Friday, October 26, 2007

Fall TV Review

Now that the Fall Television Season is fully underway I thought it a good time to evaluate what's currently worth watching on TV. Before we begin, I would like to comment briefly on the threat of strike by members of the Writers Guild of America. Without getting bogged down with the details behind the labor dispute, I will comment on the effects. To sum it up, the threat seems like a good thing. An actual strike would be a bad thing. Allow me to elaborate. A sudden absence of writers would mean scripted shows would suffer and we could see an acute increase in the number of non-scripted shows. That's bad. I know some of you out there are fans of Dancing with the Stars and I think I speak for us all when I say Dog the Bounty Hunter represents a cleverly delicious slice of home-grown Americana, but any more so-called reality TV would drive me up the wall. As a result, nervous studios are stockpiling scripts and scripted shows. They have been slow to cancel under-performing shows for fear that they might run out of replacement content. That's good. I don't see how canceling a show without airing all of the completed episodes does anybody any good. It just angers people like me, who have the terrible curse of liking unsuccessful shows. So what shows have I picked this year? Will my luck change? The fact that most of what I watch is on NBC, the fourth most watched network, suggests it won't. Below, in no particular order, are the shows I am currently following.

Life (Wednesdays on NBC): A drama about a detective who is given a second chance. Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers) stars as complex, offbeat Detective Charlie Crews, who returns to the force after serving 12 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. This is my favorite new show this season. Detective Crews is just one of those fascinating characters. The patience and quirkiness he picked up in prison is just enough to irritate his partner (played by former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Sarah Shahi), which are the best moments of each episode. The actual cop drama part of the show is nothing new, but Lewis makes treading through the cliches worth it. What has me hooked is the ongoing background story about Crews trying to solve the crime for which he had been convicted. Each episode lets you in on a new detail. I'd really like to see this show stick around for a while.

House (Tuesdays on Fox): Speaking of fascinating characters, Hugh Laurie's Dr. Gregory House is the most intriguing character on TV. Based on Sherlock Holmes (with Dr. Wilson as his Watson), this investigator solves medical mysteries. He's brilliant yet mad. Last season saw him reach the brink of pure insanity by considering an injection to the brain to stimulate happiness. This season we've seen him jam a knife into a outlet just to have a near-death experience. None of this would work without Laurie in the role. Also, I'm still trying to figure where the casting carousel will stop with House auditioning a new team. It's a welcome, but not entirely necessary departure from the show's usual formula.

Chuck (Mondays on NBC): Computer geek Chuck Bartowski is catapulted into a new career as the government's most vital secret agent. When Chuck opens an e-mail subliminally encoded with government secrets, he unwittingly downloads an entire server of sensitive data into his brain. Now, the fate of the world lies in the unlikely hands of a guy who works at a Buy More Electronics store (A funny imitation of Best Buy). Instead of fighting computer viruses, he must now confront assassins and international terrorists. This hour-long action sitcom is light enough to not take itself too seriously. Instead it's mocking all the action shows that have come before it. Some of the story lines are weak and at times it really comes across as being low budget, but so far I like it. My concern is all that happened in the first episode to set up the plot hasn't been explained all that well in subsequent episodes, which I fear would leave newcomers somewhat lost.

Journeyman (Mondays on NBC): A romantic mystery-drama about a San Francisco newspaper reporter and family man who inexplicably begins to travel through time and change people's lives. Along the way, he also must deal with the difficulties and strife at work and home brought on by his sudden disappearances. I don't really expect this show to last. It comes across as a sort of knock off of Quantum Leap, which is fine, but it spends too much time focused on the main character's personal problems, leaving the actual time traveling and life fixing as an afterthought. Journeyman certainly has potential, however. Also, the opening theme, which can be heard below (0:31) by pressing play on the Jukebox Player, is pretty sweet.

Friday Night Lights (Fridays on NBC): This series centers on the small rural town of Dillon, Texas, where the coveted state football championship rings are held in the highest regard. The Dillon Panther's faced many challenges their first season with Coach Eric Taylor at the helm, but after much hard work, determination and a victory at the State Championship Game, the team's fate at the start of yet another new season and the Taylor family's future with them, continues to remain uncertain. The second season picked up right where the first left off: with mounds of drama and I'd say things are a little too dramatic right now. Lyla Garrity, who recently found Jesus, is about the only character who seems to be happy. But it's still good TV and I'm happy to see Landry (great Texas football name) hook up with Tyra, even if it was a murder that brought them together. Love that teen angst.

My Name is Earl, 30 Rock, The Office, Scrubs (Thursdays on NBC): The evening's nickname is "Comedy Done Right" and I would agree. These are probably the four funniest shows currently on network TV. Scrubs has gotten a little stale in its old age and My Name is Earl has too much gay stuff, but overall, these two hours are where it's at. I've especially found myself growing more fond of 30 Rock. Below is a sample from last night's episode (4:59) showcasing Tracy Morgan and the resurgent Alec Baldwin.

My Other Shows: I still watch Without a Trace and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, both of which have gotten old and tired, especially Without a Trace which I'm starting to find really boring. I've also been watching reruns of The Sopranos (Wednesdays on A&E) and have gotten into it. It's a good show with interesting characters, but it's also way overrated. I think the entire fourth season passed with the most dramatic thing being the fallout from a fat joke. I had been watching Heroes (Mondays on NBC), but it was just moving too slowly for my liking, so I've decided to stockpile a few episodes. Maybe by watching multiple episodes at a time, the plot might advance enough.

On recommendations from others I have recorded some episodes of Reaper (Tuesdays on CW) and Pushing Daisies (Wednesdays on ABC), but haven't gotten around to watching either. If you would like to recommend shows to Entertainment News readers, you can do so in the comment section.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Remembering the Titans

I was watching Remember the Titans on TV recently. It's kind of funny to think that so many of the cast members are still finding work, particularly on NBC. Below is a where-are-they-now revisiting of key cast members from the 2000 movie that got Disney rolling in the based-on-a-true-story sports sub-genre.

Denzel Washington (Coach Herman Boone)

Mr. Washington's career is about where it's always been. He's still plugging along in movies that without him would bomb at the box office. With him, however, they make enough to make sure his next movie will get made. Next up he's got American Gangster with Russell Crowe and from the trailers, it appears that even though he's the bad guy, it's the same stern-but-righteous Denzel character we've seen countless times before. After that he'll step into shoes long since warn out by the likes of Sidney Poitier, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts, Kevin Kleine, Morgan Freemen and of course Robin Williams as he tackles the based-on-a-true-story inspirational teacher role in The Great Debaters. Doesn't sound too far off from his based-on-a-true-story inspirational coach role in Remember the Titans.

Wood Harris & Ryan Hurst (Julius Campbell & Gerry Bertier)

As far as the actual Titan football players go, these two were the central characters of the movie. While both are still working, neither has done anything particularly noteworthy as of late. Harris has a number of limited release movies coming out while Hurst does prime time drama guest appearances.

Ethan Suplee (Louie Lastik)

In what is probably the funniest character on the show, Suplee has found a home on NBC's Thursday night's My Name is Earl as Earl's extremely dimwitted brother Randy. Even when his character is trying to be bad, you can't help root for him. Perhaps his greatest moment was when he declared himself the Anti-Earl and made a list of the good things he had done in is life and then went about trying to make them wrong. That lasted about half an episode. Now that he's managed to get himself a job as a guard at Earl's prison, hilarity will no doubt ensue.

Donald Faison (Petey Jones)

Next week Mr. Faison will join Mr. Suplee on NBC's "Comedy Done Right" Thursday night lineup when Scrubs returns for its seventh and final season. I for one would like to take the opportunity to plug said lineup. After a summer of catch up via DVD rentals and syndicated reruns, I can now say I have seen every episode NBC's four Thursday night comedies (My Name is Earl, 30 Rock, Scrubs and The Office). Even though these shows finally seem to be building an audience, it really bugs me how NBC has the best shows but gets the worst ratings. I'll comment on that more in the days to come.

Ryan Gosling (Alan Bosley)

When the movie came out, if someone where to ask to you which Titans football player would be the first to get an Academy Award nomination would you honestly have said Mr. Gosling? After starring as the hero in the ultra chick flick The Notebook, Gosling hit the independent film circuit and got himself some Oscar recognition for Half Nelson about an inner-city junior high school teacher with a drug habit. More recently he went toe to toe with Anthony Hopkins in Fracture and next it's another odd indie flick Lars and the Real Girl. Busy guy.

Hayden Panettiere (Coach Yoast's 9-year-old daughter Sheryl)

Another one of NBC's big stars, Ms. Panettiere used her cheerleader movie experience in Bring It On: All or Nothing to land the role of the self-regenerating cheerleader Claire Bennet on Heroes. Yes, it seems that when they saved the cheerleader they did in fact save the world, although after watching the ending of the season one finale a few times, I can't really figure out how. Heroes is a good show, but (1) not enough happens to advance the storyline at a pace I would like and (2) it takes itself a little too seriously for being a cheap knock off of X-men. Whatever. Panettiere seems to have the teen angst mastered which should help her character be a part of many more fun-filled adventures caused her own stupidity.

Kate Bosworth (Bertier's girlfriend Emma Hoyt)

Ms. Bosworth has had probably the biggest rise to fame since Titans. After starring in Blue Crush she was lucky enough to Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! before portraying Sandra Dee opposite Kevin Spacey in the Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea. Then she hit it big as Lois Lane in Superman Returns. Up next she has a slate full of movies, none of which is really worth mentioning at this point, but who knows, they could end up being interesting. There's always the chance of another Superman movie.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Every so often I see a movie poster that just makes my insides churn. Don't get me wrong. It's not as though I was a huge fan of the Chipmunks and remaking it is messing with something classic. I even like Jason Lee from his work on My Name is Earl, but something about imagining hip-hop chipmunks makes the back of my head, just above the neck, twinge with a certain amount of discomfort. Any bets on how many times Dave gets hit in the crotch?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Gladiators, Ready

As I kid I remember watching American Gladiators, and even at the age of 12 I knew it was really cheesy. However, it was an effective way of distracting myself from the Saturday morning chore of cleaning my room. Recently I've watched a few reruns on ESPN Classic and it's just as I remember it. Although, in today's win-at-all-cost sports culture, including steroid allegations in the WWE, I can't help but wonder if Nitro or Turbo or any of the testosterwomen weren't using a little something extra to bulk up. Another thought I had based on the recent state of things was that if American Gladiators was on today it would have a bigger stage. I'm talking prime time television presented in HD with a semi-famous, charismatic host. Apparently somebody in a position of authority at NBC was thinking the same thing because tryouts are being held for a big budget prime time version of American Gladiators. The casting call is great because it makes it clear that any potential contenders or gladiators must bring their own shoes, towel and water as those items will not be provided (Come on! They couldn't even provide water?). Hopefuls must be "big, bad, and athletic" with the "heart, skills, and desire to compete." While strength, speed, balance and agility are important, so are how well you get along with roommates, the newspapers you read, the topics you consider off limits at dinner parties, and what you would do with your three wishes if you were Aladdin (all questions from the 27-page application).

It will be interesting to see if America is willing to embrace one more reality TV show. In today's homogenized entertainment industry, riding the trend wave is all about getting the formula right and when you break it all down, it appears the new American Gladiators is trying to follow the often-used classic formula:

 Deal or No Deal
+WWE Smackdown
+Fear Factor
-  Eating maggot-filled cow intestines