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Learning to Coexist with CBS October 22, 2011

Posted by Ted in : Amazing Race, Big Bang Theory, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, CBS, Crime Dramas, How I Met Your Mother, Lost, News Programs, Person of Interest, Reviews, The Mentalist, Two and a Half Men , 3comments

CBS has recently billed itself as “America’s Most Watched Network.” Really? The thought that this could be possible is slightly mind-boggling. Am I that out of touch with my native country?

For the past decade or so, I have tended to lump all of CBS’ programming into a category I call “Loads of Pointless Crap.” The chief component of this catagory is that ever-existing, never-changing staple of network television, the crime drama. CBS never met a crime drama it didn’t like. The network currently has eleven of them in their prime-time lineup. This includes three different versions of CSI and two of NCIS. For the sake of fairness, I decided to check out a couple of the network’s currently airing crime dramas.

Person of Interest

This is a new show, and based on early reviews, I anticipated that this J. J. Abrams twist on the crime genre might be worth watching. It has a semi-interesting sci-fi twist, and features both Michael Emerson of Lost fame and Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus a few years back. The show follows the adventures of former CIA agent John Reese, who gets information about bad guys from his billionaire boss who has a crime predicting supercomputer. He also gets into a lot of gunfights and car crashes and that kind of thing. Caviezel has the Clint-Eastwood-whispering-badass persona down to a T, if you’re into that vigilante-type thing. Reese’s boss, Mr. Finch, lacks the flair and depth of Benjamin Linus, Emerson’s character on his previous show, Lost. This is not a terrible show, but not one I feel bad about missing. Maybe I’ll watch it a couple more times, but life is short. I’ve got places to see and people to be.

The Mentalist

After my unremarkable viewing of the Person of Interest premiere, I found myself watching The Mentalist for the first time. This is a very laid-back, less predictable take on the detective genre. The lead character is tea-sipping Patrick Jane, a former psychic entertainer, who now uses his mental trickery to solve crimes. He’s also trying to track down a guy named Red John who killed his wife and daughter. This show is so well-written it makes me forget I’m watching a crime drama. Score one point for the network.

CBS is also the home of various popular sitcoms, which I try to avoid watching at all costs. Here are my thoughts on a few of them:

Big Bang Theory

This seems like a show I should be able to relate to, with its underlying nerd theme. But let’s face it, no self-respecting nerd wants to see himself portrayed as a social reject who can’t get laid, no matter how true that may be. Nerds prefer to think of themselves as suave, mysterious James-Bond types that nobody can figure out. This is one of the things that made Benjamin Linus from Lost a nerd hero of the ages. He may have been a flop with the ladies, but he was the one running the whole show. Not only could he play Rachmaninoff on the piano, he could also kick butt when necessary. Big Bang Theory, by comparison, only rubs salt into the wounds and reinforces negative stereotypes. Of course, that observation is only based on the ten minutes I’ve spent watching the show, so correct me if I’m wrong.

How I Met Your Mother

Here’s my problem with How I Met Your Mother: Alyson Hannigan will always be Willow to me, and Neil Patrick Harris will always be Doogie Howser. I really don’t want to see them as crusty, jaded adults. I also don’t get the premise of the show. The title sounds like a nostalgic story of how a couple fell in love and got married. I have no idea which character is supposed to be the mother, or who is meeting her, and I don’t even care enough to look it up on Wikipedia.

 

Neil and Alyson of yesteryear

Two and a Half Men

This is the sitcom equivalent of Darth Vader, with syndicated episodes popping up on every channel at all times of the day, grabbing you by the throat and beating you into unconsciousness with a barrage of manly-man humor. I could never quite figure out which character was the half man — the drunk womanizer, the groveling loser brother, or the kid. Sadly, the show had to part ways with wonderful Charlie Sheen, so it looks like I’ll be watching it even less than I did before, now that the equally wonderful Ashton Kutcher has replaced him (hope you caught my sarcasm there). This begs the question, is it possible to watch a show a negative number of times? Looks like my hatred for this program may have warped the laws of physics.

I guess at this point I should try to find a couple of good things to say about CBS. I’ll definitely be watching The Mentalist some more. The Amazing Race was always pretty good — I’ll probably watch that some more too. And let’s not forget about all those great CBS shows of the past like Jericho and…The Dukes of Hazzard and…Touched by an Angel?

CBS Evening News

Back in the 90s I was a fan of Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, who started in 1981 as the successor of the famous anchorman Walter Cronkite. Dan had a deadpan delivery and dry wit, and gave the impression of having something approximating journalistic integrity. He was forced out in 2005 after being accused of reporting a false story about George W. Bush’s military service record. Rather was replaced by Katie Couric, who wasn’t bad, but seemed out of place behind the anchor desk. She looked a lot happier covering parades on the Today show.

Katie stepped down in May of this year, and was replaced by Scott Pelley, who worked for CBS News for several years before landing the anchor chair. Now, I’m not saying that Pelley lacks integrity, but I’m guessing that his typical workday as anchorman consists of the following routine: He calls up one of the conservative think tanks and asks them what information he should be reporting that night. They fax the script over to him, then, he spends several hours calling all of CBS’ sponsors to make sure none of the news stories are offensive to them. This usually results in most of the day’s news being deleted and replaced with various types of filler about dogs and people-making-a-difference segments. Keep up the good work, Scott. I’ll be watching Brian Williams on NBC, who probably isn’t much better, but at least seems sincere.

Ted’s Fall TV Preview 2011 August 14, 2011

Posted by Ted in : 30 Rock, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Crime Dramas, CW, Dollhouse, FOX, Fringe, General, Grimm, NBC, nikita, Parks and Recreation, Person of Interest, Reviews, Ringer, Sci-Fi, Supernatural, Terra Nova, The Event, The Office, Whedonverse , 5comments

If you believe the ancient Mayans, or the latest news reports on the economy for that matter, this could be the last full season of television before the world ends. I can’t think of a better excuse to kick back, let my calls go to voicemail, and renew my commitment to lethargically gazing for hours into the idiot box. Yes, the fall premiere season is almost upon us, and we can be grateful that the networks have once again managed to cook up a handful of new shows that might be good, and are bringing back some favorite established programs for a new season.

Here are some new shows I’ll be watching:

Ringer

Featuring the long-awaited return of Sarah Michelle Gellar to her native network (The CW, formerly The WB), where she not only stars as a pair of identical twins, but also executive co-produces the show. Ringer is described as a drama-thriller about a woman, Bridget, who is on the run from the mob, and takes over her twin sister’s life after the sister disappears. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Ringer turned out to be better than Joss Whedon’s recent two-season flop Dollhouse? Then we might realize that all that time we were worshipping Whedon, Gellar was the real power behind the Buffy throne. That’s probably a stretch, but this show is first on my must-watch list this season, if only for nostalgia’s sake.

 

 

Grimm

Maybe this is NBC’s consolation prize for those of us who were hoping that last season’s sci-fi thriller, The Event, would be worth a crap and would not get the ax after one season. Grimm is described on Wikipedia as a “dark fantasy,” and has a premise eerily similar to a certain CW show: “A homicide detective learns that he is a descendant of a group of hunters known as ‘Grimms,’ who fight to keep the balance of humanity safe from the supernatural creatures of the world.” Maybe NBC has finally realized that supernatural-themed shows are — gasp! — profitable. The prospects for Grimm are more than a little iffy, however, given NBC’s record on these kinds of outings, but there’s one clear sign that it might be more than a blatant Supernatural rip-off: David Greenwalt, who was executive producer of the Buffy spin-off Angel, as well as the short-lived but excellent paranormal show called Miracles, is an executive producer for Grimm. Cross your fingers out there, fans of things that go bump in the night.

Person of Interest

I generally avoid crime dramas like the plague — except when Mom forces me to watch one of her horrible Law and Order DVDs — but Person of Interest has a science-fiction twist and is produced by J.J. Abrams of Lost and Fringe fame, which is just enough of an alteration of the standard formula to push the show onto my “must-watch” list — for a couple of episodes, anyway. According to my sources, the plot involves “a mysterious billionaire who has developed a computer program that predicts future crime victims.” Could be interesting, I suppose. You gotta love those mysterious billionaires, putting all that money and free time to such good use and keeping America safe. I’m just wondering what kind of crimes the computer program predicts. Shoplifting, jaywalking, and that kind of thing? Entering a restaurant without shoes and a shirt, maybe?

Terra Nova

This is Fox’s latest sci-fi effort, in which a group of people in the year 2149 time travel back to the era of the dinosaurs to escape the end of the world. Hey, sounds like a good plan to me. I mean, why bother trying to fix your problems when you can just jump in a time machine and go hang out with the Flintstones? To be honest, Terra Nova sounds like a train wreck, but as a self-professed connoisseur of all things sci-fi and fantasy, I feel obligated to watch. Time travel, in general, has gotten to be the most over-used premise in sci-fi television for the last few years. Personally, I have never believed that time travel is even possible. I look at it like this: The past and the future don’t really exist — they’re just abstract concepts that help us understand our lives. How can you travel to a place that doesn’t exist? You can’t. That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.

Getting back to my topic, Terra Nova sounds an awful lot like the old Saturday-morning show Land of the Lost. It remains to be seen if a prime-time audience will love the dinosaurs as much as kids in the 1970s did. Steven Spielberg is listed as one of 10 “executive producers.” His actual level of involvement with the show, I’m guessing, is somewhere between slim and none. They probably just called him up and offered him some money, and when he replied “uh…,” that was enough input to slap his name in the credits. Steven, your check for 10 million is in the mail…not that you’ll be looking for it.

I know what you’re saying: “Those sound like great new shows, Ted, but what about returning old shows? Tell me about those! More specifically, which ones will you be watching?” Well, I’m glad you asked.

Nikita

After avoiding this for a long time, I finally watched an episode and found it fairly entertaining. It’s about a rogue government agent, who generally kicks butt, rights wrongs and sneaks around in tight spandex. Starring the Hawaiian-born model Maggie Q, Nikita is sort of a cross between 24 and Dollhouse that takes itself less seriously than either. It will be taking Smallville’s old slot before Supernatural on Friday nights, which means I probably won’t miss an episode.

Supernatural

Somehow, over the years, this has become my favorite show. It seems to fulfill the same psychological need as Buffy or Angel, which might be something along the lines of “the struggle for personal power and sanity in a hostile world.” Also, the low-class, gritty vibe of the thing makes me feel a lot cooler than I actually am.

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Rec has been steadily closing in on The Office as NBC’s best sitcom. Sometimes it gets a little close to chick territory, with the various romantic entanglements, but otherwise, it’s consistently intelligent, funny, and original. In other words, the anti-30 Rock.

The Office (Mini-spoiler ahead!)

Steve Carrell has set sail for the land of bad romantic comedies. It will be interesting to see whether the show withers or blossoms without him (I’m hoping for the later — Michael Scott was never one of my favorite characters). Also, Pam will be carrying Halpert baby number two at the start of the season.

Fringe

Peter never existed, according to those bald guys in fedoras and suits. I assumed this was an elaborate way of writing Joshua Jackson out of the show, but according to the show’s producers, he’s still on the payroll.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve been kind of frustrated with this show lately. Time travel and alternate universe doppelgangers and blah blah blah. I’m just not buying it. I’m also going risk the wrath of Fringedom and say that I find Walter to be incredibly annoying. Sure, he was amusing for the first couple of seasons, but there’s only so much drug-induced babbling in a Shakespearian accent that a person can take. Forget all those exotic diseases — Walter needs to find an antidote to himself.

 

 

How to improve Fringe? The same way any show could be improved: Forget the complex plot gimmicks and special effects and focus more on the characters. Bring them to life. Make me care about them. That’s all there is to it.

That wraps up my fall preview for 2011. Hopefully, some of the shows mentioned above will spiritually prepare you to meet your maker if those end-of-the-world rumors turn out to be true, or will at least drown out the screams while the earth is overrun with four-headed dragons, scary bat-like creatures, giant lions with pharaoh heads, machine-gun toting gorillas on skateboards, and vacuum cleaners that come on and vacuum by themselves.

 

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...