Tuesday, 9 October 2007

This Week in TV: Week 2

Due to foreseen circumstances (i.e. birthday celebrations) we didn't get to watch much of this weeks TV until Saturday night, since when we have plowed through every show of the week. I tell you, watching that much TV in such a short space of time is a really bad idea, and we ended up suffering from opinion overload. What's worse, that block of TV featured the season premieres of the second seasons of our two favourite new shows of the previous year, namely Friday Night Lights and 30 Rock. Would they continue their winning streak, or would they fall apart horribly, perhaps with some really ill-advised murder plotline? As well as those worry-fests, there was lots of second episodes, some good, some bad, some just disappointing.

I'll get the quick stuff out of the way before going into enormous detail about why I didn't think Pushing Daisies had anywhere near as good a pilot as Reaper, which may take a while, and will contain the phrase, "Ban Sonnenfeld!" The pilot of Dirty Stupid Monkey was promising enough , but episode two was a hellish 45 minutes of non-jokes telegraphed by wacky and intrusive musical stings, obnoxious characters, and pointless over-editing. If we had a sin-bin for shows that are on their last legs, this would be in it, even though it's early days and we really do like to be as fair as we can. It was significantly less interesting than the pilot, and the only point we could make about it by the end was that Zoe McClellan, who plays Krause's wife Lisa George, has the most photographed boobs of the week, and that includes Sonya "Pregnant me up!" Walger's prominent and mostly-naked embonpoint in Tell Me You Something Something. We counted about a dozen close-ups of McClellan's chestonics, none of which served any purpose. Much like the show itself. Improve, stupid show! And soon!

Also, minus points to Chuck. Apologies to the Chuck fan that frequents this blog (you know who you are, dude), but this show is on notice too. For God's sake, it has Adam Baldwin and a severely under-used Tony Todd! It should kick at least a little ass, but it has no recognisable point. The jokes are almost there, but the action is sorely lacking. The final five minutes were especially bad, with a poorly shot and ineptly looped helicopter landing scene that reminded me of the camcorder spoof scene in the first episode of The Day Today.

I gather the third episode sets the format in stone, and perhaps that will be enough to give it a reprieve, but it needs to conjure up some really memorable moments (so far the only thing that has stood out for me is the free-running stuff, but that goes without saying), as well as generate some chemistry between any of the actors. Everyone is helped by Baldwin's presence, because he's a class act, but otherwise no one seems capable of breathing life into the project. Contrast that with Reaper, coming off the second excellent episode. The cast works so well together (and with such witty material) I can only imagine the Chuck staff are eating their livers in frustration. Let's hope they can save it. Perhaps they should cast Ray Wise. I could stand to see two shows a week with this grin all over it.

Again, everything in Reaper was great, and I see Kevin Smith is still present; he's listed as consultant. A lot of people are saying they were a little disappointed with the second episode, but I thought it almost as strong as the pilot. I guess it helps that I find Tyler Labine hilarious.

Another show suffering from terrible doldrums is Heroes, with another weak episode full of bland exposition, illogicality, and general inept silliness. I'm sure billions of word-bullets have been fired at the internet about Hiro's boring Japanese adventures, and the Hoirish Ghangsterrrs (a subplot so moronic I think I'm dreaming whenever it comes on), and Noah working in retail (with Chuck and Reaper already covering this territory, I can't help but feel that some executives think dramatising the service economy is what the people have been crying out for. Hey, executives? No no no no no!). I'll just say this, and then move on; showrunners, for a long time there we thought you had an awesome concrete storytelling plan, but the finale ruined that. Our trust in you has been badly damaged, and this season needs to make up ground, and quickly. By this we don't mean turning Maya and Thingy into the plague threat of the season. 24 has already cycled through nuclear and plague threats. Do something new. Please start surprising us again, or you go on notice too. Oh, and stop making Peter do this face.

I had hoped we'd seen the last of his weird Duh face. It's not a good look for him, and you can't write that out like you did those horrendous bangs. Also wrongheaded was Bionical Woman, which is setting a format in stone early (too early; it's been awfully rushed so far), by having Jaime join up with Miguel Ferrer's shady organisation. This week featured the TV week's worst line, as Ferrer blackmails Jaime into joining up by saying, "Those legs, that arm, that ear and that eye all belong to me and they cost $50m dollars." Whoever wrote that gets a cookie.

The horror has been well documented here, but there was also an egregious mistake I can't believe they let go, and by that I don't mean hiring the homophobe from Grey's Anatomy. The plot centres around a nerve gas attack on a town called Paradise (hence the episode title; Paradise Lost. Because Jaime's easy life has been lost, you see? LOST!). Jaime joins up with SORBMF (Shady Organisation Run By Miguel Ferrer), and undergoes three days of hardcore montage training, before overhearing that Paradise has been attacked. She volunteers, she goes there with Grumpy SORBMF Operative #2, and they find a girl who had been in a basement overnight and thus, improbably, survived the gas. So, the attack happened the day before. So why is it that at the start of the show, before Jaime is drafted into SORBMF, she is in a bar with a TV saying that Paradise has been quarantined? That happens three or four days before she gets there. Either I'm missing something there, or that is a shocking continuity error. Okay, plus points to the show for hiring Friday Night Lights' Kevin "Herc" Rankin as a tech nerd, but otherwise, BIG FAT BLEH!

Two shows surprised me this week. The latest installment of Tell Me You Love Me Even Though I Won't Have Sex/Babies/Relationships With You was just as humourless and earnest and one-note as the rest of the season, but at last we get to see the some of the characters reveal their inner thoughts in some detail, instead of just making gestures. For weeks now David has been refusing to have sex with his wife Katie, as well as being bitchy about her attending therapy, all the while gurning his way into Guptahood. This week he redeemed himself in a long therapy scene where he and Katie threw little bombs of discontent at each other. It was a strong scene, certainly the most interesting thing that's happened so far, and well acted by Ally Walker and Tim DeKay. We also found out that Palek the Vulcan Inseminatron has been having second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts about impregnating his wife Carolyn, whose desperate need for a baby went beyond mere mom pangs and into psychotic screechy territory, ripping towel dispensers off walls and haranguing Palek at work. The DavidGupta is dead. Long live the CarolynGupta. My God, woman, if you want a baby so badly, there's someone we know who might be able to help you out.

Also surprisingly okay was Journeyman. It's nothing groundbreaking, but Canyon and I had fun trying to figure out the ramifications of his powers. Having his wife start to believe him was a great touch, and if they could start to introducing the other characters into his circle of trust, there could be some interesting stories to tell. It helps that Kevin McKidd plays our hero, Dan Vassar. As Canyon said over the weekend, Dan is a very sensitive character, obviously empathic and eager to help his retro charges, and yet McKidd was cast, with his cauliflower face and heavy build. The disconnect between his look and his character is very appealing. It's not the best show around at the moment, but it's the show I enjoyed most from NBC's Monday Night Nerdery line-up, and I would like to see it survive the chop, though I doubt that will happen.

We also enjoyed the second episode of House, with our anti-hero testing out several new Cottage candidates, including Kal Penn, Olivia Wilde, Anne Dudek, and best of all, Carmen Argenziano as a fake doctor who impresses House enough to get hired as an assistant. The Office was good too, though please let the hour-longs end soon. The pilot was mostly superb, but the second episode really overstayed its welcome. Creed was perfect, as always, but Michael got a little wearing by the end. Consider this a tiny criticism; the show was still vastly entertaining.

Funniest moment of the week (for me at least) was Peter Serafinowicz as robotic daytime chatshow host Michael-6 from his new sketch show. It has been established that we are big fans of the man behind That Voice, and were looking forward to his first shot at the spotlight. Mostly it was great, with only a couple of sketches falling short (Clone House! We get it! Please stop now!), but my god, Michael-6 rendered me useless, wheezing and coughing, totally dumbstruck by the brilliance of it. The moment he went on a rampage, throttling audience members and spitting milk like Ian Holm in Alien, was one of the highlights of the week. More please.

Also great was CSI, even though it signalled the beginning of the end of Jorja Fox's run on the show. Turns out the contract wrangles that almost got her and George Eads thrown off the show years ago finally bit her in the ass, though she doesn't sound too upset about it. It's a shame, as we've liked Sara (we like everyone on the show, and were delighted to see Wallace "Hodges" Langham finally included in this week's credits), even though her arms are unusually long.

The rest of the episode was fun enough, with the only other big surprise being Warwick's divorce (signposted with traditional CSI: Classic economy with nothing more than a line about divorce being a bitch). Best of all, it ends with a wonderful scene showing the assembled cast members racing around on a go-kart track with Sara watching from the sidelines. Touching and funny, and all done with elegance and liveliness (as a bonus, Nick calls Gil "Ricky Bobby". YES!). The quality of this show is outstanding, and no one notices because it's a popular procedural and therefore cannot be considered good TV. Screw that. It's great, and it features awesome hats. Eat that, snobbish critics.

30 Rock returned, and as The AV Club pointed out, it was slightly off, but nonetheless featured some big laughs and some obnoxious Bee Movie plugs (hopefully the movie will be good enough to retroactively forgive it for making 30 Rock seem like an advert). Odd that the show went for the fat suit gag, just like Ugly Betty the previous week; hopefully that gets dropped soon, because it just isn't that funny. No matter. Everything else was great, especially the countries that only rich people know about, Jack's agonised reaction to the mention of Lost being on another network, and his summer schedule of terrible reality shows, including MILF Island.

Friday Night Lights also returned with a second season at once desperately needed (more TV of this outrageous quality is always welcome) and totally superfluous (the first season was a perfect gem that didn't really need any expansion). I will quickly touch on the deeply troubling Tyra/Landry plot (I'll try not to spoil all you lucky folk who have yet to see the show), because really, this has got to get a LOT better before it totally ruins everything.

FNL fans everywhere are freaking out about this plot, which worked well as a one off thing in the first season (I gushed about it here), but now threatens to destroy one of the show's best characters (Canyon is working on a Standing in the Shadows for Landry that hopefully won't be rendered defunct by this horrible twist). Alan Sepinwall, in his excellent blog What Alan's Watching, says that things do not get better, and interviews Jason Katims, whose responses to the criticism are kind of obnoxious, but there is one good thing that can come out of it. If the absolutely awesome Jesse Plemons gets a career-making showreel out of this plot development, at least we'll have that. His performance (and that of Adrianne Palicki as Tyra) was excellent. As was everything else in the first episode. And hey, Chris Mulkey is the new Panthers coach. What with Ray Wise on Reaper and Miguel Ferrer in The Woman Who Is Bionical, this season is like a big shiny present to all of us Twin Peaks fans.

Of course, the big premiere of the week was Pushing Daisies, by Wonderfalls/Dead Like Me creator (and Heroes staffer) Bryan Fuller, and the weight of the world was on its shoulders. Lauded by critics since its appearance at ShoWest, it has been praised as the sole repository of originality in an otherwise dull new season, and the next big thing (if the audience can swallow it). Being cynical, I was wary, but the pilot did make me laugh quite a bit, and the cast were very likeable, especially Chi McBride as Emerson Cod (and hey, a small role for Repo Man actor Sy Richardson!).

However, I've got big problems with it. Firstly, original? Torchwood featured a Resurrection Glove that brought corpses back to life for 30 seconds (or a minute; I was staving off overwhelming ennui every time I watched the show, so I could be wrong).

In that, it was also used to find out who killed the person being resurrected. I can imagine that's the logical way to go once you come up with the concept of a Resurrection Glove/Pie-Maker, but still, it's a bit too close for comfort. Canyon pointed out that Torchwood creator Russell T. Davies did rip off Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass almost completely during the Doctor Who season two finale, so he can't really complain about plagiarism. Tru Calling creator Jon Harmon Feldman could, though.

Secondly, Barry Sonnenfeld was once a magnificent Director of Photography. His work on the Coen's early movies blew me away when I was younger, and he did strong work with Rob Reiner on When Harry Met Sally and Misery. Then he became a director with an extremely limited bag of tricks ripped off from his time on Raising Arizona, mostly involving dollying into something to express emphasis, fish-eye lenses, lots of attention-seeking POV, and pointless overhead shots. I greatly enjoyed Men in Black (mostly due to Ed Solomon's co-scripting and the excellent chemistry between the leads) and Get Shorty (where Sonnenfeld reined in some of the excess, though sadly not all), but everything else he has done is average-to-horrible. His TV adaptation of Ben Edlund's awesome The Tick was rendered almost unwatchable with his heightened reality shtick, and sadly he's brought even more of that to the table with Pushing Daisies.

In a 42 minute long show, he had at least 34 emphasis dollies, 11 overhead shots, and POV every five minutes (yes, I actually counted). It blighted the show to such an extent that I even forgot to be annoyed by the cloying narration. I may have enjoyed some of Tim Burton's early work, and I might have even liked Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, both of which were stylistically very similar to Pushing Daisies, but that knowing fairy-tale style gets old real quick, and the show was utterly hamstrung by it.

By comparison, the over-directing in Ugly Betty annoys me not a jot. In fact, I think it's one of the best directed shows on TV, even though it too is garish and overdone and often very silly. Perhaps it works because the tricks are used with a lot more restraint, occasionally settling down to just let the scene breathe for a few minutes. Plus, the show might not be the acme of bitchery that it thinks it is, but some of the saltiness of the show does keep the sugariness at bay. Each week there is a battle between the two tones, and it almost always maintains a happy equilibrium. (This week was excellent too, with Vanessa Williams rocking the house down. She wuz robbed at the Emmys!)

I will admit, the love story between Chuck and Ned charmed me, and the final scene with them holding their own hands whilst looking at each other made me cry a little, but only when Sonnenfeld hands over the megaphone (reportedly midway through the third episode) will I relax and assess the show without a red mist of rage descending every time the camera whooshes towards someone wearing an expression of surprise.

Oh, and third strike against the show; if Ned's touch can kill Chuck, can the directors please ensure they keep the two of them as far apart as possible? Whenever they're onscreen together I'm stupidly terrified Ned will trip over something and accidentally kill her. The scene where they smashed the monkey sculptures together almost gave me a heart attack. This might prove to be the one thing that ruins the show for me altogether; the fear that a mistake will kill her. I know it won't (the show wouldn't survive it, after all), but I was agitated for a long section of the first episode. Reaper's pilot was a much more relaxing and enjoyable first hour, and Kevin Smith, Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters are to be commended. They win a Caruso award for Best New Show! It means nothing, but they've won it! Yay showrunners! Keep it up!


Jaredan said...

Reaper is certainly the show that I'm finding most enjoyable, Chuck I watch for Adam Baldwin's moments of crabby violence, though the rest of the show needs some work.
I have to say I'm already being dragged back towards the life on the Internets and their pernicious tubes due to not having much to grab me and hurl me in front of the television screen.
I'm just about to do a quick write up on Heroes and I think its maudlin dullness might be getting to me.

Jaredan said...

And I forgot to mention I also found Pushing Daisies pretty average.
Apparently the critics here are raving about it, maybe I was just distracted by Anna Friel's new teeth.