Too much TV, too little time

10Oct07

In my line of work, October can be quite cruel. The semester is chugging along as the grading piles up. The TiVo gets stacked up with new fall shows & returning favorites. And my lifelong Red Sox fandom demands that attention be paid to post-season baseball. So while each of these things are great on their own (maybe not the grading), in combination it’s a lot to manage the overload. Still, I’m glad I’m not a Yankees fan…

My fall season monitoring has falling by the wayside somewhat, although I can tell a lot in terms of quality based on my TiVo triage. Pushing Daisies has vaunted into “must-watch on its scheduled night” status, which is a night early thanks to our good neighbor to the north. Most of the concerns from folks who loved the pie-lette episode on the comments for my last post and around the web focused on “how can they sustain this?” Episode two puts most of those fears to rest – if this week’s episode “Dummy” is any indication, the self-contained procedural murder plotlines will extend the show’s wacky quotient rather than ground it in genre convention. Tonight’s mystery involves murder by crash-test dummy, knitting, a dandelion-fueled eco-car, and a light-hearted take on bulimia, all wrapped in stunning art direction and nice guest star turns. The mystery-of-the-week structure seems poised to allow the show to explore different sides of its magical realist universe, hopefully avoiding whimsy weariness. And, I must mention, a stunning musical number from Kristen Chenoweth. And Anna Friel being utterly captivating and turning my cynicism into goo. Yes, I’m smitten.

The only other show that’s on the express track for viewing is Chuck, although episode 2 was certainly a drop-off from the pilot. Episode 3 waits on the TiVo, but it won’t suffer the fate of Gossip Girl (abandoned after one episode) or Back to You (lingering uncomfortably on the TiVo to fill non-existent free time). I want to like Bionic Woman more than I do, but I haven’t had the urge to watch episode 2 yet, which is a bad sign – tonal inconsistencies and conventional moodiness are outweighing the pleasure of Katee Sackhoff, but I hold out hope. Dirty Sexy Money started out well enough, bumping Gossip Girl out of the designated annoying-rich-person slot, but I fear that the show will swing too wildly between sincere soapiness and mock-E! trashiness, with poor Peter Krause left to hold it all together. But Krause is so enjoyable to watch on television that I’m on board for awhile.

As for returning shows, Heroes remains a deeply ambivalent pleasure for me. I like enough of the cast to watch, and seeing David Anders be all Sarky in feudal Japan
is a joy. But the show has never inspired confidence in me that the meandering between characters will add up to anything of significance, and the new eps stoke the fires of my doubts enough to leave ep 3 unwatched for a couple of days. As for the returning comedies, surprisingly My Name is Earl is the strongest out of the gate, maximizing the payoff of the prison setting to change-up the formula. Both 30 Rock and The Office have been fine, but a bit too much gearing-up for what hopes to be later payoffs. And I’m getting the most televisual enjoyment (beyond watching the Red Sox & Patriots cruise while the Yankees fall apart) from catching up with this summer’s FX show Damages – it plays the dual-time frame mystery quite effectively, and Glen Close is obviously great, but Ted Danson, Tate Donovan, and especially Zelijko Ivanek more than match her intensity. You’ve definitely got to start from the beginning, but it’s worth checking out on DVD down the road.

So the scorecard: Pushing Daisies, Red Sox, and Patriots are fabulous; Damages and My Name is Earl on the rise; holding steady with Chuck, The Office, and 30 Rock; questioning Heroes, Dirty Sexy Money, Back to You, and Bionic Woman; dumping Gossip Girl on the curb with the Yankees. Back to grading…



9 Responses to “Too much TV, too little time”

  1. A few of the fall offerings seems promising, but I’m trying not to get attached to anything. Mostly, I wonder what the increasingly likely Nov. 1 writers’ strike (TV animation writer Mark Evanier has been pretty pessimistic about the chances for a resolution over on his News From Me blog) will do to the shape of the narrative, as well as ratings momentum, on shows that are forced to shut down for X amount of time. I’m assuming there will be enough scripts in the pipeline by Nov. 1 to get the first ten or so episodes in the can for most series–but those last couple of eps will probably be shooting from first drafts.

    Ultimately, if the strike happens and drags on, your time management problem will have its solution.

  2. Me, I’m taking a new TV sabbatical this season. Seriously. This year is The Year to get stuff out, and since I’m not that jazzed about any of the new shows (or at least not enough to watch them at this time), I’m able to focus more on my work.

  3. 3 Media Maven

    It’s funny you stopped watching Chuck before episode 3 and Bionic Woman before episode 2, because those episodes were great!

    The third ep of Chuck puts him on his first real spy mission and things start to develop between him and Sarah. A very entertaining episode (I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Reaper which is, in my opinion, a companion show for Chuck).

    As for Bionic Woman, the 2nd episode feels like the real pilot, where the first episode was more of a prologue. We start to get into Jamie’s head, learn about the organization that created her, she her on her first mission. Basically, this would be the episode to watch- if you don’t like this one, the show’s probably not for you.

  4. Oops – forgot Reaper, in part because my TiVo refuses to recognize the CW at the moment. I enjoyed the pilot, but doubt that it will hold my interest long-term. I’ll certainly check back once my TiVo lets me…

    And I’m in denial about writing strikes, as it would mess up my research too much.

  5. I guess my thing about Daisies is, this is a show that costs a lot to produce and has been rumored to be over budget and behind schedule. (There was a Kim Masters story in Slate a few weeks ago.) Barry Sonnenfeld isn’t working day-to-day on its production any more, and he clearly brings Daisies a lot of that Raising Arizona thing of his, the outlandish stylization. It’s hard to make this kind of thing work, and he does. I’m glad that the 2nd ep matches the quality of the first. But I still wonder if the 12th or 22nd or 50th episode will be consistent in tone and visuals with the pilot.

    I share most of your other preferences. Damages seems back on track after what I thought were a few weeks in which it wasn’t sure how to advance the plot without giving away too much. And I think you’re not subscribing to HBO these days, but Tell Me You Love Me is increasingly fascinating as the weeks go by.

  6. Hell, I’m pro-writing strikes, as I just can’t keep up any more! Strike away, and let me catch up.

    Moreover, I’m hoping that an actual strike will change the labor landscape a bit, and put the screws on the AMPTP, MPAA, etc.

  7. Just finished watching Pushing Daisies’ second ep, and was very happy, like you, to see a little more of how it could survive. Before, it looked as though the magic realism was centered around Chuck and the Piemaker’s relationship, but ep. 2 showed the writers’ considerable ability to make the procedural element whacky and amusing. And Digby is one of the best characters on TV. Tomorrow’s overnights will be telling, though, to see whether it kept the momentum from last week’s strong opening.

    Chuck’s still fun (the show, not just Daisies’ Chuck right now), if somewhat light. Bionic Woman still bores me, though — mopey, dull, yawn, a bit of kicking, then it’s over.

  8. No room for Mad Men? (Partly serious; the show is stylish, tightly written, and unapologetic about mining areas of American culture and history that many people would rather hide or forget).

    I turned on the Dirty Sexy Money pilot out of idle curiosity. I agree that Peter Krause is a true TV star (I had hopes the the Lost Room would become a series) but the moments on the show that have made me turn it on regularly thus far have involved him and Donald Sutherland. Together they often seem as if they’re in some other show from the rest of the tabloid-y family.

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