Wednesday, March 11, 2009

shows i watch(ed)

I gave up TV a couple years ago, or so I thought. One night, sometime after two in the morning, I suddenly realized – wow…I’m watching a week old SportsCenter for no other reason than I am getting behind on my TiVo recordings. I had somehow twisted the already misinterpreted aphorism of “Eat everything on your plate” and applied it to television. ‘Cops’ reruns were that last little bit of pasta salad that I might as well eat; I mean, it’s there…right?

I was very resolute – so much so I gave away our TV, boxed up the DVD and (yes) VHS collection, and tossed my DVD player and VCR player in the storage shed that was my basement. I can’t remember where the TiVo went. I did very well – forfeiting, among everything else, an entire NFL season to catch up on a pile of just-for-fun reading.

Enter free online television. Sitting through a 30 second commercial took up only slightly more time than fast-forwarding through an entire commercial break with my TiVo. I didn’t put up much of a fight (I even watched the first season of ‘Pushing Daisies’ - ugh). When Hulu came out, it was all over; not even the writer’s strike could save me.

Well, now I’ve decided to try my luck with a different aphorism: “Moderation in all things.” I’m going to pick two shows and stick with them. Below are the shows in consideration, in no particular order. Beware, some spoilers!

(Coming on Friday: book review on/response to Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time, which details the history, geography, and human experience of the Dust Bowl. Good times.)

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

I’m a big fan of Conan O’Brien’s – on Tuesdays. His was the perfect late night show to have on in the background while completing projects for school - but watching any of the shows after Monday’s was mostly a waste of time, what with the recycled jokes and tired segments. I think there was a solid week during the campaign when he didn’t have a standup set without a fat joke for Kirstie Alley and an old joke for McCain. But his sketches were sometimes funny, and his self-bashing refreshing. The sketches with Jordan Schlansky is some of the funniest TV I’ve seen in a long time. In my opinion, Jimmy has big shoes to fill (literally) on Late Night. We’re a week into the show, and unfortunately I think I’ve seen enough. His standup routine is almost as awkward as his entrance, his band (The Roots) appears to be way overqualified for this gig (which wouldn’t be a problem except they look bored every time the camera cuts to them), and I think he put a bit too much stock on the comedic genius of paying audience members to lick random objects. That said, the show is fresh, he’s still just testing ideas, and I will say that the show seems to be getting better. The producers have even almost got their humongo-tv working right...sometimes. Probably the best thing he’s got going for him is his innate ability to carry on a conversation with just about anyone. Granted – his guests so far have been A-listers, and mostly friends/old co-stars. But he’s obviously not going to have much problem with the interviews, which is probably why the interview segments start a lot sooner than Conan’s did. I hope he continues to get the ratings NBC needs to keep the show running – the show has more potential than I thought it would - but unfortunately it probably won’t make my cut.

24

I loved Season 1 – a lot of fun. I didn’t really get into Season 2, and didn’t even try Season 3. I jumped back on board after that, though. Yes, they’re getting more and more ridiculous. In fact, I was pretty much done with the show after last season, but when they started promoting the pre-season 2-hour premier “movie,” I figured I’d check it out. It was decent enough to hook me for another season. All-in-all, I’m pleased with it. I heard somewhere that this season was supposed to be a bit more realistic, but I don’t know just how realistic a strike-team assault on the White House is – I hope not at all. And from what I understand of security and intelligence agencies, cell phones are not as plentiful as they are at CTU or FBI headquarters. And I guarantee real double-agents wouldn’t feel comfortable detailing their plots with honest agents walking RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM, no matter how quietly they whisper. That said, you don’t watch 24 for the realism; you watch it because Jack Bauer invariably kicks ass. And one thing this season has that others really haven’t is the moral/ethical questions the show purposefully (if none too subtly) poses, mostly relating to Jack Bauer’s interrogation methods. Even if you were okay with what Jack’s done in the past, there are some things he does this year that you probably won’t condone. And he’s probably going to pay for it this time. I think the only reason this won’t make the list is my buddy John has sold me on the idea of waiting until the season comes out on DVD and watching the entire 24 episodes in one marathon.

How I Met Your Mother

This one will be easy to give up. The writing is as awful as the acting. I honestly don’t know why I’ve watched the episodes I have, but I think it has something to do with waiting for someone to get slapped. The slaps are very realistic. Too bad you never get to see Bob Saget get slapped.

Life

This one’s right on the threshold. Judging by those I’ve talked to, not very many people are watching this show, so here’s the rundown. Ex-police officer is released from prison after over a decade for a crime he didn’t commit. He settles for a ton of money, AND he gets to be a detective. He’s quirky; time in prison has cultivated a quasi-zen personality change, as well as a preference for fruit. The show is mostly about solving a weekly murder-mystery, but the long-term storyline is about him trying to figure out who framed him. Oh – and his (hot) partner is the daughter of one of the men at least partially responsible for his framing. Season 2 naturally is not as fresh as was Season 1, but I still recommend the show.

Lost

This is making the cut. Hands down the best show on television right now. If you haven’t given this show a chance, don’t feel like it’s too late. I still haven’t seen any of the first two seasons, but the pre-season synopses were all I needed to get caught up. The writing is phenomenal, the characters deep and believable even in this incredible setting, and the acting spot-on. I refuse to give any spoilers to this show. I just wish I knew someone local who was still watching – this show was made to generate theory debates and I have nobody to talk to about it. Email me if you wanna talk about this show!

Grey’s Anatomy

One of the girls I worked with at the Writing Center introduced me to the show. I haven’t watched many of the episodes, especially given ABC’s unwillingness to join Hulu (if Fox is doing it, why not ABC or CBS?). This show is basically ER with boobs. Every once in a great while, though, something happens that is pretty moving. And then Izzie Stevens has sex with a figure of her imagination – on numerous occasions. I stopped watching a while ago. Sorry ladies.

The Office

Still funny, but not AS funny. I think this show has officially ventured into full-season-dvd land.

Chuck

I hear Chuck is suffering from diminished ratings. That’s too bad. Maybe they should think about MOVING THE PLOT ALONG SOMETIME THIS MILLENNIUM! Sorry for shouting (no I’m not – I don’t get the whole ‘shouting’ all caps faux pas (pardon my French), who really cares? I wonder if people actually grimace when they see people shouting online. Yes – I SAID SEE PEOPLE SHOUTING-WHICH IS JUST AS ASININE AS IT SMELLS!) So, yeah, back to Chuck. The show might be the most formulaic hour of television since Quantum Leap, and yet, just as enjoyable. Plus, Sara(h?) is unbelievably attractive. And yes that is important, not because attractive women are a necessary prerequisite to making my television cut, but because Sarah is just that hot. This is one of the two shows Em watches with me, and we have this silly tradition of dancing like idiots to the theme song. So there’s that. Look – I’m not asking that Chuck and Sarah actually ‘go steady’ – but some progression in the plot needs to happen. It took something like 10 episodes for them to return to Chuck’s promise to his sister to find their long-lost father before her wedding. And by ‘return to’ I don’t mean resolution, I mean a “So – how’s that thing going with you trying to find Dad?” (Speaking of Chuck’s sister – also hot.) Regardless, this show’s probably going to make it in as the “whoops, I watched it anyway” alternate show. I just hope that when Chuck and Sarah do finally move to the next stage of their fake relationship (and they will), the show won’t suffer (but it will).

House

Speaking of formulaic… Ok, I give up on this show. There’s no way any part, not the least of which Dr. House, himself, is in any way realistic. Probably more importantly, it’s hard to find many redeemable characteristics in these characters. And when you do, their flaws eclipse their strengths. It’s not a good sign when you hope the main character ODs on pain killers. This show is just not as smart as the writers think it is.

Numbers

But this one is. I’ve seen every episode of Numbers, ever since I realized much of what they do is GIS (Geographic Information System/Science) analysis, which was my concentration in school and is my career currently. Besides, as far as weekly crime shows go, this is one of the better ones. Plus, there’s pseudo-math involved. Great geek TV. On the negative side, this past episode Charlie and Co. tried justifying the use of the granny method for shooting foul shots. Boooo. Still – this is the other show Em watches with me, and the show is actually getting better with age. I think this’ll make the cut.

Friday Night Lights

Season 1 – great. Season 2, big drop-off. Season 3 – much better. This is probably what you'll hear from just about anyone watching the show. I’m not sure what the show’s planning on doing with the seniors graduating and all, but I’m enjoying the storylines. Whatever you’ve been told, this is not Varsity Blues. Characters are genuine, and the writing, setting Season 2 aside, is often poignant. I’m realizing just now that FNL won’t make the cut, but I’m sure I’ll catch up with the show down the road. If the show get’s canceled, I’m hoping a cable channel picks it up.

Heroes

I don’t think there’s ever been a show that has done worse with as much potential as Heroes. What Lost has does right with time travel, Heroes has done wrong. Also, just because you drop Einstein’s name and mention the Theory of Relativity does not justify moving backward in time with a fast-as-light hero, no matter how much you boost her. Further, there’s two things people should be able to reasonably expect out of a show called Heroes: 1) the heroes should possess AND USE special, heroic abilities. Small military units armed with tasers should not be as much a threat to the heroes as they have been this season; 2) the heroes should actually...you know... do something heroic. All they seem to have done for two full seasons is bravely run away. And Peter, you really need to tap into some awesome soon. I think I’m done with this show until it gets canceled, and my money is on this being the last season. I don’t know if their ratings have improved since last season, but the fact that they’re on NBC doesn’t bode well.

The Daily Show

Ever since seeing a Jon Stewart stand-up routine in DC a few years ago, I've always been a fan. I only rarely let the fact that he's obviously a communist spoil what really is great comedy. The timing of his jokes/facial expressions, combined with the endless arsenal of video segments his team is able to pool together four days out of seven, is very unique. So is his barely concealed anger at the current political system and fear-mongering media. I've sworn off this show at least a dozen times after seeing some segments I thought were cheap shots, especially when the videos seems so edited and stitched together I thought I was watching a Michael Moore 'documentary.' But I always come back. And I think the last couple years his shows have been a bit more honest. Not that he's any less biased towards Democrats than he was - quite the opposite. But either Republicans are giving him that much more, good-as-is video material (enter Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and of course W himself), or I'm turning communist, myself. One of the things Jon Stewart isn't shy about admitting is that his fake news show is...fake. He doesn't pretend to be a legitimate journalist (or if he does, he does so with a goofy smile while telling Fox News reporters to go #*@& themselves). He goes out of his way to say he's a comedian first. But that doesn't mean his show isn't important, or that his judgments on status-quo aren't accurate. Jon Stewart is a big reason why I give Michael Moore a pass on some of his tactics; believe it or not Michael Moore is not always wrong. But he (Moore) IS wrong when he DOES pretend to be an actual journalist/documentary producer. Anyway, The Daily Show has been worth watching for years, and even more so now.

That's it. If you didn't see a particular show in this list, that doesn't mean I haven't watched it. It probably means that I didn't want to admit to watching it, though.

7 comments:

Ghooly said...

I'm offended you stopped watching Grey's. Okay, not really, you are so right about it. Yet.. I can't stop watching it...

JAWR said...

You sir, are insane. How I Met Your Mother is the only show on that list worth watching. You are insane to think the writing is in the least bit bad. As for Lost - I have watched almost every episode for the past season or two, and I am not a fan still. It just seems mighty pointless to me, and I am not a huge fan of the cast.
If Lost if a must, then HIMYM is a 100% must watch.

Amanda said...

You know what? You are so right. I don't even like pasta salad that much.

Jeremy Keegan said...

Of the ones on your list, I do enjoy Life and Numbers. I want to be someone who watches 24, but have actually never watched a consecutive 10 minutes of it, ever. HIMYM slapping is one of the best things to ever happen to TV, but it's a missable show for sure. Speaking of slapping, if Grey's makes the list, get ready for a surprise slap from me sometime. Agreed on Chuck - COME ON ALREADY! (sorry for yelling) Only other two mentionables that I enjoy - Criminal Minds and Lie to Me.

Josh said...

Jeremy - I think I'd actually just started watching Lie to Me when I wrote this. Great show; hard to go wrong with an actor of Tim Roth's caliber. But I'm still as worried about the show as I was when I first heard the premise. Every episode relies on a massive info-dump for the audience's benefit - i.e. "he did this with his face which means he's lying, but he did this with his lips which means blah blah blah." I don't think the writers will ever be able to stop explaining the clues to the lies because the show is as much about the clues to the lies as it is the about the lies, themselves. And if that's the case, they're going to run out of ideas. I think it's akin to why a show about poker where poker games are the focus will never work - they'll always have to have a Matt Damon, a celebrity observer, or a retrospective character narrating the nuances of an important hand, and eventually they will run out of original ideas. For now, though, Lie to Me is a good show to wind down to.

Wampa said...

Dude...our whole house (-Bowen) watches Lost. Goodwin has the first two seasons on DVD. I'm sure he'd lend them to you if you ask him. I'm actually on my second round through the episodes. Watched them once on DVD through season 4 and now Season 5 I watch once with Jaysen and again when Adam gets home. So what do you think of Sayid and Ben?

Josh said...

SPOILER ALERT! Wampa - I love their story arc. I couldn't believe S actually shoots B(kid), even though the entire episode foreshadowed him doing so. I just couldn't believe they'd go through with it. To be honest though - I thought B was actually dead (insofar as anyone actually 'dies' on Lost). Be interesting to see what happens to B in the cave of death/life/whatever that place is.