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!
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