Monday, January 19, 2004

TV Wrap-Up, 1/6/04 - 1/19/04

So of course the return of new programming coincided with my return to a full-time job! Not that I'm complaining, mind you, I'm thrilled to finally be done with holiday specials and reruns, and to be employed! It just kept me from doing the weekly TV Wrap Up. So here's a quick look at the last two weeks of crap that I watch against my better instincts.

I still enjoy The OC very much, but the romance is starting to fade. While the equality given to the adult storylines has always been one of the great appeals of the show, it seems a little odd that the teenagers on the supposed heir to 90210 have become so boring so quickly. Worse, what seemed like such a fresh show over the summer is resorting to formula after only 16 episodes. I hate when a TV show plugs a band by acting like they're big superstars when in fact no one's ever heard of them. 90210 did it all the time too, and even Buffy succumbed once or twice. Some of the characters had never heard of them too, which allowed the writers to explain the unknown band to the audience, yet those same characters were then singing along at the concert. Far worse is the druggie-psycho-stalker plotline, which is just so David Silver. One of the things I love about The OC is that the characters are smarter than on your average teen soap. And when only Ryan, the dumbest of the bunch, can see that Oliver is completely nuts, well, something's just screwed up in the writers' room.

My Seth-love is fading too (which if nothing else should make my boyfriend happy). By playing up Adam Brody's sex appeal, they've actually made him less attractive, since it was his bumbling dorkiness that made him so cute to begin with. Sigh.

Even the adults have grown stale and predictable: As soon as you hear the words "Let's go to our favorite old restaurant one last time before it closes," anyone who's ever watched television before has to know that they're going to wind up buying the place.

The OC started high, so as much as I'm criticizing it this week, I still enjoy it very much. I'm just afraid that if the trend continues we'll be in latter day Creek territory all too soon.

24 has pretty much rocked since the break. I really like how the season seems to have been actually thought out ahead of time. Just when something seems about to go on too long (They have to spend 5 hours on what??), they give us a new twist that actually seems to be planned in advance and makes sense. Though not surprising thanks to the commercials, bringing Nina back was inspired (I know I should spoiler-proof that, but it happened two weeks ago so I'm hoping people are caught up). She's one of the best TV villains ever, and before we knew she was evil, she and Jack had better chemistry than anyone else on the show, so I can't wait to see what they do with them now.

My one complaint: Apparently the Salazars didn't learn the most important lesson from last season (aside from avoiding cougar traps): When you tie someone to the ceiling and torture him, you're supposed to strip him naked first! I suppose the producers didn't want to repeat themselves, but (no offense to Kiefer) I'd much rather see Chase's ass than Jack's.

Alias just rocks. I miss Lena Olin on the show terribly, but if we have to get a substitute, how awesome is Isabella Rossalini? The season's plot has finally gained some solid momentum, the actors are all doing excellent work, and I'm completely obsessed. Best show on television, possibly ever. Now that the first two seasons are out on DVD, you all need to be watching it.

Last week on West Wing they took my Stockard away, but they added the always-fabulous and perfectly presidential James Cromwell, and brought some much-needed humor back, as well as John Goodman and the actress who plays Leo's daughter, who hasn't been around since the first season. The new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is played by one of my favorite actors who works all the time but isn't famous, Terry O'Quinn, who also returned to Alias last week.

This week the First Lady returned, and political plots returned to the front lines in place of schmaltzy drama, absurd clowning, or inappropriate whining. I think the new team has finally moved out from the shadow of Aaron Sorkin. It's not the same show as it was and it never will be, but instead of trying (and failing) to mimic his distinctive writing style, the new team has found its own voice, remained true to the characters, and finally kicked the season into high gear. I've really enjoyed the last two weeks, though now more than ever I wish that Jed Bartlet were the real president!

The season premiere of Sex and the City didn't do it for me. Though Mikhail Barishnikov's character is growing on me (he icked me out at the end of last season), each of the other ladies had ridiculous, tired stories. Charlotte's was at least consistent with her character's tendency to take things to absurd extremes, but when Miranda (my favorite) was made a complete fool of for no reason whatsoever, I'd had it.

But last week's (which I only just got around to watching) was great, one of the highest-quality episodes they've ever done. The characters and situations seemed real, and for the first time in a long time I remembered and understood why these women were friends. There was a perfect mix of happy and sad, fantasy and reality. I hope they keep the quality up for the last few episodes. I can't say I'll really miss the show. I always enjoy it when it's on, but when it's off of HBO's cycle I hardly notice. But it'd be nice to see it go out on a high note.

Moving on to "reality...."

I know this will make some of you unhappy, but after two weeks I think I'm done with Average Joe Hawaii. I said this last season and it turned out I was a little bit wrong, but these guys are way below average. Part of the fun of last season was finding the diamonds in the rough, and I just see nothing but coal here. It's not about looks -- the casting people have stacked the deck so incredibly with losers, and some of them are downright scary. Last season, we had Adam and John, who were sweet and cute, and Zach who Melana at least seemed to like. Even Revenge-of-the-Nerds-ish Dennis was a total sweetheart.

The season we have Mike, "the most attractive out of the group," according to Larissa, who blurts out, "Jesus comes first in my life," and Thomas, who told her "You have the beauty of Wonder Woman," and then tells the confessional interviewer, "She's a lot prettier than Wonder Woman 'cause she's here in person...it's an actual girl!"

Nothing against Jesus or Wonder Woman, powerful and inspiring figures both, but this was the point where the show lost me. I'm embarrassed for the guys and in pain for Larissa who has to endure them. It's not schadenfreude anymore, it's schadentraurig. It's just making me sad. I'm won't pretend that I won't watch it again -- I'm admittedly curious to see who makes it to the end -- but it's off the DVR list and definitely not a must see. I think if I watch it every week it will destroy what little remains of my soul.

I watched the first episode of The Real World and was reminded of how good the show can be when the powers that be cast well and then leave things alone as much as possible. The premiere had almost no plot, it was just about letting us get to know the people. And this cast seems pretty cool and interesting. Letting them just roll without trying to force the editing to create a through-line out of nothing was really enjoyable. I was occasionally aware of the "wacky" girl's clothes changing more often than they should have, and became skeptical of the obviously made-up timeline, but mostly I was able to watch the show cynicism-free. Of course, by week two they were pulling out the tired Real World standby "I can't believe how racist you're being edited to look!" plot, and I was unimpressed.

"Reality" was redeemed in the unlikeliest of places. I didn't really think about this until I started watching the new season, but the last Surreal Life had a really sad quality to it. Poor little Emmanuel Lewis; ultra-honest MC Hammer; scary scary unbalanced Cory Feldman; and Gabrielle Carteris, always my favorite 90210 cast member (for real) holding it all together.

I thought I wouldn't watch the show this season, but then they went and cast it brilliantly. They got people who are used to enough privilege to make for good fish-out-of-water TV, but who are famous without ever having been beloved in the mainstream, and who were jokes to many even at the height of their fame. Unlike Average Joe, it's schadenfreude without guilt.

The show is a bit too wacky for me to write about sensibly (I just tried and failed), so here's a list of my favorite things about The Surreal Life premiere:
1. The music they used under Vanilla Ice's entrance because they couldn't get the rights to "Ice Ice Baby." Or, for that matter, "Under Pressure."
2. The fact that none of the other housemates knew who Trishelle was (she's from The Real World: Las Vegas.
3. Erik Estrada trying to teach the house parrot (don't ask) to say "Maricon."
4. Erik Estrada: "[This room] is kinda gay, but it suits me." Methinks someone has some issues!
5. Tracy Bingham: "I know I'm not a bimbo, but I'm also an exhibitionist…. I'm very anal about cleaning."
5. Ron Jeremy dying his chest hair.
6. Ron Jeremy referring to sex as "hide the bacon and shoot the sherbet."
7. Tracy Bingham refusing to flash Ron Jeremy in exchange for seeing his penis, and Ron Jeremy refusing to flash Tracy Bingham without seeing her breasts, even though she's posed in Playboy and he's a porn star!
8. Tammy Faye Messner

Touching on Average Joe again by way of a segue, I think maybe I've just lost my zest for public humiliation. Well, okay, I know that's not true. But I just watched the season premiere of American Idol as I write this, and I'm really feeling bad for the auditioners who were clearly strung along by the producers and told that they're great for several days and several rounds of auditions only so they can have maximum trauma in front of the on-air judges (it's common knowledge that this happens). One guy said "you wasted my time," and it was played for pathos, but the fact is probably that his time was wasted, quite badly, and all for the purpose of making him look like an ass on television. On the other hand, after three seasons, these people should know better, so I guess that makes it okay to laugh at them. Especially the woman who Simon bet could clear out a bar if she walked in and sang, and sure enough she did (even if they obviously had to pull people off the street to populate said bar at 11 AM).

Now My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé is on and it's awful. The "bride" knows the whole thing is a sham, but doesn't know the fiancé is an actor. Still, she is well aware that she's lying to her family. I suppose the payoff is that they all get money (family included) if she goes through with it, but this just seems like a hideous thing to do to people you love and I really can't deal with it. Normally in the world of Judgment Call, this paragraph would end with "So of course I'll be watching every week," but I think I can safely say that this is one to boycott.

Okay, well that was the longest TV Wrap Up ever, and I'm spent. That's as close as I'm getting to a witty closing line.

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