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I Watch TV So You Don’t Have To

September 26th, 2005

The new season has begun for the commercial broadcast TV networks, and this year there have been a surprising number of new series which intrigued me enough to sample. In most cases, I’ve only watched the first episode, so your mileage may vary over the long haul.

How I Met Your Mother — I’ll admit that I only watched this one because the cast included Alyson Hannigan (“Willow” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and ex-“Doogie” Neil Patrick Harris, whom I’ve come to respect ever since he willingly played himself as a drunken, perverse car-thief in the stoner comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. At first glance, this was a fairly unremarkable romantic comedy, but I did enjoy the frequent cross-cutting in time and location, a device used effectively in the BBC version of Coupling. In addition, there was a nifty twist in the first episode. The premise is about a father in the year 2030 telling his kids how he met their mother, and indeed, he meets a woman with whom he falls instantly in love. You can tell that they’re meant for each other. Except…she’s not the kids’ mother, but rather their “Aunt Robin.” Boing! It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.

Supernatural — Or “The WB Tries to Woo Back the Buffy Crowd.” I doubt that they’ll do it with this by-the-numbers affair, which offers two bland, cute-boy leads with no discernible personalities in a standard-issue quest to find their father and the demon which killed their mother. They hunt various supernatural (duh) creatures which appear to be culled from the Big Book of Urban Legends. In the pilot, they battled the classic hitchhiking ghost, and went as far as to suggest that not only is this oft-told tale true, but that literally hundreds of women with similar backgrounds have died under similar circumstances and now haunt America’s highways, all wearing white and all attacking passing motorists. Upcoming episodes involve–no joke–Bloody Mary and the Guy With A Hook. I suspect that by episode 13, they’ll be rescuing pets from a microwave oven.

Threshold — The aliens are invading, and we’ve got a plan. So says this series, and the invasion scenario itself is unusual: colonization via a fourth-dimensional object which broadcasts a signal that rewrites the DNA of any Earth creature exposed to it. As our plan to save the human race is to assemble a crack team of a nerd, a horny dwarf (nice stereotyping, there) and Star Trek‘s Brent Spiner, I think we’re in trouble. It would make a good miniseries, but every week?

My Name is Earl — The pilot was, quite simply, the single funniest half-hour of TV I’ve seen in years. The premise is wonderful: a down-on-his-luck lowlife has a epiphany and decides that the only way to turn things around is to make up for by reversing every bad thing he’s ever done. He makes a list. There are 238 entries, including “peeing in the back of a police car.” The characters are charming in a Raising Arizona sort of way, and there were at least a dozen quotable lines of dialogue in that first episode.

The Office — Not a new show, but the first episode of the second season of NBC’s remake of the British comedy. I’ve never seen the original, as despite every good thing I’ve heard about it, it struck me as the sort of show that critics love and that I try very hard (and fail) to like. My understanding is that the NBC version isn’t too far off in quality from the original, and it does have the benefit (from my perspective) of starring Steve Carell. Unfortunately, as I suspected, it wasn’t all that funny. It had moments, but the plot of the episode in question–an after-hours company dinner at which allegedly-humorous “awards” are handed out–made it painful to watch.

Invasion — One of three “aliens among us” new series this year, and one of six with supernatural elements, this one is set in a Florida Everglades community in the aftermath of a hurricane during which odd lights were seen in the sky…and after which some of the people are no longer quite right. I liked this one the best of the three SF/fantasy series I sampled, perhaps because it was the stingiest in terms of explaining its central conflict. With the others, I could see where they were going and knew I didn’t want to go along for the ride. This one is all potential so far, but it got off to a good start, and producer Shaun Cassidy (yes, that one) did a wonderful job with another small-town horror story, American Gothic.

Everybody Hates Chris — I would’ve had to watch this one if only because of the presence of Chris Rock as the offscreen narrator, but it was good to confirm that the pre-season buzz was justified. While the first episode didn’t produce as many full-throated guffaws as did Earl, it was very strong and–as one might expect from Rock–made some canny observations on the subject of race in America.

And I haven’t even mentioned some of the ongoing shows, including the season finale of Battlestar Galactica, which reintroduced the fan-favorite Battlestar Pegasus and its commander, Cain, and naturally subverted everyone’s expectations of both; and Justice League Unlimited, which seems hell-bent on working every last character in the DC Comics universe into its storyline. The Legion of Doom aiding in an overthrow of Skartaris, the world at the earth’s core? Cool!

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