episode of Las Vegas was kind of weak — not in the somewhat over-the-top man-returns-damaged-from-war storyline, which was actually okay, but simply that the performances and shooting seemed loose and sloppy in a way that Las Vegas generally has not.)
Medical Investigation is basically a CSI where it can start with the sick rather than the dead. It features a team from the National Institutes of Health who rush to the scene of odd medical outbreaks and try to figure out the cause and how to solve them. They must be doing this in their spare time, I reckon, because that’s really not the job of the NIH. It’s actually a better description of what the Centers For Disease Control works on. Suggestion: if you want to do a show about the NIH, look up what it is they do.
Two episodes down, and its clear what the pattern is: a bunch of folks come down with something interesting, the NIH rushes to the scene, tries to figure what these people have in common that might have caused the interesting symptoms, find some interesting source, and thus the cure automatically exists. "What weird thing could it be?" "This weird thing!" Of course, there are false paths to be chased down. All of this leaves little time for real drama, and since it’s not a fair-play whodunnit where the audience has the clues to reach the solution, there’s really not much for the viewer to invest in.
A shame, because this stars Neal McDonough, who proved himself one hell of an actor on the much-missed Boomtown. Alas, here he mainly has the room to Be A Presence, and not enough meat to hang a real piece of acting on.
If you’re into the CSI shows, this one is at least worth sampling. If those shows do little for you, however, you’re not likely to get ‘much more out of this one. For me, the two episodes were enough.
Two episodes in, I have realized something interesting about the Friends spin-off Joey: despite his position as titular character and being the reason for the show’s existence, Joey is not structurally the central character of the show. Having moved out to the Hollywood area, Joey is now living near his sister, and his 18 year old nephew chooses to move out from under Mom’s gaze to live with Joey. The show really flows around the nephew, and the conflicts between mom and uncle being influences. The nephew is the character who is likely to grow and change. He may not have the screen time, but he’s the heart of the show.
The show works and is watchable. It’s not a brilliant sitcom, but it’s a watchable one, not appointment TV but it is “something on”. I’ve seen complaints that Joey is dumber than he was on Friends, but it seems to me that he’s reasonably within the range of where he was on that previous show. None of the other performers yet really glow, but they have to take the usual weeks to find where their character is going, and I suspect that the network will give them that time.