Saturday, December 09, 2006

TV Mid-Term Report Cards

(Quick, hide them before your parents see them and ground you!)

Now that most TV shows are on their annual Winter Hiatus, it’s a good time to look back at the body of work that each show delivered during the fall. To be completely honest, I’ve been underwhelmed by most of the shows that I considered “must see” going into the fall. There have been a few noticeable standouts, but for the most part, I would say that the shows I watch were better last year than they have been so far this year. So let’s dish out the marks of each show that I hyped up back in September ( to see where I was right and where I led you astray…


Prison Break

Grade: B

What Brian Predicted: "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.”

What Happened: I was pretty much dead on with my prediction of this one. The season started by killing off a number of “main characters” from Season One, and in the process tightened up the storyline considerably. Unfortunately, we then fell into a pretty boring cross-country chase where the characters miraculously kept crossing paths in small-town America in their search for Westmoreland’s buried treasure. Luckily, the last few episodes of the season got Prison Break right back to where it needed to be and set the stage for a great second half of the season as Michael and Lincoln work to take down the President of the United States (“24” Season 5, anyone?). I’d also say this was the “most satifsying and surprising” of all the “fall finales”. Good work, Prison Break – keep it up!


Grade: A-

What Brian Predicted: "My chief concern for “Heroes” is how (if ever) these characters interact with each other… 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.”

What Happened: Luckily, all my concerns were addressed all these concerns in the best way possible – getting the characters interacting in somewhat reasonable ways, giving us a “big bad” (in addition to some potential “smaller bads”), and keeping the focus on the drama in the heroes lives rather than being a small-screen version of the X-Men.

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If I had to give out a “Best New TV Show of 2006” Award (and I do, contractually), it would go to Heroes without question. A lot of people have called this show the “anti-Lost” because the storylines are quickly moving, action-packed, and the a good deal of the questions raised are answered in an episode or two instead of dragging out over the entire season. For the most part, the characters are varied and quite interesting – we care about them and are curious where they are going to end up. The storyline moves at a great clip, and I haven’t ever felt like an episode was a “filler”.

Having said that, this show isn’t perfect. A lot of the time, the dialogue can be pretty clunky, sounding more like cheesy lines from a comic book than a network drama. It’s also pretty interesting that the show involving “superheroes” has actually been very light on the action thus far. I’m looking forward to some straightforward “action” sequences (although “Homecoming” was pretty intense) where we get to see the heroes actually put their powers to the test. That could ratchet up my opinion of the show to the next level.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Grade: C-

What Brian Predicted: "It’s just a well-made show about a subject matter that isn’t overly interesting to me."

What Happened: It worries me that the rest of America agreed with me on this one, because I generally curse the masses who watch their “American Idol” and “CSI” – but it seems that my chief concern for this show was the same as theirs – the backstage world of Saturday Night Live and network TV just really isn’t that interesting.

It didn’t help that this show isn’t really funny, isn’t really exciting, and isn’t really dramatic – it just is. You can nitpick about the show’s faults, but in general it doesn’t do anything bad. It just doesn’t do anything good either. There’s no passion and no reason for the audience to connect with the show.

After three weeks, I quit watching. I’m shocked that NBC is standing by this show because I really don’t see its ratings ever improving. I’ve actually read reports that some of the actors on the show were hoping it would be cancelled, because they’re ready to move on as well. Look for this show to slowly fade away…



Grade: C+

What Brian Predicted: "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?"

What Happened: It turns out, it really isn’t that interesting. The overall storyline of the show is still plenty grippy – what’s going on? Are we under attack by aliens? A foreign country? Ourselves? – it’s just that the other storylines are pretty lame. Getting supplies from hospitals in other cities, powerlines falling in playgrounds, and restoring power to the hospital don’t really interest me. It also kinda bothers me that the characters on the show seem to have everything a bit too easy given that they are completely isolated from the rest of the country.

This show needed to be much more like “24” – instead, it feels more like a family drama with an action story looming in the background. I’m still curious to find out what actually happened… but not curious enough to actually tune into the show each week.


Grade: C+

What Brian Predicted: "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?"

What Happened: The answer is: a lot more. Ironically, all the things I wanted to have happen (wrapping up lingering storylines from Seasons 1 and 2, learning the true nature of the Others, lots of Desmond action) didn’t. Instead, we got a lot of storylines I was somewhat indifferent about (Kate hooking up with Sawyer, Locke saving Eko from a polar bear, Paulo and Nikki action).

Before you grab your pitchforks and start hurling profanites at me, I should clarify that I hold “Lost” to higher standards than other shows. Although it got a C+, it’s still the number one show I watch on TV without fail. There’s no other show I would rather watch just because the show is so rich, well-made, and addicting. While I respect the writers and their storytelling decisions, I think we viewers would all be much happier if they would actually throw us a bone once in a while and give us an answer or two. They don’t even have to be big answers. Just something.

Why? Because we’re actually at a very interesting place as Lost-viewers. I think a lot of people have “jumped ship” this season, finally giving up on the show actually giving us any answers, unwilling to invest their time in the show without getting any payoff. Granted, this is probably weeding out the “casual viewers”, and we “die-hard viewers” could care less, it should be a concern of the show’s creators. After all, what good is a storyline if there’s no one there to see it?

As I said, I’m hopeful that the 16 nonstop episodes in the spring will make us forget about the more forgetful parts of Season Three: Part 1. Looking back, there was one great episode (“The Cost of Living”), two good episodes (“Every Man for Himself” and “I Do”), and three mediocre ones (“A Tale of Two Cities”, “The Glass Ballerina”, and “Further Instructions”). That sounds like a C+ to me.


Grade: Incomplete

What Brian Predicted: "The characters on this show are fantastic… 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."

What Happened: I never found out.

In reality, there are a number of shows on this list that would probably should be “Incomplete” due to mid-season cancellation (“The Nine” and “Six Degrees”, I’m looking at you) – but I feel like “Kidnapped” was the only show that was killed before I got a chance to fairly judge it. What I saw, I liked – a lot. But just as the story was starting to gain traction, it was banished to Friday nights and then taken off the schedule altogether, leaving us to wonder where the show’s fascinating storylines were headed.

NBC – bad move in picking “Studio 60” as the show to “stick with”. This was your chance to have a kickass show in your lineup that the “Sunday Night Football” crowd would actually watch. “24” didn’t get good ratings until its third season either, and now it’s consistently in the Top 10. Frustrating.

The Nine

Grade: C

What Brian Predicted: "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?)"

What Happened: Unfortunately, my fears were correct. The “interesting” part of the show (the bank robbery / hostage situation) was relegated to the first ten minutes each week, and then we were left with typical TV-drama about unwanted pregnancies, love affairs, blah blah blah. The show hinted that there was something more intriguing lurking beneath the surface, but it would only touch on this mystery for a few moments each episode. What it needed was for this mystery to be far more integrated in the show – because this is what made the show different, unique, and interesting.ABC, here’s your lesson – it doesn’t matter how many great actors you have in a TV show. If the story is dull, no one is going to care (unless all the actors are hot and scantily clad, of course). This show has been pulled and the network promises it will be back as a “mid-season replacement”, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Actors on the show are currently looking for other work, which isn’t a good sign.

Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County

Grade: B+

What Brian Predicted: "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."

What Happened: You know what, those crazy kids kinda grew on me! While I can’t really say that I loved any of them, I was indifferent to most of them. Luckily, what this season had going for it was more teenage drama per episode than any of the previous seasons, so you didn’t really care that the characters were for the most part uninteresting and incapabale of expressing real feelings or logic.

The Kyndra / Jessica / Cameron storyline was fantastic, especially because Cameron ended up being a normal dude in the end and being like “I don’t need this drama” and walking away from both of them. Equally great was watching Rocky express her “love” for Alex way too quick and him responding with a quick break up, or the overall idiocrity of anything related to Tyler.

In the end, Laguna proved that it doesn’t matter if your “lead character” (Tessa) is as interesting as a piece of plywood, or if you don’t have a token “hot girl” (like Kristen / LC), as long as there is ridiculous teenage drama involving spoiled rich kids, it’ll be good!

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Top Chef

Grade: A

What Brian Predicted: "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."

What Happened: The show continued to impress. This season, there have been more topical challenges (like the Thanksgiving-related), fun challenges (make a meal without using heat), and just flat out more interesting ones (make a meal for kids at fat camp that is less than 500 calories). One thing I’m noticing this season that sets this show apart from other reality shows is that the challenges are the stars of the show. There’s maybe two minutes of “confessionals” each week, then you jump into the Quickfire Challenge, immediately followed by the Elimination Challenge – as opposed to a show like Real World / Road Rules challenge where the drama between the characters is the star of the show.

It’s funny, but a sign of how much I like this show was the week after Thanksgiving, when I got back in town and had a ton of shows backed up on the DVR. First I watched “Heroes”, then I watched “Top Chef”. It’s that good.


My Name is Earl

Grade: A

What Brian Predicted: "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."

What Happened: It turns out my fears were all for naught. “My Name is Earl” wins the award for “Most Improved Show of 2006.” On more than one occasion this fall, I’ve found Earl to be funnier than “The Office”, even though my head was telling me that The Office has to be funnier by default because I like it better. But it was no use – laughs (much like my hips) don’t lie.

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Earl’s imrpovement can be directly linked to the storylines, which have been much more outrageous than last season, and a bit more racier (pretending to be God, stealing from a stoner, being addicted to gambling) – but I just feel like these are the much more natural things for Earl (who was a lowdown criminal) to be involved in. I’ve also loved the show incorporating some story arcs that last longer than an episode, like Joy’s criminal case (chock full of hilariously inappropriate deaf jokes) or their recent escapade to Mexico to retrieve Catalina.

I’m also happy to report that my dream came true, and Scrubs is sitting smack in the middle of NBC’s Thursday night comedy block. I’m even happier to report that ratings for all shows involved have been great for the past two weeks – keep up the good work, people!

The Office

Grade: A

What Brian Predicted: "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."

What Happened: The Office added even MORE characters, kept our lovebirds apart for most of the season thus far, and yet still is as great as ever.

I had no idea how the cliffhanger from Season Two would be resolved, but I’m happy to report that in my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have thought up a better storyline and resolution. Somehow, it was logical, progressed the storyline, and yet ended up putting us right back where we were before the cliffhanger (with Jim and Pam working in the same office) without seeming like a total “reset”.

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It was pure genius to have the first part of the season simulataneously focus on Jim in the Stamford branch and everyone else in the Scranton branch. While it kept the core characters apart, the writers came up with enough ways for them to interact to keep fans happy, while allowing enough time to get to know new characters like Karen and Andy. Now that the branches have merged (again, smart) we have a true “love triangle” between Karen, Pam, and Jim; a new nemesis for Dwight in Andy; and a fresh batch of characters for Michael to be totally inappropriate to.

Once again, The Office is at its best when it’s heavy on inappropriate humor involving minorities, homosexuals, and criminals. Mix in some heavy doses of Pam and Jim giving hilarious looks to one another and the camera, and you have the best comedy on TV.

Grey’s Anatomy

Grade: B

What Brian Predicted: "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."

What Happened: I can’t put my finger on this one. Grey’s seems to be using the same formula (described above) as last year, but a lot of the episodes have lacked the emotional punch of Season One. Instead of episodes leaving me with a smile on my face or a tear in my eye, most have left me just sitting there.

I feel like some of the storylines have been dragging on a bit too long (for God’s sake, just let Izzie come back full time! She’s learned her lesson!) and a few of the patients’ problems are bordering on bad-soap-opera (lady impreganted by two different guys, lady having an affair with a pair of siamese twins).

I’m hopeful that the show will pick things up (I’m smelling some hot doc-on-doc action between Addison and Alex), wrap up the “Derek has the shakes” storyline, and will be back to top form by the time sweeps rolls around – but thus far this season, it’s been good – not great.

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Six Degrees

Grade: C-

What Brian Predicted: "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."

What Happened: See: The Nine; under “Brian’s worst fears realized”. The show quickly dissolved into a standard TV-drama, not effectively using its “hook” of “we’re all connected”, losing focus and lacking much in the way of interesting storylines. Another show on mid-season “hiatus”, another show likely to never air another episode on ABC. Next!


The Amazing Race

Grade: C

What Brian Predicted: "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."

What Happened: Honestly, due to the rigorous demands of Bengals Tailgating (drinking from 8:00 am until 4:00 pm), I’m usually in no condition to watch “Amazing Race” on Sunday nights. There are a ton backed up on DVR, and I’ve seen a number – which I’m happy to report seem as good as ever – but not enough to bump any other shows off my plate so that I can watch the rest.

You know exactly what you’re getting with “Amazing Race”, and that’s a good thing – because it’s a good show – but it’s the kind of show that you don’t need to watch every week or every season.

So there you have it. When the Fall started, I was planning on watching twelve and a half hours of TV a week. By the end of the fall, my TV watching schedule consisted of a mere five (Prison Break, Lost, My Name is Earl, The Office, Top Chef, and Grey’s Anatomy) – who says I watch too much TV? I just watch TV with a passion, that’s all. Granted, with the addition of “Scrubs” and “24” lurking right around the corner, that number will rise by an hour and a half, but if you follow my lead, you should still be well within the USDA Recommended Weekly Allowance of Television.


Anonymous said...

Damn. You disappear for a month then in about two days you write a book. Good work.

Anonymous said...

what did you think about day break?

Brian said...

smokey - I actually thought that Day Break was very well done (at least the pilot episode was, which is the only one I've seen). Unfortunately, I haven't seen either any of the episodes after the first week, so I can't comment from there.

Part of me feels dirty for watching (or liking) it because of the incessant commercials for it, which I cursed everytime they came on.

Part of me was just so busy this past month that it was a bad time to start watching a new TV show - so Day Break fell by the wayside.

Unfortunately, Day Break's ratings have been absolutely awful, so I'm not sure how long it'll be hanging around on Wednesday nights...

Michael Martin said...

No grade for the Real World Denver?

,MM Agency

Anonymous said...

I'm a dedicated tv watcher, too, and I found that after sampling a few of the new series this fall, there was only one worth adding to my regular slate. Heroes, it is! Add that to my previous commitments to LOST, Grey's, The Office, The Amazing Race, House, and Top Chef, and I think we have very similar tv tastes. :-) Keep up the good work of writing about good television!

Anonymous said...

Hey Brian - what about Dexter? What a great show! What's your take on it? Also, how about 30 Rock? I think hillarious comedy. You?

PHG said...

Said it before, and I'll say it again, where is House??????????????

Anonymous said...

You can't please 'em all!

Great work Brian. Please don't kow-tow to your readers. They came because you have great opinions and judgement.

Keep it up!

SinkingDeeper said...

You have my vote for Heroes...I love it so far.

House also gets my vote.

Nice review brian!

Anonymous said...

Heroes is about as wanted and needed as a punch in the face. Studio 60 is the only show on network TV that demonstrates even a sliver of wit (though it is certainly flawed). I'm with you on Top Chef, though.

Brian said...

In response...

Real World Denver - Haven't seen it yet. Maybe I'll catch up on it during a marathon on some rainy afternoon, but it's far from required viewing for me.

Dexter - Maybe someday I'll be rich and have "premium cable channels", but that day isn't today. I've never seen it.

30 Rock - Actually, the commercials are pretty funny. Perhaps now that it's on after Scrubs, I'll tune in and see if it's worthwhile.

House - I really don't see the draw here. Seriously, isn't it the same thing every week? House uses some "radical" treatment in order to save his patient and thumbs his nose in the face of "the man". What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

Brian - Dexter is terrific and best show on TV as of late. Shame you're missing it.

Anonymous said...

I hate to admit this, and only as I am anonymous I will, but I actually enjoy Friday Night Lights. The plots arc from negative to positive waaaay to quickly, the charactors waiver in thier morals waaaay too much, and all it really portrays is a fictional Laguna beach with 3 minutes of football per week. But somehow, inexplicably, I enjoy it. Mind you that even in court I will refute that statement.

Brian said...

There is nothing wrong with liking Friday Night Lights. It's basically a TV version of "Varsity Blues", which is a fantastic movie that actually made me think, "Wow, James Van Der Beek is pretty awesome - he should be in more movies." Now I look back on that sentiment and think - yikes.

"I don't want your life..."

ScottE. said...

Heroes and Lost are the two MUST SEE shows in my house. Great Shows!

Agree with your feedback on House...Just doesn't schmeck me.

Anonymous said...

uh, wheres UGLY BETTY? :D

PHG said...

Re: House being the same each week.
Yeah, it is a similar pattern each week, but that isn't a bad thing. Most shows have some kind of distinctive pattern. Like My Name Is Earl. Great show. Same thing each week. Do something on list. While doing action learn something else that may need fixing. Throw in some good ol fashion white trash humour and there is your show. Same thing each week, but it is still good. Same with House. Every show can't be like 24 or Lost where it is some huge story line from week to week to week. Hell, they even mock it in the previews for tonight's episode. He says something along the lines of "I think we'll do what we always do, mock your ideas and use mine" or something like that. I don't know, I just find it funny and is something different than the normal doctor shows. I am afraid that if start watching now you will be disappointed. So many people are telling you to watch, it turns you off. Happened to me with 24. Didn't like that everyone told me to watch it, so I didn't. But then I started watching on my own and ended up loving it. I'm just sayin, when the time is right (i.e. sick day), rent a season and start watching some shows.

Anonymous said...

How can you have a TV Mid-Term report without mentioning "The Wire"?! It is the best show on TV and if you're not watching it, you have no credibility as a TV critic. Shame on you.

Brian said...

anonymous - Perhaps you missed my earlier comment about "maybe someday I'll be rich and will have premium cable channels, but that day isn't today."

Unfortunately, I have no means to watch The Wire - although I do hear very good things about it.

Anonymous said...

Grey's Anatomy is amazing. Nobody intertwines character arcs like they do.

And it's Preston that has tremors.

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