Sunday, October 04, 2009

Toob Roundup

Toob Roundup: Haven't talked about TV in a while. Probably because there was so little to talk about. Summer featured some horrible TV. But things are looking up.

True Blood -- Ugh. This would be a second rate show on broadcast TV but everyone thinks it is more than it is because HBO allows unlimited gore, profanity, nudity and sex. Sadly, the gore is lame, the profanity is common, the nudity is pedestrian, and the sex is dismal. Worse, the dialog is wooden, the characters are hollow, and the whole shows just seems like nothing more than a supernatural angle on Alan Ball's I'm-Gay-And-Christians-Are-Stupid identity validation trope. Sadly, it's already renewed for another year. And now they have a soft drink tie-in. To repeat: Ugh.

Entourage -- remains a tissue-thin little romp. It certainly doesn't make me think, but more importantly, it doesn't even make me feel the need to form a critical opinion. The Piven is still awesome. If anything, it would be more appropriate for one of the USA "characters wanted" series than HBO. Speaking of which...

USA Network detective dramadies -- A few years ago, out of the blue, USA network started absolutely nailing these substance-free, highly-contrived detective yarns; post-modern versions of the 1970s and 1980s detective genre. They essentially by-pass anything resembling a coherent police procedural and instead create engaging, charming characters played by teams of quality, charismatic actors with excellent comic timing and personal chemistry. If you are going to make mindlessly entertaining TV, this is how to do it.
  1. Monk -- the flagship, now in its final season. I recently read that Michael Richards (Kramer) was the first choice for the lead role. That would've sucked astoundingly and aborted everything that has followed. Tony Shaloub is a great actor and deserved all the Emmys he got for this. Still, Monk was not my favorite; I tired of the OCD gags quickly. But it was a rousing success overall, as evidenced by the celebrities lined up to do cameos in the final season.
  2. Burn Notice -- utterly inane but one of the funnest shows around. I've written about this before, but the leads Jeffery Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, and The Chin himself, Bruce Campbell, have the best chemistry imaginable. Moves fast, zero substance, fun characters. This is the apex of the USA formula.
  3. Psych -- I just started watching this one. It is the one with the least pretensions toward seriousness and it features some of the best one-line gags since Sid Caesar.
None of these are must see, but great for a surf landing or Tivo-ing to zip through before bed. Nicely done USA.

House -- On regular broadcast TV (if there even is such a thing anymore), this is the only show I've been watching for a while. It is a complete waste as a medical drama and would be unwatchable were it not for Hugh Laurie's portrayal of the lead character (and increasingly Robert Sean Leonard as his sidekick, I mean Wilson). The show has always been a one trick pony, and I predicted a flame out for it many years ago on that basis, yet they've held it together. Now, however, there may be some cracks showing. This season started with House in rehab, desperately trying to exorcise his personal demons. Once again, I shall predict the shows demise. They appear to have hit the wall with the latest theme of House becoming more normal and seeking some sort of happiness. The show fails if he becomes that, or they turn it back into what it was and, finally, the one trick dries up. (I have given way too much thought to this.)

Dexter -- Showtime's headliner. A new season just started for the world's most lovable serial killer, this time his enemy will be John Lithgow (who is eye-gougingly naked in a few scenes in the opener). The storyline is a little clich‚d with a retired FBI agent in a quixotic search for the killer that got away. And Dexter trying to keep up with his new baby while finding time to kill (get it?) is blunt-instrument irony. But Dexter has always been a top quality guilty pleasure and it looks to continue as such so I won't miss an episode.

Mad Men -- the only currently running show that can rightfully be considered excellent drama is now in season three and straddling a fine line. I'm sure it is very tempting to let the workplace drama take center stage, but that would mean puppeteering the characters instead of having them develop. Even easier would be to hammer home the social change themes, but really, does anybody need another lecture on the mythology of the '60s? The show needs to be about Don Draper's and, to a slightly lesser extent, the other characters' personal development. This season has been entertaining as hell, but I get the sense that the plots are drifting a bit, as if they are not exactly clear on what to do next with these personalities. The answer is figure out where you want the characters to finish up, determine how to get them there, and set an final episode date to enforce discipline -- two more seasons, three more seasons, whatever is needed for Draper and crew to their endgame and not an episode more. I have complete faith the (series creator) Matt Weiner can and will do this.

Apart from that, I'll just briefly observe that my esteem for Breaking Bad, currently on hiatus, has been rising and I may have to elevate my judgment from great entertainment to great drama if it keeps going. Also, in terms of candy, I am tempted to start watching Californication, which comes on right after Dexter. The one episode I have seen was a hoot.

At its best, TV is vastly superior to movies, and has been so for quite a few years now. I have a free pay-per-view movie coming to me from Comcast and I can't bring myself to risk wasting the two hours, even at no cost.

All this high volume toobage is temporary. Once I settle into my next revision of Misspent Youth or attach myself to another writing project, my viewing time will plunge. Still, a guy's got to have extended veg time now and then.