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?