Thursday, September 30, 2010

What I'm Watching

Oh, people, sing it with me: It's the most wonderful tiiiiiiime of the yeaaaaaaar!

Earlier than you thought, right?

I don't, of course, mean the holidays, with their emotional stress and financial duress and nutritional abyss. I mean the TV premiere season, where new shows blossom and great old ones continue, and suddenly everybody's way more into fiction—whether or not they admit it. It's a beautiful and promising time, premiere week.

As usual, here's the semi-annual rundown of What I'm Watching:


Mad Men
10 p.m. on AMC
Premise: The lives and loves (and lusts) of Madison Avenue ad execs in the 1960s.
I think this is the first time in the history of Mad Men that I've been able to think critically and strategically about it mid-season—normally, everything in the Mad Men universe happens so slowly and with such subtlety that patterns don't emerge until the trajectory of each season is complete, when everything aligns with a satisfying click. But the times, they are a-changin' as the show approaches the mid-60s, and the tenor of Don Draper's life is both more fun (Don and Lane seeing Godzilla in the theater, Peggy riding circles on a motorcycle in an empty sound stage) and more depressing (Don's move from "business drunk" to "mopey, barfy alcoholic") than it was when he had a second life in the 'burbs (speaking of, little Sally Draper's experiences in the '60s are going to put her in therapy, or worse, for all of the '70s—aren't they?). This season is faster-moving than anything we've seen before, but maybe that's an homage to the cultural shift we're seeing in the show. Whatever it is, it's still great, if not even better than it's ever been.


8 p.m. on NBC
Premise:  Fomerly "nice underachiever accidentally downloads government secrets to his own brain; becomes reluctant spy"; now presumably "full-fledged spy slowly recruits loved ones for ultimate espionage family!" At least, I hope so.
This season, Chuck finds itself in a funny position—that of having survived. It's a show that's constantly on the bubble, always being saved by some fan campaign (which NEVER works, except for here), and having a fourth season at all is some kind of a small miracle. Last year, the premise of the show changed completely—Chuck still works at the Buy More, but it's just his cover. He's a capital-S Spy, complete with a new and improved Intersect, actual weapons training (he's still partial to tranq technology, bless his heart), and permission to leave the car on missions. He's made things officially official with Sarah, and none of his loved ones still think he's just a Stanford dropout with a minimum-wage job. So now what? I think this is where, if they know what's good for them, Chuck changes again—and becomes a spy family show. I think this is where they become The Incredibles minus the powers, or the later seasons of Alias minus the downward spiral. I also think this is where they take the opportunity to disprove in no uncertain terms the famous and misguided Moonlighting fallacy, allowing Chuck and Sarah to remain in a committed relationship without becoming either boring or dumb, or both. Whether or not this is the actual trajectory of the show, I can't say—but either way, I have faith.

Lone Star
9 p.m. on FOX
Premise: Young Texas oil man leads a double life. And, one supposes, lies about it.
Well, this is depressing. Lone Star was, if you can believe it, the only new show on my fall schedule—and it's gone two weeks in. Under normal circumstances, I'd blame FOX's long and storied history of smothering great shows before their time, but here I'm going to have to blame the viewing public. Lone Star was a good show that was consistently marketed by FOX and well-received by critics—but nobody watched it. Like, nobody. So long, surprisingly adept grab for Friday Night Lights's off-season audience. We hardly knew ye.


8 p.m. on FOX
Premise: Rag-tag band of glee club dorks find themselves and sing about it.
In the stable of TV-boyfriend personalities, Glee is like that guy who's totally cute and seems like a total catch, but who won't ever take out the garbage when you want him to. I spend my Tuesday nights with it,  and sometimes we have a lot of fun together, but just as often it drives me crazy. I want so badly for it to be a great show—to be as good a show as it could be. What if it had coherent storylines and discernible themes? What if it understood set-ups and pay-offs? What if it had snappy dialogue and dance-y musical numbers plus the emotional depth of Freaks and Geeks or Gilmore Girls? These, ladies and gentlemen, are the things that keep me up at night. I thought the season premiere was a mess—no actual arcs of any kind, less-believable-than-usual behavior on the part of Schuester and others, and where's my sometimes style guru Emma Pillsbury?—but I also thought it was par for the Glee course (with, to be fair, an excellent opening sequence, a cool duet of "Telephone," and a new character played by the fifteen-time national female arm-wrestling champion). And predictably, I sort of loved "Britney/Brittany"—not because it was great, but because it was competent, and it had John Stamos as a (presumably musical) dentist. I just don't learn, do I?


Modern Family
9 p.m. on ABC
Premise: Three branches of the same family are hilarious and endearing.
I know exactly when I decided I'd be watching Modern Family: Sarah and I were in Times Square, sitting on our suitcases and listening to Broadway on Broadway, and the ABC jumbotron overhead was looping ads for Modern Family, Cougarville, and whatever horrible thing it was that happened to Katherine Heigl on Grey's Anatomy last season...over and over and over. For like four hours. Halfway through, they had me. ALL RIGHT ALREADY, I said, I WILL WATCH YOUR NEW SITCOM, WHICH ACTUALLY LOOKS SORT OF FUNNY. GET OFF MY BACK GEEZ. And, really, I have no regrets over Modern Family. It's like Arrested Development, if Arrested Development were nice. There's no way I could ever choose a favorite character, nor would I want to (except, if I had to, I might choose Gloria because of that episode with her and Jay's dog butler, but then where does that leave me and Cam?). Also: every time I watch it, I say to myself, "This is the show I wanna write." Now that's good TV.


8 p.m. on FOX
Premise: A socially awkward forensic anthropologist and her hottie FBI partner solve murders using the victims' skeletons.
It's true that my sunny, happy murder show has taken a turn for the heartbreaking over the past year, what with Brennan always riding away in some taxi, sadly, and Booth making his patented Face of Unrequited Love all the time. But here's the thing: as previously noted, Bones has a history of knocking my socks off just when I completely expect to be disappointed, and—ahem—with five seasons of waiting and a romance that's beginning to strain credibility, this is probably a great time for them to work some of their magic. This season's premiere was essentially unambitious—after "The End in the Beginning," I expect only silly alternate-universe hijinks, and am mildly disappointed with anything else unless it involves the circus—but it also carefully emphasized the Jeffersonian crew as one big happy wisecracking family, which is ultimately what keeps this show afloat, especially in the absence of Booth and Brennan having mercy on us all and finally making out. Which doesn't mean you're off the hook, [Showrunner] Hart Hanson. We know what we want.

30 Rock
8:30 p.m. on NBC
Premise: Tina Fey plays herself, only single. (A behind-the-scenes look at the life of a female head writer on a sketch comedy show.)
To those on the inexplicable and insulting "women aren't as funny as men" train—which, by the way, don't ever say that to me—I say, consider 30 Rock when it's written by Tina Fey and/or Kay Cannon, and consider 30 Rock when it's written by anybody else. One is hilarious and wise and true, and sometimes guest-stars Matt Damon as Liz's soulmate, and one is inconsistent and sometimes ends with un-Liz Lemon behavior and a broken heart on my part. (I'll let you decide which is which.) I'm sorry to say that I think 30 Rock is beginning to age in strange ways (not that you'd know it from the premiere, which was written by Tina Fey and was totally spot-on), but it doesn't—I'll watch Liz Lemon 'til the end.

So that's the fall schedule, and you can be sure that I'm fully aware of how unambitious it is. No new shows! How is that even possible? I'm not even carving out time for the new JJ Abrams project, Undercovers, which goes against my personal pro-JJ philosophy, and I found No Ordinary Family tedious when I saw it this summer. No matter what good things I've heard about The Event, I have automatic resentment for anything that presents itself as "the next Lost." I'm thrilled to see Melissa McCarthy—Sookie St. James from Gilmore Girls—working again, but I can't get into Mike and Molly. The new stuff's not speaking to me, is all.

Of course, this isn't exactly everything. I'm still hanging on every word of Friday Night Lights and very much enjoying Leverage as a hiatus show. I have every intention of giving Community another try (I didn't connect with the early episodes at all, but I loved the heck out of the paintball episode). I gave up on Parenthood last year, but now feel the nagging desire to start up again. I hope to catch up on Fringe and The Good Wife, which I hear only sparkling things about, and I'm only on Season Three of Buffy. There's a lot of TV out there, and so much of it is happening without me—but a girl's got to have a life (...I hear). So this is where I'm starting.

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