Sunday, September 23, 2007

"...Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."

The Preseason Fine Fifteen

A semi-regular feature....

A reminder that this list is limited to current shows, in primetime (sorry, Daily Show, Colbert Report, and World Poker Tour), and excludes sporting events, otherwise my top five would be as follows:
1. PTI
2. NFL Sunday Ticket in high def
3. late season (5 through 9) Seinfeld reruns
4. Jeopardy
5. Watching Notre Dame get pasted by...whomever they're playing on that particular Saturday

Others receiving votes (from least votes to most votes):

Bionic Woman (while I was unimpressed with the pilot, this show does have a fair bit of potential. It's either going to self-destruct---and, given that the showrunner just left due to "creative differences," the second one, I believe, to do so, and there were rumors that they'd shut down production, this is a distinct possibility--or become a big hit), Gossip Girl (my brother really enjoyed the pilot; I've yet to see it), It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (maybe just a little too mean for its own good), The Sarah Connor Chronicles (solid enough pilot, no clue if this has staying power...or if FOX will give the chance to prove same), The Real World: Sydney (it's already in a holding pattern after four episodes, which is rarely a good sign; but it's also the first RW season that's taken place in a city I've actually lived in, so I find it virtually irresistible), Dirty Sexy Money (I’m excited about it, but haven’t been able to track down the pilot), The Wire (obligatory mention, one day I’ll get to this one), Kid Nation (I have to say, although I had a terrific To Catch a Predator/Kid Nation crossover joke all lined up, the first ep of KN was surprisingly watchable--who knew that you could be so verbose at age 10?; though, for a hilariously unprofessional review of the show by a critic who may actually be ten years old, check this out. Good times.), ER, Entourage (just as Shuk jumps on the bandwagon, I'm getting off. I'll keep watching, but the pre-Entourage Sunday night excitement is long gone), Friday Night Lights (I found the first season to be somewhat plodding, but I'm hearing enough buzz (Simmons, my brother) that I may need to jump back in), Back to You (early signs are promising--yay, Fred Willard!--but I thought it'd be a bit better), Kitchen Nightmares (first episode = surprisingly riveting), Cold Case (underrated--it might be her hair, which most girls--if Carrie is any indication--seem to despise), CSI (it'll always be good, but it's no longer appointment TV for me), Chuck (too soon, but I loved the pilot), Prison Break (if I may: Prison Break when everyone is in prison? Good. Prison Break when everyone is out of prison? Not so much. (It's right there in the title, you guys!) Ergo, Season 3--set in a Panamian prison which doubles as Thunderdome--should be good. We'll see.), American Idol (in my defense, I held off for a looooooong time, but those audition episodes are twice as addictive as crack—just guessing here—and make perfect drinking game fodder. True, it’s a bit of a slog once you get down to the final 12—and a two-hour finale for something that should rightly take eight seconds (“Jordan, you’ve won. Blake, go home”) is borderline unforgivable—but, all in all, it’s good TV. Add me to the growing list of people that have underestimated Ryan Seacrest. Carson, he is not. But he gets it done.), Ken Burns’ The War (based on what I’m hearing, this might very well crack the top 5 by mid-next week, though, given it’s a limited run documentary series, it’s unclear if I should even include it on the list. Screw it.)

By network: NBC (5), Fox (3), ABC (2), CBS (1), Bravo! (1), HBO (1), Showtime (1), MTV (1), SciFi (1), Comedy Central (1), CW (1)

By genre: dramas (8) comedies (8), reality (2)

(Yes, I know there are 18 shows on this top fifteen list. Cut me some slack--the season is just starting.)

T15. 24 (FOX, entering Season 7, returns Jan. 2008)
Last Season's Best Moment:
as soon as the end-credits began to roll after the season finale, wrapping up the god-awfulest 24 season in history.
Last Season's Worst Moment: every single second prior to the best moment. Yikes.

T15. The Hills (MTV, Season 3 underway)
Best Moment:
Not a lot to pick from this season. I think I have to go with "Brody Jenner nearly crying like a little bitch upon returning to his own party after injuring himself in a touch football game on the beach." ("You guys, can't you see I'm sensitive about my appearance?!")Bonus points because he was injured by Lauren. That was thoroughly enjoyable. High marks also go to the after show, which is surprisingly entertaining.
Worst Moment: I'm tempted to put the entire lacklustre (thus far) 3rd season in this category. So far, it's been a confusing (so Heidi and Spencer are engaged, but no one in Heidi or Spencer's family is aware of this fact? Also perplexing: I'm fairly certain they hate each other), repetitive (see Lauren lamenting the loss of Heidi's friendship, see Heidi adamantly stating that she doesn't want to talk about it, repeat) mess. It's gotten to the point where they're actively manufacturing storylines at this point: witness the episode where it appears as though Heidi has "backstabbed" Elodie by secretly seeking out a promotion that she was perfectly entitled to go after in the first place. As I say to Carrie every episode, I can describe what this show desperately needs in two words: more Whitney.

T14. Reaper (CW, entering Season 1, Sept. 25) Both the premise (boy's parents sell his sould to the devil) and the ads for this new show sounded/looked terrible to me, but after watching the pilot (directed, interestingly enough, by Kevin Smith, who, I assume, took time off from his busy schedule of appearing in supporting roles in shitty Jennifer Garner movies), I'm a believer.
Best Moment: I don't really want to spoil anything from the flat-out funny pilot. One thing I really enjoyed is that when Sam finds out his soul has been sold and when he tells others the same thing, it's treated as completely plausible. No eye rolling, no laughing, no needless subplot where the best friend and/or love interest steadfastedly refuses to believe our hero only to be convinced at the last possible second, etc. For whatever reason, I found this very refreshing.
Worst Moment: apparently, Sam's love interest in the leaked pilot I watched, Andi (as played by Nikki Reed), has since been recast, with Missy Peregrym taking over the role. I hate shit like this. Reed was no slouch in the looks department, but Peregrym (who played Candice the illusionist on Heroes) is runway model good looking (on account of her being a runway model). This seems totally unnecessary to me.

T14. Pushing Daisies (ABC, entering Season 1, Oct. 3)
Best Moment:
I've talked about this at great length a few weeks ago, so I won't subject anyone to a re-hash. Suffice to say, it's full of great moments.
Worst Moment: Me coming across this passage in my Entertainment Weekly fall TV preview:

Bottom Line...the most divisive new drama on TV, if the debate among EW staffers is any indication: Daisies is either a charming bit of whimsy or too precious for its own good.
The hell? Is "precious" Hollywood insider code for "original"?

13. My Name is Earl (NBC, entering Season 3, Sept. 25) Despite a strong season, I do feel like this show is spinning its wheels a little bit. Others will no doubt disagree. I'm hopeful that the "Earl in jail" storyline--which is supposed to last for a few episodes, at least--will help mix things up a little bit.
Best Moment: The Cops episode. Great stuff. I'm also partial to the line in "Born a Gamblin' Man," when someone accuses Earl of having a gambling problem:

"I'm not losing. So its not a problem. Thats like saying Michael Jordan has a basketball problem; or Def Leppard have an awesomeness problem. So, why don't you pour some sugar on that!"
Worst Moment: While most guest stars brought something to the table (Beau Bridges, John Leguizamo, Norm MacDonald, and the always-amusing Giovanni Ribisi), there were guests that fell flat for me (Roseanne Barr and, especially, Christian Slater).

12. Scrubs (NBC, entering Season 7, Sept. 25)
Best Moment:
I didn't love the musical episode as much as some did (except for "Guy Love," which cracked me up). Truth be told, not much else stands out, though I did like the ep where Ted had hair ("Their Story") and whenever Felicity showed up.
Worst Moment: the oh-so-forced finale. I don't think that J.D. and Elliot are going to hook up (again), but the whole storyline was/is so, so unnecessary.

T11. Heroes (NBC, entering Season 2, Sept. 24). Ah, Heroes. I'll be honest, I think it's sort of fallen prey to the whole "lots of super cool build up leading to a fairly tame climax" syndrome. That said, I'm pretty excited about the addition of David Anders (SARK!) and Kristen Bell to the cast.
Best Moment: Loved, loved, loved the episode set five years in the future. Also, anything involving Hiro and Ando was uniformly excellent.
Worst Moment: The tremedously disappointing confrontation ("battle" seems completely inappropriate) between Peter Petrelli and Sylar in the season finale. So, let me get this straight: Peter and Sylar spend the entire season "acquiring" other-wordly powers like so many Pokemon, yet, when they fight--i.e. the thing the whole season has been building up to--we're treated to two punches each and a vigorous shove? Weak.

T11. American Dad (FOX, entering Season 3, Sept. 30) Aside from South Park, this is the funniest animated show on TV by a wide margin. Translation: it's wayyyyyyyy better than Family Guy (seriously, what the hell happened to FG? I caught part of a newer episode last month that featured a two minute bit about the opening credits for Mama's Family--I'm not making this up) and The Simpsons (I don't even want to talk about it). Here's the description for the season premiere:

When Francine discovers that all of their family vacations have been artificial memories created by the CIA so that Stan could ditch the family, she demands a real vacation. Meanwhile, Roger makes a desperate effort to be the greatest actor who ever lived.
COME ON! Tell me you wouldn't watch this...
Best Moment: all of "Lincoln Lover," where Stan tries being gay.
Worst Moment: some pretty big swings and misses ("Bush Comes to Dinner," which was limp, and "Black History Month," which was dreadful).

10. Top Chef (Bravo!, Season 3 underway)
Best Moment:
Not sure if anyone is watching (or, for that matter, reading this), but we've already seen the first 11 episodes of the third season, while FoodTV has only aired three, so I'll avoid specifics. One thing I really like about the show: it's satisfying to know that the judges' decisions are reached based on how the contestants cooked, and not on how well they argue their case after the fact.
Worst Moment: unlike S1 (Tiffany and, to a much lesser extent, Stephen) and S2 (Ted, Marcel, or Betty, depending on your outlook), Season 3 doesn't have a true villain, which is a little disappointing.

9. House (FOX, entering Season 4, Sept. 25). [Shakes head] Not too sure what happened here, but this was not a strong season. The boring/pointless disgruntled cop arc, Wilson turning into a big baby, Foreman's dragged out departure, the ketamine cure--it all added up to...pretty much nothing. Throw in a season finale that went more or less nowhere and you have a season that is probably best forgotten. The season 4 gimmick--House hires a group of 40 doctors, from which he'll pick one--could revitalize the show...or crush it. On the plus side, the show's ratings have never been better. Also, Hugh Laurie is still the star, so you know it'll be worth watching.
Best Moment:
standout episodes included "Half-Wit" (the Dave Matthews episode), "Lines in the Sand" (the screaming autistic child episode), and "The Jerk" (the chess prodigy). Other than that, a quiet season.
Worst Moment:
How much time do you have? OK, I'll just go with one. In "Words and Deeds," the docs determine that the Patient of the Week (POTW), a firefighter, is suffering from "broken heart syndrome." Essentially, he's desperately in love with his brother's fiancee, but since he knows he can never be with her, his infatuation is killing him. Accordingly, it's decided that the best course of action is to shock his brain to the point where his memory is erased. This seemingly severe procedure is deemed a success, as the patient no longer remembers his brother or his fiancee. Except that it turns out that the brother isn't engaged; isn't, in fact, even dating the girl that the patient adores. It was all a fabricated memory. The team promptly discovers what is actually causing the firefighter's health problems (some sort of spinal tumor) and they fix him up. And...that's it. As far as I can recall, the consequences of the unnecessary memory wipe aren't even discussed, nor (predictably) is the implausibility of no one bothering to confirm that the brother is actually engaged before proceeding with this incredibly extreme procedure ever addressed. Granted, later in the season, a bad decision leads to the death of the POTW, and Foreman is grief-stricken for several episodes, but, if anything, this is even more maddening, since it exposes the show as wildly inconsistent with its characterization.

8. South Park (Comedy Central, Season 11 resumes Oct. 2)
Best Moment:

Mrs. Cartman: What is the picture of, Eric?
Cartman: Last time, when Butters stayed the night, I was being really nice to him, and I was gonna take a picture of him for his mom to have...
Mrs. Cartman: Oh, that's nice.
Cartman: But then, right when I took the picture, Butters got really hot, so he pulled his pajama bottoms down, and then I tripped and fell down and my mouth landed right on his penis, and then I thought of something funny so I smiled up at the camera and gave, like, a thumbs up, and then Kyle took the picture from me and he's gonna show it to everybody and make them think I'm gay!
That whole episode ("Cartman Sucks") is hysterical. Poor, Butters. Other highlights include Randy Marsh on Wheel of Fortune and "Night of the Living Homeless" ("Chaaaaaange?").
Worst Moment: Having to wait several months for the second half of season 11 kinda sucks, but it's a small price to pay. Also, the 300 parody wasn't the best, but it did give us Ms. Garrison "scissoring," which was shockingly funny.

7. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, Season 6 underway). Now, is this the same show that it was in its prime (seasons 2 and 3)? Clearly not. But Larry David remains the master of the awkward situation.
Best Moment:

Larry: So your last name is Black?
Loretta: Yes.
Larry: That's like if my last name was Jew—Larry Jew
...and "revenge masturbatory payback." Need I say more? Pretty, pretty funny.
Worst Moment: I still feel kind of ill when I think about the atrocious S5 finale. With regards to this season, the plots don't seem to be developing as naturally as they used to. Would Larry, the excuse king, not see the huge hole in his plan to show up to a party a day late in the hopes of defraying any lingering tension from them not showing up the day before? Surely, he would. Having fallen victim to his own plan, would he be dumb enough to try the exact same thing the next night? Absolutely not. And yet, this is what happens in the season premiere. I get why (it's convenient), but I do expect a little more from this show.

6. Battlestar Galactica (SciFi, entering Season 4, Feb. 2008) I know, I know, I'm dork. But seriously: frak off. This show is terrific. When I mentioned how much Carrie and I were enjoying the first season to Ryan, he rolled his eyes and said "I just don't like space programs." And, really, that's a fair point. But, as I tried to explain to Ryan, it's really more of a political show with a scifi setting, my exact words were "The West Wing in space," I believe--which I stand behind. We're only four episodes into Season Two, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say: this is the smartest show on TV. (Note: this title once belonged to House, until it chose to shit the bed last season).
Best Moment: Boy! The S1 cliffhanger, Starbuck interrogating the captured Cylon, virtually every scene featuring Baltar (James Callis) and Number Six (Tricia Helfer)...
Worst Moment: Not really a "worst moment," so much as a potential problem for the show. In the BSG Universe, there are 12 different cylon (machines created by humans, that can look like humans, and are intent on destroying humanity) models. Meaning that cylons can take one of 12 human forms. So far (again, this is early season 2), we know what 4 of them look like, leaving 8 to be determined. Additionally, some cylons might not even know that they are cylons--meaning: they'd behave like a regular human. In my weaker moments, I worry that the writers, having boxed themselves into a corner, might (indeed, likely will) resort to "unveiling" main characters as cylons. Now, don't get me wrong, this does add an element of suspense to nearly every scene, but I don't want it to become a cheap tactic. Knowing this show, it won't.

5. 30 Rock (NBC, entering Season 2, Sept. 27)
Best Moment:
Anything involving: Dr. Spaceman, the Beeper King, Tracy's entourage (oh, Grizz and Dot Com), and Jack trying to act ("I'm going to need two mugs").
Worst Moment: It really didn't finish as strong as I would like (the Black Crusaders, in particular, felt flat to me). Aside from that, no complaints.

4. How I Met Your Mother (CBS, entering Season 3, Sept. 24)
Best Moment:
Without a doubt, this goes to "Slap Bet." It's such a funny premise and so unbelievably well-executed than I'm hesitant to reveal anything to non-viewers (although I did here--call it a moment of weakness). Also great: Robyn misinterpreting the gift policy at Lily’s bachelorette party, with hilarious consequences. And: Barney on The Price is Right. And Barney’s play. And…you get the point.
Worst Moment: Hmmm...I'll get back to you.

3. The Office (NBC, entering Season 4, Sept. 27)
Best Moment:
Probably a tie between "The Coup" (Dwight going over Michael's head to Jan with hilarious consequences) and the Season Finale (which was as close to perfect as an hour-long sitcom can be--nary a wasted second).
Worst Moment: I kind of thought it dragged in stretches this season.

2. Lost (ABC, entering Season 4, Feb. 2008--dammit)
Best Moment:
Virtually every second of the brilliant two hour season finale ("Through the Looking Glass"), but if forced to be more specific: the flash-forward reveal at the very end. I was in daze for a solid three hours after this ended. Arguably, Lost was slightly (or very) over-hyped when it debuted. But now? Way (way, way) underhyped. As the finale proved, this is the most consistently inventive show on TV. Roll on, February.
Worst Mo--: the episode where they explained Jack's tattoo. Jesus God! What did we do to deserve that pile of garbage? Thankfully, the writers pretty much knocked every one of the subsequent 13 episodes out of the park (with a handful--notably "Expose," the outstanding "One of Us," "The Brig," "The Man Behind the Curtain," "Greatest Hits," and the aforementioned finale--that are among the show's very best).

1. Dexter (Showtime, entering Season 2, Sept. 30)
Best Moment:
The 100% return rate on people that I recommend the show to (and who actually go out and watch it—damn you, Misha!!)—what can I say? I like being right. I think a lot of people haven't seen this gem, so I'll steer clear of plot points. The review I read for this show before it came out last year described it as a cross between CSI and Silence of the Lambs. While that's an intriguing idea and not entirely inaccurate, in hews much closer to Frailty with a dash of Heroes. If you're not watching it, do. You will not be disappointed.
Worst Moment: The second that the season one credits began to roll and it dawned on me that I had no idea if and when the show would return. Too much of a copout? OK, fine. Oddly, I was not blown away by the pilot (which was too gruesome, too soon, to the point where my dad—who I think would really like the show—never came back to it, which is kind of too bad). But, after that, it was lights out television.


RT Murphy said...

14B. Still need to see, but on the to-do list. While the entirely credulous reaction is novel, a more realistic reaction could have been handled by, say, a 20-second hilarious montage set to, oh, Running With The Devil. If we're dispensing with originality.

Yes, you had two #14s, so I'm talking about Reaper, next is Pushing Daisies.

14A. "Too precious" means "too smug and self-satisfied that they are being clever". While they actually are being clever, there's a definite worry that the 'precious' elements (voiceover) will peter out rather quick.

13. They're doing a Cops episode again, but this time hour-long. Hullay!

12. Season 6 was pretty tired, but now that they're sure this is the last one we'll see some stops getting pulled out, how about? End of the day, it's still Scrubs, even if JD acts like a little prima donna now.

11B. Still haven't gotten past the first two episodes yet, but I think the concept has plenty of places to go for a while yet. Heroes. Because of your unscrupulous numbering scheme.

11A. American Dad will probably be just as serviceable as it has been previously. Where South Park is ridiculously good if not just ridiculous, AD tends to be pretty lukewarm a lot of the time. Saying it's better than FG or Simpsons (and this season might be an improvement) is like saying it beats out a giant douche or shit sandwich.

9. Just devoured the first season of House. Kind of disheartening but not really surprising to hear it sort of shark-jumps. Hopefully it comes back down to Earth.

8. Even the worst episode had scissor me timbers! Sign of goodness, even if they hold out on us.

7. Pret-ty, pret-ty on the nose, there. Curb pretty consistently delivers, though.

6. My first mention in your blog, and a misquote. I said I don't like spaceship shows. You make it sound like I hate NASA, or to a lesser extent, MASA. While I can acknowledge its quality, it doesn't interest me (much like West Wing). Cylon menace, yawn, political squabbling on a spaceship, yawn. Firefly or Cowboy Bebop, om the other hand...

5. YOU CUT POP'S BALLS OFF AND LEFT HIM IN THE STREET TO DIE! The best show to quote in quite some time.

4. If I had to say anything in the show is weak, it's Lily (Ally Hannigan) as the cute foil. Ted is pretty much foily enough and she's not winning any awards for acting. That said, she's not particularly bad, just the most blah part of the show (even Ted really has his moments).

3. I think the show needs to evolve from its constant exasperating uncomfortable situations and occasional hilarious moments to fewer, stronger humiliations and more general levity. It can be done, but the question is how the Jim/Pam thing plays out.

1. I'm about half-way through and I'd say that it's one of the best shows I've ever seen. The sister remains the only "slightly above average" to the rest of the show's "excellent". At least you can get invested in her struggles. And I will take credit for the Frailty comparison. I don't see the Heroes yet but I will.

As a side note, I just saw the sixth episode of this season of Weeds. Looks like the second half will go in a better direction, but overall this season is a lot less cringeworthy and beat-you-over-the-head with the "ideal suburban life is poison" than previously; I'd say it's finally hit its stride after a dildos second season.

Kyle Wasko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyle Wasko said...

Re: Dexter: And I will take credit for the Frailty comparison. I don't see the Heroes yet but I will.

Re: Frailty: Like a true lawyer to be, I concede nothing.

Re: Heroes: No, you won't. It was a poor comparison to make and I regretted putting it in as soon as I pressed send. Consider it retconned. The point I was trying to make--albeit heavy-handedly--was that Dexter is very much a superhero. Damaged? Sociopathic? You bet, but a hero nonetheless.

Travis' Computer said...

4. How I Met Your Mother (CBS, Season 3, underway)
Worst Moment: Enrique Iglesias
Best Moment (Ever): N.Y.C. Lawyer Captures "Nessie"

Kyle Wasko said...

Yeah, I cringed when I read on TWOP that Enrique was going to guest for two episodes. It was about as bad as I expected--though Marshall having a crush on him was a semi-unexpected treat ("last night got weird").

Last night's ep was pretty weak, but the Nessie newspaper clipping almost made up for it. Very clever.

I'm just happy you didn't rip into me for failing even to mention Rescue Me. How goes the (half-?)marathon training?