Thu, 22 Jul 2010
Summer 2010 TV: Miscellaneous
These are shows that I either didn't catch in my previous reviews, or are summer specials, or that move around so much it's hard to pin them to a specific day. But they're ones I like, and I don't want to leave them out.
Burn Notice would easily beat Castle as my favorite show on television if it were not for the fact that it's a basic-cable summertime series, and thus has a very fragmented broadcast schedule. But as a show, it's tops. Its blend of humor with adolescent spy-fantasy action, its Robin Hood theme, and its technique of having interspersed voiceovers describing various relevant aspects of spycraft, all work together to make it a total hoot, and something that appeals to me on a very visceral level.
For some reason Jeffrey Donovan rubs me the wrong way, can't put my finger on it, but I must admit that he makes Michael Westen into a richly believable character, even if he has gone way over the line in his quest to get his job back. He's competent, athletic, yet not a superman, and with just enough honor and compassion to get his sorry butt into the most wonderful scrapes each episode, and then get it out of them again with panache, explosions, and hilarious wisecracks strewn all about. And with the legendary Bruce Campbell at your side, how can you lose? Gabrielle Anwar is, oh, pretty enough I guess, although her looks are a bit too extreme for my taste. But she's a great actress and makes Fiona into a very appealing character, like someone I wish I knew in real life. And Sharon Gless, well, what can you say? She's simply fantastic at everything she does, and her Madeline is no exception.
I have to say, Burn Notice has its slow moments. But it also has scenes that will forever be burned into my memory. Like the first 20 minutes or so of the first episode, when Michael learns he's been burned, are an absolute classic. And the way he smoked Ben Shenkman's detestable Strickler—I backed up and re-watched that 10-second scene probably a dozen times, and cheered each and every time.
I think what gripes me about Mr. Donovan is primarily his smile. Plastic, insincere, like something he pasted on from a Mr. Potato Head kit. And I don't think it's the character, I think it's the actor. I think he was the same way on the American Touching Evil. We should get Dr. Cal Lightman from Lie to Me to come over here and tell me what it is about Donovan's smile that turns me off so much. And to quote a critic from history, his acting runs the gamut from A to B. Despite those complaints, he clearly knows his craft, because I'm a huge fan of Michael Westen, and Donovan not only acts, he produces the show as well. So whatever it is I don't like about him, it doesn't interfere with my enjoyment of Burn Notice, which is a solid top-grade A+ show from start to finish.
Speaking of Lie to Me, it has become one of my favorites even after only the short time it's been on. Similar to The Mentalist in premise, with a man (or in the case of Lie, a whole team of people) who can more or less read your inner thoughts, it tries to present a somewhat more scientific basis for its protagonists' amazing feats of divination. I've read some articles that suggest that the science as presented is largely hokum, that nobody can actually read microexpressions, blah blah, I don't fucking care. The show is a delight, and those now progressively rarer scenes where they show a freeze frame of a character making some sort of expression, then follow it with two or three stills of famous people making the exact same expression, well those totally make my day.
And the cast is great: Apparently Tim Roth has been in a ton of movies, none of which I've seen. (No, not even Pulp Fiction.) But in Lie to Me he's perfect as the acerbic professional with a colorful past, an over-protective father, and a man with razor-keen discernment of what people are really thinking. Kelli Williams is one of my all-time faves, have loved her in everything I've seen her in and still have a major crush on her, Mekhi Phifer does a standout job as the gruff but occasionally vulnerable FBI agent, and newcomer Monica Raymund is luscious and spunky as the luscious spunky newcomer. This will continue to be an A+ show for me, until its quality falls or Fox cancels it, whichever comes first.
The Closer is a show that I liked before it became a big hit, then it became a big hit, and I still like it. It is one of the main reasons I still pay for satellite TV. All that despite the fact that I really don't much care for Kyra Sedgwick. Oh, she's cute and she's obviously a good actress, and every once in a while she nails some particular "Brenda" nuance that has me standing up and cheering, but ... I dunno, just not my fave. But she does bring the character to life; my wife and I were still saying "Thank yew so much!" to each other with Sedgwick's magnolia-soaked accent until the day she died (my wife, not Ms. Sedgwick). I think I mostly like the show because two of my favorite actors are on it: J. K. Simmons and G. W. Bailey. And the rest of the cast is fantastic too, with special mention for Corey Reynolds and Anthony John Denison, and also Robert Gossett and the hilarious Michael Paul Chan. The whole show just flows, and the writers manage to make it funny and dramatic by turns, and bring it to a rousing climax almost every time. Totally A+ for me.
Probably the last of my must-see shows is TNT's Leverage, which is the newest in the genre of con-man shows, following a long and distinguished history which included a couple of my favorites: the British series Hustle, and the brief but brilliant 18 episodes of 1997's Players. But Leverage seems to be made from hardier stock, although I guess Hustle is still on, even if I haven't seen it on the schedule in a long time. Leverage mixes the con with The Equalizer, and the addition of the revenge-fantasy elements seems to help the show along. Plus, with the team breaking up and re-forming from one season to the next and so on, it seems the writers are aiming for a more complex storyline, and in most cases they do pretty well at it.
The cast are fantastic: Timothy Hutton shines as the troubled but brilliant mastermind. If I can't watch him playing Archie Goodwin (sigh), I'll take him as Nathan Ford. And I was unaware of Christian Kane before this show, but his suprisingly deep tough guy Eliot is always satisfying and often stirring. Beth Riesgraf is also new to me, but she's incredibly sexy in a waif-next-door sort of way, and makes the possibly-sociopathic Parker into a constant surprise and delight. Aldis Hodge's Hardison is a little gangsta and a lot of geek, and is probably my favorite character. I've missed Gina Bellman's Sophie, but she has never totally disappeared, and the brief addition of Jeri Ryan as an equally-competent con artist ally was a real joy. I hope they bring her back. Leverage is in its third season now, and I hope it continues for many more. A+ from me.
I've often said that I don't watch reality shows, and that's true with one exception: America's Got Talent. For unexplained reasons my late wife started recording it in the summer of 2007, which was its second season, and we started watching it together. We quickly got sucked in, and began arguing the various merits of Butterscotch, Terry Fator, Sideswipe, and the Calypso Tumblers. It was great fun, and well worth the time we spent watching it, not so much for the show, but for spending time together.
We eagerly tuned in for season 3, but had somewhat less fun that summer than we had the previous season, mostly because we weren't watching it together as often, but were watching it separately and comparing notes afterward. But we still plowed through it, and I thought Eli Mattson got robbed. Since I was watching it by myself, I mostly skipped the frame material and just watched the acts.
My wife didn't live to see season 4, and I grabbed only a few key episodes of it. I liked Nick Cannon better than Springer; he's hip and energetic and authentic and really seems to connect with the performers. Springer always seemed to be a tad patronizing, not to mention stuffy. And I liked Recycled Percussion and The Fab Five better than the guy who won, although his heartfelt rendition of Garth Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Comes" touched a special chord for me at the time.
This season I see that they've kept Cannon (good move) and dumped The Hoff (also a good move IMHO), so we'll see how it shapes up, and whether I care enough to keep watching it. So far, Howie Mandel seems to be a lot funnier than Hasselhoff ever was. I mean, a lot. Okay, he's a comedian, and Hoff is an AC-tor, but still. The dude is totally at home in this role. I guess the show is a high B for me, although some of the acts, brief as they are, definitely take it into A territory when they're on.
I can't say any review of television shows is complete without mentioning the wonderful Canadian sitcom Corner Gas. Shown on WGN until last August, it was one of the funniest things on TV, in a gentle down-home yet surreal way. Sort of a cross between Green Acres and Friends but with a charm all its own, I just totally loved it. Canadian comedian Brent Butt was the show's creator, head writer, and lead actor, and brought a wacky charm and a very subtle dry wit to the whole production. His Brent Leroy is an easygoing schlub who enjoys his life as the proprietor of a gas station in the rural wide spot of Dog River, Saskatchewan, and who revels in the day to day absurdity and provinciality of his neighbors, without ever once being superior or condescending. Butt's real-life wife Nancy Robertson is a growly little munchkin of a woman, but she's adoreable and does a fantastic job as a comic actress. And the other cast members are pitch perfect as well, and too numerous to mention individually. I remember several scenes from the series with great fondness and much laughter, and rate the show a solid A+. I've seen other Canadian comedies, Red Green and so on, and have found Corner Gas to be a standout among them. I see that Butt has got a new series called Hiccups, which I hope will be coming to US television soon.
And that pretty much does it for my big review festival. This whole series was ... interesting to write, but not as much fun as I'd hoped it would be. I guess it sounded better back when my wife suggested it. But it's over now, and I can resume blogging on any random topic that strikes my fancy. May still do the occasional review now and again, books, movies, TV, products, whatever, but probably not another big sweep like this one. Hope you enjoyed it!
Sat, 19 Jun 2010
Spring 2010 TV: Friday
Fridays are evidence that the TV pickings get slimmer as the week goes on. Traditionally a dumping ground for series that were on their last legs or otherwise out of favor, its ever-changing lineups are always frustrating for me. At the moment, there are three shows I watch that come on Friday:
Stargate Universe is sort of Stargate meets Star Trek: Voyager. You gotta admit, the whole stargate concept has been drained of its juice by the past series. I loved the original movie, goofy though it was, and SG-1 was a worthy followup to it. I watched it regularly until Richard Dean Anderson left, then sorta fell away. And Atlantis was a fun ride for a while, though I didn't manage to stick with it til its end; not even until the Farscape cast showed up.
But the wonder of the stargate concept, that you can flip a switch and step onto another world light years away, is pretty well gone. Been there, done that. So Universe adds a cranky and mysterious ship, a Gilligan's Island marooning of the crew, and a young soap-opera cast performing their overheated escapades at the periphery while the old dogs fight it out center stage. And Begbie, er, I mean Robert Carlyle, is a fantastic old dog, and along with Canadian veteran Justin Louis and scheming Asian hottie Ming-Na they manage to bring a lot of sidelong looks and fraught drama to the show without losing the SF focus. I never understand half of what's going on, even as a lifelong SF fan, and I think the cast and the writers don't either, but it doesn't matter because we're in this haunted mansion of a ship and things happen every week and ain't it fun! An A rated show that could slip to C in an instant, but hasn't so far.
Miami Medical was intended to be the new M*A*S*H, and really missed that mark by a country mile, but I still enjoy watching it. Cancelled now, regrettably, but I'm still watching what remains of it until it goes away entirely. I haven't even gotten to the point where I recognize all the characters yet, but it doesn't matter. It's a solid trauma drama, Cuba's little brother Omar is great as the knows-all nurse, British face-man Jeremy Northam is nicely hard-bitten as the Good Guy With a Past, and I'm totally smitten with the lovely young Elisabeth Harnois, who looks about twelve but, um, a very sexy twelve. (She's really 31, and I'm still in love.) It's a shame that it won't get a chance to develop into something that's even remotely close to M*A*S*H, but oh well. An A show while it lasted.
Flashpoint was gone for a long time, but is back now, and I'm so glad. It's a very unusual case: an actual Canadian show being shown on a major American network like it was one of their own. And what a show it is—gripping, action-packed, with believable characters and tense dramatic situations. If all Canadian shows were this good, Hollywood could just pack up and go home. Flashpoint portrays its SWAT team in a way that other shows have tried to do but failed; I mean, showbiz people know in their bones that SWAT is perfect for dramatic stories, but until this show have failed to translate that to the screen. Flashpoint nails it. And the cast is great: Enrico Colantoni has been a favorite of mine since I first saw him on Just Shoot Me, shone like a quasar in Galaxy Quest, and thoroughly enriches any role he plays, including Flashpoint's troubled but principled SWAT cop Sgt. Greg Parker. And I'd never seen Hugh Dillon before this show started appearing on CBS, but I instantly became a fan and have liked him ever since. The rest of the mostly-Canadian cast are great too, and the show's plots and action keep me glued to my seat througout. A+ quality, for sure.
I should at least mention Joss Whedon's latest effort, Dollhouse, which used to show up on Fridays. Having loved Firefly so much, and having enjoyed the early seasons of Buffy, I gave Dollhouse every chance; I tried to like it, I really did. And yet ... I really never could. The premise didn't grab me, the actors weren't very compelling (except for the very drool-worthy Dichen Lachman), and the storylines were each week more disappointing than the last. Some weeks after I'd stopped watching it, I saw a lot of talk on the net about how, if you just gave it, oh, 14 or 20 episodes or whatever, you'd finally see what Whedon was driving at, and you'd fall in love with the show and never want to miss it. I guess I just didn't make it to that threshold, because overall the show seemed pretty flat to me. And now it's cancelled, in typical Fox fashion, and my sympathies go out to its fans. I'm just glad I didn't fall in love with it myself only to have it yanked out from under me like that.
Spring 2010 TV: Saturday
And Saturdays round out my TV-watching week with ... nothing. At least nothing predictable. Sometimes a recent episode I missed of a network show will make a reappearance, sometimes TNT has a good movie on, sometimes there's some good special on Comedy Central. But mostly, nothing.
I use Saturdays to catch up on things I recorded during the week(s) prior but haven't gotten around to watching. See, I never watch anything "live" except sometimes the news; regular shows I capture to hard drive in a DVR, then write to a DVD-RW, then copy to my computer and watch them there. Sometimes I'll build up a backlog of several episodes (sometimes even a couple months' worth) of a show, then have a marathon viewing session on a weekend.
And sometimes I'll just delete the whole batch without watching them at all. Despite my extensive reviews of various TV shows, despite me listing some 20-odd shows as A-list must-watch, I really don't spend as much time watching TV as you might think. For a while a few months ago I was recording a 3-hour block of rerun Law & Order every weekday from TNT. When I was in my darker hours, they would serve to distract me from the melancholy that was threatening to consume me. But then I started finding more interesting things to do with my time, and eventually the disk on my DVR filled up. I realized that (a) I wasn't really getting much out of them any more, and (b) I'd seen so many of them that it was rare for me to find one I hadn't already seen, even though there have been a whopping 456 episodes over the almost 20-year life of the series. I'm sure I've seen well over half of them, and probably more like three quarters. So I went and deleted every single one from my disk, and now the only L&O I see are the few remaining 20th-season eps I haven't caught so far.
And if a show gets cancelled, that takes the wind out of my sails for it, too. Often I'll just delete any backlog I have once I hear a show has been cancelled, depending on how it's been grabbing me (or not) thus far.
I do have one more review post to make, to clean up some stray bits from previous reviews. After that, on to new blogification!
Thu, 17 Jun 2010
Spring 2010 TV: Thursday
For me, Thursdays on TV means four shows:
CSI was the first, and still one of the best, of the modern crop of crime detection shows on TV. It has clearly influenced a generation of its successors, and has become a part of our culture in ways many and varied. While it's true that I like CSI: New York a bit better these days, and it's true that even with the addition of the masterful Laurence Fishburne, it hasn't been the same since William Petersen left, it still draws me in every week with its blend of geeky forensics and gritty street crime.
Helgenberger, Eads, Guilfoyle, Szmanda, Hall, and Berman have been solid as rocks since day one, and I'd miss seeing any one of them. I have to admit that I was strongly moved by a scene this season in which one character (was it Jim Brass?) told Marg Helgenberger's newly-crowned team leader Catherine Willows that she wasn't doing a very good job. She acknowledged that it was true, and she wasn't sure why she couldn't do as good a job as Grissom had. The other character told her, "Grissom had one thing you don't have." She asked, "What?" And he smiled and said, "You." And that sorta opened her eyes, and let her give Eads' Nick Stokes more authority and leeway, and the team began to work better after that.
I mourned Petersen's passing, but I guess it was time for Grissom to seek new bugs to study, and time for Mr. Petersen to go back to treading the boards in the Windy City. Fishburne is more than big enough to fill Petersen's shoes, but so far they haven't let him. Dunno what's up with that. I really mourned Warrick's passing, not only because I really liked the character, but because I've been a big fan of Gary Dourdan ever since I first saw him in the fourth Alien movie. Jorja Fox, eh, I've liked her well enough since she was Jorjan Fox on ER, but something about her has always seemed ... I dunno, distant. Or something.
New additions Archie and Wendy and Henry are just fine with me, and I haven't been able to get enough of Sheeri Rappaport since she played the taciturn but libidinous Officer Franco on NYPD Blue. Wallace Langham is obviously a good actor; forgive me for not liking his Hodges, although that may be the character I'm not liking rather than the actor. I see from the IMDb that Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family did a recurring turn on CSI in its early years, but I'm sorry to say I don't remember him. The show is a common venue for upscale character actors, and occasionally some big-name directors like Friedkin and Tarantino, but even with its regular crew it's always worth watching.
So it's a legend, and is getting a bit long in the tooth, but it still has enough of the ol' zazz to make it to my A list every week.
The Mentalist is now finishing up its sophomore year, and continues to amuse and occasionally enthrall me. I had not seen Aussie lead Simon Baker before this series, but he does a great job here, and his American accent is almost flawless. I've never much liked Robin Tunney, can't say why, but she just hasn't done it for me in anything she's been in, starting for me with End of Days. But she can act, I'll give her that, and does a satisfactory job as the team chief. The rest of the cast is excellent, the dialogue and situations are amusing and just suspensful enough, and the premise of a "mind reader" who turns his skills toward solving crime is quite cute. Like its brother in charms, Lie to Me, the notion of somebody being able to tell what we're thinking even when we don't want them to know has a lot of appeal. Mentalist had some rather soggy episodes in the middle of this season, but the first season was good enough for me to cut it some slack, and while I haven't yet seen the final four eps of this season, they sound good, and the finale claims to make some hay on the "Red John" subplot. An A-rated show for me.
Bones is an up-and-down experience for me. When I think about the show, I think eh, why do I even watch it? Then I actually do watch, and I always enjoy it, so I keep coming back for more even when I'm not sure I want to. Frankly, I don't have much use for either of the leads, but the supporting cast more than make up for them. I was sorry when Jonathan Adams left, but Tamara Taylor is a more-than-adequate replacement for him, and brings her own skill and sexiness to the show. I was also sorry to see Eric Millegan leave, and I hope he's doing something interesting nowadays. Michaela Conlin is one of the prettiest women on Earth these days, T. J. Thyne is who I want to be when I grow up, and Doogie Sweets, er, I mean Mitch Weir, er, John Francis Daley, yeah, that's it, doesn't annoy me enough to be a turn-off. I still miss "King of the Lab", though. I'd like to rate this one a B, but I can't recall ever voluntarily missing one, so I guess that without realizing it, this is an A show for me.
Fringe is another show just finishing its second season. It wants to be The X Files, a show I adored in its early seasons, tolerated in later seasons, and had pretty much given up on by the time it ended. I watched the series finale, but gave the movie a pass. I used to curse Files when it failed to advance its Mulder/ET theme, and then curse them when they did. Still, in its day it was one of the most unusual and mind-bending shows on TV, and my wife and I used to discuss and reference scenes and episodes for days, weeks, even years after they'd aired.
Fringe has a similar flavor, but it seems the showrunners are avoiding some of the obvious traps that Files fell into, like just being way too damned mysterious for its own good, and falling in love with its own mythology. Fringe isn't quite in the same league as X Files, I think, but it does have some pretty whackdoodle storylines, it has the mysterious "Observer" and the whole glyph thing and the alternate-universe mythology, and the secretive and probably evil megacorporation, and where else can you see Leonard Nimoy from time to time! John Noble does a fine job as the man lost in his own mind, Anna Torv and Jasika Nicole are suitably yummy and competent, and poor Joshua Jackson doesn't seem to mind being thrown about by the winds of plot, being a hapless buffoon one moment and a hard-eyed mercenary the next. One of the main reasons I watch it, though, is because Lance Reddick is in it; I think he's fantastic. Lean, hard, and uncompromising, yet willing to accept the notion that, say, somebody has burst into flame, dissolved into a puddle, or grown steel horns, without batting an eye. I'll keep watching unless/until they get too wrapped up in their own mystery, or until Fox drops the axe. Rating is A, for now.
Yes, I know that FlashForward is, or was, shown on Thursdays, but it's cancelled now, and really never lived up to its fairly intriguing premise. I guess they wanted to clone Lost (which I've never seen, and never had an urge to see), and they failed both at that and at making an interesting show in its own right. Pity. A great waste of some fantastic acting talent, most notably the most excellent Courtney B. Vance, a smart and versatile actor and a helluva good-looking man who's never seemed to find just the right niche to showcase his obvious assets.
Tue, 08 Jun 2010
Spring 2010 TV: Wednesday
Hey, it's not summer yet!
Wednesday is reflective of the general "TV gets weaker the farther into the week you go" trend. Nevertheless, I still find a few good things on:
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is my least-favorite of the L&O spinoffs, even including Trial by Jury, but it still has enough to hold my attention. Even if it's only a chance to the The Belz and Ice T in action. I try to grab it when I'm thinking of it, but I don't mourn when I miss it, which I guess means it gets a B rating from me. Occasionally an episode rises above the pack and really shines, but I never count on that. If they ever give Richard Belzer and Ice T their own show, I'll watch it religiously. Ice may be famous as a rapper, but I love him as an actor. I was totally stricken when they cancelled Players; I really liked that show.
ABC has a couple of cute comedies on Wednesdays, including Modern Family. Its ensemble cast is great, especially Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet as a gay couple. They're always a delight, and while I dunno how accurate their portrayal is, it certainly fits my straight preconceptions. I can't decide which of the two does a better job; one minute I think it's Ferguson, and the next I'm favoring Stonestreet. Never seen either of them before that I remember, but I hope they have long and successful futures as actors. The rest of the cast is okay too, with Ed O'Neill doing a great but underused job as the grumpy but not totally rock-bound Average White Male, Sofia Vergara accurately chanelling Charo as his excitable Columbian trophy wife, and the very cute Julie Bowen as a young wife and mother who's not quite as smart and with-it as she thinks she is. The kids all do a serviceable job, especially Rico Rodriquez as the wise-beyond-his-years Manny. I don't much like Ty Burrell, never really have, can't say why, but I assume he's doing exactly what he sets out to do here, playing a doofy dude verging on middle age with almost zero grace. (I take it back, I liked Burrell in Back to You, but mostly because they kept sticking him out into hurricanes, throwing him under busses, and otherwise subjecting him to almost continual humiliation and abuse.) I'll give Family an A-.
ABC's other Wednesday night comedy is The Middle, which I like somewhat less than Family, but only a little less. Have loved Patricia Heaton since her days on Raymond, and she does a fine job here as the beleaguered yet plucky mom, trying to balance a job, family, and the remaining shreds of a personal life in blue-collar Indiana. I didn't know Neil Flynn because I don't watch Scrubs, but he's acceptably funny as Dad. In the early episodes Charlie McDermott rather overplayed the surly, angsty Axl, but more recently it seems they're giving him more room, allowing him to prove he really can act. And Atticus Shaffer's Brick is just as weird as he needs to be, and not one bit more. But for me, the real standout here is young Eden Sher playing the much-abused Sue. Yeah yeah, she's only 18, but I'm totally in lurve with her. And she absolutely nails the part, so get offa my back, okay? Overall the show is a bit too ... eh, herky-jerky to really approach greatness, but the actors do a fine job with the material they're given, and I do get laughs from it nearly every time I catch it. I'd say it's a B+, with brief forays into A territory.
(Okay, ABC has another comedy on Wednesdays, Cougar Town. And as much as I like Ian Gomez and Busy Phillips, and as huge a crush as I have on Courtney Cox, I just can't get past the premise. I tried the first few eps, and just couldn't take it. So sue me: I like Men of a Certain Age and dislike Cougar Town and Desperate Housewives. As my wife used to say, pbbbbbbbbbt!)
Criminal Minds, on the other hand, is a solid A-list show in my book. Back when Mandy Patinkin was on it, it was A+, but even with the cast changes, it still draws me in every time. I think I've finally stopped seeing Greg Montgomery every time Thomas Gibson is in a scene, which helps. It's total geek love whenever Kirsten Vangsness' Garcia has screen time, cuz she's cute as a biscuit and smarter than everybody else, except maybe Dr. Reid, who is pretty cool himself; Matthew Grey Gubler makes a fine neurotic super-brain. And it's fun watching Shemar Moore slowly outgrow the role of Derek Morgan: He's a very talented young actor with bigger things in his future, I think. The lovely A. J. Cook brings sufficient depth to her JJ character to avoid being just another bimbo, but Joe Mantegna seems to be just loafing along as Rossi; not quite phoning it in, but you can tell the part doesn't stretch his acting muscles very much. For me, though, the real attraction these days is Paget Brewster, who I find positively adoreable. I've caught her in a bunch of other things before Minds, and I loved her in every one of them. I should mention that the writers deserve some credit here too, as the typical Minds episode is nicely creepy, sometimes verging on horrifying.
CSI: New York is my favorite of the CSI spinoffs, the original included. I know I'm in the minority there, but that's how I see it. Gary Sinise, right winger though he may be, has long been one of my favorite actors, and I'll watch pretty much anything he's in. Melina Kanakaredes is solid and sexy as his sidekick, and I find Eddie Cahill's cop character Don Flack very appealing, though I can't say why. And I like several of the other supporting actors even better: Hill Harper is a legend in his 40s, not to mention a great actor and a very good-looking man. Robert Joy always brings a quirky skeeviness to any part, and I think he intends it that way. All I know is, I really enjoy seeing him on screen. Have had a big ol' crush on cutie Anna Belknap for years, even though for a very long time I didn't know her name; now I'll certainly never forget it. For me, though, the real standout among the supportings is Carmine Giovinazzo. He just screams New York to me (Or should that be Noo Yawk?), and he does it in the best possible way. He looks great, and brings a very authentic feel to his character. His Danny Messer is troubled, flawed, brave, honorable, and very human. I guess you can tell this is an A show for me!
Sat, 15 May 2010
Spring 2010 TV: Tuesday
Well, this one came a bit quicker, eh? Tuesday has always been a mixed bag, though with a fairly solid CBS primetime lineup to anchor it.
NCIS, formerly called Navy NCIS, a show I sorta stumbled across by accident one day when a friend mentioned it in passing. It's another of Donald P. Bellisario's "the military ain't so bad, see?" shows, but I give the man a huge amount of slack because of his past contributions. I mean, really: Baa Baa Black Sheep, Battlestar Galactica (the 70s version), Quincy M.E., Tales of the Gold Monkey, Magnum, P.I.? Quantum Leap, fer pity's sake! (The only TV show who's con I attended.) Even JAG was pretty good. And now NCIS, a show that's nearly always watchable, and sometimes verges on brilliant. When they killed off Sasha Alexander's character at the end of season 2, that was a real gut punch that I did not see coming. And the sniper sequence at the start of the current season, #7, was quite enjoyable in a Ramboesque vengeance-is-mine sort of way. Plus I've always liked Mark Harmon ever since I first saw him in the excellent Reasonable Doubts, and where else can you see a legend like David McCallum every week? Oh, and that Pauly Perrette is a delight, and the rest of the cast ain't bad either. I give it an A, with occasional flashes of A+.
NCIS Los Angeles is an unnecessary spinoff, though spinoffs have worked pretty well for the CSI series. I like the cast well enough, and would watch a 90-minute informercial on the ShamWow every week if Linda Hunt were presenting it, but the show has so far failed to rise to the level of its parent, and has failed to grip me very hard. I still watch it, but mostly because of the excellent but underused Ms. Hunt, and because of its placement on the schedule. It's a B for me, with frequent dips into B- or even C territory.
The Good Wife is an excellent new offering starring the fantastic Julianna Margulies and reliable hunk Chris Noth. I'm delighted to see the adoreable Archie Panjabi working on US television, and Christine Baranski continues to charm me even during her brief moments on screen here. The premise, the writing, the acting, all top-notch, and I always make sure to catch this one every week. All around solid A with frequent forays into A+.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent has long been my favorite L&O spinoff, even with the cast changes, and seems to be appearing on Tuesdays now. It won't be the same without Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe, though; while retaining the same basic format, it seems to have lost the cerebral intensity it had with Goren and Eames at the helm. I also mourn the loss of Jamey Sheridan, although Eric Bogosian was a suitable replacement. And I've always liked Chris Noth as a detective, and Julianne Nicholson was just totally yummylicious. Now, if it weren't for the always quirky and entertaining Jeff Goldblum (RIP Raines) I might even give this a pass; my jury is still out on Burrows and Mastrantonio. NBC-Universal has made it hard enough to catch, with the full-time switch to USA, but I still keep an eye out for it, and when it shows up I give it a look. Catching old eps in syndication is thankfully still an option. Solid B show that used to be A+, sigh.
And there's Tuesday. Coming up, some greats on Wednesday!
Fri, 14 May 2010
Spring 2010 TV: Monday
The planets have aligned again, and it's time for what appears to be a semi-annual blog posting, this one a continuation of my TV review series.
The Monday schedule has wavered a bit since last fall, but has some mainstays that still make it my favorite night for TV viewing. Also has some wanderers that might as well get mentioned on Monday as any other day.
CBS Comedies on Monday night are da bomb, to steal a phrase that is already outmoded. I guess over the years I managed to age into CBS's target demographic, and that's fine with me, as long as they keep making shows like these. They have three solid winners on Monday night, and one thirty-minute slot they don't know how to fill. I realize they're hoping to edge comedy into Wednesday night too, but as much as I like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jay Mohr, I never managed to get hooked on the Wednesday lineup.
But Monday's comedies really do it for me. First on the current schedule is How I Met Your Mother, a show I fell in love with from the very first episode. My wife, usually a sucker for romantic comedies of all sorts, never cared for it, but it's been a favorite of mine from the start. The cast is perfect, the jokes are funny, and the romance is heartwarming. I think the framing device is under-used, even though most people seem to hate it. My only real complaint is that the "mother" is kept a bit too remote and speculative. I always get a charge whenever they mention her, or the yellow umbrella, or anything to do with Ted meeting her, but even though they started this season out with a bang, assuring us that she was in the same room with him at school, she's fallen completely off the radar again.
I realize that the show runners are walking a fine line here, because once the mother appears the show changes its focus forever, and it has been successful as it is, not as it will be. But as long as they've milked this mysterious someday-to-appear woman without actually showing us anything concrete, I'm sure they could milk the appeared-but-not-yet-married woman just as long. They need to trust the cast and the writers to deliver a good show regardless of what the actual plotline is doing. What none of its fans want, including me, is for it to age into low ratings without a satisfactory conclusion to the main storyline. Wrapping it up in two or three series-finale episodes just ain't gonna cut it.
Next on the Monday CBS schedule is the slot without a show. For a long time it was Rules of Engagement, then it was Worst Week, then Accidentally on Purpose. I never cared for the latter two, although apparently Accidentally is going to be renewed, more's the pity. Rules is good, albeit a bit lightweight, but I keep watching it because I've always liked Patrick Warburton, and I have a huge crush on Megyn Price.
Next is Two and a Half Men, which has held up remarkably well despite Austin Powers, er I mean, Angus Jones ageing from a cute kid into a still fairly cute teenager. (I love how they acknowledge that now in the opening sequence—priceless!) And despite Charlie Sheen trying every way he can to become a disgrace outside the set; he still delivers a solid Charlie Harper week after week on the screen. I first tried this show back when it premiered in 2003, and at that time I thought it was sarcastic and mean-spirited and didn't like it at all. I guess my mental state has changed since then, because it's still sarcastic and mean-spirited, but I also now think it's funny as hell, and wouldn't miss it for the world. Conchata Ferrell is especially funny in her role, but she's always been good in anything she does.
Rounding out the comedy quartet is the used-to-be-sleeper hit, The Big Bang Theory. Have enjoyed it since the first ep, and as a full-time professional geek, I think I my opinion has some standing. The premise is nothing special, but the execution is superb. Johnny Galecki has been good since Roseanne, and really shines here as the neurotic straight man who's only a straight man in the context of his much-weirder circle of friends. Have always liked Simon Helberg (totally loved Studio 60, was a crime when it was cancelled), and he does a fantastic job as the geek Casanova. Never saw Kunal Nayyar before Bang, but I hope to see a lot more of him in the future; his Raj is a masterpiece. He consistently gets some of the show's funniest lines, and delivers them masterfully. Kaley Cuoco had a bit of trouble getting into her groove as the geek's foil Penny, but by now she seems comfortable in the role and has developed a fine sense of comic timing and delivery. Plus she's cute as a kitten, and sexy enough to drive any geek to distraction.
But of course the show's real center is Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper. I never saw him before in anything, including Garden State, but now am on the lookout for his earlier work. Yes, Sheldon is frequently over-used in the show, and Parsons does have a tendency to mug a bit too broadly sometimes, but man, he has totally nailed the role of the geek's geek, the "East Texas doorknob" who makes the rest of the show's world turn. He's had me laughing so hard at times that I was afraid I was gonna pop a vessel, and that doesn't happen often. And is it just me, or is Sheldon going to be the one who winds up together with Penny?
Overall I give the entire block an A+, even when they replace Rules with some filler dreck.
Law and Order, the original, seems to have fetched up on the shores of Monday night these days, but I don't care. Wherever NBC chooses to put it, I'll find it and watch it. Still one of the best shows on television, and I've come to really enjoy the pairings of Anthony Anderson with Jeremy Sisto, and Linus Roache with Alana de Garza. Glad to see S. Epatha Merkerson getting a bit more meat in her role lately with her character's cancer, and Sam Waterston is excellent at filling Steven Hill's roomy shoes as the wise but fiesty DA. The show has been an A+ fixture of American television for 20 years, and here's wishing it another 20. [Late Update: I just read on cnn.com that L&O has been cancelled! This is just more proof that TV executives have no taste, and no sense. RIP, Law, I've loved you long and well, and you'll live on in syndication forever!]
House has been a big hit for Fox, and it's no wonder—it's a really good show. Veteran Brit legend Hugh Laurie makes it into a vivid experience, and the supporting cast, including the recent additions of Olivia Wilde and Peter Jacobson, back Laurie up admirably. Sometimes they stray into making Dr. House into a bit too much of a monstrous dick, but usually they keep me just this side of hating him. An A-quality show to be sure.
Castle is, I think, my new favorite show these days. I've always liked Nathan Fillion ever since Firefly (wasn't aware of him before that), and he plays the smartass playboy writer with verve and panache, and just the right touch of uncertainty and vulnerability. Fillion has owned every role he's played, and Castle is no exception. Stana Katic is a doll as the tough-but-human detective who tolerates the not quite fully matured Castle, and maybe even likes him. And the premise of a mystery writer solving real crimes has some appeal for me separate from the excellent cast. The supporting players do a fine job, especially that cute Molly Quinn, who I hope has a long future ahead on the screen. An A+ show that I'm happy to hear has been renewed.
The Best Thing I Ever Ate is a show on the Food Network that combines two of TV's favorite formats, the talk show and the infomercial. But the guests ham it up nicely, the food looks great, and the overall product is quite enjoyable. I always keep an eye out for it, however they may move it around. I give it a solid A.
Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern is a guilty pleasure of mine. It's kind of a reality show, but with just one guy, the loveable clown Andrew, going around the world eating things that most of us would scrape into the garbage. I guess they tried to expand it into a more travel-oriented show called Bizarre World (it is on the Travel Channel, after all), but apparently that didn't take, because Foods is back on with new episodes, just as funny and crazy and intriguing as always. Andrew is the perfect host for the show, without Bourdain's overtones of cynicism and disdain, without Rachael Ray's gushiness, just an average slob who happens to be a chef traveling around eating whatever the locals eat, and liking some of it and, um, not liking some of the rest of it. I give it an A, and hope they stop messing with the format.
Hoarders on A&E seems to be on hiatus for now, but it's a show that has a deep resonance for me. I think I'm right on the edge of being a hoarder myself, and my wife was a bit farther over the line. Together, I think we actually were clinical hoarders, but my biggest pleasure from the show is seeing the houses and being able to say, "Well, at least mine isn't that bad!" As a show that capitalizes on the pain of people in real personal trouble, I hate it. But as a show that helps those people move to a more positive place, I have been enjoying it. A solid B+ verging on A with some episodes. I guess The Learning Channel has their own hoarding-related show now, but I haven't managed to catch up with it yet. More on it if/when I do.
And that wraps up Monday. Maybe I can get a Tuesday review out sooner than the seven months (!) it took me to squeeze out this one.
Wed, 21 Oct 2009
Fall 2009 TV: Sunday
Sunday! Funny cars! Walnut! Okay, enough with the obscure in-jokes, time to start the actual reviews. I'll start with the traditional Western "first day of the week", Sunday. And since it's fall, I'll leave off with all the summer series, the basic-cable gems like The Closer, Burn Notice, Leverage, and so on, until they start up again in a few months. For now, it's just primetime broadcast stuff.
Sunday has apparently been a graveyard for TV schedules, where you put things that have a life of their own and don't need any help demographically. I won't pretend to understand the ins and outs of TV program scedules, but looking at the current Sunday lineup, I see reality shows, football, Fox's animation block, and a few actual "shows", things with plots and characters and so on. I'm not a football fan, and I make it a practice to avoid reality shows, which separates me from about 90% of the viewing public, so I really find very little to watch on Sundays.
I've never gotten into ABC's Desperate Housewives, being in a frame of mind that wouldn't let me enjoy it when it premiered and having pretty much avoided it ever since. And while I understand that their Brothers and Sisters is quite good, and I see that it has several actors whom I've liked in the past, I managed to stay unaware of it until recently, and am not about to pick it up now.
Which leaves me with just two dramas, both on CBS, one new and one returning.
Three Rivers is a new medical drama that just started this fall. It was pretty heavily promoted before its premiere, and I was all prepared from the ads to hate it. It was depicted as a soapy heartstring tugger, with all sorts of teary goodfeelings and weepy tragedy, exactly the kind of show I can do without, so I didn't make any effort to catch the pilot. But it comes on right before Cold Case, which I do watch, so I managed to catch the second episode.
And was pleasantly surprised. Maybe this second ep is an aberration, but I really liked it. Not at all maudlin, lots of tension, had me rooting for the players at several points, and was enough to convince me to give it another look next week. It's mainly about organ transplants, which is not something you'd ordinarily think of as good primetime TV fodder, but I did enjoy the way they managed to work in the viewpoints of the donors, the recipients, and the doctors all at once. I'll have more to say about it after I've seen a few more eps, but right now I'm positive about it. I'll give it a high "B".
Cold Case is entering its seventh season, and long may it reign. This is a show I started watching with its very first episode back in 2003, and have loved ever since. It is the very definition of a "formula" show, as rigid and stylized as Kabuki theater. And I should hasten to add, I know nothing about Kabuki, never seen it, never read about it, but it is the customary thing people use as an example of something that follows formal predefined patterns, so I cannot break from that tradition.
And within its formula, Cold Case manages to entertain and enthrall me time and time again. It doesn't hurt that I have a huge crush on Kathryn Morris, and enjoy watching all of the principals in action, but there's something more to it. It's nearly always done exactly the same way: Show a brief scene of the original victim, then switch to the present day and show the squad finding out something that draws them to the case to re-open it. Chase a lead, question them, flashback, rinse, repeat. The credits reflect this invariant structure: "Johnny (1966); Johnny (2009)". And they always do a fine job of finding actors to depict the "then" and "now" versions of the characters. I guess part of why I like it is that I love history, and each episode feels a little like a scrap of history, usually fictional though it is. I like the music, the production values are perfect for the show's needs, and I'll keep watching it until they decide to stop making it. Kudos to Meredith Stiehm and her crew for bringing us this jewel.
They've tried occasionally to bring some depth to the characters by showing some of their personal lives outside the job. On some shows that's vital, on others it's the death of the show. Cold Case does it, but doesn't get too pushy about it. I do get uncomfortable when Lily has men in her life, but that's just my own prejudices. She's a grown healthy woman and deserves to find love; my image of her as some sort of virginal goddess is just foolishness. I will admit, when I saw her playing a very bad girl in the movie Paycheck it just about broke my heart, but after enough episodes of Cold Case I was able to see her as Lily again, so that was okay.
So this has been an "A+" show for me ever since its premiere, and I don't know what I'll do if/when they end it.
Fox Animation shows round out the Sunday schedule, with the venerable The Simpsons, and Seth MacFarlane's trio of Family Guy, American Dad, and newcomer The Cleveland Show. I used to watch Simpsons religiously, starting with the short clips interspersed in The Tracy Ullman Show in the late 80s. Eventually, I started missing eps, and found that didn't bother me too much, and now pretty much all I watch are the Halloween specials, which are still quite a hoot. I gave each of MacFarlane's shows a shot when they first came out, and honestly, I really never cared for any of them—he has quite a bit of talent, and can put together a funny scene, but he has some sort of sensibility that I don't share.
Early on during the first run of Family Guy, for example, Peter hurts his leg, and spends the next forty-five seconds grabbing at it and expressing his pain. Made me distinctly uncomfortable after the first few seconds, and I later read on the Internet that that was the joke. Oh really? Whatever was supposed to be funny about that eluded me, and apparently a lot of other people, and yet that very sort of thing is what cemented it as a classic in a lot of other people's minds. So, good for them, they have something they enjoy.
I still watch each of them occasionally, even made sure to catch the pilot of Cleveland, but they're really not on my list of regular fare. I will admit, this season's premiere of Simpsons, where Homer gets cast as a movie superhero, was fairly cute, and that of Family Guy, another one of their "road movie" eps, was pretty darned good, as are all the road-movie eps, but after that they slumped back into mediocrity. I'm afraid I have to give all four shows a "C", with occasional flashes of "A" in there sometimes.
So that's fall primetime Sunday. Next up, Monday, one of my favorite TV-watching days of all!