Thursday, October 11, 2007

But one never knows, after all, now does one, now does one, now does one...

New Fall Shows

To put this early look at the fall 2007 season into perspective and since I was curious/bored, I decided to look up how many hit shows have emerged over the past fifteen years. "Hit" can be described as something that I consider to be good and has lasted for at least two seasons or something that I don't consider to be particular good but has been a ratings hit (see: Anatomy, Grey's; Betty, Ugly). The (admittedly selective) results?
2006: The Hills, Brothers and Sisters, Ugly Betty, Heroes, Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, Dexter, Deal or No Deal
2005: The Office, Grey's Anatomy, American Dad!, My Name is Earl
2004: The Apprentice [note: am I the only one amazed with the date on this one? I could swear it was about the same age as Survivor], Rescue Me, Lost, Veronica Mars, Desperate Housewives, Boston Legal, House, Deadwood (also, in Canada only, the perfectly serviceable Corner Gas).
2003: The O.C., Nip/Tuck, Carnivale, Cold Case, Arrested Development, Battlestar Galactica, Joan of Arcadia [gone too soon, this one, though the 2nd season was remarkably poor]
2002: The Shield, The Bachelor, Monk, The Wire, Without a Trace, American Idol
2001: Six Feet Under, The Amazing Race, Alias, Scrubs, Smallville, 24
2000: Survivor, Gilmore Girls, CSI, Ed, Curb Your Enthusiasm
1999: The Sopranos, Family Guy, Futurama, The West Wing. Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Angel, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit
1998: Dawson's Creek, Sex and the City, That 70's Show, Sports Night, Felicity, Will & Grace
1997: The Practice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, South Park
1996: Everybody Loves Raymond, Spin City
1995: News Radio, Sliders
1994: ER, Friends, Party of Five
1993: Homicide, The X-Files, Lois & Clark, Frasier
1992: The Larry Sanders Show, Mad About You, The Real World

A couple of observations:
1. The 15 year average is 5.0 successful shows. The average over the last five years is 6.6.
2. What the hell, 1992 to 1997? Were all the writers and execs too coked out to produce/green-light quality programs? I had to include Sliders, Spin City, and Lois & Clark to make it look even semi-respectable.
3. And if you think we have it bad now, check out 1991, when the best new show was Home Improvement, followed by, I guess, Blossom and Step by Step tied for number two. Or 1986, when you had L.A. Law (great), Alf (initially entertaining, but quickly tiresome), and Hogan Family. Or 1983, when the cream of the crop was--wait for it--Webster (or, if you prefer, The A-Team). Some lean years...

Anyway, you have to go back to 1997 to find a year when fewer than four debuting shows became major hits and/or critical darlings. As for 2007, I'd be very surprised if even three of these shows lasted for 4+ years. And, on that note, off we go:

Cavemen (Metacritic Score as of October 11th: 15): groan. I actually did watch this--amazingly--twice. But I've got absolutely nothing to say. This show should never have been made--is that succinct enough?

Carpoolers (MC: 37): remember when sitcom characters used to be, you know, semi-believable? Me too! Here? Not so much. Inexplicably, Jerry O'Connell (playing a somewhat unhinged dentist here) appears to have gone to the Seann-William-Scott-in-the-first-hour-of-American-Wedding-school of creepy overacting. Not much else to say--this one is pretty dreadful.

Life (MC: 64): That Damian Lewis is involved (arguably best known for his awesome performance as Captain Winters in Band of Brothers) piqued my interest. I missed the pilot when it aired, but watched a downloaded copy last night. I have to say: pretty....pretty good. Carrie is high on it, and I can't say I disagree. It's a strong (if not wildly original) idea for a series: cop is falsely imprisoned for 12 years, is released, gets a huge settlement, decides to return to the force to become a detective. The way it's structured, we're all but certain to get a standard murder mystery every week, plus development on the genuinely intriguing "who set him up?" front? The writing in the pilot is solid, with a good mix of humor and seriousness, and Lewis (as Det. Charlie Crews) is--predictably--excellent. A couple of issues:
1. I was warned that there was an abundance of scenes where Lewis's character is inexplicably chowing down on fruit. And, sure enough, this is true. Now, it's fine for a TV character to have idiosyncrasies (most great ones do), but when it's actually distracting to the viewer (as it is here), it's time to dial it back.
2. Same goes for Charlie's zen-like tendencies. Again, it's not completely wrong-headed, but it is laid on a bit thick in places.

Chuck (MC: 74): this show is a lot of fun. It's got an Alias vibe going that I really like. (People forget this now--or, given how poorly it always did in the ratings, never knew it in the first place--but Alias could be very funny when it wanted to be.) I like that the spy scenes (featuring Adam Baldwin, probably best known for his work on Angel--Ryan is also forcing me to point out that he was tremendous on Firefly...fine, I will--and who is great here) and the domestic scenes (Morgan, Chuck's sister, Captain Awesome, etc.) are both strong (and, increasingly, overlapping), instead of one serving as filler for the other. Granted, this is a show that's it's probably best you don't think about too much while watching (for instance, who in the government knows about the sensitive computer data that's now in Chuck's brain? How is it possible that Chuck is now the only one who knows this information? Did everyone with Top Secret clearance in the CIA die violently offscreen and we're simply not privy to this information?), but hey, I can handle a bit of suspended disbelief. (I said a bit, Bionic Woman.) Also: the music kicks all kinds of ass (thank you, Josh Schwartz): Gomez, The New Pornographers (and "Challengers" of all songs, too!), The National. Bonus also: Rachel Bilson is slated for a multi-episode arc later this year.

Journeyman (MC: 52): I actually really like this show, and think that it has loads of potential. Yes, it does gratuitously rip off Quantum Leap and The Time-Traveller's Wife, but, in it's defense, it cribs the best stuff (the uncertainty about whose life the hero is actually changing and the slew of paradoxes) and sets the inferior stuff aside (he doesn't, for instance, leap into someone else's body, hence no need for him to become a woman, a bit I now realize--even though my adoration for QL is undying-- is not nearly as uproarious as I once remembered; also, for all its beauty, TTTW--cinematic mangling coming soon! Though the casting is impressive...--was incredibly depressing for the final quarter or so--while, so far, Journeyman remains upbeat.
Now, I'll admit, this show isn't without flaws. Not since the short-lived Reunion, which featured characters wearing pink La Coste shirts with their collars popped...who listened to Duran Duran...and referenced The Cosby Show...and talked about the prowess of the Chicago Bears...and who went to see Out of Africa in an effort to make it clear to the viewers that it was, in fact, 1985 has a show been this heavy-handed when it comes to indicating a shift in time. (Smoking on an airplane while having shaggy hair and listening to KC and the Sunshine Band? Oh, 1975, you're adorable.) But, all told, it's been interesting so far.

Cane (MC: 57): I've heard this described as a "Cuban Dallas." Now, while I understand what those words are trying to convey, I'm not buying it. I like the cast a lot, but I can't get excited for this one. I only watched the pilot (and not even all that closely), so it would be dishonest (and let's not forget: tedious!) for me to go on and on here, but I will make two brief observations.
1. As much as I like Jimmy Smits, Larry Hagman he is not. Oh, he's supposed to be the good guy? Hmmm....he's definitely better than Patrick Duffy. Now I'm not sure what to say...
2. No sense beating around the bush here: the oil industry is inherently more interesting than the sugarcane/rum running business. I refuse to argue about this.

Dirty Sexy Money (MC: 66): to be honest, I had high hopes for this show, which were only heightened when I couldn't get my hands on a screener of the pilot. That said, through three episodes, DSM has been fairly forgettable, to the point where I can't really remember anything that happened in an episode I watched a mere 24 hours ago. Ah, well. However, there's a scene right at the end of episode 2 where Nick (Peter Krause) is struggling to figure out the combination on his dead father's briefcase and Tripp (Donald Sutherland) suggests trying 721, as it's his wife's birthday. This code works, more or less definitively proving that Nick's dad had been having an affair with Tripp's wife for nearly 40 years. Anyway, when the lock snaps open, Sutherland makes a face like he's been simultaneously shot in the heart and kneed in the groin that is just, I don't know, immaculate. It's something that only he could pull off. Whether the show could incorporate this as a regular feature--44 minutes of just Sutherland reaction shots, anyone?--remains to be seen. Episode three re-affirmed that all the Darling kids are almost hopelessly vapid, while Krause's Nick (The alleged Good Guy--we know this because he saved a playground from being bulldozed in the pilot, but, aside from that, I'd simply describe him as less bad than everyone else) simply vacillates between irate and serene (really: almost narcotized), depending on the situation. Something happens right at the end of episode three that'll keep me watching for at least a little while, but, thus far, this one has been a bit of letdown.

Kid Nation (MC: 54): trust me, I'm the most surprised of anyone that I'm hooked on this show. I know the concept sounds ridiculous. I know the idea of "leaving" kids "on their own" for "40 days" is preposterous. I know that it shouldn't be compelling TV...but it is. Maybe it's because part of me thinks that Greg (at 15, he's the oldest--and biggest--contestant) is going to beat the crap out of the town council until they give him his gold star or maybe it's because I think there's a slight chance that Taylor--the precocious 10-year old captain of the yellow team who refuses to make her team cook even when it's very clearly their assigned task and basically just shrugs her shoulders and says "there's nothing you can do about it" when called on it....GOD!--might get herself kicked out of the town (or, alternatively, eaten by the other ravenous children), but I'm going to stick with this one.
Strangely, while the advertisers that bailed initially due to bad press (something about kids drinking bleach or something...I dunno) have jumped back on, the ratings continue to fall, suggesting that this show may not be long for this world. It won't get cancelled (they're nearly halfway through the season already), but season two (my suggested venue: Antarctica--come on, you'd watch...I've been saying this about Survivor for years) seems unlikely at this stage.
Update: several strange things happened in the fourth episode, which aired last night, including: 1. Once again abdicating her responsibilities in the kitchen, Taylor is confronted by members of the green team (the added intrigue being that the green team is pissed that they've lost to the yellow team--the youngest group--in all four competitions and have thus been relegated to seriously menial tasks and thus don't especially care for the yellow team, not to mention certain yellow team members that have gone mad with power). Taylor, impossibly, is pounding back shots (of, it seems, water) in the saloon instead of organizing her team, and throws them what can only be described as a shit-eating grin before replying, in essence, "I don't feel like cooking and there's really nothing you can do about it." And, to a certain extent, she's right, there's nothing the green team can do about it. But: where the hell are the producers? If, say, on Survivor, the Kucha tribe lost the immunity challenge but simply decided not to show up for tribal council, you can bet the producers would jump in pretty quickly. Point being, you can take the hands off approach too far, which is exactly what is happening here.
2. Cody, reading a letter from his girlfriend (including a classy photo), and sobbing rather more than most of us are likely comfortable watching. I'll admit, my first thought was: oh my god, she's dumped him! Alas, no. It turns out that he simply misses her desperately. He's 9, by the way (making his "I've been in love with her since the 3rd grade" comment somewhat less dramatic). Next, we're treated to a hilarious sequence where Cody mopes, then walks to the saloon, then decides to drown his sorrows with a bottle of root beer. Unsurprisingly, Cody decided to leave Bonanza City at episode's end--though, intriguingly, he cited missing his family instead of girlfriend issues. (Wuss.)
3. The kids, upon successful completion of their reward challenge were given a choice between an 18-hole mini-golf course in the city centre or, wait for it, an assortment of religious texts. This was put to a vote, and the kids go for the bibles. The. Fuck? Now, I'm not anti-religion or anything, but short of these children being regular attendees at Jesus Camp, there's absolutely no way that 40 regular kids would opt for King James over the windmill hole. What's going on here? Even more improbably, the vote was followed by several of the kids poring over the texts like they'd received a tip that the Rapture was imminent. I'm too perplexed by this turn of events to even begin to deconstruct it, except to say: this is odd behavior, no?
4. The requisite straw poll asking how many kids are satisfied with the Town Council (which, at this stage, might as well be phrased as: "who doesn't want to punch Taylor right in the mouth?") at the end of the episode revealed that roughly 70% of the kids were not happy with their leaders. At this point, Host Jonathan Karsh basically shrugged his shoulders and completely dropped the topic. Was he just curious? Looking for more fodder for his diary? I'm stumped. More importantly, is there no mechanism in place to replace ineffective/incompetent Town Council members? Are they free to--as Taylor evidently has--fuck off with impunity? Isn't this a semi-major flaw?

Kitchen Nightmares (MC: 66): I don't quite get how someone (Gordon Ramsey) who's an unimaginable asshole on his own televised restaurant program (the very pedestrian Hell's Kitchen--at this stage, I think I can cook a better risotto than the amazingly useless cheftestants they had this season) can, with a straight face, claim the moral high ground, then turn around and criticize chefs and owners (mostly the latter) who behave the exact same way in their own restaurants, but he does...and it works. The high point remains the pilot, where I thought that the jacked co-owner, totally irate at (fair, but harsh) comments made by Ramsey, nearly took a swing at him. To his credit, Ramsey--who I now believe to be a crazy mofo--did not flinch. Now that's good TV.

Bionic Woman (MC: 58): again, underwhelmed with the pilot, thought I'd check out the second episode to see if it was any better. Verdict: no. Aside from an admittedly cool training sequence (and the fact that Katee Sackhoff--aka "Starbuck" from Battlestar Galactica and the "bad" bionic woman here--totally fucking rocks), the second ep was completely unmemorable. (Apparently, the uneven second episode was cobbled together from storylines from two different future episodes, which...whatever. What a stupid excuse. If anything, that makes me angrier. I'm not expecting a Lost-level backstory in terms of complexity and intrigue, but at least put some fucking effort into it. To the writing staff, I have to ask: why did you think it wouldn't be disjointed? You're only three episodes in and you're already running on creative fumes?? This seems especially unforgivable in light of criticisms that the pilot's plot bordered on the incomprehensible.) All past problems (see here) continue to apply. No need to re-hash. Here's a puzzler: there's already talk of Isaiah Washington (whose character has appeared--and blandly at that--in precisely one episode) getting a spinoff. Now...wouldn't it make sense to wait to see if the first show is a hit before creating a second one? I really can't recall NBC execs chomping at the bit to spinoff Joey, can you?

Reaper (MC: 81): the funniest new program of 2007 (though Chuck is a respectable #2 in this department). Good rapport between the kids (Sam, Sock, Andi, and Ben), as well as between Sam and his parents. And, because I've always wanted to say this: Ray Wise is a revelation as Satan. [Check.] Now, could this show get tired? Undoubtedly. If Smallville can teach us nothing else at this stage--and, given that my brother, the lone living dedicated viewer I'm aware of, has officially written this show off, it probably can't--you go so far with the "Freak of the Week" formula. Week One's villain on Reaper was "Fire Guy." Week Two: "Electricity Guy." The Week Three previews lead me to believe it's "Bug Girl" (a twist!) and so forth. Hopefully, Sam's career as a demonic bounty hunter will be fleshed out in upcoming episodes--the show will need to delve into its mythology--a la The X Files--if it intends to thrive.

Gossip Girl (MC: 54): my brother, who claims not to be even a little bit gay, is totally in the tank for this show. He's usually pretty reliable, so we gave the pilot a shot. And... I never thought I'd say this, but I'm kind of finding Kirsten Bell to be a little annoying....though this probably has more to do with the notion of her character running a website for high school students at one particular NYC prep school than anything. Ratings are quite poor (even by CW standards), but GG just received a full season pick-up. Taylor, no doubt, is officially giddy.

Pushing Daisies (MC: 86): Loved the pilot. I'm a little freaked out by what I've heard (Olive sings? Oh, my) about the second episode (haven't seen it yet), but, barring some sort of disastrous collapse in creative output, I'm in this for the long haul.

Back to You (MC: 58): probably not as good as it should be, but better than most sitcoms. I've heard a few critics use the "it's like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, except not as funny" argument, which translates, at least for me, to "it's set in the bullpen of a TV news show." Probably worth watching merely for Fred Willard's three weekly scenes.

The Big Bang Theory (MC: 57): I won't dwell on it, but I still hate this. There's a fun little tidbit from the EW Fall TV Preview where show co-creator Chuck Lorre wanted to make sure that the science stuff the physicists prattle on about is totally accurate. Commendable, really (heaven forbid their extended and torturous discussion about the science goofs in Superman be inaccurate on top of being completely boring), but I humbly suggest a better allocation of his time: make the fucking show funnier!!
Proving, of course, how out of touch I am, TBBT consistently outdraws the vastly-superior-on-every- conceivable-level How I Met Your Mother (its lead-in) by several million viewers, and will likely only grow in strength once its timeslot competition (the ratings juggernaut that is Dancing With the Stars) finishes in December, so it seems as though this one is here to stay (for now). Downer.
Update: the week three numbers seem to have levelled off, as TBBT and HIMYM both got an 8 share this week, suggesting that people have, I don't know, perhaps come to their senses? Initially, I begrudgingly had TBBT among the shows destined for multiple seasons, but the more I think about, the less I think this will come to pass, as the novelty of listening to highly techincal discussions about everyday life (at best, this is one of those SNL sketches that pitches well but has no business lasting eight and a half minutes) seems to be wearing off.

Of the 15 listed, here's how I see it shaking down (though I'll qualify my observations by saying that, for many of these shows, it's too soon to tell):

Cancelled Mid-Season: Carpoolers, Cavemen, Kitchen Nightmares, Journeyman (though it has the potential to be the Kidnapped of the summer 2008 DVD season), Cane (apparently tanking among 18-49s, which is disastrous from a marketing standpoint)

One and Done: Kid Nation, Dirty Sexy Money (this would easily be in the above category were it not for Krause and Sutherland), Bionic Woman (I think this show is in more trouble than people realize), The Big Bang Theory

Multiple Seasons: Chuck (if it holds for this season, I foresee an Alias-like run: five years, middling ratings, TWOP-darling, etc.), Reaper, Back to You, Gossip Girl, Life

Full-Fledged Hits: Pushing Daisies (maybe)

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