Thursday, September 30, 2010

New Fall TV, Part 3

Lone Star: About a week after this Fox series debuted (and bombed), I fired up a DVRtini and watched the first 10 minutes or so of the pilot before I decided, eh, life is too short. It needed to grab me a lot more considering it was all but D.O.A. A few days later, it was all INCLUDING D.O.A. Maybe this would have been a better fit on FX or something.

Blue Bloods: This is kind of like "The Defenders," only not as ludicrous. It's entertaining, nonessential, and one I might watch given the right circumstances and wouldn't walk out on if someone else had it on. And it just feels like a CBS show.

The cast is strong, and the effort to raise issues is admirable. However, the emphasis on the family part of this family of cops (and a D.A.) will probably mean major compression of the procedural part of the show, and the cases might be weak as a result.

Also, the pilot illustrated the difference between a truly ambitious show and a fairly ordinary one. "Blue Bloods" offered convenient resolutions for its characters; while there are clearly ongoing problems for this family, the main story was wrapped up rather tidily. I don't expect every show to be a dark, complex meditation on life's failures and inherent ambiguity, but I'm just saying.

Another problem I had with the debut episode: A few illogical plot points that distracted me, including one that looks to loom over the whole season (or at least a good stretch) because it is at the heart of a big conspiracy/mystery storyline. But I don't want to sound too negative. "Blue Bloods" isn't a must watch, but it's a decent enough cop show, and I have to say I just like the networks making an effort to put scripted programming on Friday nights.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Fall TV, Part 2: Dramas

Continuing where I left off yesterday, here are some quick takes on the broadcast networks' new fall offerings.

The Defenders: I wanted to hate this show, mainly because of the presence of Mr. Smarm, Jerry O'Connell. Coming from a guy, this is probably provoking the worst karma possible, but when I saw him preening in the CBS fall preview special, I found myself wishing that he would come down with a massive bald spot in the next few years.

But if you're looking for Jim Belushi hate, look elsewhere, especially since this role and this show seem tailor made for him (the question of why CBS is telling its tailors to build shows around Jim Belushi is a topic for another day). The pilot of "The Defenders" was fast, entertaining, and often preposterous. But I did chuckle a few times, and there were worse ways I could have spent an hour. I won't seek out future episodes myself, but if Mrs. Shark wants to watch it and I'm around, I won't leave the room. I love the fact that she likes Belushi; talk about keeping the bar at a reasonable height for me!

Chase: There wasn't enough in the first hour to keep me coming back. Jerry Bruckheimer wants us to think this is 45 MINUTES OF PURE ADRENALINE, but despite some decent chase scenes, it feels hollow. The lead actress is appealing, but the rest of the cast does nothing for me, and the whole effect is like watching a more intense USA Network show.

Detroit 1-8-7: I had a bad feeling when I discovered the show was rejiggered to eliminate a "we're filming a reality show" angle of this fictional cop show. Perhaps the wildly inconsistent tone of the pilot stems from the scramble to change it. Most of the things that sort of work in this show are "just another cop show" aspects, not distinctive enough to make this a regular watch. I was turned off by the uneasy juxtaposition of lighter moments with the ongoing, often-grim details of a squad of homicide cops. It can be pulled off, as in "Homicide" or "The Wire," both gritty shows which include natural-feeling moments of humor. But the varying tones in the "1-8-7" pilot seemed only to be there to build to a predictable "shock" ending, one that actually irritated me because it felt so contrived and inappropriate except as a device to raise eyebrows. In short, this is no "Homicide" or "The Wire."

More to come this week...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Fall TV: So far, so blah (Comedies)

Here are some brief thoughts on shows about which I want to comment without doing a full "Should you watch" post. Today, let's look at the new network comedies.

Mike and Molly: Somewhere in this Chuck Lorre sitcom is a sweet if not all that hilarious romantic comedy about two overweight people who meet and fall in love. Unfortunately, it's buried under a barrage of crude gags. The fat jokes received all the attention from critics, but the pilot also rewarded viewers with lines about flatulence, oral sex, and pot smoking.

You can make a funny show with that kind of humor (I'm sure Chuck Lorre has a vanity card in the works explaining that this IS the funny show), but you need sharper jokes and a funnier cast. The leads in this show are likable but don't seem capable of carrying a sitcom without help--help they're not getting.

Better with You: I was stunned at how UNterrible the pilot was. The series was firmly ensconced in my "10 most annoying new shows" list, but in retrospect, perhaps judging the cast based on their smarmy appearance at an ABC fall premiere hype event wasn't the best gauge of the show's quality.

This isn't the most sophisticated relationship comedy, but it is funny. The editing rhythms of the dialogue feel very 1990s, but that's almost a breath of fresh air right now. It'll be interesting to see if the show continues the gimmick it emphasized heavily in the pilot: Comparing and contrasting 3 couples in various stages of relationships. I may find out soon because I'll watch this week, and I may add this to my lineup. The fact that it's on the same night and network as "Modern Family" might help keep it on my radar.

Raising Hope: I think this garnered some critical praise, but I don't see much here to make me revisit it. It reminded me of creator Greg Garcia's previous "My Name Is Earl," and that's not a good thing. I think there's place on TV for working-class comedy--I sure want there to be, anyway--but does "Raising Hope" love its characters or ridicule them?

Oh, there was a nice "aww" moment near the end of the pilot as Martha Plimpton's grizzled "suddenly a grandma" character serenades the baby her son has brought home determined to keep and raise. But it seemed contrived, calculated to inject "heart" into the show (every crude comedy has to have "heart" now with the exception of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"), when you consider other moments.

For example, Plimpton's character is a maid. It's good to establish that early, but must it be with her telling another, "You do realize we're cleaning toilets, right?" as they carpool to work? Or when the lead character and new father brings a shopping cart to a grocery store, he tells a cashier his family uses it as a grill (among other things). Ha ha ha, but then later when the cart is missing, his cousin interjects with disappointment that he was gonna make burgers that night. It's more like overkill than a clever callback.

This one's not for me.

Running Wilde: Another FOX comedy with a punning title, another disappointment. The pedigree behind this one--from the people who brought you "Arrested Development" may have Raised Hope, but the finished work quashed it. It's ridiculous premise could be acceptable with funnier writing, but the main problem is the decision to build a sitcom around Will Arnett. The guy is acceptable, even effective, in smaller doses, but there's no way he, not to say his by-design-unlikable character, will hold up over a whole season of being the lead. Keri Russell is cute, but the show expects us to believe that her ultraliberal goody-two-shoes would fall hard for Arnett's self-absorbed privileged rich son. The chemistry doesn't support it so far, and I won't be coming back to see if it develops.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Should you watch: "Outsourced"

The good news is NBC's new sitcom "Outsourced" is not as offensive as I expected it to be. The bad news is it isn't as funny as...well, it just isn't funny.

Thursday night's premiere scored fairly well in the ratings, so many of you may have already sampled this half-hour about an American sent to a call center in India to have wacky cultural misunderstandings with them--er, train them up and run the business. But for the rest of you, here are some reasons why you should check it out:

*You think India is just a pretty damn funny country...
*And its citizens, even more so.
*You think it's about time someone set a situation comedy in the glamorous, high-stakes world of novelty toy sales.
*Ever since co-star Diedrich Bader became the voice of Batman in "The Brave and the Bold," you just find everything he says in live action funnier.
*You're determined to watch NBC each Thursday at the same time until someone goes ahead and dumps this and returns "Parks and Recreation" to the schedule (if this is you, Ivan, I'm telling you, buddy, back away from the TV, and we'll let you know when it's back on).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Brooks on Books: What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?" by Kevin Mattson

If you're one of the millions of people that knows/thinks/believes/assumes Jimmy Carter was a terrible President, I'm not gonna try to change your opinion. But this book might surprise you a bit. Carter may still have been a terrible prez, but maybe for different reasons.

Mattson is apparently (judging from his resume) a left-leaning writer, and his book is sympathetic to Carter but not biased or partisan. Included in his subtitle is the phrase "The Speech That Should Have Changed the Country," but this is isn't a left-wing propaganda job. The goal here is to examine the infamous address to the nation in which Carter used the word "malaise" and supposedly torpedoed his political future. The focus is not on ideology but on process--that is, how Carter himself squandered the momentum this moment gave him (that's right, momentum; read on) through his own mismanagement, hence the poor reputation of a speech that "should have" changed the United States.

Mattson lays out the particulars of the speech (also presenting the entire text in the back for your convenience), but examines it in context, showing what was going on in the country before it and what, in fact, instigated it. He also takes us through the aftermath of the infamous oratory and in so doing challenges much of the conventional wisdom surrounding it.

I was born in the seventies, but I had a pretty happy toddler life and was unaware of what a drag it was for much of the country much of the time. Mattson's book details the problems Carter and the USA faced: sputtering economy, gas shortages, hostage crisis in Iran...yeah, it wasn't always a fun time outside of the discotheque. Is it any wonder Carter used the word "malaise" in a speech to illustrate how bummed America was?

But while many people believe that people hated Carter for committing the political sin of, like, bringing everybody down, man, contrasting Jimmy with the sunny "Morning in America" reputation of Ronald Reagan, Mattson shows that the truth is much more complex. For example--and this is kind of a big thing--Carter never used the word "malaise" in the speech. It was the media reaction that pushed that word into the discussion and forever linked it to Carter's televised address. Also, Carter's approval ratings actually went up, and the majority of the reaction was positive to Carter's attempt to link honest assessment of some of the country's problems with a positive assessment about the chance to beat the energy crisis.

Mattson convincingly asserts that it wasn't until the media started discussing the politics of the speech, not the substance, that the message got lost. More importantly, Carter made the disastrous move of axing a good chunk of his cabinet just days after the speech, a move which made an already questionable chief executive look out of control at best, incompetent or even unhinged at worst, and this, according to Mattson, is what sunk the presidency and killed the chance of the speech having lasting success.

Whether you agree or disagree with the ideology in here--Mattson isn't writing a policy paper, but he is telling the story from the Democratic POV, and he is clearly sympathetic to Carter-- you'll be impressed by the research Mattson has done and his skill at telling this story. The level of detail brings life to this time in American history and illuminates underchronicled aspects of it (at least I think so). The book is worthwhile if only for its fascinating account of an extraordinary retreat Carter hosted at Camp David before the speech, a kind of intellectual powow where notables like Jesse Jackson and a young Bill Clinton showed up to share ideas.

Mattson has written an entertaining, provocative account of what he demonstrates is a misunderstood but critical moment in American history. I highly recommend it for readers with an interest in history and/or politics.

Friday, September 24, 2010

This Week in DVD

It's another slow week for recent theatrical releases. I know studios are saving some big stuff for the holiday shopping season, but looking at the releases each week is making me wonder if any movies actually came out earlier this year.

Robin Hood:
I always liked the legendary character, but when this Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe reimagining came out, all I heard was how UNLIKE classic Robin Hood it was, with none of the usual scenes we'd expect. So, you know, no pulling the sword out of the stone, no carving out the letter "Z," no landing on Earth after being rocketed into space as an infant...What's the point, then?

Stomp the Yard 2: The Homecoming: Uh-oh. That :The Homecoming worries me. The fact that they didn't just call it "Stomp the Yard 2" indicates someone thinks this is...a franchise.

The Experiment: Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker slumming it--er, starring in a movie about what an experimental placement of subjects in prison conditions goes horribly wrong. Least surprising MPAA rating detail of the week: This movie includes a rape scene.

Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases Volume 5: I have a feeling it's gonna be a while before we get a comprehensive Tom and Jerry collection with uncut, undubbed cartoons. After all, Warners has this prestigious "Greatest Chases" series to continue...

Desperate Housewives Season 6: Remember last week when I mentioned all the TV-on-DVD releases tying into season premieres? Well, it's much the same this week, only with shows that I actually watch! Uh, wait, I don't want to admit I watch this one. Let's move on.

How I Met Your Mother Season 5: Not the series' high point, really, but, hey, season 5 has its moments.

Community Season 1: The biggest surprise and best new network show of last season hits DVD with tons of extras. In an era when companies are skimming on the bonuses, I salute the makers of "Community" for loading up this box set. And thanks to a pal o' mine, I own the set and get to enjoy it all! MWAH HA HA HA HA HA!

(Of course, you're welcome to buy the set yourself and enjoy it, too. I'm not sure why I gave you that big evil laugh.)

Human Target Season 1: This underappreciated adventure series delivered more often that not in its debut season, and I hope the tweaks the show made for season 2 increase the audience while not screwing things up. Folks, you need to do your part by watching it, and here's your chance to catch up.

Numerous other TV shows which I do not watch: We'd be here all day if I listed them all, and I'm too happy about the "Community" set to make snide comments about the ones I dislike.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Should you watch: Hawaii Five-0

Well, this remake was pretty much what I had heard it was: loud, fast, well done for what it was. I was surprised at the extent of the overall speed of the show, though. Even simple scenes like star Alex O'Loughlin talking to Jean Smart's governor of Hawaii were staged muy rapidamente (sorry, I don't speak any Hawaiian).

It kind of scares me to imagine how slow today's youth must think a show like the original "Hawaii Five-0" is. Am I that old, or is today's TV just that fast? Maybe that's just the way it is nowadays and I don't notice it in established shows because I'm used to them. Perhaps not just the editing, but the storytelling has to be accelerated because of the 8 minutes or so less each hourlong show has to work with today. But the even scarier thing is that I'm talking about a show being so loud and fast and ADD and whatnot, and I'm talking about a SHOW ON CBS! CBS!

I thought "Hawaii Five-0" was OK, but not something worth watching each week. I wouldn't have beef with anyone who thought otherwise, though. Someone who was more enamored with the cast than I was could easily get into this one.

Here are some more reasons why you should watch the new "Hawaii Five-0":

*You've always wanted to go to Hawaii and appreciate the chance to see the island in all its tropical beauty...punctuated, of course, with gunfire, murders, and explosions.
*You're convinced "Lost's" Daniel Dae Kim is a "plant" and are determined to watch for all the clues he surely represents.
*You think there's nothing in the field of pursuing baddies a bulky, athletic guy can do that a 100-pound young woman can't do better.
*You figure if CBS is gonna keep building shows around Alex O'Loughlin, you might as well buckle under and watch one eventually.
*You have neither a DVD player nor an MP3 player nor the "Television's Greatest Hits" CD, and you have to get your fix of that theme song each week.
*You're tired of all those shows with cops that play by the rules.

Monday, September 20, 2010

UPDATE: RTV not doing something so annoying after all

Well, you know the old saying: "If you don't like the TV listings around here, stick around; they'll change." Something like that. Anyway, I reported last week on upcoming schedule changes on my local RTV affiliate, as reflected in the on-screen program guide listings I checked out. Well, over the weekend, I noticed those listings have changed, and while I did offer a caveat when I mocked the changes I saw last week, I did mock them, and they may not have been ever "official," and they're not in place now. So as I remain ever an 'umble blogger, guv'nor, I apologize to RTV and to my readers for jumping the gun.

The good news is that the actual new fourth-quarter 2010 program schedule is better than the third-quarter lineup in some ways, and it's much, much better than I feared it would be because it does not include the odd insertion of more paid programming. On the contrary, RTV in the DC metro area is expanding its daily programming hours by shifting its Saturday morning E/I stuff to weekdays from 8:00 to 9:00. It's not a substantial change, but it's a step in the right direction, and it makes way for the new gloriously UN-"Educational/Informative" Saturday morning block of mostly Filmation cartoons.

The best news is that WJLA's RTV lineup has tweaked its late-night schedule, and while I don't think "Daniel Boone" is a great fit remaining at 11:00 P.M., at least there's not an infomercial in there. More promising is the move of "Rifleman and "Cisco Kid" to weekday afternoons, where they seem a better fit, and the return of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" to the schedule (hopefully with the later seasons that were skipped over in the past) at midnight, followed by "Peter Gunn" at 12:30. The Hitchcock/Gunn hour (Hey, doesn't THAT sound like a nice and goofy old Filmation cartoon?) strikes me as a much better way to close out the day. I'd still love to see a little more black and white at 1:00 A.M., but, hey, this is pretty good.

"Leave it to Beaver" loses one showing per day as it moves to 5:30, displaced by the aforementioned combo of westerns. Other than that, it's pretty much business as usual--not the freshening up the schedule really needs, but not the fiasco that showed up last week with "paid programming" getting two more slots in the lineup.

There are some weekend changes, too, to accompany the kids' block, most notably the addition of "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and what I believe is the departure of "Wagon Train," but I don't want to delve into that scenario right now. After all, it, too, is likely subject to change, or to have never changed at all, or at least to have not changed the way I thought it did...and I'll stop now because even I'm confused.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's Always Subway in Philadelphia

The season premiere of FXs "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" featured some of the most egregious examples of product placement in recent memory, and that's saying something. An irreverent comedy like this seems particularly weakened by, for example, a scene set in a Subway with everyone munching on Subway food and drinking out of Subway cups.

Even worse is the gang sitting around the bar drinking Coors Light--and drinking it with the labels facing the camera, natch. You mean to tell me any group in any bar anywhere at any time hangs out over a round or 3 of Coors Light?

The beer may have its virtues--it has funny commercials, it's relatively cheap, it's easy to find--but it's hardly a beer drinker's beer. Many would argue it's hardly a beer.

Maybe one or two people in the average social group would order a Coors Light. Maybe if it's offered at a party, or if someone else is buying, a few others would join in. But I see a group of wise-ass barflys choosing to imbibe Coors Light--when they run the bar, no less--and it takes me right out of the scene, the show, even off the network for a few seconds.

No storyline reason would justify this. The gang is allergic to every other beer? Nah, since when do these characters care about their health? A law mandating only Coors Light be sold in bars? Nah, since when do these characters care about laws?

If the show needs the money that badly, it'll have a hard time convincing me. After all, this is the same series that is charging 40 bucks for 12 half-hour episodes on its most recent DVD set.

Brooks on Books: The Worst Call Ever! by Kyle Garrett and Patrick O'Neal

This breezy exploration of the worst officials' calls in sports history does what it sets out to do: provide entertainment without asking too much of the reader. If it sounds like I'm slighting the authors and their work, well, I don't think they did a bad job, but the product just isn't quite enough value for the hardcover retail price. If you get it at a discount, it's a good read; if you want to check it out from the library (as I did), it's a fine time killer.

One thing that's curious is the notable lack of list-ing in this book. The authors present an overall top 10 list of all-time worst calls across all sports, but from then on, the book is organized by sport, with the calls seemingly random (not even chronologically arranged) within that chapter. This approach is convenient on one hand because it lets you skip material that doesn't interest you (Good-bye, hockey), but more attempts to rank the calls might have made a livelier book.

The text is often irreverent but does a good job at conveying the particulars of each situation and providing necessary context for each flub. Each entry is brief but sufficient, but I still think that overall the book is missing something. Again, it may not be worth a full-price buy, but I think I've seen it in the bargain bins, and it's a solid purchase at a discount.

Friday, September 17, 2010

This Week in DVD

Prince of Persia: In this Bruckheimer adaptation of a video game, Jake Gyllenhaal is a bad-ass warrior who--wait, excuse me. HAHAHAHAHAHA...
Ahem. Trying this again: Gyllenhaal is a bad-ass warrior--BWAHHAHAHAHAHA!
I can't do this. Let's save this for later.

Letters to Juliet: At one point not so long ago, Amanda Seyfried was a relative unknown. Now she's in, like, every other movie. None of them looks particularly enticing, but I kind of like her look. She has a classic movie star big head and exaggerated features, almost like a blonde Christina Ricci. There's just something interesting about her. But in this case, I'm content to just look at the DVD cover instead of actually watching the movie.

Just Wright: Get it? Just WRIGHT? 'Cause the name is "Wright,", this romantic comedy is off to a bad start already, isn't it?

The Black Cauldron 25th Anniversary Edition: Does this mean I should finally see this one now?

Prince of Persia: Jake Gyllenhaal is a bad-ass--HEE HEE HEE! Nope, still can't do it. Next!

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 5: In this batch of episodes, the gang does despicable things and acts like a bunch of a-holes. In other words, more of the same, but in a good way.

Grey's Anatomy Season 6: I don't watch this show, but from what little I've seen when my wife has it on, I'd wager the above entry would apply here, too, with maybe a few minor changes--like the "in a good way" part.

The Big Bang Theory Season 3, The Good Wife Season 1: This week, we get a lot of TV show seasons released to coincide with the debuts of their new fall seasons. Hey, makes sense, right?

Leave it to Beaver Season 4: Well, there's no new season of "Leave it to Beaver," but the whole family can sit in front of the Philco and enjoy "$#*! My Dad Says" every Thursday night on CBS.

America: The Story of Us: Does anything tell the story of America better than the fact that the whole family can watch "$#*! My Dad Says" every Thursday night on CBS? A lot of people refused to give this History Channel miniseries a shot because it featured a cameo by President Obama. I refused to give it a shot because History Channel kind of stinks lately.

Bill Maher: But I'm Not Wrong: Maybe not, but you're an a-hole! Hey, he should do a guest shot on "It's Always Sunny."

Prince of Persia: Jake Gyl--oh, I give up.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Checking in with RTV (Fall 2010 edition)

Because the only thing I like more than watching RTV is complaining about, er, discussing RTV, let's check in on what's going on with my local Retro TV outlet.

This info goes in the "unconfirmed" category because I get it solely by scanning the upcoming listings through my on-screen programming guide, which isn't always reliable. But as of Monday, September 27, an "old favorite" gets two new half-hour time slots in the late night portion of the lineup, while a few shows get the boot.

I'll unveil that "old favorite" (sorry to lean on the quotation marks so much, but it's hard to convey sarcasm in print) momentarily, but first check out the 5:30 P.M. weekday slot, where "Peter Gunn" is leaving. I loved seeing "Gunn" on RTV until it quickly burned through its episodes; when the limited assortment started rerunning, I fell out of the habit of watching the show. I've read that RTV added new episodes to the mix, but I won't get to see them unless the show survives its weekday booting with its weekend slot intact.

Replacing "Gunn" is the 1950s "Adventures of Robin Hood," which seems a decent 5:00 show. This isn't an out-of-the blue addition to the lineup, as it's been running for months on many other affiliates. I'm almost always down for a new black-and-white series on RTV, so this is not a bad move, though something besides "Gunn" should have been axed (*cough* "Kate and Allie"*cough*).

The big change is late nights, where currently we get "Daniel Boone" at 11:00, followed by "The Rifleman" and "The Cisco Kid" from midnight to 1:00 A.M. I don't mind these shows (and love "Rifleman") but I think they're better suited for morning/early afternoon time slots, so I'm not dismayed to find "Daniel Boone" and "Cisco" missing. Rifleman stays at midnight, preceded by "The Bill Cosby Show" at 11:30. I'm really enjoying second season episodes of Biff Cosby on Saturdays, but this show only has two seasons, so it's not a great candidate for a 5-times-a-week spot.

Sharp readers will note that there are two half-hour slots open at 11:00 P.M. and 12:30 A.M., and, folks, here is where that "old favorite" expands its presence on the RTV schedule. You see, beginning Monday, September 27, the local Retro outlet fills those slots with...


Aargh! The dreaded paid programming robs us of an hour of RTV goodness. I hope this is just an error in the program listings because this is a real setback if true. We need less infomercials, not more, to say nothing about the aggravating placement of one of the infernal things in between actual shows. Moving "Rifleman" to 11:30 and calling it a night at midnight would be irksome enough, but somehow WJLA found a way to be an even bigger nuisance.

There are promising services on the horizon like Tribune's Antenna TV, scheduled to launch next year with a heavy slate of classic Sony programs. RTV has made strides in boosting its overall professionalism, but it and its affiliates have a way to go. It can't count on cornering the market on those reverse mortgage and Hoveround ads forever.

The upcoming Saturday morning cartoon block (which I believe comes in October) is a good idea, even if the execution leaves much to be desired in terms of the shows selected. The sprinkling in of some oddball "independent" shows like "Gunn" and "Robin Hood" is nice. But the Universal library, at least the way RTV has handled it, may be about played out. I wouldn't mind finally getting "Kojak" around here, but everyone who wants to see these shows has had a pretty good chance so far, and I'd like to see RTV, if not drop the Universal deal, increase the variety with programs from more sources. Sony may now be off limits, and I thought I read rumblings about Paramount doing something with its library for another outlet, but I have to think RTV has plenty of options out there.

I want to see RTV freshen things up, and adding installments of the most prolific show on cable TV, "Paid Programming," is not the way to do it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The 10 most annoying new shows of the fall season

Go elsewhere for your comprehensive TV season previews. I don't have access to the pilots; I don't know for sure how good or bad the new shows will be. But I can watch those goofy preview specials the networks run, and I can do a little research to gather some poop on what they'll be like.

So far I don't see any new series that jump out at me as potential winners. What I DO see are a host of shows I think I need to avoid. Here, then, is my speculative and subjective list of the 10 new fall network TV programs I predict will be the most annoying.

10) Hellcats (CW): Annoying because this show about cheerleaders is gonna try to be "Glee." And we have enough "Glee" as it is.

9) Hawaii Five-0 (CBS): Because no matter how good it is, it's not the original, and why isn't the original on TV regularly?

8) Outsourced (NBC): A sitcom in which every joke is about India's cultural differences, or its workers' accents or names, might have been funny in 1987. Today it looks to wear out its welcome in about 5 minutes.

7) Law and Order: Los Angeles: Seriously? Just keep the old one on the air. I mean, come on.

6) The Defenders (CBS): Countless talented actors are looking for steady gigs, and CBS gives an hour a week to Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell. Not to mention, this swipes the title of a notable 1960s legal drama that NEVER gets aired anywhere. I'd sure rather watch that one than a vehicle for these two guys straining to be hip "maverick" lawyers.

5) Outlaw (NBC): Speaking of mavericks, in his new show about a Supreme Court who quits the bench to become a lawyer, Jimmy Smits ain't just a maverick. He' to guess? He's...that's right, an OUTLAW! The preview material NBC is releasing shows Smits' character drinking, gambling, and consorting with women--you know, so we know this guy is edgy. I didn't see it in the NBC preview special, but I'll bet you an "L.A. Law" residual check that there's at least one scene in the pilot of Smits standing on a balcony and smoking a cigar as he looks over the city in which he's determined to ride outlaw.

4) Nikita (CW) and The Whole Truth (ABC) (tie): OK, I'm cheating by listing two shows in one entries, but, hey, think of it as added value for your money--and come to think, this is free! Anyway, each is annoying for the same reason: overfamiliarity. Yeah, everything on TV has been done before, but at least "Hawaii Five-0," an example of a blatant retread, hasn't been on the air for 30 years. "Nikita" is based on two movies and a previous series with the same concept, all of which aired in the last two decades. Plus Nikita is that played-out character type of the babe who is supposed to be an ass-kicker despite weighing about 110 pounds.

"Whole Truth's" gimmick is that it's a legal drama that looks at both sides of a case. Hasn't that been done several times in the last few years alone? Maybe I exaggerate, but "Law and Order: Trial by Jury," at least, comes to mind, and I say that's enough to prove my point.

3) Better Than You (ABC): At first glance, this appears to be just another mediocre network sitcom, but if you got a glance at the cast on the "red carpet" on ABC's Fall Preview special, you were likely irritated just at the sight of these people. Maybe as individuals, especially in different settings, each is a decent person. But somehow, lined up together in that atmosphere, they all looked like compete wise-asses. I didn't have any desire to watch a television program featuring them. There was just something off-putting and cocky about them, so much so that as soon as the show cut to them and I saw the smirk on one guy's face, I said out loud, "Pass." I don't think I can take this one.

2) S#*! My Dad Says: I don't want to see unpronounceable symbols in the title of a show. Just talking about this show is annoying. In this case, if we say "Bleep," we're being lame. If we say the "real" word, we're being vulgar. Even trying to spell it for this post irks me. Seeing the #*! combination is funny in the right medium, but unless Sarge Snorkel is gonna run onto the set and beat the s#*! out of William Shatner while shouting epithets, it has no place on CBS.

1) The Event (NBC): Despite massive evidence that audiences don't have the patience for new cryptic serialized dramas that string viewers along--hell, despite some evidence that audiences don't even have the patience for the ones they like--NBC is giving it a shot. From what I see, this show appears to consist of a bunch of big shots talking to each other about The Event without actually saying what it is:

Man: I think he wants to know about The Event.
Woman: We can't tell him about The Event.
Man: You don't think he's ready to know about The Event?
Woman: He can't handle The Event.

I'm already sick of The Event, and I've only seen about two minutes of footage. This is my easy pick for most annoying new show of 2010.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

At the mercy of hotel TV

You know, I complain almost every other week about the problems with cable TV, but a few weeks ago, the Shark family hit the road and discovered the only thing worse than a system with hundreds of useless channels is a system with only dozens of useless channels. Confined to a room with nothing to watch was not a fun situation.

As a sports fan, I usually always have something to enjoy if I must watch the tube, but since I was with my wife, those options were limited, and besides, football was still in the ripoff exhibition season, and ESPN was running the Little League World Series. So I graciously conceded possession of the remote to the missus (Yes, I'm pretending I had a choice) and settled down with a book.

However, it was hard to concentrate on reading as the barrage of talking heads on the TV screen assaulted our sensibilities. CNN offered Rick Sanchez and a few "experts" breathlessly yammering about Dr. Laura being a jerk to a caller on her radio show--like that's news--and acting like it was some breaking story. He teased audiotape of the shocking sequence, then apologized when it wasn't available with a sheepish yet somehow also self-serving explanation about how when you're covering something on the fly, there can be some glitches. Well, why cover this on the fly? Then it became evident the incident happened not 5 minutes ago, as the CNN approach implied, but like a day or two before. They wasted who knows how much airtime on this, and we wasted who knows how much eye time watching it.

On Headline News--excuse me, I mean the oh, so, hip "HLN"--Nancy Grace was being Nancy Grace, and if she isn't obnoxious enough, her format surrounds her large talking (acknowledging that "talking" is insufficient to accurately describe her mode of communication on this show) head with 4 or 5 smaller talking heads, all of them chatting about a serious issue--a missing woman, possibly murdered. Now, I don't want to minimize the gravity of that topic, but regardless of the sincerity of Grace's motives in interviewing the father and giving him a forum, is it really a good idea to segue from that interview right into a plug for her book?

We were spared MSNBC because the hotel didn't carry that channel, but a flip to Fox News revealed a Bill O'Reilly rerun. I don't need to rant about that show; you know what it's all about. But what I ask is, why is a news channel showing "Best of" reruns of a talk show? Bill wants a vacation, give him one. But while he's gone, here's an idea.

I realize I'm about 10 years late with this particular gripe, but because of my schedule, I am usually not subject to the ridiculous primetime lineups of cable news channels. So I take this opportunity to ask: What happened to news? A guy on the road, even in a hotel with an unsophisticated television setup, should be able to count on 3 things: adult movies, sports, and news. The Internet killed the first, a lull in the pro schedule thwarted the second, but the third should be a constant. Unfortunately, it's been replaced by inane gabba gabba.

Oh, well, I suppose in such a situation I can always go down to the lobby and get the free newspaper. Hmm, what do they offer? "USA Today"? Have you seen how thin this paper is nowadays? And how little content there is in the sports and life sections? And how watered down the "news" section is? And how...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

This Week in DVD

Killers: Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl get to play with guns and make kissy-faces. It sounds like "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," only without the star power, the behind-the-scenes pedigree, and the popular audience reaction (and I didn't even LIKE "Mr. and Mrs. Smith").

MacGruber: Movies like this really make me rail against the 30-day rental window imposed by some studios on rental services like Netflix and Redbox. That is, it should be much, much longer.

Solitary Man: Michael Douglas got great reviews for this under-the-radar dramedy, but seeing it on the list only brings two thoughts to mind: 1) Michael Douglas has throat cancer? Jeez. 2) Not to be flip about the previous thought, but on an unrelated note, Chris Isaak's version of "Solitary Man" is one of the great underrated rock and roll cover songs.

That Evening Sun: Hal Holbrook, I don't know, an old guy who tugs at your heartstrings, I guess. That's what he does now, and he does it damn well.

Jackie Chan: Kung Fu Master: Jackie Chan teaches a teenager how to fight. Wait, wasn't that what happened a few months ago in "Karate Kid"?

THX-1138: The George Lucas Director's Cut. I don't care WHAT happens in this version; as far as I'm concerned, Robert Duvall still shoots first.

Dallas Cowboys Heroes: Talk about an oxymoron.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Road Rally: If you get it on DVD, it's just a DVD, but if you see it on TV, it's a "Disney Channel Family Event" or something like that. We caught a sneak peek on demand, and my daughter enjoyed it, while we enjoyed 44 minutes or so of free babysitting.

Smallville Season 9, Criminal Minds Season 5: From the "Those shows are still on?" Department.

The Office Season 6: I'm not into this show, but I heard this was a subpar season. So why am I bringing it up? Hmm, maybe it's a petty way for me to remind everyone I'm not into the show. I'd like to think I'm bigger than that, though.

The Guardian Season 2: Did you know Dabney Coleman was Simon Baker's dad in this series? I had no idea. Kinda makes me wish I had paid attention when it was on.

Less than Perfect Season 1: Is Sara Rue's Jenny Craig campaign the publicity boost this series needed for a DVD release? Well, if so, it's odd, but it beats Andy Dick urinating on someone in a department store.

Norm Show: I don't remember this short-lived sitcom impressing me a decade or so ago on ABC, but after reading about in a book last week, I'd like to check it out. Come on, Netflix, get cracking. It's not like you don't know about this show, considering you mention it in your "Norm MacDonald" page. Hey, now it's on DVD! You rent DVDs! Remember?

TCM Greatest Classic Films (Various sets): I hereby propose Warner Brothers change the banner of this line so as not to excite hopeful movie fans looking for new-to-DVD titles. Something like "Repackages of Classic Movies Under the TCM Name for a Second or Third Go-round on the Medium of DVD" would suffice.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hey, this oughta be a great "Sea Hunt"

How is it I have let this gem sit on my DVR for a few days? Check out the description my on-screen listings service provides for a recent episode of "Sea Hunt" on This-TV:

A girl and her father become homicidal after eating a fish that causes hallucinations while vacationing in the Bahamas.

I'll tell you how it's sitting unwatched: I'm afraid to watch it because it can't possibly be as entertaining as that description indicates.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Brooks on Books: Open by Andre Agassi.

Wow. This is an amazing, amazing memoir. It's so well written that while reading it, I kept asking myself, "Did he really write this?" Not that I think Andre Agassi is a dunce (though he does admit regret over his own lack of formal education as a youth), but it's really surprising to consume a book of this caliber by a celebrity and not see an "as told to" or "with" on the cover. Well, it turns out Agassi did get help, as we find out all the way at the end in the acknowledgements. Friend and award-winning writer J.R. Moehringer collaborated with the tennis legend, and while this doesn't diminish the work in any way, the news does kind of give you, "Ahhhh, that explains it."

First let me say that any tennis fan needs to read "Open," and even Agassi haters should enjoy it. The guy's memory is awesome, and while telling his life story, he relates so many compelling details about all aspects of the sport that "Open" becomes a vital read about tennis itself, not just this particular player. There are often-hilarious comments on players like Jimmy Connors (who comes off as a real prick) and Pete Sampras. You get sharp insight into match strategies, the mental aspects of the game, and the routines of everyday life on the pro tour, all delivered in the overall entertaining package of Agassi's saga.

As for the writing, what makes it so absorbing isn't necessarily the prose itself. In fact, the constant "I do this. I do that. I then do this..." style of present-tense narration is routine, and it could even get tiresome if the ideas and stories weren't so interesting. The fact that there ARE ideas in "Open" is what makes the book such a revelation. Agassi (and Moehringer) have a great knack with metaphor, with imagery, with the telling detail. In addition to funny and sad anecdotes from Agassi's remarkable childhood and career, you get thoughts on various aspects of life, and they come without pretension. Sometimes the stories themselves reveal truths, like Agassi's portrayal of the deterioration of his marriage to Brooke Shields, which over time paints a devastating picture of how people can drift apart. There are also meditations on loyalty, desire, work ethic, and, yes, education.

If you accept Andre Agassi's version of his life as credible--and I do find this book credible--then you will come away with a totally different view of the man. He makes a convincing case that he was never the rebel he was assumed to be as a youngster (his account of the "image is everything" Nike campaign's genesis is typical), nor the wizened, mature statesman he became much later. Reading his autobiography kind of makes me regret that I followed his career without all this insight--but, then, he couldn't have written this, obviously, without having lived this life. But I never realized how insecure he was, how crappy his childhood really was, how much he really did hate tennis. Even when he did press to promote this book, I didn't quite grasp him as I feel I do now.

The one thing I question relates to one of the attention-getters of this book, the confession that he used crystal meth for a while and even lied to the ATP after failing a drug test. Agassi's account of the situation seems forthright, but after he gets off with the ATP, the drug disappears from the text, and we never hear about it again. Did he totally clean up? Was meth the only drug he used? For his sake, I hope so. But reading about the intense self-pressure he felt and about his struggles to cope with aspects of his reality, I can't help but wonder if he really was just scared straight and stopped.

I haven't read a lot of tennis books, so it's not inherently high praise to call this the best I've read. But "Open" is so good it rekindles my interest in the sport and makes me want to seek out more. It's a remarkable autobiography, and collaborator or no, it gives me a whole new respect for Andre Agassi.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hack 'em, Danno!

I was interested in this week's Spike-TV marathon of the original "Hawaii Five-0" because the show is rarely on TV anymore and because I never really saw much of it. It's a promotional stunt to hype the upcoming reboot to air on CBS, of course, but forget the motivation: It's not often we see TV from 1969 on any of these "modern" cable channels, let alone one that panders to that coveted "young male" demographic that was born after the show premiered.

So in a sense this marathon of first-season episodes is a cool thing, one that should be lauded. But if you know anything about the series, maybe this isn't such a boon. I know very little about "Five-0," so when I sat down to watch an installment the other day, I was able to get through it and follow the story without pulling out my hair and shouting at the screen in anger at seeing entire scenes deleted. But I kind of figured some editing was being done when I saw the first 5-minute-plus commercial break.

I thought the editing was actually decent, and by that I mean I didn't catch any sudden cuts to an ad in the middle of a line of dialogue (hey, it happens, as anyone who caught the short-lived run of "Alice" on ION can attest). But I was curious as to whether there was a subtle but effective form of time compression going on or, as I suspected based on the running time on Spike, it was a whole lotta hackin' goin' on.

So I did what any dedicated researcher would do: I messed around on the Internet. Sure enough, the fans confirmed that Spike was butchering big chunks out of the episodes. Now, I'll admit that I didn't notice any obvious cuts, and to a novice like myself, maybe most of them make sense even with 8-10 minutes of material missing. But the bulk of the series is on DVD--uncut--and many episodes are available free online--also uncut. Why waste my time watching something I know is shredded to pieces?

It's a sad reminder of the increasing worthlessness of cable television to fans of classic television. There's no use in hoping a channel like TV Land or Hallmark adds an old favorite to its lineup because it will likely air it in this kind of hacked-up format. Even a relatively scarce treat like a "Hawaii Five-0" marathon is more a reason to go for the DVDs than a cause for celebration.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

This Week in DVD

Full disclosure: I slipped in a few items from last week. I integrated them into the post in a clever fashion, though; see if you can tell which DVDs listed below actually came out last Tuesday.

The Backup Plan: To anyone who wondered, "Hey, why would Jennifer Lopez be interested in a gig like judging American Idol?" well...just take a look at this movie, WHICH ACTUALLY WAS RELEASED LAST WEEK ON DVD.

Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg: To the youth of today, the name "Mrs. Goldberg" probably means, "Bill Goldberg got married?" Actually, even that reference is about 10 years too old, so you can imagine how relevant "The Goldbergs" is. But this documentary aims to remind people of the remarkable career of highly influential Gertrude Berg. I've had limited exposure to the sitcom, but I can't wait to see this movie. Well, that's not entirely true, as I've waited since LAST WEEK when I rented it from Netflix. But I'm gonna see it this weekend.

Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married, Too?: I'm guessing the "Too" in the title of this sequel is about as funny as it gets here, folks.

Harry Brown: I think this is essentially Michael Caine going around kicking ass and trying to get revenge on people. Works for me! This is not to be confused with Dick Barton, the titular hero of a movie serial coming out this week from VCI, although wouldn't Michael Caine make a convincing "Dick Barton"?

Thriller: The Complete Series: Image finally releases the classic Boris-Karloff-hosted anthology series in a fancy if expensive box set. I have no reason to think Image did anything less than its usual excellent job on this one, but it's on my rent list as I've never seen an episode. After reading about it over the years, though, I'm excited to check it out...uh, just as soon as I get to Mrs. Goldberg, that is. There just ain't enough time in the day, folks, for all my DVDs.

Red Riding Trilogy: It's funny, but if you told me there was a new trilogy of dark crime movies from TV, I'd yawn and reach for the chips. But if you told me there was a new trilogy of dark crime movies that aired on BRITISH TV, I'd say, "Where do I get it?" And then I'd reach for the chips because, hey, I'm still kinda craving those chips--and I don't mean french fries, either. The "Red Riding Trilogy" is a good example of a project that, for some reason, just sounds about 50% more interesting because of the British pedigree.