Friday, November 07, 2008

TV Roundup

I’m watching a whole bunch of shows this season, and while nothing’s totally wowing me, there’s a bunch of good stuff out there. Most of my favorite shows air on a more haphazard schedule, Mad Men just ended, Battlestar won’t resume until January and Doctor Who is just throwing out episodes whenever they feel like it. In bad news, Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse will now be airing on Fridays, which is pretty much acknowledging it’ll never be a big hit. I hope that the awful timeslot means Fox will give the show a longer leash, we shall see. Anyway, here’s the shows I’m watching now.

Life on Mars

Right now, I’m really liking the show. The premise seems better to a limited series, as with the original, or even better, a film, and after the weak second episode, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work on a week to week basis. But, since then, we’ve got a couple of really strong episodes, and an alright one last night. For me, the show’s greatest strength is the sense of place it conveys. I don’t know if it’s an accurate depiction of the 70s, but even if it’s just a depiction of the mythic 70s created in our culture, I like spending time there. I think it’d be annoying to run into a lot of the hippie mystic characters from the time in real life, but I love watching them on film. Our world may be in a paradigm shift now, but for the last eight years, things have been pretty dire, and it’s nice to look at a time when people were interested in expanding their consciousness and changing the world.

The show’s strength is the trippy interludes that happen every so often, like when Sam got dosed with LSD. Those are really interesting visually and tie in with his existential dilemma about why he’s in the 1973 and what it means for his existence. In general, Sam is a really likable, fun lead to watch. He, along with Michael Imperioli always keep things interesting, even when the show falls into rote police procedural territory. My major concern looking ahead is that the show becomes a 70s issue of the week police procedural, and after a certain point, the trippy material will slip away. After Sam runs into everyone he new from the 2000s in the 70s, what’s left for the show to do beyond just tell stories about him in the 70s? I still don’t see the show lasting more than a season or two without radically shifting its premise at some point. Still, I really like what I see, and the presence of three Wire actors in last night’s episode helped keep things rolling along.

My greatest concern beyond the simple in sustainability of the premise is the fact that each episode seems to end with Gene siding with Sam on whatever argument they had, and doing the right thing instead of the morally corrupt thing. The problem with that is if you do it every week, shouldn’t Gene just evolve morally at some point? It seems like we’re heading towards that TV problem where every initially edgy characters gets worn down into an ally, and is given something in their past that explains why they do evil things. It can be a lot more interesting to just let your characters do bad things, and explore them from there than to try to make everyone live by 2008 morality in a world that doesn’t necessarily hew to that morality. The show needs to go edgier, and go stranger, but I don’t know that a first year show having some ratings issue is going to get the latitude to do what they really need to do.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

This is a show I had essentially no expectations for. I didn’t see the theatrical movie because reviews were so dire, but I figured I’d check out the first TV episodes. It’s strange that a Star Wars TV show has gotten so little heat as this has. I guess it’s because it’s targeted at kids, but I don’t see anyone talking about this. I suppose that’s the consequence of the prequels, in the mid 90s, any piece of Star Wars material was cherished, now with so much more out there, it’s just not that special any more. But, perhaps it’s best that this show comes in with lower expectations. I don’t think it’s a great show, but it’s pretty entertaining, and occasionally touches those emotions that the classic trilogy hit so well.

The major flaw for me is the animation. It all looks like a video game cut scene, I don’t know why they chose the wooden puppet look for the characters. The stuff without people is really pretty, but the people look awful. And, there’s a lot of the same issues as the prequels have, the inexplicably retarded battle droids, and lack of really well defined characters. Anakin here is used as kind of a blank slate hero, lacking the moral ambiguity that the character should have.

But, there’s also some good stuff. I like the way they depict the clones, people who are all similar, and struggle to find ways to define themselves. They exist for a mission, but still hope to carve out an individual identity. The space battles are pretty great, and the liberal swipes from the original trilogy make for some nice action sequences. The best episode for me was the one in which Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padme sneak aboard the Malevolence to destroy it from the inside. That had the fun adventure feel of the OT that the prequels rarely captured. I don’t love the show, but it’s got its moments. I just wish that I was more excited about a weekly Star Wars TV show.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Continuing a theme, I really like some things about this show, while others frustrate me. I was getting close to losing interest when they dropped the fantastic episode about John going to therapy, all the while being observed by Cameron and Sarah. That episode conveyed the difficulty he has trying to express himself and grow up while dealing with both the pressure of his future destiny, and the constant watching eyes of his mother.

But, amidst interesting character stuff, there’s a lot of random b-movie action that doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s a show focused on narrative, not characters, and that means that things can get a bit samey. How many episodes have centered around our characters hunting down some random Eastern European guy? Monday’s episode did surprise me with Cameron’s brutality, when she killed the three guys who had robbed them.

There’s always some interesting stuff in each episode to keep me going, but the show isn’t making it to great. It’s like Buffy pre “Surprise,” I watch it, I like it, but it doesn’t really capture my imagination. The tough thing with watching any series as it goes is you don’t have the benefit of a pre-existing critical response. I stuck with Buffy and Babylon 5 because I knew they would get better, who knows what will happen with this show? It could become a classic this season or it could just keep going along as it is. Right now, I’m liking it enough to keep watching, the quality fluctuates, but for every weak episode, there’s a solid one.

The Office

I’ve written about my mixed feelings on the US Office before. I do really like the show, but I was so emotionally invested in the original, I’ve never been able to really get into the Pam/Jim stuff in the same way. My least favorite aspect of this show is definitely Pam and Jim, I find them both unlikable, precisely because they’re so engineered to be likable. In yesterday’s episode, Jim is called smug and arrogant, but rather than engage with this criticism, it’s revealed as a lie. I think it would have been a lot more interesting to deal with the idea that Jim hating his job is reflected in how he does it, and play with his flaws. But, they choose not to engage with it, and instead we get the annoying cutesy Bluetooth stuff.

The supporting characters have always interested me more. I really like what they did with Ryan. The Holly arc was solid, but I’m getting tired of the Andy/Dwight/Angela triangle happenings. I still enjoy the show, but I don’t think anything this season has been as focused as the post-strike episodes last year.

1 comment:

theafroguy said...

Good to hear Life on Mars made it across the Atlantic intact, hallucinogenic sequences and all. After two seasons the actor playing Sam Tyler quit, so they moved it to the 80s and got to refresh the storyline.