11.30.2007

The Game of Life

The Angry Young Bostonian takes television-watching very seriously. It provides an escape from the mundaneness of the workday; it keeps the mind off the monotony of running on a treadmill; it gives a frame a reference when reading columns and columns of commentary about TV online.

Most shows that debuted in September have now broadcast over 25% of their episodes and it's time to check in with what works, what doesn't work, what still has a season pass on the DVR and what doesn't deserve disk space.

Some of the shows reviewed are returning series, others are in their freshman year. All reviews are written after the viewing of the fifth episode.

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Since Life is in its first season, we'll pass judgment via the categorization route:

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Cop shows really are a dime-a-dozen, so every one of them needs to have some kind of element that keeps viewers coming back. Life doesn't necessarily turn the genre on the ear, but it certainly does tweak it.

What it's about: Charlie Crews (Damien Lewis) is a ex-murder convict, recently released from jail based on new evidence and several million dollars richer thanks to a wrongful conviction lawsuit. Oh yeah, he's also a cop and decides he'd like nothing better to do than rejoin the force and find out who framed him in the first place. He's paired with a younger partner, Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi) who has some personal demons of her own in the form of past drug and alcohol addictions. Charlie is treated almost persona-non-grata by his other co-workers who still see him as a blight upon their reputations as cops and detectives. Living with Charlie is Ted Early (Adam Arkin) a former CEO who was put in jail for insider trading. He manages Charlie's settlement money. Charlie is something of a Zen nut, having spent several years in the pen with nothing to read except for The Path to Zen for nine years.

Thoughts after the pilot: Damien Lewis does a good job as a nutball cop who spouts Zen sayings at crime scenes, but lacks the intensity of someone who is hoping to take down his framers from the inside -- maybe it's the Zen keeping him calm. Adam Arkin is great as Charlie's befuddled sidekick, performing odd jobs for him like buying orange groves and doing research on solar power arrays. The long-term plot of Charlie figuring out who framed him for murder will probably involve all other cast members in some huge season finale twist. A lot of critics compared Life to House, except besides the main characters thinking out-of-the-box, they are completely different in all aspects.

Your typical episode includes: A murder/rape/hate crime is performed and Charlie and Dani are put on the case -- 42 minutes later the murders/rapist/hater is nabbed, usually though the non-conventional, Zen methods of Detective Crewes. Charlie also covertly spends part of the time digging deeper into the conspiracy to keep him locked up.

Long-term subplot: On the wall in Crewes's walk-in closet there is a large flowchart of exactly how Charlie was put in jail and who is involved -- several of the pictures are of current cast members, with new additions being put on the wall every week, depending on the information Charlie uncovers.

What's good:
  • Damien Lewis and his Zen work, but not much else does.
What's not good:
  • Except for Arkin and Lewis, the rest of the cast is pretty vanilla.
  • Not enough Arkin -- Ted's relationship with Charlie takes place completely outside of everything else.
  • The week-to-week stories are predictable, even when Charlie Crewes's Zen monkey wrench is thrown in.
  • The conspiracy plot moves at a snail's pace.
Thoughts after five episodes: It's definitely a show that will keep my mind off the pain of running on a treadmill, but I don't see how they can make the conspiracy story last the entire series.

Catch up here.

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Bottom line: When is a procedural not a procedural? When it's Life.

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11.14.2007

Chuck Full of Something

The Angry Young Bostonian takes television-watching very seriously. It provides an escape from the mundaneness of the workday; it keeps the mind off the monotony of running on a treadmill; it gives a frame a reference when reading columns and columns of commentary about TV online.

Most shows that debuted in September have now broadcast over 25% of their episodes and it's time to check in with what works, what doesn't work, what still has a season pass on the DVR and what doesn't deserve disk space.

Some of the shows reviewed are returning series, others are in their freshman year. All reviews are written after the viewing of the fifth episode.

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Since Chuck is in its first season, we'll pass judgment via the categorization route:

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What show do you get when fantastic responsibility is thrust upon a schlub who is looking for more to life than their dead-end job in a big box store, but certainly not too much? You get Chuck... and you get Reaper... and you get a little Bionic Woman and even some Journeyman. As you can see, there's a strong common theme between several of the shows that have premiered this season (I discount Pushing Daisies, which I will review later on down the line, since the main character pretty much had his special ability/responsibility for his entire life).

What it's about: Chuck Bartowski is one of the aforementioned schlubs, working as a knock-off Geek Squad (Nerd Herd) member at a knock-off Best Buy (Buy More), who happens to mistakenly receive an email from an old college roommate -- an email that contains the downloaded contents of a government supercomputer that in turn contained all the secrets of the NSA and CIA combined. Since Chuck's old roommate blew up the computer (and got himself killed), Chuck is the only source of information for the CIA and NSA, both of which have sent agents to watch over him and carry out missions using the information in his head. Sexual tension heats up between Chuck and his CIA handler, Sarah Walker, as they play boyfriend and girlfriend as a cover.

Thoughts after the pilot: This show has pretty much everything a video game-playing nerd could want - snappy dialogue with references to Zork, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and more, stuff blowing up, and Yvonne Strahovski walks around in her underwear part of the time.

Your typical episode includes: Chuck sees someone or something that causes his brain to access the downloaded contents, giving him immediate knowledge of a security threat or situation. As Sarah and Casey, the NSA agent, work together on a mission, Chuck acts as a third wheel, usually getting all three in deep trouble before saving the day unexpectedly. On the domestic front, Chuck spends a lot of the time hiding his new found responsibility from his sister Ellie and best friend Morgan, who works at the Buy More with him. Chuck also spends part of each episode coming to grips that Sarah is only his pretend girlfriend, not his real girlfriend, which is hard because she's pretty good looking and acrobatic.

Long-term subplot: Unfortunately the show has eschewed any long term spy-related subplot for a focus on Chuck and Sarah's relationship. This isn't surprising, since the show's creator is the same person behind The O.C., but it's also disappointing. Chuck should be about explosions, half-assed attempts at karate and more Star Wars references -- not feelings!

What's good: The above-mentioned nerd-culture references; Yvonne Strahovski is that 'cute' kind of hot; Adam Baldwin is totally perfect as the over-the-top, gun happy CIA agent who feels Chuck is better off in a cell just feeding him information, rather than in the field.

What's not good:
  • The spy-related plots are pretty boring and not that interesting for someone who watches 24; in fact, the scenes at the Buy More are more interesting than the scenes of when Chuck is in the field
  • The show takes itself too seriously for the spy-related stuff and has a disproportionate amount of fun with everything else -- if premise is already ridiculous, so why not make everything quirky?
  • Zach Levi, who plays Chuck, is a handsome guy, so it's hard to believe he would be socially awkward and have trouble getting a date.

Thoughts after five episodes:
  • The "good" category above is about half the size of the "bad" category.
  • The writers need to either make the stakes a little higher for everyone involved or put the show on the Get Smart route to spy comedy.

Catch up here.

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Bottom line: If every episode follows the same plot, it's going to get real boring real fast.

1 Comments:

Blogger jomilkman complained...

"Zach Levi, who plays Chuck, is a handsome guy, so it's hard to believe he would be socially awkward and have trouble getting a date."

huge pet peev of mine. not necessarily with chuck, which i haven't seen, but with about 900 other shows/movies that have made the same glaring misjudgment.

11/16/2007 5:46 PM
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11.07.2007

The Amazing Journey

The Angry Young Bostonian takes television-watching very seriously. It provides an escape from the mundaneness of the workday; it keeps the mind off the monotony of running on a treadmill; it gives a frame a reference when reading columns and columns of commentary about TV online.

Most shows that debuted in September have now broadcast over 25% of their episodes and it's time to check in with what works, what doesn't work, what still has a season pass on the DVR and what doesn't deserve disk space.

Some of the shows reviewed are returning series, others are in their freshman year. All reviews are written after the viewing of the fifth episode.

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Since Journeyman is in its first season, we'll pass judgment via the categorization route:

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What it's about: Think Quantum Leap, but a little more touchy-feely. Dan Vassar is a metro columnist for a San Francisco newspaper. He has a hot wife, a medium-temperature young son and a cold relationship with his brother. Oh yeah -- and he travels through time but can't control when he travels, nor to what time he travels.

Thoughts after the pilot: Good, but not great; needs to more than just "a wrong needs to be righted" of the week. Needs to avoid all the pratfalls of a typical "main character is hiding a large secret from everyone else" show.

Your typical episode includes: Dan finds himself "tracking" certain individuals at different points in their lives, often influencing decisions in order to right some kind of wrong. He'll pop into a situation for an hour or two and then pop back to the present when his task his done. He usually does his traveling at the most inopportune times (about the get it on with his wife, spending time with his 5-year-old at a street performance, etc). Just as Quantum Leap had Al to help out Dr. Beckett, Dan has his presumed-dead ex-girlfriend helping him out. It turns out she didn't die in a plane crash, but had been time traveling herself. It appears as if she's only tracking one person: Dan.

Long-term subplot: As of the fifth episode, nothing solid yet, but Dan has had modern-day contact with a scientist that specializes in tachyons. From their interactions, you can tell that the scientist is hiding something. The scientist also happened to call Dan on his cell phone -- while he was tracking somebody in 1998.

What's good:
  • The show's writers have done a good job with the relationship between Dan and his wife. He could have spent all season coming up with lame excuses as to why he disappears so much -- instead he breaks the news to her in the pilot episode and it's interesting to see how they both come to grips with something that's bigger than themselves.
  • Dan even broke the news to his wife that he's encountered his not-so-deceased girlfriend in the past, and she's actually OK with it.
  • Related to above, the show is moving at a good episode-by-episode pace. He isn't sitting idly as this new ability manifests itself. He told his wife; his son saw him disappear; he's contacted a scientist about it. I'm really excited to see where it goes.
What's not good:
  • Kevin McKidd (Dan) is the only Brit on the show and does not have the best American accent.
  • Dan still hasn't told his brother, a cop, about what's happening to him. His brother assumes his gambling addiction has kicked up. Why doesn't Dan just tell/show him what's really going on?
  • Somewhat complicated back story to the main characters -- while Dan was dating his not-so-deceased girlfriend in the late 90's, his brother was dating the woman who would eventually become his wife. No explanation as to why they played musical beds, yet.
  • Dan's interactions with his not-so-deceased girlfriend at different points in the past is awkward. It's like they're playing catch-up and don't know how to feel about each other. Call me old fashioned, but he should be devoted to his wife -- but at the same time, I'm not sure how anyone would react to regularly seeing someone you loved and thought dead.
Thoughts after five episodes: Things have definitely been taken up a notch since the pilot. The traveling situations are pretty fun and the show's strengths greatly outweigh its weaknesses. Like I said above, I really want to see how the scientist fits into all this.

You can watch episodes here.

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Bottom line: One of the best new shows on TV.

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11.05.2007

Housecall

The Angry Young Bostonian takes television-watching very seriously. It provides an escape from the mundaneness of the workday; it keeps the mind off the monotony of running on a treadmill; it gives a frame a reference when reading columns and columns of commentary about TV online.

Most shows that debuted in September have now broadcast over 25% of their episodes and it's time to check in with what works, what doesn't work, what still has a season pass on the DVR and what doesn't deserve disk space.

Some of the shows reviewed are returning series, others are in their freshman year. All reviews are written after the viewing of the fifth episode.

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I'm still a week behind in viewing episodes of House MD, but I just want to write it down that it is probably the best season for the fourth-year drama, and it just may be the best show on television right now.

House has often tried to be two shows in one, and usually has not done a good job about it until this year. In season one, Chi McBride spent five episodes as the hospital's new chairman, bent on forcing House to lose his eccentricities and go about his job as a good doobie. Season three had David Morse as a slighted cop, for six episodes, attempting to throw House in jail for illegal (and rightfully so) drug possession. Both of these guest-actor stints failed as plot lines because they were too predictable -- they would give Dr. House some trouble, but since House is the name of the show, you know that in the end, Dr. House will come out on top. It also didn't help that the trade papers would announce exactly how many episodes would feature these new actors.

Cut to season four and we finally have a long-running B-story that meshes perfectly into the A-story of each episode: House's new staff. At the end of season three, two members of House's three-person team quit, while he fired the third member. Season four opens with House's team consisting of 50 applicants, all vying for three spots.

As the applicant pool shrinks and the team gets closer and closer to its required size, we see some great interactions between applicants and House and between House and his bosses and colleagues over his unorthodox hiring methods. House's palpable disgust with the newbies (he calls the group's Mormon "Big Love") further spices up the mix -- and by mix, I mean "Big Love" stands up to House by socking him. That's good TV when a Mormon punches a disabled person in the face.

A great aspect of all this is that the applicants are so intent on working for House that they will put up with his disparaging remarks (rather than call applicants by their names, he uses nicknames like "Cutthroat Bitch" and "The Prettier Twin") and commands that cross far over the line that his usual breaking and entering M.O. would -- episode four had his team illegally digging up a grave.

I think eventually House's old team will return to him, but it will be interesting to see if any of the new applicants make it on to the team as well. The dynamic of the show had been getting a little stale and this new season-arcing subplot has really breathed some new life into things.

You can catch up with the show here.

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Bottom line: The best procedural show on TV right now.

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