Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

TV Season Midterm Review December 4, 2008

It’s that time of year again. And I’m not talking about presents, cookies, and Salvation Army bell ringers. I’m referring to the absence of new tv to watch. About the time many of us put up a Christmas tree and hang some garland, the world of television takes a winter break. As a college professor, I am used to giving my students a midterm assessment of how they are doing in my class, so I’d like to take this opportunity to evaluate my tv shows as they reach the mid-season mark. I’ve done my best to list these shows in order from most disappointing to most satisfying:

  • Heroes – What a disappointment Heroes was this season, and I’m not alone in feeling this way, based on other people’s comments. I had been a cautious viewer since last season, but I decided to jump ship around the time that they killed off Adam, Mohinder was climbing up walls like Spider Man, and everyone else was speaking in cryptic language when they weren’t jumping back and forth between the present and future. I haven’t missed it one tiny bit since I stopped watching. Grade: D
  • CSI – I spent the last six months watching every episode of CSI in syndication, including those from the last three seasons that I had never seen (I quit watching when other shows I watched started airing at the same time). So I was excited that I would be watching this season’s episodes in first run. But now the luster of this smoothly produced show has worn off. Maybe I miss Warrick, who was one of my favorite characters, or maybe the gloominess that his death left in the lab is too much of a downer. Whatever it is, the episodes are piling up on my DVR, and I’m in no hurry to watch them. I’ve deleted a couple without even watching them. Maybe after so many seasons, this show has simply run out of new ideas. They are really grasping at straws some weeks. For example, what was the deal with the hypno-therapist that supposedly killed one of her patients? That story didn’t even make sense, and there was no resolution. I wonder if Lawrence Fishburne will have a positive or negative effect on this waning show. We’ll find out in a couple of weeks. Grade: C
  • My Own Worst Enemy – I’m not so much disappointed in the show as I am in NBC’s decision to cancel it. There was a time, a few weeks ago, when I would have called this my favorite show of the moment. That’s about the time I heard about its cancellation, and just like that I lost interest. This show had a fascinating premise, which kept it afloat even when the execution wasn’t the best. I guess Christian Slater will have to go back to making movies, but please no more video game adaptations or campy B movies! Grade: B-
  • How I Met Your Mother – This “best comedy on CBS” has vastly improved this season compared to last. I hated seeing Ted as a Barney wannabe last year, so it was nice to see him in a somewhat stable relationship with Stella the first part of this season. Marshall and Lily’s subplots haven’t been very interesting, though. The best thing about this season has been Barney’s newfound love for Robin. I like Robin so much better when she’s not with Ted, and it has been nice to see a softer side of the normally self-centered Barney. However, this show has never been appointment television for me. These days I watch it over dinner, while feeding my 9 month old sweet potatoes and rice cereal, so it hardly has my undivided attention. Grade: B-
  • The Mentalist – I’m never too excited about this CBS procedural, but Simon Baker keeps drawing me back week after week. The show always features a “where have you seen them before” guest star. A couple of weeks ago it was Terri Bauer from 24 as a psychic, and Chrissy from Growing Pains as the suspect daughter of a murdered woman. There are two things that make this show stand out from its CBS procedural brethren: Patrick Jane’s powers of observation, and the mostly light-hearted tone. I can only handle so much doom and gloom, so I find this show refreshing. Grade: B
  • Bones – I feel slightly better about this show than The Mentalist. It isn’t as predictable, the characters are more developed, and it actually makes me laugh in addition to being light-hearted. I haven’t been crazy about the decision to break up Angela and Hodgins, nor the revelation that Angela is bisexual and is now in a relationship with her college flame. The writers really wanted to keep her and Hodgins apart, I guess! This whole story has been very forced and unbelievable. But, there are many positives to make up for this. Brennan and Booth’s interaction continues to be a good balance of flirting and friendship, Sweets has been a great addition to the team, and Dr. Saroyan doesn’t even annoy me anymore. Grade: B+
  • The Office – This season The Office has had its ups and downs. Some episodes fall flat (the one where Michael and Holly broke up was hard to watch), while others are hilarious (the one where Oscar and Andy hang out together in Canada comes to mind). I’ve mostly enjoyed the sweet moments, like when Jim showed Pam the house he bought for her, or when Phyllis’ hug was the most popular auction item when they were raising money to replace stolen office items. The continuing saga of Dwight, Angela, and Andy is also amusing. The show doesn’t have me laughing constantly every week, but it never fails to put a smile on my face. Grade: A-
  • Life on Mars – I am loving this show so much, that I was angry when I found out there would be no new episodes until the end of January. They left it on quite a cliffhanger, with Sam listening to a creepy voice on a telephone in an abandoned house telling him to go down to the basement. And as if that weren’t enough, he found this house by deciphering codes at the bottom corner of all the files of cases he’s been working on since waking up in 1973. I like a little sci-fi in my tv, so I am more than willing to go along for this bizarre ride through time. This show’s best feature is, no surprise, its 1970s cultural touches. The clothes, the hair, the music, the cars, the references to movies and tv shows of that era. Also entertaining are the modern day cultural references that Sam makes without thinking, such as “high fives” or his impromptu performance of “Ice Ice Baby.” Sam Tyler is a very likable character. He’s cute, he’s determined to figure out what’s going on in his life and the cases he’s working, and he sometimes has a childlike wonder for the things he experiences in 1973, since he was only 5 the first time around in that year. This show seems like the type that needs to be wrapped up in two or three seasons, but I hope it can survive long enough to provide resolution. I’ll miss seeing it for the next several weeks. Grade: A
  • Fringe – This is my favorite new show of the season. I have been very impressed by every aspect of it: the casting, the acting, the writing, the character development, the strange plots, the special effects, etc. Kudos to Fox for developing this and a handful of other top notch one-hour shows. No one can say they put all their eggs in the American Idol basket anymore. My one concern at the beginning of the season was about whether or not Anna Torv would be convincing in the role of Agent Olivia Dunham, and whether her character would be likable. Well, Torv has done an excellent job, and the writers have given her rich material to work with. I now care about Dunham, as she deals with her disturbing visions of John Scott, and feel sorry for her, as she can’t find time for a personal life due to her demanding job investigating The Pattern. My favorite aspect of the show remains the interaction between borderline crazy Dr. Walter Bishop and his intelligent but troubled son Peter. This show’s premise goes a long way in making it entertaining to watch, but without its distinct characters and the ways they are being developed, I wouldn’t be so excited about watching it every week. This is the one show that I always watch the night that it airs. Grade: A+
  • 30 Rock – While How I Met Your Mother only makes me chuckle occasionally, and The Office keeps me smiling, 30 Rock has me laughing out loud constantly. I love its quirky characters, its ridiculous storylines, and all the little details that hold it all together (the music, the props, the fast-paced camera work, etc.). My favorite episode this season has been the one with the Night Court reunion. How random and fantastic was that? Not only did we see Harry, Christine, and Mac back together again, hear the familiar Night Court music, and end the episode with the freeze frame editing, but this episode brought us Jenna’s Were-Lawyer, Kenneth’s frozen fist pump, and Jack’s colleague Mi Au (pronounced Meow). It’s satisfying the Jennifer Aniston’s guest starring role wasn’t the only reason to watch. But I thought she did a great job as Crazy Claire. The guest stars are never gimmicky on 30 Rock. The writers always give them something funny to work with. Just one more reason that I love this show. Grade: A+

Now that most of these shows are going into holiday hibernation, it’s time for me to dust off my Netflix queue and catch up with my reading. It won’t be long until we welcome back 24, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and Friday Night Lights. I may let go of a few more shows to make room for those favorites.

What shows have impressed or disappointed you this season?

 

TV Week in Review: October 6-10 October 12, 2008

It took me until Saturday night, but I managed to catch up on all my tv viewing before the week ended. To celebrate this accomplishment, I’ve decided to rank the shows I watched (the individual episodes, not the show overall) in order from best to worst, followed by my assessment of the episodes.

1. The Office – Best show of the week. This was another great episode of my second favorite comedy (only 30 Rock can beat it), and I was glad to welcome back the half hour time frame. Best moments: Jim recording Dwight’s personal time with a stop watch, Jim taunting Dwight with a horribly ill-informed discussion of Battlestar Galactica with Andy, Dwight looking knowingly at the camera when Jim concluded that Dwight does take personal time during office hours (as the audience and Phyllis know too well, Dwight steals company time with Angela in the supply room). I also enjoyed the staff’s confessions of ethically questionable workday activities, and Michael’s continued awkward flirtation with Holly. Could anything have been more uncomfortable than when he was trying to talk to her about chastity belts during their lobster lunch? She handles his social faux pas better than anyone else.

2. Life on Mars – I was pleasantly surprised by this new show. The music, the acting, the cultural markers, the story. All of it was very well done. I’m not sure how long this show can continue its “trapped in a time warp/trapped in my head” motif, but for now I am happy to go along for the ride. I am also unfamiliar with the British version from two years ago. A brief summary: Detective Sam Tyler is on his way to rescue his girlfriend from a serial killer when he gets hit by a car. When he wakes up, he is in the same neighborhood, but it is 35 years earlier, in 1973. His clothes, his car, and his surroundings are all 70s style. He doesn’t know if he has time traveled or if this is all in his head, but he decides to play along and solve crimes as long as he is there. It was refreshing to see this new, “old” spin on a crime show. The show runners have done an excellent job invoking the 70s through music, hair, clothing, furniture, etc. Perhaps the most telling aspect of the time difference is the treatment of women. Annie Norris, of the female police squad, is ostracized and not taken seriously by the rest of the police force, despite having a psychology degree and a keen sense of observation. I am interested to see how the show will evolve, or if it will even be given the chance to finish out its season. Based on what I’ve seen, I hope so!

3. CSI – This episode played out as a “requiem for Warrick,” as well as a hunt for his killer. I would have preferred for it to take longer than one episode for the team to discover that the undersheriff was the guilty higher up mole in the department who murdered Warrick to protect himself, but instead they solved the case and tracked him down in a tidy 45 minutes. Stretching the investigation and/or manhunt out over two or three episodes would have given Warrick’s sudden death more impact. As it is now, I feel like “what was the point” since the case was solved so quickly. Perhaps, though, it would have been too painful to watch his teammates mourn his loss and search for justice for more than one episode. Warrick was always one of my favorite characters, and I must admit I teared up (along with Nick, my other favorite) a bit as Grissom eulogized him at the funeral. In this episode we learned that Grissom was like the father that Warrick never had, and that Warrick was fighting for custody of his son, so his son could have someone to look up to the way he looked up to Grissom. It was all strangely touching for a show that’s normally about guns, guts, and guilt. I’d imagine we’ll continue to feel the ramifications of Warrick’s death in the coming weeks, but we’ll also see the team move forward without him. I wonder how Lawrence Fishburne will be introduced onto the show. Maybe Grissom will turn his back on this dark and difficult job and join Sarah in a happier, less stressful life. I’ll be watching to find out.

4. Bones – While I was still entertained, this was my least favorite Bones episode of the season so far. The lab tech of the week was not very interesting (there are already plenty of characters with an overabundance of trivial knowledge on tv, most notably Grissom on CSI). As for the case of the week, I didn’t even recognize the “prodigal son/turned suspect/turned following in his father’s he-she footsteps” until I read it somewhere else. That was David Gallagher, little Simon Camden from that “thank goodness it’s not on anymore” show, 7th Heaven. He was convincing here as the minister to misfits who became part of the investigation into his father’s death. The he/she gender reassignment angle of the episode made for an intriguing mystery as Brennan and Booth put the pieces together. All that to say, there wasn’t anything wrong with this episode – it just wasn’t as outstanding as some of this season has been. I will miss this show very much until it returns later in November. It is my Wednesday night escape!

5. How I Met Your Mother – The “New York is so much better than New Jersey” bit has been done so much on tv that I rolled my eyes when it became clear that was where this episode was going, with the gang throwing a fit about having to go to New Jersey to hang out with Ted’s fiancee Stella. However, the writers did the running joke justice in this case. Marshall’s rant about how he’s a giant man in a city full of small spaces, and how New Jersey is full of mega stores and cup holders and dog t-shirts, was pretty classic. And despite being a suburb dweller myself, I can appreciate the humor in a New Yorker’s distaste for manicured lawns and discount store membership cards. However, it was nice that the episode ended with Ted reading a story to Stella’s daughter in the comfort of her suburban home. There are different benefits for different people to living in the city vs. the suburb. The subplots of Barney begging for a fist bump and Robin quitting her job/riding a bike to get it back/quitting for real were entertaining as well. So overall, this was one of the better episodes of this show lately.

6. Heroes – I’m still not seeing much that makes me want to continue tuning in. The best part of the episode came at the very end when Hiro and Ando freed Adam (David Anders) from the coffin where he had been trapped since the end of last season. How refreshing it was to see David Anders’ beautiful face – not even tainted by his underground captivity – after an episode full of ludicrous developments. Too bad his appearance only lasted a few seconds. Sadly, these few seconds will have me returning next week to see him again.

7. Kath and Kim – It wasn’t like I was awaiting the premiere of this show with fevered anticipation or great expectations, but what an utter disappointment! One word I could use to sum it up: AWKWARD. And not in the good Office way. Molly Shannon and Selma Blair are well cast in their roles as Kath and Kim, so that’s not the problem. The problem is that there are no likable characters on this show, save for perhaps Kim’s on again, off again husband. Kath and Kim are a materialistic, celebrity gossip-obsessed, self-centered mother and daughter. What’s to love there? Kath’s boyfriend, played by mockumentary favorite John Michael Higgins, is funny at times, but mostly – here’s that word again – awkward. I don’t find humor in Kim giving up on her marriage so flippantly, over having to microwave dinner instead of eating out. I’m not expecting a comedy to be a social commentary, but with the disintegration of marriage in American society, it’s not humorous to have Kim’s broken relationship be a running gag. The scenes at the mall were a nice change of pace from a studio lot set, but mall scenes have been done better by a much better comedy: Arrested Development. I don’t think there’s enough story here to keep this mother/daughter duo afloat for very long. Perhaps this type of humor played better for an Australian audience (the current version is a remake of one from that country that lasted for four seasons). Some may find similarities between the type of humor found in Kath and Kim, and that of The Office. The difference: the audience cares about most of the characters on The Office. We want Jim and Pam to get engaged. We want Phyllis to feel good about herself. We want Michael to finally fulfill his dream of being a father. I just don’t care about Kath, Kim, and their men. I don’t plan to watch this one again.
Next week, I look forward to the return of Fringe. So far it is my favorite new show this fall.

 

Bones: What’s All the Fuss About? September 18, 2008

Filed under: Television — Emily @ 11:22 am
Tags: ,

I was just over at TV Gal reading people’s comments (mostly grumbling) about Bones. There sure are a lot of fair weather tv fans who like to complain any time they get the chance. Now sometimes complaints are called for, but I like to give the writers and producers a chance to follow through on a story before I start to be all doomsday about it. So, let me take a moment to share my opinions about what is happening so far this season on Bones.

The Break Up

The only thing I have thought is really dumb this season is the sudden breakup of Angela and Hodgins. I don’t think it was necessary. There was nothing to justify it. But, that’s why I don’t search for my main enjoyment in a show in the relationships. I am definitely not a ‘shipper. And there are people complaining about Bones and Booth going around in circles, but I hope they don’t get romantic, at least not any time soon. It works better to save the fireworks for the final season. (See Mulder and Scully on The X-Files, and Sydney and Vaughn on Alias.) If the writers put the characters together too early, it never works out. (Remember how painful it was to see Luke and Lorelai be separated most of the final season of Gilmore Girls, or how annoying it is to watch the on again/off again relationship between Meredith and Derek on Grey’s Anatomy?) So for now, I believe it’s better for Bones and Booth to be friends with great chemistry. I enjoy watching their relationship as it is.

Rotating Lab Assistant

The other thing people are complaining about is the “lab assistant of the week” bit. I am actually entertained by this. It’s like how Murphy Brown used to have a new secretary every week. People complain that it’s been done too much, but if it’s done well, I don’t mind. It is better than what the writers did on House last season, when they introduced way too many new characters as he searched for a new team. That was over the top. I like to see how new characters interact differently with the core cast. Plus, knowing each person will only be around for one episode prolongs the finality and disappointment that fans will feel when a permanent replacement for Zack joins the team.

The Elephant in the Room

So, one of our forensic team’s favorite co-worker and friend suddenly turns into a serial killer’s apprentice, is discovered, and is shipped off to a mental institution. Does anyone seem to care? Not as much as you would expect them to. It would make sense for the writers to address Zack’s departure more directly than they have, but my guess is that they are having to wait until he is available for an episode, so they can do it right. I read an interview with Hart Hanson, and he said they planned to do some “Hannibal Lecter” type stuff with Zack from the mental institution. I’d imagine people will gripe about that as well. Zack seems more like a fun-loving geek than a cannibalistic serial killer, so it will be interesting to see how they play that.

Dr. Sweets

I love his character! He always puts a smile on my face, and I thought his sudden connection with last week’s lab assistant was sweet – loved the phone call he made to her at the end of the show. People are also complaining that the show is too goofy, but that’s the main reason I watch it. I recently started watching CSI again, and while I find it very entertaining, it is quite gruesome and dark at times. So Bones is a nice change of pace. There’s no other crime procedural like it on the air right now. Dr. Sweets lends a lot of humor to the show’s light-hearted tone. My least favorite character is actually Cam. I had a hard time accepting her as part of the team when she first joined it. I like her better now, but she is definitely the most serious of all the characters.

Bottom Line

Maybe the reason I am not bothered by the new developments is that I don’t have much to compare the new season to, since I only saw a few episodes last season. I don’t miss Zack too much because I wasn’t attached to him. I am not devastated by Angela and Hodges break up because I didn’t watch their relationship evolve. And I am not desperate for Bones and Booth to hook up because I have only watched the show on a casual basis, and have enjoyed their funny, flirtatious interaction on a surface level.

I have TNT to thank for my renewed interest in the show, since I started watching reruns on that network over the summer. Now I have a season pass on my tivo and look forward to watching the season develop.

 

Fall 2008 Preview: Fox Gets a Head Start August 29, 2008

So did Fox sign like a 100-year contract with Major League Baseball to broadcast the play-offs and World Series every fall? It certainly seems that way. For as long as I can remember, the new fall tv season has been either delayed or interrupted by baseball on Fox. The network’s old strategy was to delay the start of its shows until after the World Series. Back in the late 90s, I would complain about having to wait until practically November to watch the X-Files every year. For the past couple of years, however, Fox has taken the better approach of jumping out ahead of the other networks to give its shows some time to settle in and develop a following before being so rudely interrupted.

That being said, let’s take a look at what Fox has prepared to tide over its viewing public until American Idol takes center stage in January. As with most of the networks, there aren’t as many new shows as usual because of the writer’s strike. That makes it easier to sift through the newbies. I’ll also mention anything noteworthy about returning shows.

  • Prison Break – This show returns on Labor Day, for more crazy antics from Michael, Lincoln, and the gang. In my opinion, this show should have wrapped up nice and neat at the end of season two (rather than turning into a tangled, mangled mess of subplots), but there are still a lot of fans, so I am glad that they can still tune in to see their favorite characters.
  • House – I am interested to see what the tone of this show will be when the season begins. How will they follow the depressing events of last season’s finale? ——- SPOILER ALERT ——- On House, the season ender was a manipulative tear jerker/ethereal dream sequence, as House slipped in and out of consciousness trying to remember something important about the bus accident he was involved in. Turns out he was on the bus with Wilson’s girlfriend, Amber, and eventually the team determines that because of a medication she was taking that caused an unfortunate reaction to her crash injuries, she only has hours to live. There’s nothing they can do. So the season ended on a real downer, with a parade of characters coming into Amber’s room to say their farewells. I didn’t even like her character, but what a horrible way to get rid of her. Sure, it will provide some tension between Wilson and House this season (since Wilson blames House for Amber being on that bus in the first place), but it seems like it was just done for shock value. I am tired of shows having to one-up each other at the end of the season. Speaking of shock value…
  • Bones – This is the second best show that Fox has to offer, and it also had a controversial season finale – in fact, it caused more of an uproar than House did. This is one of the few shows that I only watch when nothing else is on, rather than being sure to watch every episode. (This is also how I watch How I Met Your Mother.) Since I only dabble in the show, I may have missed some clues or backstory about the Gormogon plot, but here’s my take on what happened: ——— SPOILER ALERT ——— Booth and Brennan and the team uncover some evidence that leads them to believe that Gormogon (a serial killer who eats his victims) or his apprentice works at the Jeffersonian. As the pieces of the puzzle come together, Zack is injured in an explosion that leaves his hands basically useless. That’s a bummer. But it gets worse. It turns out that he planned that explosion to create a distraction so that Gormogon could steal something from the Jeffersonian. Zack is the apprentice! So, with a tear in his eye, Zack explains to the team that Gormogon had a logical view of the world, which is why he went along with his plan. I’m sorry, but that seems like quite a stretch. Sweet, geeky Zack as an accomplice for a cannibalistic serial killer – because it was logical? I can understand why some people have decided to stop watching the show, but I didn’t watch it for Zack. Mainly, I enjoy the chemistry and interaction between Booth and Brennan. So, I’ll still tune in from time to time, and will be sure to watch the season premiere to see the fallout from the finale’s crazy events.
  • The Moment of Truth – Ridiculous. This is the worst show on television. It shows the worst of human nature. No inspiring moments here. Move along.
  • Hole in the Wall – Which brings me to the first of Fox’s new shows. From what I can tell, this is a game show that requires people (mostly obese people) to manipulate their bodies into certain shapes to fit through a cut out in a giant screen. If they fail to do so, they will fall into a vat of water, and they will be further humiliated by goofy music and a laughing, taunting studio audience. Seriously? This is a real show? It sounds more like a bad idea for a team building exercise at a corporate event. I hate shows that are designed to make fun of people, even when the contestants know what they are getting into. We shouldn’t take pleasure in watching other people fall flat on their face, flop around, or otherwise embarrass themselves on national television. I hope that this show will be a massive failure. Is there still some class left in the American viewing public?
  • Fringe – Finally, I arrive at the one of the few bright spots among the newbies this season. This is actually the new show that I am most looking forward to. It has an interesting premise (its official website describes it as a show that “will thrill, terrify and explore the blurring line between the possible and the impossible.”). Sounds like a sci-fi thriller right up my alley. Plus, it has an interesting cast. I am happy to welcome Joshua Jackson back to television in a more grown-up role than the one he is best known for – Pacey on Dawson’s Creek. He’s joined by several names I don’t recognize, but based on the previews, the actors look well-suited to their roles. And finally, it has J.J. Abrams name attached to it, and I like almost everything that he has done. We can all find out if this show is worth adding to our “must-see” lists when it premieres on September 9.
  • There are several shows that I didn’t mention. And that is because I don’t watch any of them. They all have their place in the television landscape, and I’ll just leave it at that.