Monday, October 5, 2009

Extemporaneous Comments on the new TV Season

I've been watching TV.

New Shows:

Flashforward (ABC) - Two episodes in and I am intrigued but not enthused. The "flashforward" is a cool concept and there are many story ideas to mine from it. But the show is rather flat and I wonder if it can sustain its premise for very long. We all know there will be another flashforward at some point (season finale?), but, if so, it has to be something different from the last one. How will this show evolve? I can see it becoming stagnant real fast if it isn't willing to take some risks. The producers are clearly influenced by LOST and I hope they look to that show as an example of how to expand a story and keep their concept fresh. I'm staying tuned for now.

Community (NBC) - I heard good reviews and liked the first episode. But the show is trying too hard to be funny and not hard enough to be inviting. Chevy Chase is good and so is lead actor, Joel McHale, but the rest of the supporting cast looks like it could come from any sitcom from the past 30 years. And the storylines seem recycled, too. I'm on the cusp of tuning out.

Modern Family (ABC) - I watched the first episode and laughed a few times but this was another one of those shows that didn't click for me. I guess I'm growing tired of the documentary style sitcom even though I like Parks and Recreation and The Office (see my comments below). This show might be very good over the long haul but I don't have the time to commit right now. Already tuned out.

Bored to Death (HBO) OK, here's a show I like. Bored to Death is about characters. The show takes time to let its characters think and interact. In other words, it's slow. But that's why I like it. Unlike network programs that urgently rush huge casts of characters on- and off-stage in hopes that audiences will see something they like, HBO lets shows like Bored to Death find their own rhythm. Bored to Death features a dopey, likeable Jason Schwartzman whose character is at an age where he is struggling against the responsibilities of adulthood. The grown-up world isn't the one from movies and books. Schwartzman is naive and sweet and he's fun to watch as he tries to maintain these qualities while also being a hard-boiled "private eye." I don't know if Bored to Death will last more than one season, but I'll take what I can get. (In other words, I'm tuned-in for the duration.)

Glee (FOX) - I really shouldn't like Glee. It's contrived and predictable. It features some of the most tired sitcom plotting you're likely to see. (A faked pregnancy? Really?) But I find myself laughing at Jane Lynch who totally nails her competitive, tough-coach persona. And I guess I'm a sucker for musical numbers which can, when done right, add a magical quality to the otherwise mundane. Glee has enough magic to make me overlook its flaws. (For now.) I'm tuned in until I wake up and think straight.

Returning Shows:

The Simpsons (FOX) Still great. And after twenty years! The Simpsons may have lost some of the cleverness and brio of its heyday, but there's still inspired humor on the show. The opening episode featuring "Everyman" was a wonderful example.

Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) There's lots of hype about the Seinfeld reunion this season, but even before this plot kicked into gear (in the third episode) the show remained unconventional and unpredictable. In short: brilliant.

Parks and Recreation (NBC) Here's a show that's improving with time. The first season (of only six episodes) had some nice moments but seemed scattered. The new season is letting the characters become more grounded. I like the budding romance between Leslie (Amy Poehler) and police officer Dave (Louis C. K.). It shows how the characters on Parks and Recreation (like those on like The Office) are people and not just caricatures. That's what makes it work for me.

The Office (NBC) This is still a wonderful show. Steve Carell deserves recognition for his portrayal of office boss, Michael Scott. Maybe someday he'll get that Emmy. The show is working like a well-oiled machine but I think it's starting to show its age. The Pam/Jim storyline lost its edge a long time ago. Their hindered romance was once the driving force of the show. Without it, there's a narrative vacuum. I keep expecting some new drama to enter the lives of Pam and Jim but they keep moving happily along. (They've both been promoted, they're getting married, they're having a baby. Great! But where's the drama?) And one other thing: It is getting hard to believe that a "documentary" is still being "filmed" at Dunder Mifflin. Will this documentary ever be shown? Or do the producers hope we, the audience, have forgotten the premise of the show? (In the fictional world of the British version of The Office, the documentary we "saw" being shot on the first 12 episodes was supposedly shown. Could this ever happen on the US version?)

Dollhouse (FOX) I always thought this show had much to offer and the second season is living up to the promise of the first. There are many wonderful concepts at play in Dollhouse, among them the ideas of portable and manufactured identities and the importance of memory as a defining aspect of personality. Despite its formulaic plot structure (Mission!/Danger!/Fight!), there is a sophisticated level of storytelling going on here that makes Dollhouse one of the most rewarding science fiction shows in some time. (Though there is one flaw in the Dollhouse scenario that has become almost laughable--the constant failure of the "imprinting technology" which is used to program "actives" for their missions. Said tech fails almost as often as the Enterprise transporters on Star Trek. And just like those glitchy transporters, the buggy tech in Dollhouse is usually the root-cause for drama from episode-to-episode. It is starting to strain credibility that the Dollhouse managers aren't running a full diagnostic review of their unreliable and highly dangerous technology.) Sadly, the ratings for Dollhouse are abysmal. I hope we see the full run of 13 episodes ordered by FOX and that Dollhouse creator, Joss Whedon, plotted this arc with some resolution. I doubt Dollhouse will be on in 2010 and so, for now, I'm watching it like I would a mini-series: I know I have so many episodes and then it's over. I better enjoy it while it lasts.

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