Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Tube Notes: Recent TV news that has caught my eye.

Monk Season Finale is Friday. If you don't watch Monk you are missing one of the very finest extended comedic performances seen in a long time, courtesy of Tony Shaloub.

You can think of Monk as a modern day Columbo with a better sense of humor. Ostensibly a police procedural, the "mysteries" range from clever to cheesy and there is no violence to speak of. The charm is in the interplay of the characters with Adrian Monk, an extremely obsessive compulsive Sherlock Holmes. That premise may make Monk seem like a one-trick pony, using the gimmick of Monk's fastidiousness and limitless compulsion for order to generate gags and punch lines. It is to a point, but there's enough leftover personality to care about and Shaloub plays it without any sort of bombast and with utter conviction.

It will run thin eventually, but not yet. Episodes should rerun all summer; catch 'em if you haven't yet.


The Sopranos begins a new season on Sunday and I have mixed feelings about it. They can certainly do good previews -- the one running on HBO is more riveting than most of last season's episodes were. The past three seasons have been uneven with occasional flashes of the brilliance of the first. The movers and shakers behind the series maintain that the topic always was and will be Family, as opposed to Mobhood. That's a good sentiment, but they haven't really meshed the two very well since season one. We know Tony's family is falling apart; he's a scummy husband and a misguided father whose self-delusion shields him from change and guilt. Those facts really do not depend on Tony being the mob boss to be valid. There are plenty of non-mob bosses like that. Since season one, the relationship between the two has been tenuously held through circumstance. Tony's mob connections just accidentally play into the family problems, they are not as deeply interwoven as they were.

The end result is a bit of a disconnect between family soap opera and mob drama. Still, James Gandolfini is one of the most spellbinding actors around and besides, I wanna know what happens and I wanna know who gets whacked. How can you not watch?


Iron Chef U.S.A. redux? I have only seen one report of this so far, so I suppose it has to remain classified as a rumor, but it has been reported that Alton Brown of Good Eats fame is set to host another attempt at an American version of the cult hit Iron Chef. The previous attempt by UPN featuring William Shatner didn't fare too well. This one is from FoodTV so it may fare better (and perhaps have more realistic expectations).


The Family Guy lived in the animated area between The Simpsons and South Park on the outrage scale. It was very funny at times -- anyone who says they never harbored secret dreams of being Stewie is lying. Over the years a cultish following has developed. (I know I watch the reruns while chanting Quahogian incantations.)

It looks like The Family Guy is scheduled to make a triumphant return either to the Cartoon Channel (on Adult Swim, no doubt) or to Fox. If they can recapture the original season or two of top notch shows, they'll have a hit this time around.


The reality of reality. The Wall Street Journal provided a nice list of recent reality TV "concepts" that were under network consideration. It's a subscriber only site so I won't bother with a link but here's a list:
  • "Convict Island" -- former convicted felons live together on an island, competing for prize money to donate to a crime victim's relatives. (NBC passed)

  • "The Contender" -- 16 men learn how to box and take turns fighting each other, with Sylvester Stallone as their task master. (NBC would like to run next winter)

  • "The Jackson Five House" -- Five Michael Jackson impersonators live together, and high jinks ensue. (NBC passed)

  • "The Benefactor" -- Internet tycoon and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stars and promises to give away $1 million to one winner from about 30 contestants. (ABC will run this summer; Cuban says the only goal is to make him happy by any means necessary)

  • "Amish and the City" -- Several Amish 18-year-old men and women leave their community to live in a house in a major city. (UPN plans to run this year, but Amish groups are up in arms. Two questions, why would an Amish person agree to this and what are they doing with TVs anyway?)

  • "I've Got A Monkey on My Back" -- A cross-country relay race that sends two teams passing a monkey as a baton at each leg. (Fox passed)

  • "The Swap" -- Two mothers trade places, and the show follows how the families react. The show is a hit in Britain. (ABC plans to show in 2004)

  • "Iron Lung" -- Smokers in a house compete to see who can quit their habit. The winner would get a lung transplant. (rejected by an unspecified network)

  • "The Virgin" -- A sexually inexperienced guy seeking a mate among women he has been told are equally inexperienced. The twist at the end when he selects one woman as his love: Not only is she not a virgin, she's a porn star. (rejected by an unspecified network)

A single word comes to mind. And that word is cesspool.