Saturday, September 02, 2006

2006 Fall TV Guide

A few people have requested an “Emmy Reaction” post – but I don’t think one is necessary. I pretty much got all my thoughts about the Emmys off my chest prior to the show even airing (

What I will say is this – Conan was fantastic, and should host every year. Stephen Colbert is right – it’s unconscionable that he lost to Barry Manilow. There were multiple times during the show that I cursed and proclaimed “I am never watching the Emmys again!” only to continue watching because deep down inside I had hope that worthy shows would finally pick up some awards. In the end, the big wins for “24” and “The Office” did leave me with a good taste in my mouth (that, and the Wendy’s Vanilla Frosty I was eating).

But rather than dwell on the past, it’s time to start looking forward to the promise of a new Fall TV Season. Old favorites are back to resolve their season finale cliffhangers and newcomers offer the hope of filling the holes left in our TV watching schedules (and lives) by cancelled shows last season. With so many channels and options available, it can be difficult to pluck the worthwhile shows from the worthless, even in this modern age of Tivo, DVR, and iPod downloads.

I’m here to help. Without further ado, here is my second annual Fall TV Guide, breaking down each night with what you should be watching and why.

8:00 p.m. - Prison Break (Fox, August 21) – Returning Favorite

Cliff Notes Review: Prison Break meets the Fugitive.

Last summer I saw a sneak preview of a little show called “Prison Break” and it instantly hooked me. The first season didn’t disappoint. While it dragged on a bit in the end (a product of the show’s popularity, resulting in the need for more episodes), Prison Break frequently provided more “edge of your seat” moments than any other show on TV (yes, including “24”). The show created this tense atmosphere that had you holding your breath every time Michael Scofield snuck out of his cell. But the big question is this - How can a show entitled “Prison Break” succeed now that the show’s main plot and namesake is in the past?

Well, luckily, during its first season, the show layered itself with enough additional storylines to keep the viewer interested post-Break. While unraveling the conspiracy behind Lincoln Burrows’ incarceration figures to take the stage as the main storyline of the season, there are enough lingering side-stories (the race to buried treasure in Utah, Lincoln’s son going to prison, Abruzzi looking for Fibonacci, T-bag looking for revenge) to provide a full, complex storyline. To keep it fresh, they’ve introduced new characters, like former-creepy-guy-from-that-alien-show-after-Lost, William Fichtner as Agent Mahone, who plays antagonist to both Michael and Billick.

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While it may not achieve the same level of excitement as its first season, there is little doubt it will be an entertaining ride. Prison Break has become a modern-day “The Fugitive”, which isn’t a bad thing.

9:00 p.m. - Heroes (NBC, September 25) – Promising

Cliff Notes Review: A real-life version of “X-Men”.

Thanks to this newfangled “Internet” you’ve probably been hearing a lot about, I’ve actually seen a good deal of the new shows airing this fall, so I can give educated opinions about their worth. “Heroes” was one of the first shows I downloaded. While it isn’t great (not even close to approaching the giddy joy I had while watching “Lost” two summers ago or “Prison Break” last summer), it intrigues me.

So what’s it about? The show starts with the following prologue:

“In recent days, a seemingly random group of individuals has emerged with what only can be described as “special” abilities. Although unaware of it now, these individuals will not only save the world, but change it forever. This transformation from ordinary to extraordinary will not occur overnight. Every story has a beginning. Volume One of their epic tale begins here…”

Sounds like some sort of superhero comic book, right?

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The pilot deals with a handful of people (located all over the world) who are figuring out that they are a little… different. A cheerleader in the south discovers she can’t be hurt. A hilarious Japanese guy thinks he can bend space and time. A New Yorker is having dreams that he can fly. A hottie in Vegas can’t shake the feeling that she’s being followed by some sort of evil twin that we see fleeting glances of in mirrors. Stuff like that.

The surprising thing is the amount of time that is dedicated to developing each character without giving away any hint of “super powers” whatsoever. In fact, most of the episode revolves around these people (and their family and friends) doubting they have any special abilities at all. Also, most of these people don’t seem to have any desire to “save the world”, and no “bad guys” are introduced in the first episode. That’s what sets it apart from some generic fan-boy remake of “X-Men”.

I’m pretty curious to see how (if ever) these characters interact with each other. Like I said, they’re scattered all over the world, speaking different languages, living unique lives. Will some “big bad” appear, forcing them to work together to defeat them? Will the show focus more around the people coming to grips with being “different”? I have no idea, but this show is different enough to keep me watching for the first few episodes.

10:00 p.m. - Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC, September 18) – Promising

Cliff Notes Review: Drama / Comedy set behind the scenes of a SNL-type show.

Aaron Sorkin is back with another show that feels… exactly like every other Aaron Sorkin show. For those unfamiliar with his work, Sorkin was the mastermind behind “Sports Night” (drama / comedy set behind the scenes of a Sportscenter-type show) and “The West Wing” (drama / comedy set behind the scenes at the White House). “Studio 60” is a drama / comedy set behind the scenes at a SNL-type show. See the trend?

I’m giving this one the benefit of the doubt. This is the show that I see on the top of every critic’s “must see” list for the Fall, so I’ll include it on mine as a public service to my readers. The pilot was solid, and I love Matthew Perry and Amanda Peet, but there was nothing that inspired me.

It centers around what happens when the chief writer for “Friday Night in Hollywood” (SNL) flips out and rips apart the show for how lame it has become (NBC, are you listening?) Peet, a new executive at the station, brings in Perry and Bradley Whitford to be the new head writers.

There were a few humorous moments, but nothing laugh out loud funny. The seeds were planted for future storylines (Perry is now working with his ex-girlfriend, who he just broke up with, Peet challenges her boss, Whitford has a drug habit) but they all seem pretty predictable.

I have no doubt that this show will be solid, and we all know how much Hollywood loves shows about itself, so look for “Studio 60” to come up big at next year’s Emmys – but for me, it’s just a well-made show about a subject matter that isn’t overly interesting to me. But hey, at least it’s not a procedural crime drama!

8:00 p.m. - Jericho (CBS, September 20) – Promising

Cliff Notes Review: The end of the world (?) through the eyes of Middle of Nowhere, America.

The second of three new shows I’ve seen that have a chance to be great. The funny thing about this one is that, I kid you not, I had this same idea for a show / movie / book earlier this year, and it was pretty much identical to the pilot episode. Pretty freaky, huh?

The story is set “Jericho” is a small town in Kansas (not real), where residents see a mushroom cloud appear to the west (“over Denver”) and have all communications (and eventually power) stop working. One resident has a voicemail from his parents (in Atlanta) also cut-out midway with his mother screaming “Oh God!” right before it ends. The question becomes – what the hell is going on? Are we under attack from Aliens / Arabs / Australians (we never saw it coming!)? Is Jericho the last civilization left on Earth? Or is everyone just over-reacting due to suddenly being disconnected from the rest of humanity?

To me, this is a fascinating storyline. In this day and age of being constantly connected to everyone in the world via TV, Internet, and Telephone, what would happen if we were suddenly all alone?

The pilot episode introduces a huge number of characters (residents of Jericho), but stars Skeet Ulrich (creepy guy from “Scream”) as a former-resident, returning briefly to his old home town. There’s something mysterious about him, as he tells a different story to everyone when asked where he’s been during the years away from Jericho.

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I’m not sure how a show with a storyline like this can sustain more than a season or two without getting stale, but until then it should be a good ride.

9:00 p.m. - Lost (ABC, October 4) – Returning Favorite

Cliff Notes Review: The Survivors enter “Others”-territory.

I think I’m more excited for the third season of “Lost” than I was for either of the previous two, if that’s possible. Coming off a season finale that had more action than the entire first season, I feel like we’re at the edge of a number of huge reveals about the show that has been teasing us with mysteries from the start. The writers seem determined to “wrap up” the lingering storylines of the first two seasons in order to open up a set of brand new ones with the third.

When the show returns in October, we’re looking at a six episode, self-contained story arc dealing with the capture of Kate, Jack, and Sawyer. We’ll finally get a glimpse of the Others’ camp, begin to learn about their experiences on the Island, and determine who the good guys and bad guys really are. Even better, two of the more dynamic characters from last season, HGI and Desmond, are back as series regulars. What more can you want?

Obviously, there will be much more written about Lost as the new season draws near. For now, pick up the Season 2 DVDs this Tuesday and start getting excited – Lost is poised to have its best year yet. Emmy voters be damned.

10:00 p.m. - Kidnapped (NBC, September 20) – Promising

Cliff Notes Review: A badass cop, bodyguard, and bounty hunter work to recover the kidnapped son of a rich family.

This show was nowhere on my radar two weeks ago. After seeing the pilot, it’s one of my top three new shows of the fall (for those of you keeping track at home, those shows are “Heroes”, “Jericho”, and “Kidnapped”). Not to be confused with the not-so-great “Vanished”, which airs after “Prison Break” (don’t be tricked!), this show comes at you fast and hard – briefly introducing the main characters before a violent, bloody kidnapping leaves numerous people dead and kicks off the storyline.

What’s great about this show is that it isn’t a straightforward “Police trying to rescue a kidnapped person” story. There are numerous parties at play here. The family’s bodyguard and his agency, the FBI, the police, and a hired “bounty hunter” are all involved – all with the same goal of rescuing the kidnapped, but all using different methods, with different motives and methods, playing by different rules. Their interaction keeps the tension high throughout the pilot.

The characters on this show are fantastic. Jeremy Sisto as Knapp and Mykelti Williamson as Virgil Hayes are both Jack Bauer-esque in their badassness. Heck, the victim himself is fascinating – he’s a seeming genius boy obsessed with setting the record for holding your breath underwater.

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Even better, there are hints of a huge conspiracy lying just beneath the surface – which should develop as the season progresses. Why does the family speak French to each other and English to everyone else? Why do they only need a bodyguard for their son?

I can’t wait to find out.

10:00 p.m. - The Nine (ABC, October 4) - Promising

Cliff Notes Review: Flashbacks tell the story of nine people involved in a bank robbery.

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One of the two shows on my radar for the Fall that I haven’t seen (along with Six Degrees – blasted ABC, let your shows leak on the Internet!). It seems to take a page from “Lost” and rely on flashbacks to flesh out characters involved in a hostage situation at a bank.

It sounds interesting enough, with each episode beginning with a flashback of another 10 minutes of the hostage situation – but here’s what I want to know – what is the point / storyline of the show in the present tense?

It’s got a solid cast (Kim Raver – aka Audrey from “24”, Scott Wolf – aka Dreamy Boy from “Party of Five”) so I’m going to give it a try. Once I figure out what this show is actually about (is it just a regular drama about how a situation like this changes your life? Or is there something more to it?) I’ll let you know.

For now, keep an open mind for this one.

10:00 p.m. - Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County (MTV, August 16) – Returning Favorite

Cliff Notes Review: More teenage drama for rich kids in California.

Like “Prison Break”, “Laguna” has already aired a few episodes of its new season. Although the new cast pales in comparison to the old cast (I can’t say that I really like any of them, although I do hate Cami with the burning passion of 1000 suns), the show is still beautifully shot and a great guilty pleasure to voyeuristically look into the lives of the rich kids of Laguna.

While it has no redeeming social or intellectual value, I watch it to keep in touch with the kids, so that I can learn their lingo and what is popular with them these days.

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10:00 p.m. - Top Chef (Bravo, October 25) – Returning Favorite

Cliff Notes Review: Aspiring chefs compete in fun food challenges.

Currin and I stumbled upon this show last year and it quickly became a favorite of all the cooking competition shows we watch (of which there are many). What sets this one apart is that the challenges are damn fun (create a gormet meal out of ingredients bought from a gas station, candy bar and snack food taste tests, etc.) It’s a breath of fresh air compared to the standard cooking competition shows on Food Network (which I also love, don’t get me wrong).

If you’re a fan of the Food Network or watching people cook and eat food, you need to check this show out.

8:00 p.m. - My Name is Earl (NBC, September 21) – Returning Favorite

Cliff Notes Review: Man works to right the wrongs in his life to gain karma.

There’s a lot to like about this show. Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee, and Jamie Pressly all turn in career performances in a feel-good show about turning your life around. Deep down inside, I have a fear that the show will start to feel stale since it’s pretty much the same story every week – but thus far they’ve done a great job in introducing new characters and having enough laugh-out loud moments to the show work.

Now on Thursdays at 8:00, I kinda feel like “Earl” is the new “Friends” and “The Office” is the new “Seinfeld” – I can only hope NBC is smart enough to place “Scrubs” on Thursday nights this spring to complete a great comedic “Must See TV” night like the glory days of yore.

8:30 p.m. - The Office (NBC, September 21) – Returning Favorite

Cliff Notes Review: The humorous and sadly accurate life in Cubicle World, USA.

Somehow, out of all the dramas on TV that did their best to create a buzzworthy cliffhanger that would keep people talking all summer, the show that did it was this quiet, smart comedy. Trying to figure out what is going to happen to Pam and Jim keeps me awake at night (that, and the fear of clowns living under my bed). In typical TV fashion, the writers need to keep these two apart, but leave the door open for the possibility of them getting together (see: Ross and Rachel Rule, Section IIa). My best guess is that Pam calls off the wedding, but doesn’t get together with Jim either.

The Office has created one of the best ensemble comedy casts in recent memory – and there really isn’t enough time in each episode to give them all enough screen time. I mean, we all love Jim, Pam, Dwight, and Michael – but even characters like Ryan, Stanley, and Kevin are hilarious, even though they sometimes get one or two lines a week. Would it be so wrong to expand the Office to one hour? Seriously, what other comedies does NBC have?

Isn’t it ironic that a show that was almost cancelled by NBC a year ago came back with a strong season, won an Emmy for Best Comedy, and is now set to become one of the top comedies on TV? It’s great to see the show grow out of its British counterpart (which only lasted 15 episodes or so) and start paving its own path.

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With “Arrested Development” finally moving on to that big banana stand in the sky, “The Office” secures its place as the funniest show on TV.

9:00 p.m. - Grey’s Anatomy (ABC, September 21) – Returning Favorite

Cliff Notes Review: Sex in the City meets E.R.

The best show of last year moves to a new night and a new time in hopes of creating the same magic they had last year. Hopefully, they’ll continue to build on the momentum of their bloated three hour finale last year that had both the hottest scene of the season (the mega-hot finale scene between Meredith and McDreamy), and the saddest scene of the season (“he was a good Dog”).

There are also a ton of outstanding questions from the finale. Is Izzy gone? (no way) Will Meredith pick McDreamy or McVet? (temporarily choose McVet, then go back to McDreamy, see Ross and Rachel Rule, Section IIb)

Here’s hoping for more crazy medical situations that offer symbolism into the characters’ personal lives, hot doc-on-doc action, and a fantastic soundtrack. It might not be the meatiest show on TV, but it sure is fun.

10:00 p.m. - Six Degrees (ABC, September 21) - Promising

Cliff Notes Review: That Kevin Bacon game in a drama from JJ Abrams

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“Alias” and “Lost” were great. “Felicity” and “My Name is Brian” were / are serviceable. I’m curious to see where “Six Degrees” falls in the JJ Abrams scale.

In what seems to have spun out of the flashbacks from “Lost”, where we see how interconnected we all are, even if we don’t realize it – “Six Degrees” takes this theme to the forefront, and spins an entire show out of it. It’s a great idea for a “feel good” show, but I fear it will become a standard TV romantic drama pretty quickly. Here’s hoping it can build interesting characters and themes to keep me interested.

The other show that I didn’t get to preview; I’ll give it a try and let you know how it works.

8:00 p.m. - The Amazing Race (CBS, September 17) – Returning Favorite

Cliff Notes Review: Teams of two race around the world completing challenges to win big bucks.

“American Idol” might get all the viewers, and single handedly affect the TV scheduling of every other network, but “Amazing Race” gets all the Emmy love. Continuing its tradition of being the only show to ever win the “Best Reality Show” award (four in a row!), Emmy voters proved that they at least get some categories right.

The least trashy and exploitive of all reality shows, here’s hoping for another group of contestants that are likable, following in the footsteps of the Linz Family of two years ago and the Hippies of last season. While the star of the show for me might be seeing exotic locales, it’s always nice to have a team you can get behind.

Here’s hoping for some token hot girls, token funny guys, and token “bad guys” to root against… as well as some stops in Deutschland.

So there you have it. Looking at the schedule, it’s a strange fall. Wednesdays are super-loaded (potentially five and a half hours of worthwhile TV!) whereas there is nothing on Tuesday nights. All in all, we’re looking at twelve and a half hours of worthwhile TV a week – that’s up from eleven hours I was looking forward to last year. But with six of those hours being new shows with potential, odds are we’ll be well below ten hours of TV a week by Thanksgiving – well within the USDA’s daily recommended allowance!

Think I’m hopped up on goofballs? Tell me how stupid I am by commenting below. Want to leave some love? Tell me how smart I am by commenting below (and clicking on the ads above…)


Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis, looking forward to Lost and the office but you pointed out quite some more candidates for downloading.

How about Battlestar Galactica?

I know, quite specialised but still worth watching in my humble opinion even if one is not a sci-fi fan.

Keep up the good work with the blog


Anonymous said...

Pretty decient list. If you're looking for a Tuesday fill, give CW's Veronica Mars a shot. Hopefully it'll live longer then it's current 13 episode season three order.

PHG said...

Tuesdays. House. I need not say more. Great show.

Brian said...

Shows I should be watching, but never got around to:

- House
- Veronica Mars

Maybe this is the year I finally catch up on them, since my Tuesdays are pretty vacant...

As for Battlestar Galactica, I've heard good reviews on it, but guess I always thought it was some sort of Star Trek-esque show, which turned me off.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian,

thanks for looking back at the Emmy´s - I loved Conan´s hosting. It´s so sad that we don´t have his Late Show in Germany anymore as we did some years ago! Although I don´t know all of the shows mentionend and will some never get to watch,it´s always fun to read about new shows coming up. Yes, I will never see some of them either, but maybe...

I´m hoping for that kidnapping-thing - was that Timothy Hutton on the picture with Jeremy Sisto and others? Gosh, he´s one of the best and most underrated actors ever - in my humble opinion! At the moment I´m fascinated with his mini-series "Five Days to Midnight" - I know, we´re always late in Deutschland, but at last...

The new seasons I will be able to see on time are, of course LOST, and Supernatural (I guess you´re not into that), which I especially love for the hot car (the guys are not bad, either).

I also love House -yes, Pat!- (Hugh Laurie is awesome!) and would like to see The Office, but we have a German version called "Stromberg" (after the boss´s family name) which is really really good (3rd season currently filming), so I´m not so sad about missing the U.S. version.

Anyway, always a pleasure to be here! Viele Grüße aus Deutschland!

Stef said...

What, no love for Veronica Mars or House? That's what Tuesday night is all about for me. But otherwise I think you're dead on. I also believe that LOST and Grey's are the best 2 shows on tv, and I'm buying all of the Office DVDs just so I can have a little cubicle fun whenever I want.

As for the new shows, I do think Jericho could be interesting and a good pairing with LOST. But I can't look at Skeet Ulrich without remembering that old SNL (David Spade?) joke - "Hey Skeet, Johnny Depp called. He wants his face back!" I saw the first two episodes of Vanished and they were terrible, but Kidnapped looks promising.

Here's to many happy hours of tv watching!

Anonymous said...

Hey Brian-

Much like you, I'm really looking forward to the next seasons of Lost and Prison Break.

Heroes does look promising, but could they really do this storyline any better than the incredible 4400? (which by the way just finished its 3rd season in VERY strong fashion)

I look forward to taking the Lost journey with you once again this year.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to double-post..

Just remembered that you're on DMB tour this summer as well. I was only able to see 2 shows this summer, but thankfully one of them was the mind-blowing Atlanta show. Please let us know your thoughts from C'Ville.

Brian said...

No worries, I'll definitely put up a Charlottesville post -less than three weeks away!!!

(All the international readers will proceed to be thoroughly confused, as against all reason the Dave Matthews Band never really achieved much fame beyond North America)

Anonymous said...

What about Desperate Housewives? I know the second season wasn't as strong as the first (the mystery with the Applewhites wasn't as compelling or well thought out as was Mary Alice's), but I still anticipate a good third season. I can't wait to see what happens.

TV should be good this season though with shows like Lost and Grey's Anatomy on.

Mitch Dunn said...

You are so in the wrong line of work it's not even funny. If MediaWeek's "TV Guy" spent half as much time on the upcoming season, maybe I'd still be reading that column.

Jeremy said...

Hey Brian,

I agree with your point about The Office paving its own path apart from its BBC counterpart. But I think it's criminal to say the original "only lasted 15 episodes or so" simply because that implies it staled and was cancelled. The BBC version produced 12 brilliant episodes (plus the special) and then went out in top form.

The American version is great and I look forward to the new season, but it's got a long way to go before it surpasses Brent & Co.

Anonymous said...

How about giving Gilmore Girls a try on Tuesday night? I know it may sound like a chick flick (or - what do you call a chick flick for TV?), but it's my number one pick for Tuesday night. It's also my number one emmy rant, you would think the WB (now CW) doesn't exist watching the emmys.

fauve said...

steve poke, you are so right about Brian being the best tv reviewer out there - I think he's still a student - evenso, it won't be long until some publication snaps him up.

And, Brian, if you're interested in doing this for more than the obvious joy you get from it, I would do mass emails of each of your articles to every web publication there is. I don't see any reason why the checks shouldn't start rolling in. Good luck!

SinkingDeeper said...

Great post Brian.

Have you seen "Vanished?" It is pretty good!


It is a very interesting mathematical view of the "LOST" numbers.

Brian said...

My take on the other shows mentioned above:

Desperate Housewives - I could argue that the show isn't funny, and has soap opera-esque drama, but I think my real problem with the show is that none of the characters are appealing to me at all. Maybe I can't relate, maybe they're all terrible people, maybe their world seems too unrealistic - but I just don't care about what happens on Wysteria Lane.

Gilmore Girls - didn't this show get cancelled? Or at least the show's lead writer /creator moved on to another show? Or am I making that up?

Veronica Mars - I feel like if I started watching this show now, without catching up on earlier seasons, I would be lost. I heard last year was pretty confusing if you didn't pay close attention...

House - totally intended to watch this last night, but instead went to what was perhaps the worst musical I've ever seen - The Light in the Piazza. I am continually amazed at what people can put forth as "good stage". The plots, characters, setups - all laughable. Maybe next week for House!

PS - I'm not a student, but I wish!

Unknown said...

On the subject of House. My son made us watch this one last night (all because it was so big at the emmys...) So, I tried it again...I just could not get into it. I do not feel the acting is really all that good. I am so sorry to offend but this is an opinion platform, right?

I liked Desperate Housewives for the first 5 or 6 episodes but it became very predictable and essentially boring. Like Brian, I haven't too much to relate to these women or the men they run after. I keep thinking the whole time, do any of them work or anything? That would help if they had something to occupy their time!

That said I just can not wait to hear all about the other shows...I am setting aside my time for LOST...of course... and then I will watch The Office and I am looking forward to The Nine and 6 degrees. Heroes looks promising but I am afraid it will not stand up...I hope I am wrong.

The rest, I will gladly wait to hear your take on these have become the TRUSTED VOICE OF TV in our house!
I hope you get a REAL job doing this...I just hope WE never lose you!

Anonymous said...

First of all, great job on this site. It's my first (an ususally last) stop for Lost stuff.

But .. Tuesdays: House.

Great show, and even though it's starting into it's third season, you don't really have to be an avid viewer to get the idea of the character's and their relationships, i.e. I didn't see any of the first season.

fauve said...

Re: House - I don't know...have been a long time fan but the writing just seemed way off this first episode - so much so that it was distracting to watch. Hope next week is better. As it's my son's favorite show, I'll be continuing to watch it good, bad or ugly.

So Brian, what IS your real life gig?

Anonymous said...

Gilmore Girls is returning this year for it's 7th season sands it's creator/writer/executive producer. The new writer/executive producer has been writing for the show in past seasons and all reviews point to the same quality show

PHG said...

House felt different for the first episode because House himself was different. I am thinking that's why it didn't feel like a "typical" House. I agree on that other comment. I never saw the first season. And I only started watching season 2 because I didn't have cable for a while so I was forced to watch American Idol, so I would watch House after that.

Anonymous said...

On Veronica Mars:
I'm catching up on the second season right now (gotta love DVD) and it is a little convuluted. It draws heavily on the first season too which is a drag for new viewers. But, from what I've read, based on only having a 13 episode order, the creator of the show isn't going to go all wacked out with the plot and try and keep it a little more simple. Hope it works to bring in new viewers because the show really is good.