“my TV so far”
On general principle, I avoid major network TV. The new fall TV line-up? Like the plague.
The last time I got hooked on a new show, ABC’s Gideon’s Crossing (and that spy one on NBC with the sexy Israel actor, where they go undercover), I paid for it in lost hours and an eventual cancellation.
In previous years, I waved good-bye prematurely to Freaks & Geeks, Players and Vengeance Unlimited, vowing never again.
Sitcoms, I gave up on when Friends turned into a clique and the final episode of Seinfeld became a Saturday Night Live farce, circa post-Belushi, pre-Carvey. Besides, I waited far too long for the canned laughs, the easy camaraderie of an ensemble harder in coming, after the 1980s, IMHO, sitcoms’ last hurray. Waiting for the laughs is like waiting for an orgasm. It just isn’t done. Also like an orgasm, comedy cannot be planned, it just springs on you from a dark corner, when you least expect it. I get tired of expecting those orgasms, I mean, laughs. So forget sitcoms.
Yet this year, for some reason or another—perhaps boredom from yet another summer round of teen reruns, pushing my 40s without anything new to look forward to as a suburban housewife—I opened myself up to more possibilities as preview after promo promised that this time, the new one-hour programs, on the other hand, would take off.
Some of the shows have been staples in the Banks Weber household, recommendations from friends, insistence from my husband; others are brand spanking new, either the premise seemed interesting or the potential for mockery quickly melted away into genuine appreciation.
The following are the TV shows I tend to tune into, despite the major networks’ proclivity for randomly switching air dates, screwing around with weekly schedules, preemptions for dumb reasons:
1. Law & Order – I started watching this NBC primetime drama series with about four different (substandard) offshoots two years ago at my husband Eddie’s behest. He worships Jerry Orbach in anything and had to catch him as police detective Lennie Briscoe, plus the show’s based in New York City, Eddie’s Mecca. It took me longer to warm up to, because of all the law and order jargon and the fast-paced, plot-driven action, which frequently had us rewinding our replay (we replay the pizza joint and hot dog stand shots too, but that’s another story), but I enjoy it now. I learn something new from the ripped-from-the-headlines cases every Wednesday. And now, Eddie has another reason to keep watching, even though Orbach’s character retired. Actor and former U.S. senator Fred Thompson took over the DA role, as Arthur Branch, from lackluster Dianne Wiest. And soon, we’ll be hooked on one of those many offshoots, as Orbach resurrects Lennie to star in Law & Order: Trial by Jury, with Bebe Neuwirth (my fave from Cheers).
2. Hawaii – Nothing complicated here as to my reason. I used to live in Hawaii, and was curious to see how the directors and producers would film this new NBC series starring Michael Biehn as Sean Harrison, a local cop, hunting down criminals in paradise with partner Christopher Gains, played by Eric Balfour. The scenes are filmed on location, in almost neon-bright tones and highlights, giving the islands an otherworldly centerfold slick quality, as if straight off the pages of a visitor publication—the same ones I used to edit for back in the day. Seeing the liberal use of local talent as well (it’s like a reunion of sorts for Eddie and I... Hey! That’d Andy Bumatai, the stand-up comedian who went to my high school twice!), the polar opposite of the Fox’s Northshore, which might as well be in Beverly Hills but with surfing, I couldn’t help but be reminded of why I stuck around for so long. I especially enjoy the authentic local flavor of Aya Sumika’s Linh Tamiya, Peter Navy Tuiasosopo’s Kaleo (The Voice, in Hawaiian) and Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Captain Terry Harada (he’d be great with Lt. Anita Van Buren over at Law & Order, wouldn’t he?)... who neither dumb down nor default to a generic portrait of the colorful, laid-back people there. Any time Kaleo and Harada are on is good times, indeed. I could do without Biehn’s uptight, look at me I’m so deep over-acting, as if he were doing Shakespeare in blue, but otherwise, the action-adventure and the relationships feel real, especially the bloody gore of the crime scenes, not forced. The last episode, aired October 6, really stood out for the inclusion of a little Hawaiiana in the story of Princess Lokelani and the feud between two Hawaiian families over her presumed murder ages ago. I kept wondering what my haole friends would think, if they’d assume these tough Hawaiians were Spanish and this was South Central, or something.
3. Joan of Arcadia – Last year, I made sure to catch every episode because a) Amber Tamblyn (ex-Emily, GH) was in it as Joan Girardi, a young girl who starts speaking to God through random strangers, I knew Tamblyn from one of the ABC soaps I watch regularly, as well as some online correspondence, b) the premise of a contemporary Joan of Arc, set in an East Coast suburb, appealed to my God fix, c) CBS usually airs pretty decent family-oriented fare head and shoulders above the pandering and the faddish upstarts elsewhere, and d) I was deathly afraid it would be snuffed out before it truly had a chance to grow on the audience of cynics, skeptics and MTV-raised sinners. I wasn’t the only one; other critics came on board immediately to praise this truly original, creative and controversial new series, while everybody else fellated R-rated reality TV or the same old retreads, fearing an imminent threat due to disinterest because Joan featured an intelligent, emotional, complex teenaged girl, instead of a blonde bubble head ready to doff the stripper gear at any opportunity. Thankfully, I underestimated the American public for once, because this new series took off with several award nominations, including the Golden Globes and the Emmys, for both the show and the lead actress, Tamblyn. Every Friday night, I look forward to a Bible lesson, post-millennium style, and every Friday night, I am rarely, if ever, disappointed. Instead of walking away ready to beat some heads or fellate myself in the shower, I actually feel refreshed, clean, holy and hopeful about humanity. Quite a feat. Besides, that uber-multi-talented Jason Ritter (as Joan’s older brother Kevin) is one major hottie.
4. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition – This is the only reality-TV series to hold my interest for the long haul, beyond car wreck value. I’ve never seen Extreme Makeover: The Shallow End, where a bunch of ugly people receive a bunch of expensive surgical makeovers designed to make them look beautiful, or like Heather Locklear and Brad Pitt. And, I never will. I’m not into circus show gimmicks that instead make these people look desperate, stupid and after the reveal, like science experiments in cloning. But the ...Home Edition captured my heart, because it does more than imprint society’s values of aesthetic physical beauty, it literally changes people’s lives in seven days by giving them a new and improved home to call their own. The people helped on this Sunday night show aren’t beautiful, famous, rich or perfect, but very flawed, very disenfranchised and very deserving of their free home makeovers. Many are poor or barely struggling in the middle class, often with disabilities or deaths in the family. In one memorable episode, the designers, stylists, landscapers, contractors and host Ty Pennington (the carpenter from TLC’s Trading Spaces) successfully gave a black grandmother, the pillar of her community, the makeover of a lifetime, enabling her to treat her neighbors to barbecues in style. This woman gave so much of herself and her humble abode to the at-risk, she never thought about herself and her own run-down, tiny shack. Her reaction at the big reveal just about did me in, she prayed and praised the Lord, she cried, the design team cried, I cried, and she welcomed the community into her new, improved, spacious mansion as she’d always done with her formerly humble home. If Disney/ABC did this for a living, nothing but help the common man in other creative outlets through their other shows (I mention this for AMC in channeling), this former #1 network could carve its own niche in the ratings. I could see the philanthropic spirit permeating into Daytime, as soap stars helped the less-fortunate fans as they already do quietly behind the scenes. Since I am also a home decorating fanatic of the cable channels, ABC’s primetime version is a given.
5. Las Vegas – As with Joan of Arcadia, I tuned in to NBC’s new show from last year because of AMC’s former soap hunk, Josh Duhamel (Leo) and GH’s former soap siren, Vanessa Marcil (Brenda), who play two of the leads, Danny McCoy and Sam Jane, in this ensemble cast of quirky characters. The show uses an extremely fast-paced directorial style, with cameras zooming in and out of landscapes at lightning speed, to better match the mood, attitude and vibe of a lightning speed on-location Vegas. The opening, with the boobs and the butts, the multi-colored lights and sounds of Elvis, is equally innovative and captivating. This cast works together in a casino-hotel in various jobs, mostly focused on feeding the fat cats and nabbing the cheaters through a mix of techno-slick, hidden cameras, state-of-the-art computerized equipment. But the cast works, because there’s a lot more to their instant appeal than sexy, captivating beauty. The characters do their jobs well, using a heady mix of charm, subterfuge, wheeling and dealing and an intelligence-backed professionalism, while revealing vulnerabilities within the group’s inter-relational dynamics. I especially relate to Danny’s on-again/off-again friendship or romance with the nice girl (nice girl with the biggest rack) Mary Connell, played with self-effacing, down-to-earth charm by Nikki Cox (ex-Gina, GH), the nice girl we all want him to marry eventually. In the meantime, the laughs and the variety come from the different guest stars and character actors that visit every Monday night on NBC. Sometimes the episodes play too much like plot-driven GH, with something as serious and long-term as post-war syndrome being treated as frivolously as a five-minute talking-to by Big Boss Ed Deline (James Caan) curing Danny completely before the next week’s episode has him slobbering over topless chicks poolside with barely a mention of the hell he put Mary through in his quickie proposal. But if I can remember this is more like Law & Order’s junk food-loving trailer trash cousin...
6. Desperate Housewives – ABC finally has a bonafide hit on its hands with this ode to suburban women. The newest show to already create Melrose Place-like buzz, critics everywhere, including me, have placed it at the top of their list of must-see-TV and arguably the best in primetime. At first, I couldn’t believe anything GH co-head writer Charles Pratt was a part of could be that good. I actually tuned in just to make fun of it later, a sort of See? Told you it sucked! Only... I found myself completely immersed in this fictional tale of four young housewives dealing with different problems in the same suburban setting, as an undercurrent of ominous evil, a possible buried body and an undercover criminal slowly seeps through. Each of the main female characters is her own person, from the Stepford wannabe Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross) and nice but goofy divorcee Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), to overwrought stay-at-home mom Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) and sexy, man-hungry former model Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria/ex-Isabella, Y&R; ex-faux-Brenda, GH; ex-wife of Tyler Christopher/Nikolas, GH). Within the first half-hour, I got a clear sense of their bios, personalities and current restless status, through a series of vignettes, dialogue exchanges and brilliantly understated acting. It’s tough writing for one person, much less four, and four strong females at that, in this age of been-there-watched-it-on Oprah already. What’s even stranger than the efficient, coherent, equally doled-out characterizations is the eclectic mix of irony, mystery, edgy drama, intentional farce and innate goodness. There are plenty of secrets to unravel, skeletons in the closet to unearth and existential meaning, yes, meaning in this T&A extravaganza to rival any Philosophy 101 college course. Which begs two questions: Why’d Pratt give this up to be merely a consulting producer, so he could concentrate wholly on that dreck of a soap opera, GH? And, why can’t he pull the same magic over there?
Incidentally, my TV line-up falls into the opposite of ABC Daytime’s (and primetime’s WB/UPN/Fox). Every show I love features a healthy mix of ages, ethnicities and gender, an equal opportunity for real life, not the mall on a Saturday afternoon. Network executives would do well to remember that.
Still, there’s a lot more on TV now that I absolutely can’t stand. LAX is a convoluted mess that doesn’t know whether it wants to be action-adventure or human interest. Life As We Know It might actually be decent, except I won’t risk another Kelly Osbourne sighting to find out. 24, CSI, ER, West Wing, etc. etc., may be critically and popularly acclaimed, but I usually hate watching in a mainstream crowd. Medical Investigation might actually be worth watching if NBC would stop dicking around with the preemptions during its usual Friday night, 10 p.m., time slot, and maybe change the title to something that doesn’t confuse me with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation over on CBS. O.C., Northshore... whatever, impossibly beautiful under-30-somethings, could care less. I never watched Party of Five, Charmed or Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, either.
I’m not certain if it’s because I decided to give more new shows a try this year or not, but... there certainly seems to be a lot more new shows worth trying.
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