In his book The Last Great Ride, the great programming executive Brandon Tartikoff explained that the hardest thing to do in television was to find the leading man for a sitcom, but the easiest thing to do was to find the complete cast for an all-black TV series; there were so few available black roles and a surfeit of talent to fill them.
The series Cane suggests that the same thing might now be said about Latinos. Any show that can throw Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizando, and Rita Moreno at as so easily is taking advantage of both a rich talent pool and a coming tipping point for the market. In this case, it’s the tale of a powerful Cuban family in the rum and sugar business. It is a tale of the powerful with varying degrees of ruth, really about two families preparing for war. It’s not meaningful, but it can be taken seriously due to the quality of the performances. It doesn’t start off as lurid as a Dallas (or Dirty Sexy Money, for you young folks), nor have the zing of The Sopranos, and while it might not be quite what I want to watch (too much on the conflicts of power, and not enough on the comfortable small humanity of it), it seems to do what it does well.

Published in: on September 30, 2007 at 4:42 pm  Comments (1)  

Catching up in reviews

Let me catch up by not being clever, and not trying so hard to justify my opinions.

  • Bionic Woman seems to be an exercise in being as dark and unfun as possible. All the colors are draing to darkness, the secret agency who gives her her bionic parts is a rather questioable group, the very folks she should be able to trust she can’t. No fun. And if all the hero of a piece does is try to survive and protect themselves, they ain’t a hero. I’m slowly working my way through Battlestar Galactica — still somewhere in the first season — and that has much the same tone, but at least seems more intelligent. No, we’re not likely to ever hear the term “fembot” on this show. Can’t see much point to it.
  • Dirty Sexy Money has an interesting cast (Jill Clayburgh! Donald Sutherland! Peter Krause!) in service of an over-the-top but unfunny drama of a rich family and the lawyer they keep hopping. They say the target audience is the modern version of the Dallas viewer, and I am not a member of that target.
  • I’m only partway through Private Practice, a spin-off of a show that I don’t watch, but my immediate reaction is that it’s more like a show that it shares part of its title with: The Practice. Over the top (if not achieving the degree that the lawyer show does) segmented drama that didn’t really catch me.

And Ugly Betty launched their second season with a horribly weak episode. One funny line, one touching moment that worked, but most of it was desperate, failed attempts at being funny.
So, not a good batch of watching. But that’s fine. The question is never how many bad shows are on TV, it’s are there enough good ones. And with my time growing ever more scarce, I don’t need that many good shows to keep me happy.

Published in: on September 29, 2007 at 2:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Not-so-grim Reaper

Well, I promised a review of the other series in which the lead character slips away from his own birthday celebration in the pilot, and here it is. Reaper is a light-hearted tale of a young man whose parents sold his soul to the devil, requiring him to go around collecting escapees from hell… which is being depicted as more pleasant work than his usual retail McJob.
Kevin Smith, who cred at directing the world of retail slackerdom goes back to his first flick Clerks, was brought in for the pilot to help build the feel of the world. Which is well and good, but this first episode is the exposition one, and it’s laden with enough of that that it’s hard to tell how the series will feel once that’s out of the way. As it was, the pilot felt cramped. There’s some comfortable charm with the lead and his friends (and the interesting choice made that he talks freely with his friends about the situation he finds himself in, althoug there are still people it is to be hidden from.) Still, it all felt mechanical, getting the pieces in place, and the pieces didn’t quite fit together yet. Particularly troublesome was the female love interest, whose performance didn’t seem to quite inhabit the same world as the folks around her.
Ray Wise (best recalled from Twin Peaks) plays the devil, and that seems like good casting. He can smile and be friendly evil. But it still felt like he was settling into the part, as if the definition of the devil is in this context hasn’t yet been made clear. At times, he’s depicted primarily as someone who brings dark justice to those who deserve it, at others an agent of temptation for those who aren’t, but even if he’s not on the side of g-d he shows no interest in really trying to best Him (and yes, we seem to be dealing with the Christian devil here.) That actually might prove a viable question to explore in the show, but I’m not assuming that’s their intent.
Not a “wow”; at best, a “might grow to meet it’s ambition”.

Published in: on September 27, 2007 at 2:39 am  Leave a Comment  


Well, the McArthur Genius Grants have been announced for this year, and once again, I’m not on the list. And this despite the fact that, when my two-year-old daughter was being adamant that she would not eat her vegetables, and seemed trapped in that stance, I created the out for her by asking her if she would eat my vegetables. When she allowed that she would, I scraped the veggies off of her plate onto my plate, then placed my plate in front of her, from which she ate happily. I mean, that’s got to be worth something, right?

Published in: on September 26, 2007 at 7:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Not Chuckin' Bad

Remember how I said that Journeyman was lacking in fun? Well, the new series Chuck is where they dumped all that extra fun. The slick showmaking of McG usually has very little meat behind it, but that’s actually not too much of a detriment here, in this silly espionage series about a guy who finds himself suddenly saddled with extensive and important knowledge. It’s action-filled, smoothly shot, sexy, and pretty darned silly, and that’s a nice break from the wide variety of Deeply Important police procedurals. This will not likely be smart fun like Buffy, but the central theme of an average or unlikely shmoe who gets pulled into the spy game has always appealed to me (see the Mrs. Pollifax book series for a fine example). So this goes into the same silly guilty pleasure list as the movie Gotcha.
But this would not be a proper Nat’s TV review without a nit to pick. The computer stuff is not only silly, it’s got signs of the older-writer-referencing-his-own-youth disease. The lead nd his roommate were programming a TRS-80 in college? TRS-80? A computer from before they were born? Nope. Don’t think so. Don’t buy it. (In contrast, the way they disabled the computer at a key moment was both telegraphed and silly, but quite in tone with what they’re doing.)
Problem: Chuck is up against How I Met Your Mother, and we are no longer a two DVR family. Going to have to keep using video tape! Yeep!

Tomorrow, I should have my review of the other new series where the lead sneaks out of his own birthday celebration in the pilot….

Published in: on September 26, 2007 at 12:58 am  Comments (1)  

Two Guys, a Girl, and Pi To The 305th Place

Chuck Lorre brought us the spritely and often quite human Dharma & Greg. And then he brought us the nasty and often quite funny Two-and-a-Half Men. And now he brings us The Big Bang Theory. He’s batting .667, and that’s pretty darn good!
The show focuses on two intellectual nerds who have a pretty airhead move in next door. Now let me confess — I attended a college that specializes in younger-than-typical students, the accelerated folks. I spent years hanging with the CalTech crowd. Married a gal with a CalTech doctorate. I’ve been to science fiction cons, to Star Trek cons, to comic cons. I’ve partied with MITers, spent some time with Richard Feynman’s daughter, and have friends who work on the Mars rovers. I have run with the nerds, and not utterly as an outside observer. This show does not reflect them… nor does it even reflect the way they actually look to outsiders. This is a show made of Hollywood nerd presumptions. And the humor, or at least the intention thereof, comes from watching them be nerdy, spew forth discussions about quantum theory and other such common-enough-that-the-writers-know-them-to-think-them-esoteric topics. Haha, nerd blather, followed by haha, socially awkward. Repeat endlessly.
The characters don’t feel nearly real enough to care about, and aren’t amusing enough to amuse. The interest in the pretty girl is hard to take as something to support long-range story interest, as there’s no sign that any attempt at a relationship would end in anything but instant intellectual disinterest.
With so few new sitcoms launching, I’m surprised this one made it on the schedule. I may check back in a few weeks to see how it shakes out, but I don’t have my hopes up.

Published in: on September 25, 2007 at 1:48 am  Comments (8)  

Surly Edition

Dan Vasser has come unstuck in time. He finds himself flashing backwards, where he is expected by Forces Not Yet Fully Known to fix problems, taking the knowledge of what really happened as a guide to what needs fixing. If that makes Journeyman sound like it’s not a quantum leap away from earlier time travel shows, then you’d be right.
In this series, they seem to be investing much in what the effect this time travel has on the personal life of the hero. There are complications about his love life, running into the ex-girlfriend who died, the fact that his wife was his cop brother’s ex-boyfriend, and so forth. There are dark things about himself. None of this is particularly interesting. And there is no sense of fun in any of it.
When I first saw the opening scene with the lead actor, I thought “that looks like actor Reed Diamond, if you attached him to a bicycle pump and pumped for too long.” Then the name Reed Diamond flashed on the screen, and I thought “oh no, they attached Reed Diamond to a bicycle pump!” And then I saw that Reed played the inflated guy’s cop brother, so that makes sense on a visual level. But I cannot say I was particularly impressed with the lead’s performance. I hope they didn’t just cast Diamond first and then tried to find a Reed Diamond Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon for the lead…
Skip this for a little while; I suspect that (despite the Heroes lead-in), you won’t have to skip it for long.

Published in: on September 25, 2007 at 1:28 am  Comments (1)  

Minor joke for the Jews in my audience

In thinking about the foreign versions of American shows, I find myself hoping that there’s an Israeli version of Two-and-a-Half Men entitled The Quarter Minyan.

Published in: on September 24, 2007 at 10:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Back to You

Back To You seems very carefully constructed to not be breaking new ground, but to be a solid sitcom with long tradition behind it. It’s created by two folks with long and overall respectable track records. It stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, both long-track-record sitcom stars. The pilot is directed by James Burrows, the single most vital creative name in sitcom success over the past couple decades. And even the setting, a middle-market TV newsroom, is borrowed from one of the great classic sitcoms.
So is this going to be a long-runner? Hard to tell.
Y’see, the first episode is set-up. Some of it is basic stuff, introducing us to the key info (Grammer returns to his old newsroom after having been bumped down from a more prestigious assignment) and the wacky folks who fill out the scenes (variable in quality; the news director needs to seem less like a first-run-through Chris Farley character, but Fred Willard has been doing glib newsguy type characters for so long that he’s comfortably in the zone from day one.) But there’s one aspect of the set-up that needs to be taken more seriously, and so they break off from the wackiness to introduce it. The question is, are they somehow going to take that more seriously through the ongoing episodes, which is going to be hard to support… or are they just going to go for the wacky (which would actually ignore the most theoretically interesting relationship on the show.)
So while there were some good lines and good delivery on this show, all I can say for sure is that it’s worth checking out a few more episodes to see where they go.

SPOILER WARNING (yeah, I have to go look up my nifty Spoiler Warning code again), so only read the rest of this post unless you’ve already seen this show or don’t care.
Okay, so there’s this guy who left town, found more success, is now struggling a bit, so he comes back to town. And then he finds that the gal he slept with shortly before leaving had a child not long after. And then discovers that the kid has the same nut allergy he has! Yes, that’s the background story… of October Road. So no, not everything in Back to You shouts classic sitcom; some of it shouts lousy drama.

Published in: on September 20, 2007 at 1:15 am  Comments (2)  

Gossip Girl

Finally, a show that asks the question “if cattiness and light high-school-scale romantic entanglements happen to people who’ve not been shown to be interesting, will anyone care?”

Answer: not me. And all the voice of ol’ miss Veronica Mars narrating the piece does for me is to remind me there used to be a good teen series.

Published in: on September 20, 2007 at 12:34 am  Comments (3)  
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