Wednesday, August 17, 2005

TV Status Report

Six Feet Under comes to an end next week, by far the best show on TV right now, at least until The Sopranos comes back. So, with the end of Six Feet Under, there's only a few shows left that I'm still watching.

This fall, I'll be watching 24, Arrested Development, Gilmore Girls and probably Lost, though that show has been so poorly run, I very well might end up dropping it. 24 had its strongest season last year, the show constantly makes me say they can't top what they've done before, and then somehow they do. So, that's a must watch. Arrested Development is one of the funniest series ever, certainly the best American comedy since the glory days of Seinfeld, and I'm really psyched to see where they go with the new season.

Then there's Gilmore Girls. I watched the first five seasons in the spring, and it's a smart, rather addictive show, probably the one I'm most looking forward to seeing new stuff from. Even though 24 is probably a 'better' show in terms of scope and content, Gilmore Girls has me hooked because I need to see what happens to the characters next. That's another show where the most recent season was the best one by far, so it's going to be interesting to see where it goes from here. I always like when shows mess with the status quo and that seems to be what they're doing.

March of next year will bring my most anticipated series, and that's The Sopranos, which finally returns with new episodes. It's been a long break since season five ended, yet another case where the most recent season was the best. The Sopranos gets so much hype, but it deserves it because it's the best made TV series ever. I prefer Buffy or Twin Peaks, but in terms of constructing a layered narrative that builds with each season, no show can top The Sopranos. In each episode of the last season, they did more than most shows can do in a season.

I think I'm different from a lot of TV viewers in that I tend to prefer the later seasons of a show to the early ones. If you look at reviews of the most recent season of Six Feet Under, it's almost a given that the show's first two seasons were the best, and that's the case with a lot of other shows, like Buffy or The Sopranos. In the case of all those series, I would consider the first season the weakest, and the best time of the series falls somewhere near the end.

I will admit that in the case of Six Feet Under, the plotting is definitely better at the beginning of the series. The revelation of Brenda's past, with the Charlotte Light and Dark book is phenomenal stuff, and would seem to be more interesting than the later years, when the plot is scaled back. However, if you go back and watch an episode from the first season, then watch a current episode, there's a huge difference and that's in the history, what the characters have been through. In the current season, each event has so much more impact because it ties in with what the characters have already been through, so, even if nothing's happening, we know so much about the characters that just having them interact is enough to create incredible tension.

Buffy season six is a great example of this. They scaled back the overall threat and let the character arcs play themselves out. It's my favorite season of the series, there's much higher emotional conflict than in the early years because we know so much about what everyone has already been through.

Basically what I'm saying is, in the later years, when you know the characters better, the show is inevitably more interesting, because every interaction has history behind it, and seeing characters you know go through stuff is more interesting than seeing new people go through stuff. The only time a show goes bad in the later years is if it ignores the character arcs, as Buffy season seven did, or more notably the abhorrent X-Files season 8 and 9.

So, I checked out the first episode of the new Showtime series Weeds, about a widowed mother who sells marijuana to support her children. It stars Mary Louise Parker, who's one of my favorite actresses. She was great on The West Wing, and was the highlight of the great miniseries Angels in America. So, I was expecting good things.

Unfortunately, the show just felt a bit too much like an ordinary sitcom. It's dressed up with attitude, and the characters all go a lot further than people on your average family sitcom would, but at its core, it's got the same beats. I guess I was expecting something a bit darker, more of a The Office style very dark comedy, and this just isn't that.

That said, I enjoyed the episode, Mary Louise Parker was great, and I certainly don't mind spending a half hour watching her, but the rest of the cast were overacting and didn't seem that real. I guess I'm so used to the Arrested Development/The Office documentary style comedy it's tough to adjust to this. But, I'll give it another couple of episodes, because the premise is great and has a lot of potential.

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