Sunday, September 14, 2003

Indulging my secret desire to be a TV critic

It's taken me about a week to write this post. Bastards kept expecting me to work at work. I realize it's a wee bit long, but it's the sort of inconsequential pop culture fluff that is this blog's raison d'etre, so I've decided to leave it that way. I won't be offended if you skim.

This is an exciting time for our nation. The air is filled with promise, hope and creativity.

I'm speaking, of course, of the fall television season.

I watch a lot of TV. I daresay not an excessive amount of TV, but certainly above-average. And this may not even be true, but it certainly feels true, because my TV watching requires some thought and engineering. Because I generally work nights, I have to tape prime time. So this means I'm not just a "I'm bored, let's see what's on" TV-watcher. I have to plan ahead. There are cable boxes to program, VCR timers to set.

Adding to the logistical nightmare, for the past seven years I've kept a collection of Buffy on tape. (This started before you could get every series ever made on DVD (seriously, didn't Blossom and It's Your Move just come out??) and I just kept it up. Besides, it's way cheaper than a box set.) The problems with taping something for keeps are that you can't tape anything before the show you're keeping, or else you wind up with, say that Seinfeld rerun sandwiched between two Buffies forever (and that's an image I didn't really mean to conjure); and if you tape something after the show you're keeping, you have to make sure you have time to watch it before the following week when it will be recorded over. At least, these are the problems when you're as anally retentive about these things as I am.

The problem this year is that I'm taping reruns of The West Wing on Bravo. I love the show, and came to it late so on top of collecting these early episodes, I'm seeing them for the first time. But, in syndication, West Wing is on four nights a week. And that's just complicated.

People tell me I should just get a TiVo, but I can't really afford it, I'm inherently nervous about bringing machines into the house that think they're my friends, I have nowhere to put another piece of equipment, and I've just been generally resisting the idea that I need one. Most seasons I only wind up with one or two hours a night (and Friday and Saturday are usually clear because very little good stuff for adults is usually scheduled then). I don't feel like this is excessive, and I can usually manage it with tapes. (There's a story to come about DVR, but for many reasons I've planned my season as if I'm just using a VCR.)

This year, two of my long-standing addictions are gone (Dawson's Creek (I didn't want to wait for that show to be over, but I started watching back when Kevin Williamson and Greg Berlanti did all the writing and it didn't suck, and I felt like I should see it through to the end...two years of my life I'll never get back) and Buffy (at least I'll have my tapes to keep me warm at night, sniff)) and I thought this would make things easier this year. But the beginning of a season is always flush with possibilities. And I'm a sucker for good ad copy. I usually hope a new show or two will suck so I can take them right off my list after the first week or two. Though clearly, quality doesn't necessarily determine whether a show will hook me. (Five years of Dawson's Creek, people. I'm just sayin'.)

Anyway, where I'm going with all this is (drumroll, please)...
My Plans and Snap Judgments for the Fall TV Season:

  • Monday

    Joe Millionaire (8:00 Fox)
    Ah, what a wonderfully embarrassing place to start. The thing is, I like my reality TV lowbrow. The lower-brow the better. And a little mean. Witness my complete lack of interest in Survivor or The Bachelor, and my rabid obsession with Boy Meets Boy, Mr. Personality, and High School Reunion (I consider makeover shows their own genre, and Fear Factor an icky game show). And my fascination with this subgenre I'll call Trash Reality began just a few months ago with the first Joe Millionaire. I mean, it was just so brilliant in its badness. How bad a liar Evan was. How all the girls bought it so completely (but really, why wouldn't they? Before Joe, people on reality shows just assumed they were being told the truth about things!). How I rooted for Zora, because she was the smartest and really needed the money, but at the same time thought she was way too good for Evan (that observation seems to have proven true). And not since rats and snakes (okay, I watched one season of Survivor) has there been something as quotable as when Melissa M., after showing that she had never set foot in a kitchen and turning her nose up at the (admittedly crappy-looking) dinner Evan had made for her, said, "I want to go to a third world country and, like, bathe their children. Because I'm a mercenary kind of person." And Evan didn't notice.

    I assume the magic will be gone for round two. But since finding women outside of Amish country who don't know about the first one is impossible, the producers have promised a whole new show with a whole new twist. I hope it's not lame. Or maybe I hope it is lame, so I won't have to watch this crap. Nothing will beat the SNL spoof, "Joe Not-A-Rapist" anyway.

    Skin (9:00 Fox | TWoP)
    The commercials for this look pretty cheesy, but I'm a sucker for Romeo and Juliet, which is basically what this is. Juliet is the porn king's daughter, and Romeo is the son of the DA who's prosecuting him. The kids meet at a Latino Leadership Conference gala in place of the masquerade or the dance at the gym. I do worry that it will all come off as a second-rate rip-off of Baz Luhrmann's phenomenal R+J film, but we'll have to see how closely it sticks to the original story. One thing I won't let up on though: If, at the end of the series (be it this year or ten years from now), Adam and Jewel don't kill themselves, I'm gonna be pissed.

    Sex and the City/Carnivàle (10:00 HBO2 | SatC TWoP | C. TWoP)
    I know they say "Sunday Is HBO," but due to conflicts I get my fix on Monday night instead. Not much to say about Sex.... I'll be sad to see it go, but I suppose it's time. For the record, Miranda is my favorite, and I want her and Steve to get back together!

    As for Carnivàle, it's gotten mixed reviews and I think it might bug me. There's this thing that's happened since Twin Peaks where shows try too hard to be "weird" and "mysterious," and wind up being too quirky for their own good. Hell, even Peaks became odd for oddity's sake at the end. But I'll watch it because I love Clea DuVall from The Faculty and the "Invisible Girl" episode of Buffy, and Michael J. Anderson, an underused actor (but then, how many roles are there out there for dwarves...dwarfs...dwarves?) best known for, well, Twin Peaks, but whom I'll always remember for his wonderful performance in Julie Taymor's short film, Fool's Fire (it's tough to find, but if you can get it, watch it!).

  • Tuesday

    24 (9:00 Fox | TWoP)
    After being blown away by the first season, I have to confess I wasn't that thrilled with last year's 24. It had been so groundbreaking with the real-time format, and so good at throwing twists I didn't see coming, and last year I felt like the writers had no idea where they were going, and as a result they kinda forgot that the whole season was supposed to happen in, y'know, one day. And then there was Kim. In the first season, her kidnapping drove the entire plot, and somebody apparently decided that Kim-in-peril was essential to the show as a whole. But they couldn't very well have her get kidnapped again, so some new, strange bad thing happened to her every week. In other words, every hour. It wasn't just Kim, there was just a lot I didn't buy. But then there was that cliffhanger, and I knew I'd be back for season three. It's also some of the best acting on television, from Kiefer Sutherland, Penny Johnson Jerald, Dennis Haysbert and Sarah Clarke. And, according to Entertainment Weekly, the producers have promised no cougars. I keep my promises; let's hope they keep theirs!

    I'm With Her (8:30 ABC)
    I don't usually pay much attention to sit-coms and almost never bother to tape them. I figure if they're good they'll be on in summer reruns, and make it to syndication. I doubt that that will happen here, so I want to check it out while it lasts because I really like Teri Polo, ever since her stint on Sports Night.

    Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (10:00 Bravo)
    I'm sure I would have watched this show eventually, because it's become such a hit and I try to be up on all things zeitgeisty, especially if they're gay. But I tuned in originally because I'd done a show with one of the Fab Five, and wanted to see him. Happy as I was for Jai to be on TV, when he told us about the show before it aired, I thought it would be terrible. Who knew it would be the megahit of the summer? I'm unapologetically hooked.

    The Joe Schmo Show (12:00 SpikeTV)
    Remember when I said I liked my reality TV trashy and a little bit mean? Well it don't get much trashier and meaner than this, an entirely fake reality show set up for the benefit of the one guy in the "cast" who thinks it's real. I actually feel a little bad for "Joe," but it's totally fun to watch the actors screw up.

  • Wednesday
    It's All Relative (8:30 ABC)
    Another sit-com I don't think will last, but I want to support the gays. It's produced by the guys who produced the Chicago movie, and that recent spate of Disney TV movies of classic musicals. It's about a white-collar girl with two dads (and I'm not talking Paul Reiser and Greg Evigan) who's in love with a blue-collar guy with straight parents. They're calling it All in the Family meets Will & Grace. I remain skeptical, but curious.

    The West Wing (9:00 NBC)
    West Wing is one of my favorite shows. I like it for a lot of reasons: It's smart, it's educational (I don't know a whole lot about politics) though it never stops being entertaining, it's a chance to see my personal fantasy administration in the White House (that can actually get kinda depressing), and it's got some of the very best acting on television. It's also got some of the sharpest writing anywhere, and it's developed a signature style, so I was nervous about what would happen to the show with creator Aaron Sorkin leaving. But the article in EW's fall preview issue is encouraging. John Wells, who's been the executive producer since the beginning, is taking over, and they say they're not planning to change much. They do plan to expand the role of Republican characters on the show, to get some more debates going. And as liberal as I am, and as much as I wish Jed Bartlett were the real President, I have to think that will make for better TV than preaching to the choir like they've been doing. So hopefully they'll keep the quality up while they're at it, and we'll all be happy. And maybe CJ can date someone who doesn't die stupidly?

  • Thursday
    Tru Calling (8:00 Fox | TWoP)
    I can't decide if I think this show will be good or not. But the thing is, I'll watch Eliza Dushku in anything. I wish it were Faith the Vampire Slayer, but I'll take what I can get.

    The O.C. (9:00 Fox | TWoP)
    Thanks to a "summer preview," I'm already totally hooked on this one. It's been called the successor to 90210 and Dawson's Creek. I'd like to say it's better written than those shows, better acted, that the actors playing teenagers are actually somewhere near being teenagers, but we all know none of these things are true. In the acting department, Adam Brody is damn good (and cute!) as the cool nerd, and I really enjoy Peter Gallagher, which is strange because I've disliked him ever since his dull-as-dirt performance in Guys and Dolls on Broadway. Guess I'll have to stop holding that grudge.

    Coupling (9:30 NBC)
    The original British version of Coupling is, in my opinion, the best sit-com ever. I have yet to see an episode I didn't like, or for that matter that didn't make me laugh out loud (to be fair, this may be helped by the fact that English seasons usually run 6-12 episodes, not the 20-24 we get in the States...but then, there've been some clunkers on HBO too). The writing is smart and smutty at the same time, and the ensemble of actors is incredibly skilled. It is, to be fair, a Friends rip-off, but they've taken the formula and made it sexier and smarter, and the characters more likable.

    This is why I am certain the American version will suck. The clips in the commercials don't inspire much hope. Which is especially odd, because they're using the exact same scripts as the UK first season. But there's something inexplicably off about it. Like the syntax is wrong. I feel like the American actors are struggling not to do British accents. It's like watching bad high school Shakespeare.

    But I'll give it a chance. I'm not one of those purists who's all don't mess with my stuff! If I like a book, I'll run to see the movie. If I liked the movie, I'm always interested to see someone else's take in a remake. So I will give Coupling a chance, if I can figure out how to deal with it being on opposite The O.C. And if it blows, I can always buy the BBC DVDs. If you're lucky enough to get BBC America, I can't recommend the original highly enough.

    Friends (8:00 NBC)
    I love Friends but never make much of a fuss over it because it'll be on in syndication forever. But I'd kinda like to see the final season as it happens.

  • Friday
    Miss Match (8:00 NBC | TWoP)
    I probably won't enjoy this show, but I like Alicia Silverstone.

  • Sunday
    Alias (9:00 ABC | TWoP)
    I don't know what to say about this show that hasn't been said better elsewhere. It's just so fucking good. Great acting, and one of the most amazingly complicated (yet comprehensible) plots ever. It always keeps me guessing, always holds my interest, and even when crazy plot twists come out of left field, I feel totally confident that J.J. Abrahms knows exactly what he's doing and it will all make perfect logical sense by season's end. Plus, I'll watch Victor Garber, Ron Rifkin and Lena Olin do anything, and Michael Vartan couldn't be yummier.

    The Lyon's Den (10:00 NBC | TWoP)
    I haven't made up my mind about this one, but I like Rob Lowe, and I like legal dramas, and it seems sort of West Wing-ish.

    Arrested Development (9:30 Fox)
    Has anyone even heard of this show? It's so under-the-radar. But Entertainment Weekly (if you haven't figured out by now, sort of my Bible) calls it the best new comedy of the season, and it sounds wonderfully weird, dark, and twisted. And Jeffrey Tambor, Portia deRossi, Jason Bateman and David Cross is a bizarre cast combination I have to tune in to see. Though it's on opposite Alias, so that may be a problem.

It may surprise you to learn that I don't watch Angel. As big a fan of Buffy as I am, I could never got into it. I watched whenever they did a crossover between the two shows, and was always disappointed. And since it's on opposite The West Wing, which so rarely disappoints, it loses. I also haven't been able to get into Smallville, though it's so clearly my demographic (kinda geeky with hot boys). Sadly, it's also really boring. I'll be avoiding Tarzan, because it looks bad but also like the sort of thing I'd get hooked on anyway and I just don't need that. There are plenty of other places to see shirtless Calvin Klein models without having to watch them try to act.

So that's my unnecessarily long post on what I'll be watching this Fall. Hyper-critical updates to follow shortly!

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