Thursday, June 03, 2004

Spring TV Wrap-Up, Part 2

Previously on Judgment Call... California fell into the ocean, killing several bad actors with it. Sadly, the writers of 10.5 survived. ...High School Reunion made me embarrassed for my generation that I am also Class of '93, even if we were 2000 miles and many IQ points apart. ...Bad singers who think they're good singers are funny.

Okay, something I don't feel guilty about watching is Friends. I'm apparently in the minority on this, but I loved the finale. Of course, I also cried at the OC finale, so maybe I was just in a mood that week. I got hooked on Friends early on. It's not like it was groundbreaking, but they took a standard formula and made it seem fresh. The pilot episode is still one of my favorites; the timing is so perfect, and we get a really good sense of who each character is, without a ton of clunky exposition. I generally don't "follow" sit-coms much (ie, I don't record them when I'm not at home to watch them "live"), since if they're good they'll at least be rerun in the summer, and if they're Friends they'll be on six times a day until the end of time. So I've only watched a few new episodes in the last couple of years, and haven't really known or cared what was going on (for me, the show jumped the shark when Rachel got pregnant). I just thought it was a really good ending. It all just seemed very appropriate. Which of course meant it was completely predictable, but I didn't mind. I guess the show has just kept my goodwill all these years, and I was prepared to like the finale. As much as I enjoy Anna Faris and Paul Rudd, I would have preferred more focus on the regular cast, but that (the whole baby plot, really) is my one quibble. I thought it was just the right amount of sappy, while still managing to be funny. If anything blew it for me, it was my inner jaded New Yorker screaming How the hell can you give up that rent-controlled apartment, you foolish Gellars??!

The Frasier finale, on the other hand, did nothing for me. I've never been a huge Frasier fan, though I enjoy all of the actors and usually tune to a rerun a couple of times a week. But when did it turn into Three's Company? The whole everyone-thinks-Frasier's-dying subplot was bad. Having it only last for two scenes with no payoff whatsoever was worse. And why does every sit-com in history (and yes, this applies to Friends too) have to end with someone leaving, or a wedding? Frasier gave us both, and I couldn't manage to care about either. The wedding, too, seemed like the sort of affair Jack Tripper would have catered, not the sharp, classical farce this cast used to excel at. Maybe I'd have cared more about everyone's love lives and babies if I'd been watching at all this season, but somehow I doubt it. Just get over it and leave already!

Speaking of leaving, do the writers of The OC really expect us to believe that Seth would be foolish enough to try to get to Tahiti, alone, in a catamaran?? That's almost as implausible as Ryan going back to Chino because of a baby that, in all likelihood, isn't even his, or Marissa not making everything about her for five seconds. That said, I enjoyed the end of the season very much. Seth's realization of how much Ryan meant to him broke my heart. I guess it broke Ryan's too, since Benjamin McKenzie almost found a third facial expression. I still can't believe that (Adam Brody aside) the adults have become the most compelling people on this show. And I really like how the story always feels whole. It's not like there's one kids' plot and a separate adults' one, they always intertwine. The wedding and the stuff with Marissa's mom coming to a head really pleased me. And I continue to be astonished by how much I like Peter Gallagher, for the first time ever.

Like I said, the finale made me cry, and it's a testament to how well these people know their genre that that's true. Because let's face it, everything actually happening in those last moments was pretty ridiculous. But it was incredibly well-edited, and the use of Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" made no sense but was inspired manipulation and did the trick quite nicely. When all else fails, play a sad song.

Of course, since The West Wing already used "Hallelujah" a couple of seasons ago (at least there it sounded like it fit with the whole Shakespeare vibe they had going), they had to resort to blowing people up and, um, a blood clot for suspense. I was actually pretty moved by the finale, because even in the post-Sorkin White House I really care about these characters. The difference is that two weeks later I can't really remember what happened, but I can tell you how each of the first four seasons ended. The show is hit or miss now, but still better and smarter than so much of what's on. The Glenn Close episode earlier this year was especially good, and exciting from a why-can't-real-politics-be-like-this standpoint. At their worst, the Bartlet administration is still better than the real one.

And far more entertaining than the Palmer administration. Dennis Haysbert is more wooden than Al Gore, John Kerry, and a tree combined. That's just one of the reasons I lost interest in 24 this season. The main reason was that I missed an episode (due, naturally, to a speech by Bush preempting it) and it took me forever to get around to reading the recap. This was actually a good thing, as I discovered that watching several episodes of 24 at once is far more satisfying, and helps the real-time gimmick pay off a little bit. Lots of people complain about the glacial pace of the middle of this season, but I actually kind of liked it, because, remember kids, it's all happening in one day. These writers have admitted to not planning out the entire season in advance, and that's never been more apparent than it was this year. There was a point near the end when Jack said something to Chase about Mexico, and I was like, Oh yeah, Mexico -- this morning!! I mean, fine, don't plan ahead, but could you take some notes on what you've already done? How could Chase even walk after the multiple beatings he got in one day?? And what was up with Chloe? Were they just trying to make a character more annoying than Kim? I guess we were meant to believe that she's exceptional at her job, and I know this isn't the most realistic show on TV, but could someone with such a toxic personality ever even get a job at a secure government agency? I loved her tactic of interrupting someone with "very important" information, then being shocked and offended when that person acted on that information. And I've written before about the bizarre lack of professional protocol in both CTU and the White House.

That said (or ranted, rather), I enjoyed the last few episodes. The virus storyline was compelling and appropriately horrifying, and I liked the focusing in on the core characters at CTU. I have no idea why the President was even in the show this season, and all of that nonsense was pointless and had no payoff, but thankfully it got briefer and briefer in each episode. I'm not sure why Fox kept touting the finale as "shocking," since it kinda wasn't at all, unless leaving so many loose ends is shocking. But then, I like that not everything was wrapped up in "one day."

Alias continues to be, for my money, the superior spy show. It has a welcome playfulness to offset the relatively credible interpersonal and national security drama. The writing is much sharper, and I feel like the actors have a much better sense of who their characters are, even if that just means "My character is a wanker." I've heard several friends complain about all the supernatural mumbo jumbo this year, but I enjoyed it. Maybe it's my constant hankering for continuity -- this was all hinted at in season one, then pretty much dropped last year, so I like that there's finally been some Rambaldi payoff. Or maybe it's just that I miss Buffy. Like Buffy, even at its worst, Alias is one of the best things on television. I did think they crossed the goofy threshold in the finale when they had Sydney and Lauren playing each other as if they were in masks that were later ripped off a la Scooby Doo. Meddling double-agents! I also don't support the lack of Victor Garber in the second half of the season, since he's the best actor in the cast, and the Jack-Sydney relationship is so much more interesting than any of the others.

It was kind of a weak cliffhanger, but I'm still pissed off that ABC is holding the new episodes until mid-season next year. Yes, I know that Alias is low-rated for a "big four" network, and I assume it's pretty expensive to produce, but it seems to me that benching it is not the way to keep it going. If it gained any casual viewers this year, they will probably lose interest during the long break. I'm glad ABC has stuck with it for this long, I guess, but I often wish Alias were on one of the smaller networks, where its numbers would be considered high.

...Though that didn't help Angel. I don't really have anything to say about Angel, I was just impressed with myself for that string of segues and I wanted to keep it going. As big a Buffy fan as I was, I never got into Angel. I just didn't care about any of the characters, least of all Angel, who I enjoyed on Buffy but I never thought he could carry his own show. More importantly, it's always been on opposite something else I like much more, even when it changed timeslots. But I was able to catch the last few episodes, and while I was still unenthusiastic, I liked the final moments. It all seemed very fitting. And a little boring. Which, for Angel, is fitting.

Speaking of boring, boy do I wish Kingdom Hospital didn't suck so much. Mostly because I got sucked in just enough to feel like I have to keep watching it to see how it turns out. I like Stephen King, and I like the idea of the whole thing, but it's just so nonsensical. I don't even really know how to begin to blog about it, especially in any kind of way that would make sense to someone who doesn’t watch it. There are way too many characters, with more being introduced each day, no realism at all (yes, I know, it's a horror show, but what makes SK's best work so good is his ability to ground the supernatural in the idea of a haunted hospital is interesting to me, but the idea of an understaffed hospital where everyone is crazy and nothing is sterile is far less so), and nothing particularly compelling about the mystery to make anyone, including the characters, care enough to get to the bottom of it.

I guess it's my unshakable faith in King and in the goodness of television that makes me think there must be a point coming. And there have been hints that it will all tie into the Dark Tower series of books, which I'm currently reading, so I want to see if that has any kind of payoff. Wanna make a bet that it won't?

Somehow, I managed to get hooked on Everwood late in the season. I like the show's creator, Greg Berlanti, very much (he took over from Kevin Williamson as the runner of Dawson's Creek, and wrote all the Big Gay Episodes there, and he wrote and directed one of my favorite movies, The Broken Hearts Club) but I found the pilot unwatchable and never looked back. But I was home one Monday night and got lured in by the Very Special Naked Ephram episode (Gregory Smith is a cutie and makes me feel dirty...and now I'll probably get lots of traffic on my blog from people Googling "gregory smith naked") and I really enjoyed it. The show, not Gregory Smith naked, which proved out to be far less exciting than I'd expected. Like The OC, the teen and adult plots are given equal weight, and it's all balanced by quality acting and writing. Unlike The OC, it features vague realism and WB earnestness instead of Foxerific catfights. Of course, this makes it harder to watch "ironically," and I'm far more embarrassed to be overheard in a conversation about Madison's pregnancy than Ryan's. But I watched The Creek through to the terrible end, so this dirty secret should really come as no surprise.

No good segue here.... I enjoy CSI, though I don't follow either of the series or record them when I'm out. I just tune in now and then when I'm home. (I prefer Miami, mostly because I like Khandi Alexander and that woman who played Ainsley on West Wing). I was excited, though, about the prospect of CSI: NY, with the hometown locations and all, so I made a point of watching the Miami/NY crossover where the new cast was introduced. I was underwhelmed. I like Gary Sinise but found him dull as dirt in this role, and they did nothing useful or original with the location. CSI: Miami seems to always be shot through an orange filter ('cause Florida is orange?), and the New York scenes here were all a very unflattering blue-grey. I know we're talking grisly murder, but you be nice to my city! There's something about Law and Order where no matter how gruesome things get, there's a real sense of love for the city. I'm sure actually shooting on location helps that, which is another bummer about CSI. I'll still tune in in the fall, but I'm not too hopeful.

Speaking of cop shows (yay, I got in one last one!), those of you who don't get Trio on your cable systems are really missing out. Trio is like what Bravo was before NBC bought it, only with more pop- and less high-culture. This month they're running a series on famous flops, and all this week they're showing Cop Rock at 8:00. I couldn't resist. Now, I firmly believe that good writers can successfully musicalize anything. Just look at Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, Parade, or Buffy's "Once More, With Feeling" episode, to name but a few. So I'm not fazed by the idea of a musical about cops. I do have my doubts that anyone, no matter how brilliant, could sustain a musical over a 22-episode television season, without at least getting really repetitive. I mean, Andrew Lloyd Weber can't manage to write more than five songs for a three-hour show...well, not that I'd ever call him "brilliant," but he makes hits. Anyway, here's the thing about Cop Rock: It's BAD. By any set of criteria: TV drama in general, cop show, musical. Even as stand-alones, the songs are AWFUL. And are we supposed to take it seriously? Because I can deal with people breaking into earnest song, as with the opening street-thug rap number, and I can deal with goofy lines like, "Has the jury reached a verdict? Hit it!" But I can't deal with both in one hour. Yet it's great fun. Time and true floppage turn crap into camp. I'm curious to see which of our current shows will rear their ugly heads in 15 years.

Finally (finally!), there's a series of commercials out right now that I actually stop fast-forwarding for: The brilliant Sprint ads with the small children ("Sally gets the deluxe paint set because she's new. So she's special.") crack me up. Those kids are awesome. I'm also very fond of the dancing diarrhea lady in the Pepto Bismol commercial, though that office needs to start using a different caterer for their meetings. A big thumbs down to the Perdue commercial that features Jim Perdue on a radio show, taking phone calls from chickens. This brings my talking food issues to the surface in new and terrifying ways.

Phew! Long post! If you're still reading you deserve some sort of prize. This makes up for not posting much lately, right?

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