Tuesday, 2 October 2007

This Week in TV: Week 1 (Pt. 2)

As Canyon said, we watched a potentially synapse-damaging amount of TV, with only a bit of it actually amounting to anything. Old reliables House and CSI provided the highlights, along with The Office and Ugly Betty. The latter was in a particularly strong position after a storming season finale which packed in more plot than the entire season of Tell Me You Tolerate Me, Preferably In A Passive-Aggressive Stylee. The season 2 premiere opened with a telenovela parody that shouldn’t have worked but did, and then some. I do hate parodies like this, especially lazy-ass martial arts spoofs, with the heeeelarryus dubbing and crash zooms (exempt from this criticism is the Fistful of Yen spoof in Kentucky Fried Movie, which cracks me up). Spoofing telenovelas is even easier, but as it’s a nod to the origins of the show, and featured Christopher Gorham, Jayma Mays and America Ferrera being so silly, I was won over.

The rest of the episode played out as the traditional season premiere exposition-a-thon, with the only real surprise being my reaction to Hilda’s heartbreak (i.e. I cried). Not that this is a criticism; it was pacy and funny as always, so it gets a thumbs-up, even though Becki Newton’s fat suit was terrible. Doesn’t matter. She was great, as was Judith Light, who is practically a series regular now. Here’s hoping, as she is Queen Snarky.

Even better was The Office, with two episodes screened back to back. The big event was the Jim/Pam reveal, which John Krasinski spoiled a while back by saying the producers were hoping to explore their relationship. Whatever. I like the characters but I’m much less invested in that arc than I am in everything else, especially Michael and Jan’s dysfunctional couple, and the possible breakdown of Dwight/Angela. Regarding the original series, Tim/Dawn was the thing I liked most about it, but then as fantastic as that show was, it didn’t have the rich cast of characters that The US Office now has (and no Creed-analogue, which automatically makes it inferior), so now I’m kind of spoiled for choice. Jam/Pim/PB&J just don't matter as much any more.

It wasn’t all good, though. One of the dismaying trends of the new season is the lack of originality in the new shows. There’s nothing as odd as Lost, as potentially controversial as Dexter, or even as promising as Studio 60 (hate it though I do, it seemed to be the show to beat this time last year). What we do have is Moonlight (Angel meets Forever Knight), Reaper (Ghost Rider/Brimstone meets Clerks), Chuck (Alias meets Clerks), Bionic Woman (a reimagining of a spin-off), Journeyman (Quantum Leap meets Early Edition), and Dirty Stupid Monkey (Arrested Development with a lot less laughs). Even much-touted Pushing Daisies is possibly extracted from Tru Calling and a Torchwood plot device, horribly enough. Even so, it still sounds like the most interesting of the pilots.

Speaking of those shows, we also saw Journeyman, and it seems like the showrunners took the bits of Quantum Leap that worked (honourable man travels through time to save people), added the stuff that the format wouldn’t allow (a personal life for the protagonist plus a history of substance abuse, an arc involving his former lover), and then took away the quirky stuff that made the previous show so watchable (Al, Ziggy, the odd bit of cross-dressing). It’s pretty bland stuff, though kudos for hiring Kevin McKidd, who looks like the freak-birthed lovechild of Daniel Craig and Paul Bettany.

He’s a more interesting actor than your usual episodic low-brow sci-fi show would get. The first episode hinted that there would be some explanation of what is happening to our hero (Quantum Leap’s explanation was, famously, “It wuz God wot done it.”), and it seems the paradoxically chronoriffic effects of his travels will affect things around him, but we’ll see how bold the writers are. In a few weeks he could just be pootling around teaching John Lennon the lyrics to Imagine, at which point we will stop watching. With extreme prejudice!

Which might happen sooner rather than later with Bionical Woman, which was aaaaaawful. Perhaps it will get better; NBC are changing the showrunners like Magic – The Gathering cards, desperate to keep the momentum of the show going, but it needs to make a lot more changes before becoming a watchable show. Though I hate to kick a Brit when she’s down, Michelle Ryan is insufficiently bionic as Jaime Summers, though she’s not helped by the ridonkulous running effects and horrifically bad wirework. Even worse, her character is whininess incarnate. Her nanotech pioneer boyfriend saves her life by pumping her full of nanodoohickeys he calls Anthrocites, which rebuild her limbs. Does she thank him? No, she does not! She goes off on him about it and accuses him of ruining her life. At least you have a life to have ruined, you ingrate! Later on it turns out they also put warriortech chips in her superbrain (she has an enormous IQ, and thus works in a bar, making rocket fuel out of Triple Sec, obviously). At that point, her anger is justified. Before that? Get over yourself, girl. You ain't all that and a bag of nanobots.

The rest of the cast made very little impression. Miguel Ferrer growls menacingly (poor bastard), Jamie's sister is a little punk Gupta-in-waiting, numerous other actors point their faces at the camera or each other and look concerned, and the excellent Mark “Badger from Firefly” Sheppard wears some dreadful old age makeup and plays the big bad, as far as we can tell. As for Katee Sackhoff, who is getting the only good reviews in the show, she drools over Ryan in a viewer-panderingly bi-tri way, and wears the worst lipstick ever. I wish I had a screencap right now. This comparison pic will show an approximation of the horror.

Of these new shows, only one made a real impression. Dirty Stupid Monkey might have been tonally confused (was it equal to Ugly Betty in terms of camp absurdity? Was it actually a drama about corruption and murder? Would Peter Krause get to do anything funny?), but I can imagine that will settle down once the showrunners have a better idea of how their cast gels. The bigger problems with it lie in the sheer mechanicality of it.

Everything in it is designed by committee to put bums on seats, with nothing organic or real in it (It's the anti-Tell Me You Love Me, FOR REALSIES!). Principled lawyer working for sprawling, wacky, corrupt family he has a history with, all of whom are cliches (Paris Hilton-a-like, slacker son, evil priest, lonely sex-driven old flame, corrupt politician with a taste for transsexuals), tempted by the success and glamour of their lives while coming into conflict with his wife. It works (it's built like a machine by an army of writers and looks like a billion dollars was spent on it, so it kind of has to), but it might not hold our attention in the long run, despite the presence of Krause, Billy Baldwin in full-on puffy mode, and Donald Sutherland with his Amazing Eccentric Pimp-Coat.

The parallels with Arrested Development are obvious, and the AV Club has been comparing the characters to the Bluths. They’re right on a lot of them: Samaire Armstrong = Maebe; Evil Priest = GOB; Jill Clayburgh = Lucille Bluth, though as Canyon said while we watched it, how wonderful it would have been to cast Jessica Walters. Many are saying that Peter Krause is playing Michael Bluth, but Michael was part of the family, and Krause is playing their lawyer. Surely that would make him Barry Zuckerkorn.

And really, who wants that?

ETA: I got screen captures of the lipstick incident!

Is Michelle Ryan going to look like this when she inevitably starts to turn evil? That ain't good.

1 comment:

johnilf said...

Did you catch the Lost reference in this weeks Chuck... he mentions Oceanic flight 815. Oh and it seems like im gonna be sticking with this season for the duration, it was Adam Baldwin saying ' I never joke about quiche' that got me hooked.