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?

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TV Week in Review: October 13-17 October 18, 2008

Like last week, this week supplied plenty of new episodic television to watch. Read on for my thoughts, posted in chronological order, about the shows I tuned in to. Scroll down for the first ever poll on Eclaire Fare, and look for more to come. (This is a new feature that WordPress just added.)

  • How I Met Your Mother – I thought last week’s episode (in which the gang went to see Stella in New Jersey) was one of the best in awhile, so this one was mediocre by comparison. The variety of interventions that Ted, Lily, Marshall, et al have staged over the years was slightly amusing, but I was left a little confused by the end of the episode about what everyone had decided to do. Maybe that was the point. Based on the “one year later” ending, it looks like Robin didn’t take the job in Japan, and Ted didn’t move to New Jersey. Barney dressing up as “old man Barney” to pick up girls was pretty funny, only because Neil Patrick Harris is so great at portraying his character’s shameless manipulation and seeming lack of a conscious. (In real life people like that make me sad, so I wonder why it is funny on this show.)
  • Heroes – After last week’s lackluster episode, I was about ready to cancel my Season Pass to this show. However, I must say that this week’s installment has compelled me to keep watching. It was, by far, the best episode of the season. We didn’t have any of that nonsense with Peter jumping around in the future, or Matt wandering around in the desert. I found both of those stories, with Matt’s visions and Peter’s experiences in the future, very distracting, and felt that they convoluted the plot too much (i.e., at what point does the future change when something else happens in the present, and then what happens to the future versions of the characters). I am intrigued by the revelation that Daphne and Nathan’s spirit guide is not Linderman, but is in fact Matt Parkman’s father. (If you don’t remember, Mr. Parkman’s ability is that he can make people experience things that aren’t really there, as well as read their minds.) And I was further intrigued by the twist that followed – that Mr. Parkman is working for Mr. Petrelli, Nathan and Peter’s supposedly deceased father. He doesn’t look like he is in very good health, judging from his inability to speak (verbally at least) and his being bedridden. But he must be of sound mind since he is rounding up an army of formidable heroes, including Daphne, Matt, Hiro, and Adam (yay!). To what end? And who will they be fighting against? Perhaps Mr. Petrelli isn’t too happy with the way things ended between him and Mrs. Petrelli, or maybe he wants to regain control of The Company. That’s what her vision of the future suggested. I could say more, but suffice to say there is suddenly plenty of rich material for the writers to develop, and even better, it’s starting to make sense! Now if we could just bypass the silly puppet man story. I’d imagine that will only serve as a time filler next week, when we could be learning more information about the more interesting characters: Mohinder going all “Dr. Frankenstein meets mutant spider man,” Hiro stabbing Ando with a sword (I’m guessing he’ll teleport back in time to right that wrong), and Sylar trying to rehabilitate.
  • My Own Worst Enemy – I’ve already devote a separate post to this new show. To read my (mostly) positive review of it, click here.
  • The Mentalist – This was only the second episode of this show that I have seen. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the pilot. Mostly my waning interest was due to the clan of teenage suspects in the murder investigation of a surfer girl who washed ashore. (Didn’t that happen on Bones just a couple of weeks ago?) I tend to roll my eyes whenever television writers decide to make honor roll, Ivy League bound teenagers into (surprise!) remorseless killers. There is usually very little explanation for why the kids turn suddenly violent and psychotic. In this case, “she was gonna tell it” doesn’t cut it for me. So, my problem was with the particular case of the week, but I was still interested in Simon Baker’s character and his powers of observation. Patrick Jane is a quirky, very likable character. It was fun to watch him hang around the beach and draw everyone’s attention with his elaborate sand castle. What appeared to some to be him avoiding work was actually his way of collecting evidence. His trick of finding his co-worker’s hidden car keys was also entertaining. Is Baker enough reason to watch the show? For now he is. I’m interested to see if the supporting characters will be developed anymore. This week we learned that Teresa (Robin Tunney) dealt with her mother’s death and her father’s alcoholism as a child, and she had to deal with her emotions when the case they were working on involved a similar situation. So far, though, the other characters are little more than one-dimensional stereotypes whose sole purpose is to give Patrick Jane someone to impress and, at times, annoy. I’ll reserve my verdict until the show has had a chance to establish itself.
  • Fringe – This episode began with a frightening scene of a falling elevator (hmmm, that happened on Bones recently, too), caused by the electromagnetically charged guy who was riding on it. Agent Dunham and team commenced figuring out who was responsible and finding him before mad scientist Dr. Fisher could do more painful experiments on him. I felt sorry for this guy. He only responded to the ad because he needed more self confidence (that was certainly true), and he ended up unconsciously controlling all the electronics around him. I loved that we heard R.E.O. Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” not once, but twice, in this episode. Great ’80s song, and very appropriate for setting the tone here. We also received some answers about why Agent Dunham keeps seeing the presumed dead John Scott. According to Walter, during their previous experimental procedure, part of John’s consciousness crossed over into her’s, and the visions are her mind’s way of making sense of the “intruder,” since there is only room for one set of thoughts in her brain. Like all the “explanations” on this show, this one is a little hokie, but I’ll take it. I must say that I like Dunham more after this episode. Her interactions with John, her discovery of the engagement ring he had planned to give her, and her working through her grief and confusion all humanized her – something that had been lacking in previous episodes, in which she seemed too mechanical and stoic. I continue to be impressed by this show’s unique mix of humor, horror, conspiracy, and suspense. I loved the scene in which Walter rubbed his wool slippers on the carpet so he could shock Peter. At first I thought he was dancing to some music in his head, so when I saw that he was revving up for a demonstration of electromagnetic charge, I was surprised and amused. I only wish we had seen more of Peter in this episode. Maybe next week.
  • The Office – This was one of those downer episodes for me, with its focus on Michael’s sad personal life. (He wants to be a father, but Jan keeps pushing him away from his involvement with her child, and meanwhile his attachment to Jan is a deterrent to him moving on with a new relationship). But it did have its moments. Let me break it down a little. Funny: Andy mistakingly pegging Phyllis’ baby picture as Angela’s, and then telling Angela she was “being mean” (thinking she was being sarcastic) when she pointed out the funny looking picture that was actually hers. Awkward: Jan showing up for the baby shower with Astrid, when Michael had assumed she would call him to attend the birth. This was classic Michael/Jan dysfunction. Not funny: The “Dwight tests the $1200 stroller” story. It was too over the top, even by this show’s standards. Maybe it just pains me to see someone destroying brand new baby gear since it wasn’t too long ago that I went through that stressful buying process. Realistic: Jim and Pam having an “off day.” Of course this couple would have some hard times while they are doing the long distance thing. It was sweet to see their voice mail conversation at the end, though, when they might as well have been chatting with each other, they were so in sync. Sweet: The big hug that Michael gave Holly after Jan left. Holly’s tears were understandable, after how mean Michael was to her so as “to not offend” Jan. Good for him, though, for ignoring Jan’s out of place request that he not date Holly, and asking her out anyway.
  • Life on Mars – I am loving this show, particularly the clothing, the music, and the whimsical tone. Maybe not whimsical like Pushing Daisies, but it definitely has a more carefree, cheerful feel than other cop shows. Instead of everything being edgy and grimy, we get a suspect running out of a swimming club in a speedo, with Sam Tyler and his colleages chasing him down while decked out in similar swim gear, while fun and funky 70s music plays in the background. My favorite song this week was Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock,” which is both era-appropriate and thematically relevant, since Sam is trying to process everything on his own while everyone he knows is far away in another time and place. So it was nice to see him befriended by his hippie neighbor, who brought him lasagna sprinkled with her special ingredient (a little mary jane), and insisted that he dance with her. I am also surprised that I like Harvey Keitel in this show, since I have been disturbed by the very sight of him ever since I saw him in The Piano (picture him polishing a piano, completely naked – enough said). His character is a nice blend of political incorrectness, father figure in the department, and wise cracking tough guy. I’m not sure what to think of the little robot gizmo that kept showing up and giving Sam flashes of his life in 2008. That’s pretty bizarre, but I like that about this show.

The only show I haven’t watched yet this week is CSI. Well, I am also three episodes behind on Pushing Daisies. I’m not sure if I’ll ever catch up with it.

* If you answer the poll question below and choose “other,” please post which show was your favorite in the comments section so I’ll know what else I should be watching.

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My Own Worst Enemy Piques My Interest October 15, 2008

I started watching NBC’s new spy drama My Own Worst Enemy with low expectations, so maybe that’s why I was mildly impressed by the time the credits rolled.

But before I talk about the show, I need to back up a bit. Let’s go back to 1989, which is when I first saw Christian Slater. He played opposite Winona Ryder in the dark comedy Heathers. A few years later, I made it my quest to see every Christian Slater movie (he was quite the early 90s heartthrob). He wasn’t necessarily in many high-quality films, but I have fond memories of his work in Pump Up the Volume, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Kuffs, Untamed Heart, True Romance, and Interview with the Vampire. His distinctive looks and his wry, witty demeanor had him in high demand.

But then something happened. By the mid to late 90s, his status as a heartthrob was apparently waning, and he turned to bad action movies like Broken Arrow and Hard Rain. His filmography hasn’t improved much in the 2000s (let’s pretend Alone in the Dark never happened), but he has redeemed himself somewhat with his television appearances on The West Wing and Alias. So, the main reason I decided to check out My Own Worst Enemy was to not only support my one-time movie star crush, but to see if he could find more success on the small screen.

Now we can get back to the pilot episode of My Own Worst Enemy. I wonder if the casting director thought of Christian Slater for the dual role of Edward Albright/Henry Spivey after seeing him on Alias. After all, his guest starring role on that fun spy drama was a good fit for him. Unfortunately, the opening scene played out like a poorly done parody of of one of Sydney Bristow’s international missions: the generic pillow talk between Edward and his spy contact “with benefits,” the predictable “that’s not me sleeping in the bed – it’s a pillow” development, and the fake looking Eiffel Tower backdrop. The whole situation just felt forced. My outlook didn’t improve for the next 20 minutes, as I observed what appeared to be more Alias ripoffs. Mysterious elevator that transports unsuspecting employees to a subterranean top-secret spy headquarters? Check. Geeky tech guy who is almost too socially awkward to do his job (a la Marshall)? Check. Lightning fast trips to Russia and back in less than a day, with none of that pesky jet lag? Check. I was starting to wonder if I should even finish out the episode.

But then, after all the necessary set up and establishment of characters, things got more interesting. My Own Worst Enemy may borrow some tricks from Alias’s espionage bag, but it isn’t a carbon copy. The new twist that Enemy brings? Slater’s character, Edward, voluntarily entered a U.S. spy program in which he was given a split personality. Thus, when he was 20 years old, the organization created Henry, a friendly, devoted, decidedly normal guy. For the next two decades, while Edward was out killing people, keeping secrets, and further feeding his psychotic tendencies, Henry got married, had two kids, and settled into an unexciting desk job that required a fair amount of traveling.

The show picks up the story when Henry/Edward is 39, and suddenly, with no clear explanation, his brain short circuits, and Henry becomes aware of Edward’s existence. The second half of the episode took this idea and ran with it, resulting in many creative, surprising, and entertaining developments. Based on my assessment of the first episode, I think I can say with confidence that this show has a lot of potential. Christian Slater has been given an interesting character to work with. Not only does he play two distinct personalities (a smart but loose cannon vs. a naive but dedicated family guy), but he will also play each of those characters imitating the other from time to time. That sounds like it would be a lot of fun for an actor.

The split personality motif also creates a rich subtext for complicated storylines. The audience has much to learn: What happened in Edward’s past that made him want to become a split personality spy? If Henry’s persona was created by the government, how can he come to terms with the life he has created? Will Henry and Edward work together (communicating through videos that they send to each other) to advance their own agenda, or will they try to outmaneuver each other? What secrets is Edward hiding from everyone?

For now, I plan to continue watching. The basic premise, as of now, is that the spy organization (didn’t catch the name), Edward, and Henry all know of each other’s existence, and they are all trying to use that to their respective advantages. I’d expect much spy intrigue and complicated domestic life to ensue.

The supporting cast includes Madchen Amick (she’ll always be Shelly Johnson from Twin Peaks to me) as Henry’s cheerful, supportive, clueless wife Angie. So far her character has been pretty stereotypical. There is also Alfre Woodard as Edward’s boss Mavis. She seems well cast for that role. So far Henry’s two children have been painful to watch, probably due to weak scriptwriting for the family scenes, but it is worth noting that the son is played by Taylor Lautner, who will be playing Jacob Black in the upcoming Twilight movie. This is the first I’ve seen of the actor, and he seems well cast for the first installment of Twilight, based on his appearance, but I’m not sure how he will be playing Jacob in future movie versions of the books, after Jacob goes through his “growth spurt.”

So, I was pleasantly surprised by this show. Certainly, it had its poorly executed or overdone moments (such as the slow motion scene with uber-dramatic music when Henry was being led out of a hostile environment), but overall I am intrigued enough to tune in again next week. In case you missed the premiere, it will re-air Friday on SciFi and Saturday on NBC. Let me know what you think.