Saturday, September 29, 2007

It's the Fall TV Scorecard - Part One

It dawns on me that the new Fall TV season is in full swing as of this week, and I haven't taken the time to tell you what I think you should and should not be watching because, let's face it, my wife says I spend my entire life in front of the TV set as it is, so who better to listen to? So here, in no particular order, are my opinions of the new Fall series to date.

BACK TO YOU: Completely professional. Completely serviceable. Completely unoriginal. Leads Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton and the always-wonderful Fred Willard do what they do best, but I can't escape the feeling that I've somehow seen it all before.

THE BIG BANG THEORY: Easily my favorite new sitcom of the season. I've liked pretty much everything creator Chuck Lorre has touched, and this is no exception. I saw the first version of the pilot last season, and the second version earlier this year. Strangely enough, the opening scene that aired as part of the first episode is the third version of that scene I've seen, and I think it works the best. The only change they made from the first pilot to the second that I really disagreed with was the exclusion of a female nerd character who I thought was a perfect mix with the other three leads, played by Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, and now Kaley Cuoco. I've read that Sara Gilbert will be joining the show in essentially that role and I have to admit I'm pleased. Besides, how can I hate any show where one of the lead characters is clearly a DC Comics fan? I'll be watching every week.

KITCHEN NIGHTMARES: Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a big fan of chef Gordon Ramsey's other series, Hell's Kitchen, so I was already inclined to root for him here. While I've enjoyed the first two episodes aired so far, I'm afraid that this series will quickly start to become repetitive. Whether they can find enough different kinds of nightmare restaurants to hold my interest remains to be seen.

REAPER: Is a hoot-and-a-half. The basic premise of a young slacker discovering on his 21st birthday that his parents sold his soul to the Devil before he was even conceived is great fun, and Ray Wise (whom I've loved ever since he played Dr. Alec Holland in the original Swamp Thing movie) plays a Devil who is both charming and suitably unctuous, and incredibly entertaining to watch. Tyler Labine makes a great loopy sidekick to our reluctant demon-hunting hero played by a wonderfully woebegone Bret Harrison. I hope the show is a hit.

CHUCK: Does to the world of espionage what Reaper does to the supernatural. Slacker Nerd Herder Chuck Bartowski, wonderfully played by Less Than Perfect's Zachery Levi, suddenly finds that he has all of the NSA's greatest secrets downloaded into his brain and both the NSA and CIA want that information. The writing is crisp, funny, and kind of touching, and I look forward to seeing where it all goes. Right now, Chuck is appointment TV for me.

LIFE: Okay, so LA detective Charlie Crews, played by Londoner Damien Lewis, is framed for a multiple murder and spends 12 years behind bars getting brutalized, until his attorney finally proves his innocence and gets Crews released from prison, where he receives a multi-million dollar settlement and his old job back as an apology. Now Crews is sort of a cross between Adrian Monk and Doctor Gregory House, using what he learned in the slammer to help him solve crimes, even as he constantly munches on the exotic fruit he was clearly denied while in stir. The show hasn't hooked me yet, but I'm willing to give it a few more episodes before I bail.

BIONIC WOMAN: Boy, has there been a new series more hyped this season? I think not. And, frankly, I think it needs all the help it can get. Yes, I know the show is a reimagining of the old '70's series, told with the same sort of dark and gritty style of the similarly-revamped Battlestar: Galactica, but does it have to be so relentlessly grim? Lighten up, people. Despite the fact that this show costars my old friend Miguel Ferrer, I'm not sure I'll be sticking with it much longer if it doesn't give me somebody to root for.

K-VILLE: Oh, please. Basically, policeman Anthony Anderson stays in New Orleans when all about him leave town because of the flooding. Now Anderson is teamed with a new cop transferred in from another city and played by Cole Hauser. Problem is, Hauser turns out to actually be an escaped con who was accidentally freed by and had his life turned around by Hurricane Katrina. Sure. That sort of thing happens all the time.It's unfortunate they chose the Big Easy as the location for this series, since the basic plot just doesn't hold water.

DIRTY SEXY MONEY: Truth to tell, I liked this one a whole lot more than I expected I would. It's one of those huge over-the-top black comedy Dallas-type soap operas with a really terrific cast, led by Peter Krause (of Sports Night and Six Feet Under fame), the always-exceptional Donald Sutherland, and Oscar-winner Jill Clayburgh. It may start to wear on me after a while, but for now I'll tune in every week to enjoy the ride.

KID NATION: Okay, I may be the only person in America who actually likes this show, but in fact I like it a lot. I'm a sucker for shows about inspiring kids, and this show is full of them. 14-year-old Michael, who always knows what to say to rally the other kids, 10-year-old Emilie, who barricades herself in with the chickens to protect them from dinnertime slaughter; tiny little 9-year-old Taylor, caught between overwhelming homesickness and the need to be one of the town's leaders. I just love this stuff and these kids' attitudes and look forward to seeing if they can actually make the ghost town they now call home work.

Okay, that's it for the new season so far. More reviews and my humble opinions next week.


Anonymous said...

Well, as a known geek/nerd, I'm not quite at thrilled with Big Bang Theory and Chuck. For the former, the two male leads do a reasonable job of portraying physics geeks, but the whole thing feels like it's not quite jelled in terms of the characters yet.

My bigger problem is the premise; as Sheldon says to Leonard re: Penny "you're of different species". So far, other than her being a hot babe, there's nothing she'd bring to a relationship with Leonard, who'd quickly grow bored of someone who won't understand anything he wants to talk about.

She needs to be given some aspects/strengths that compliment his, 'cause otherwise she's the definite third wheel in the main character mix. For that matter, it'd probably have worked better if she was actually living in the same apartment with them as a desperation roommate in order to more completely demonstrate contrast and give her strengths in that setting.

Chuck, I just can't buy the premise. Knowing a govt. database as of time X isn't going to make him a particularly good agent, and his usefulness will quickly decline as the info gets outdated. And if he's that important/good, why doesn't the government hire him away from the Nerd Herd at, say, a whopping $20/hour ($40K a year plus good benefits) and just stash him somewhere?

The opening scenes with him at his unwanted birthday party was very good and true to life though.

rob! said...

both Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton are known to be conservatives, and in Heaton's case uber-conservative, so i wonder if this wasnt someone's idea to pair them up so they'd have each other to talk to about how awful Liberals are?

kathy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kathy said...

Ok, lemme try this again, without accidentally deleting half my comment. (sigh)

What? No Journeyman? No Moonlight? Did you have some kind of moratorium on pilots with iPhone product placement? ;-)

Looking forward to hear what you've got to say about the Pushing Daisies "Pie-lette"; and y'know, if you wanted to talk about returning shows, I'd like reading that, too.

M. C. Valada said...

We saw the Moonlight and Pushing Daisies pilots. I asked Len to turn off Moonlight after about 10 minutes because I couldn't stand the lead. Everyone except the lead has been recast for the aired version. I don't know if Len's seen it--I'm not going to bother. Moonlight can't hold a candle to New Amsterdam, which isn't about vampires but is about a 400 plus year old hero and was my favorite of the hour-long dramas we saw.

Pushing Daisies was Len's favorite of all the pilots we saw. He'll have plenty to say once it airs, I'm sure.

As cute as the kids are, Kid Nation leaves a very bad taste in my mouth because those producers went out of their ways to make sure they could exploit the kids and that they wouldn't be protected by California's child protection laws for performers--they would not let California residents be considered for the series just because of that. They knew they were doing something shady and they're still hoping to get away with it. I think the parents should all be hauled off for complicity or stupidity. I still have nightmares of seeing chickens running around with their heads cut off--an image from my childhood when the next door neighbors slaughtered their chickens. Making those kids do it was not very nice.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Kid Nation airs opposite America's Next Top Model and we switched back and forth for the first two episodes. For the last two seasons I've joined my partner to watch Model starting at the show's halfway mark; the nuts-n-bolts of the profession interest me, the catty fuss in the house/dorm don't. I like watching the judges evaluate the pics. But contrasting Model with Nation had me tuning out Nation from the beginning. A giant water slide or drinking water? A TV or toilets? I don't know. It was creeping me out. The more I like the kids, the less I like the show.

Martin Maenza said...

Len, I am totally with you on your comments on Big Bang Theory and Back To You. The former has become must-see for us in our house; the later - well after viewing the third episode this week my wife, who wanted me to have it on DVR to record said, "you can take it off record unless you are enjoying it". Needless to say, Back To You got deleted from the season pass.