A quick fall TV round-up

09Oct08

I’m squeezing in a bit of blogging bfeore heading down to Austin for the Flow Conference to mingle with fellow TV scholars and participate in a roundtable discussion on The Wire. Have I mentioned that I love my job?

But in between teaching, watching the Red Sox mount another charge on the World Series, juggling kids, and mulling how “that one” might become the Bush Sr.-looks-at-his-watch moment of the YouTube era, I have gotten a chance to catch some more of the new fall season. Below the fold are my quick takes on one new series (Worst Week) and a bunch of returning shows (Pushing Daisies, Terminator, Heroes, Chuck and The Office).

Last year I was briefly enthused about Back to You as a return to the comfortable multi-camera office sitcom of my youth, but the affection waned quickly. I hope the same arc doesn’t hit Worst Week, as it has potential for being a new favorite. The premise seems completely unsuited to a weekly series: a young couple spends a week with her parents and siblings, as they try to tell the family that they’re pregnant and engaged. It’s kind of like Meet the Parents: The Series. But better.

The style is naturalistic single-camera, without the reflexivity of Scrubs or The Office, or the exaggerated satire of 30 Rock. But the comedy is pure farce, with outrageous comedic machinations that unravel into humiliating physical comedy – kind of a more sophisticated and evolved version of Three’s Company. And I mean that as a compliment. On top of the farce is a tightly serialized narrative, as the entire season seems to unfold over one week’s time. It’s a combination of elements that seems pretty original to American TV – naturally, the show is based on a British series, which are inherently more closed and self-contained than American shows that go on into eternity.

The odd thing is that it’s on CBS, where it seems quite out of place next to standard studio sitcoms like Two and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory. It’s more akin to NBC’s Thursday line-up, but because of its strong lead-in on CBS Monday, Worst Week is already getting better ratings than The Office. Hopefully the show will perform well enough to move to its own night, allowing CBS to move away from its staid brand of comedy.

As for returning shows, I’m backlogged on my TiVo what with baseball and politics vying for my attention. But a brief round-up of what I’ve watched:

The Office is back and on its game. I hope Amy Ryan stays forever, but I fully trust the show to deliver however it twists and turns.

Pushing Daisies returned to awful ratings, which saddens me to no end – this might be the writer’s strike’s biggest direct casualty, which would be tragic as it’s so damn writerly. And I love writerly. So if any Nielsen families read my blog – watch it!

Heroes is dead to me. While there are still moments of pleasure, they are drowning in horrid dialogue, awful performances, and a sheer unwillingness to dispense with characters that have worn out their usefulness. Free space on my TiVo.

Terminator is enjoyable, but it seems to point more toward future rewards than immediate payoff. How long can it sustain the illusion of going somewhere is a tough question, and I find it low on my list of shows to catch up on, so it might not be part of my life for much longer.

Finally Chuck came back stronger than ever, with a tighter feel and tone, and a solid drive forward – the sense of Chuck’s growth is emerging, which will be key to avoid it becoming too much of a one-trick pony. But alas, ratings have also been quite bad – luckily, NBC is pretty desperate for a brand, so it might stick out the season.

OK – hope to see some of you in Austin. Go Sox and That One!



4 Responses to “A quick fall TV round-up”

  1. 1 Jessie Gurd

    I caught an episode of Chuck recently and was pleasantly surprised. The promotional clips did not do it justice; I had written it off as something to be replayed to death on ABC Family. With your endorsement, I’ll catch myself up.

    In case you were wondering, yes, Private Practice is still frivolous and… frivolous. Not something I usually hold against a show, but jeez.

  2. I liked Worst Week, too, but am having trouble allocating DVR space for it–just not sure it ranks for me yet. The backlog is building quickly over here. I really should just stop recording Heroes as I never want to watch it. A sign, no?

  3. I’ll check out Worst Week. It sounds like it’s worth it for the formal elements, if nothing else, but I have a humiliation squick that means I literally can’t watch certain things (notably, The Office).

    I have faithfully obtained Heroes but haven’t had a chance to watch it, and the buzz hasn’t been good. How I wish American TV would commit to an arc, do it, and then call it a day! The British model works so much better in terms of narrative coherence. (Speaking of which, US version of Life on Mars airs today.)

    I’m interested in what you think of Fringe. I myself think it’s pretty freakin’ bad, and all I can say is, JJ Abrams, you have FAILED ME. You TEASE. The next X-Files? Hardly. It’s all conspiracy and no fun.

    Finally, I’ve always loved Chuck, because the elaborate joke setups are so perfect, but it could also be because I am v. fond of Adam Baldwin; he’s the reason I started watching. Tony Todd, another favorite of mine (how is he not a leading man? how did he not get cast as a captain in some Star Trek project?), is also in it. So I watch it for the supporting cast but ended up falling in love with the whole shebang.

  4. 4 Jeff

    Prof. Mittell,

    What do you make of the turn to seriousness in the last season of the Office? The show changed direction dramatically, and Michael started dealing with some really weighty emotions. Was this done out of the desire to reach a new demographic, or was there a change in writing staff?

    Jeff Garofano 2010.5


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