The new television season is
upon us, and what are we seeing? Copycats galore…as is pretty
much the norm every season. But at least this season the studio
heads are copying some of the good shows, realizing that it’s the
one hour dramas that are garnering all the attention now. There
are still numerous reality shows cluttering up the airways, but other
than “Dancing with the Stars”, they are a lot more low profile than
before and none are really “new”. Unfortunately for music
lovers everywhere, “American Idol” will return at the first of the
year, but let’s try to forget about that abomination for now.
Edgy is in. So what is
going to be the next “24”, “Lost”, or “House” for the guys,
or “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Desperate Housewives” for the gals?
This week, I’ll look at four
new shows; “Smith”, “Heroes”, “Shark”, and “Studio 60
on the Sunset Strip”. In Part II, I’ll take a look at “Friday
Night Lights”, “The Nine”, “Kidnapped”, and something else
that catches my eye between now and then. I’ll also give you
a little blurb about what to avoid this year as well.
CBS, Tuesdays at 10 PM.
Ray Liotta is one of the baddest
mofos ever. Yeah, he’s pudged out a bit from his “Goodfellas”
days, but he still has those wild assed eyes that can either freeze
lava or melt stone, based on his mood, along with that diabolical grin
and sinister laugh. So he is perfect in this series as the mastermind
leader of a group of reprobates specializing in high profile armed robberies.
His crew consists of Simon Baker as the trigger man, a murdering scum
bucket who is currently entertaining offers to play for either the Bengals
or Ravens, Jonny Lee Miller as the electronics expert, Franky G as the
wheel man, and Amy Smart as the master of disguise diversion (and quite
a diversion she is). Virginia Madsen plays Liotta’s wife, a
character that I first equated to Edie Falco’s Carmela Soprano, a
woman too wrapped up in her own creature comforts to care about how
her husband makes his money. Bzzt…wrong on that one. She’s
got some secrets of her own, and is currently on parole with weekly
“pee in a cup” meetings with her P.O.
The “Sopranos” comparison
is valid here, as these are characters that you are interested in, but
never truly sympathetic towards, as they have no problem killing innocent
people if they get in the way. Liotta’s Bobby Stevens (“Smith”
is the name assigned to the crew leader by the FBI) is an intriguing
character. You can tell he’s still juiced by the action and
payoffs, but he’s growing weary of it all nonetheless, and is trying
to get to a point where he can retire from the lifestyle permanently.
The paradox then becomes that he must take riskier jobs to get to his
$10 million goal as soon as possible. Madsen’s aptly named “Hope”
looks to be a very unique character in this type of show; someone who
may be just as “bad” as her husband. The other characters
aren’t as well defined as of yet, although Smart’s “Annie” is
being set up as the show’s second most important character.
She was identified on the first heist from an old high school friend
in Pittsburgh. (Wait a second! She can’t be from Pittsburgh!
She has an education and a full set of teeth!). She promptly tasered
her old friend…something I’d LOVE to do to several of my old classmates.
The show is filmed in a manner
reminding me of Michael Mann’s movie version of “Miami Vice”;
dark and edgy. The capers are slick, and the action sequences
loud and violent, starkly contrasting the intimate dialog that seems
to go on whenever there are only two characters on screen.
The only thing I don’t want
to see would be too much emphasis on the FBI agents tracking them.
Like “The Sopranos”, this should be about the hoods, not the cops.
The producers and writers need to trust the intelligence of the audience
and not try to make the criminals too sympathetic by having them always
on the run. If they avoid that trap, this has the makings of an
excellent series. But I do question whether this format has the
ability to last for more than a season or two.
Preliminary Grade: B+
NBC, Mondays at 9 PM
I really, really wanted to
mock the hell out of this one, coming on the heels of the over saturation
of superheroes at the box office. Mostly, I was sick of over produced,
over directed, over acted and under written visions of spandex and leather
prancing about the screen. “Fantastic Four”, “X-Men: the
Last Stand”, and “The Covenant” were all rotten movies, and even
the OK “Superman Returns” left something to be desired.
So here comes a series with
more people with superpowers. Ho. Hum.
But wait as second. This
is actually Good Television. Sort of a “Lost” meets the “X-Files”.
For some reason, various people across the world are just developing
these powers around the time of a solar eclipse, and they are all pretty
much freaking out about it. A perky little Texas high school cheerleader
becomes impervious to injury. OK; I take that back. She
gets injured in some of the grossest ways imaginable (fingers in the
disposal), but regenerates immediately. A slacker male nurse with
an overly ambitious politician brother finds that he (they) can fly.
A heroin addict artist sees the future when he paints. A Japanese
office wonk can bend time and space. A cop can “hear” others’
thoughts. And perhaps the strangest (at least not really detailed
through two episodes), a Las Vegas web cam stripper who has an alter
ego that evidently appears when she blacks out and does very, very nasty
things…like brutally killing two thugs.
One thing that always bugs
me in these types of shows: why is it that the only people that develop
superpowers are losers? Heroin addicts, strippers, slackers, nerds,
and dopey cops. The only two non-screwed up people are the politician
and the cheerleader…but something could be said about anyone wanting
to be a cheerleader or a politician has some mental deficiencies as
As I said, the comparison that
best suits is “Lost” in regards to having multiple characters, all
flawed, who are totally confused about what’s happening. A genetics
professor from India has traveled to New York to continue his murdered
father’s work in unraveling the mystery, trying to stay ahead/out
of the way of some mysterious bad guys…one of which just so happens
to be the “adopted” father of the cheerleader. You know he’s
a bad guy due to the bad flat top haircut and horned rimmed glasses
straight out of Central Bad Guy Casting.
“Heroes” has the chance
of being one of the breakout series this year. That is, if it
can keep up with the tight rope act of staying mysterious and interesting
without getting too convoluted or going off into the world of Camp.
Preliminary Grade: A-
CBS. Thursdays at 10
If “Smith” tries to emulate
“The Sopranos”, and “Heroes” takes from the book of “Lost”,
then “Shark” attempts to recreate some of the magic from “House”.
Take a central character that
is extremely charismatic and flawed, surround him with talented, attractive
subordinates, and watch him teach/berate/badger them into assisting
him solve a mystery. In “House”, it’s Hugh Laurie solving
medical conditions no one else can figure out. In “Shark”,
it’s the talented James Woods as a former hot shot defense attorney
now serving as the head of a D.A. department specializing in high profile
Sebastian Stark’s last case
as a Johnny Cochran type defense attorney ended when the celebrity scum
bag he defended for wife beating ended up murdering his wife a few days
after the trial. Stark is burned out and unable to practice law
again until the mayor convinces him to alleviate his guilt by putting
bad guys away instead of defending them. This doesn’t make the
county District Attorney, played by Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine on “Star
Trek Voyager”…sadly no longer wearing her spandex), too happy.
She assigns Stark “loser” stereotyped young ADAs to pretty much
guarantee his failure.
You guessed it; Stark whips
his young charges into shape, and they proceed to kick ass and take
names. You have the ice princess WASP, the jock frat boy, the
gay Hispanic, and the Angry Young Black Woman. And that’s all
you need to remember them by, since through two episodes, they’ve
managed to forget something important that makes “House” work; make
the supporting characters interesting. Foreman, Chase, and Cameron
are extremely fascinating characters in their own rights on “House”,
each with their own unique styles that don’t necessarily take the
focus off the star of the show. That’s not happening yet for
the young lawyers.
But for all its flaws, “Shark”
is pretty decent simply due to James Woods. His guilt is every
bit as much of a handicap as House’s bum leg…and not just guilt
over the murder, but also in his dealings with his sixteen year old
daughter, who has decided to live with her father after her mother and
soon to be stepfather relocate to New York. It’s been all about
work for Stark, and he’s having a hard time figuring out how to be
a father; although he is making an effort. And with Woods, it’s
the effort that is so enjoyable to watch as he tries to get his daughter
to call his expensive designer when she wants to paint her room or when
he threatens a driving school instructor after she fails her driving
Woods is also mesmerizing in
the courtroom scenes. Like “A Few Good Men”, you know he’s going
to get someone to crack on the witness stand; the fun comes from figuring
out how he’ll do it.
If this series figures out
how to make proper use of Jeri Ryan (nothing more than a bitch boss
at the moment) and the Stark-ettes, this show has some potential as
Woods is definitely on his “A” game.
Preliminary Grade: B-
Studio 60 on the Sunset
NBC, Mondays at 10 PM.
Aaron Sorkin is back, and the
man can still write some serious dialog for people that love hearing
people talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. And who better to serve
as the overly talkative stars than Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford?
They play hot shot Hollywood partners (a writer and director) who are
hired to resurrect an “SNL” live comedy sketch show that has hit
the dumps, culminating in the old Loren Michaels type producer (Judd
Hirsch) to have a Howard Beale type meltdown on live TV regarding how
crappy television has become.
We know it’s a Howard Beale
type meltdown from the movie “Network” because they reference the
movie about 30 times within ten minutes. We get it, Aaron.
This all happens on the first
day of employment for the new head of programming, Jordan McDeere (Amanda
Peete), and the signing of the Perry’s Matt Albie and Whitford’s
Danny Tripp doesn’t exactly please the new CEO, played by former “Wings”
star Steven Weber, who looks to be something better than the stereotypical
bad guy stuffed suit.
The other major characters
in this ensemble drama about a comedy (confused yet?) are D.L. Hugley,
Sarah Paulson, and Tom Jeter as the three main stars of the SNL-Lite
show, along with Timothy Busfield as the harried control room director.
Sorkin’s lost none of his
writing ability from his halcyon days on “Sports Night” and “The
West Wing” or his ability to be as preachy as possible while still
being entertaining. Danny Tripp has to take the job as he’s
not able to direct outside the country for eighteen months due to a
positive cocaine test…mirroring Sorkin’s well documented drug problems.
Sarah Paulson’s Harriet Hayes is a devout Christian trying to deal
with the derogatory viewpoints of a secular Hollywood, just as former
Sorkin girlfriend Kristin Chenoweth had to deal with being an actress
derided for her devout faith. Jordan McDeere is a near patron
saint of the show, homage from Sorkin towards former ABC executive Jamie
But despite the ham-handedness
at times, the show really clicks. The chemistry is excellent,
especially between Matt and Danny, reminiscent to the give and take
seen on “Sports Night” between Dan and Casey (does Sorkin ALWAYS
has to have a character named Dan/Danny?). The scripts are intelligent,
funny, and poignant, and the acting superb.
The only quibble I truly have
is a very minor one that is not really related to the show itself.
The noble characters keep harping on the show about wanting to make
television better and not be a cultural wasteland. A laudable
objective, but one that is slightly outdated as over the past few years,
television has gotten much smarter and much better. Give HBO the
credit if you will (I certainly do), but there is a plethora of excellent
shows on TV right now, many of which I have mentioned throughout this
article. From the early returns on this year’s crop, there may
be a couple added to the list.
Preliminary Grade: B
Happy Hour. FOX
comedy about “Odd Couple” type roommates has already been cancelled.
The 12 people that liked the show are aghast.
police drama from FOX about hostage negotiators. If I had to listen
to these two whiners for more than a minute, I’d take the whole freaking
building down with me.
Help Me Help You:
ABC tries to merge Sam Malone and Becker into one being…and fails
Men in Trees:
Another ABC show about to be pulled. Anne Heche playing a famous
relationship author exiling herself in Alaska after she discovers her
boyfriend was cheating on her. No indication yet whether her closet
has a revolving door. (Cheap and easy shot…but I couldn’t resist).
The Bachelor: Rome.
Please make it stop.
The Biggest Loser:
No, this isn’t a documentary of Al Davis. But anyone really
watching this show might want to consider that that title might refer
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