I went into this week with understandable trepidation regarding the new shows gracing the airwaves after the severe psychic trauma that was induced by the mid-season offerings I had experienced thus far. No matter what the Chinese Zodiac says, 2011 was looking like the year of the dog. This time I properly girded myself for the task at hand. To prevent the late-night calls to my therapist after being exposed to the debauchery of the Gods of Television, I interspersed the new shows with episodes of the Firefly series, to remind myself that TV doesn’t have to be a painful experience. This advanced armament proved to only be necessary a couple of times, and on the whole, the offerings were far more succulent.
The Setup – A parody sports program designed by the marvelous minds behind The Onion. There is no backstage talk ala Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night. SportsDome is a straight spoof of ESPN’s Sports Center or any show like it.
The Good – It was funny. There is little else that can be said about a show of this kind except that it makes you laugh. It isn’t intended to be profound or to develop characters, but rather to imitate the exact program that it is mocking with biting satire on sports, news, and entertainment. The whole thing is pitch perfect from the moment it starts, including fictional sports series, fictional games, and hilariously intense chatter. I didn’t find myself guffawing, but it was the fastest half hour I have ever experienced.
The Bad – I don’t think the pacing can really continue week after week. It’s too fresh and fast and honestly requires such a huge amount of energy and talent to pull it off, that I doubt subsequent episodes will be quite as clever. I don’t want to be a doom singer, but I fear that the show could easily degrade into sophomoric humor that panders to the lowest common denominator rather than satirizes it. There were already portents of that in the pilot show, and I worry that the sophistication will only degrade with time.
The Setup – A washed up boxer suffers the ailments of retirement. His health is deteriorating as pugilistic dementia affects his memory and cognition. With three daughters in private school and a house that ranks as a modest palace, as well as a wife that is a resident physician and as such contributes only a minimum amount of financial support, their finances are also in dire straits. It is essentially a cautionary tale that revolves around those that think being beat senseless for a living is a quality career choice. The bad news is that anyone that believes being beat senseless is a good move from a business standpoint most likely will not be able to make a living doing much of anything else.
The Good – The performances are all solid with the cast being led by Holt McCallany as the retired boxer, Patrick ‘Lights’ Leary. McCallany is mostly only believable as a former boxer or cop, but he does it very well. The pilot episode was extremely engaging, with McCallany’s father being played by the indomitable Stacy Keach. McCallany is likable and has the somewhat basic, testosterone-fueled, two-dimensional, overly simplified, chauvinistic mentality that one would expect from a professional pugilist. His performance was boiled down to a slightly more charming Tony Soprano. The plotline is mostly believable, easily fitting with what is already known about those professions with a severely limited lifespan. McCallany is enticed into criminal thug activities and relying on those smarter than him to aid in his survival, as well as the survival of his family.
The Bad – The worst part of the show is it felt very derivative. Boxing stories are basically the same the world over. There are two plotlines available, which is either the upcoming young hopeful born into poverty, or the battered has-been struggling with withered fame. Both are concepts that are as burned out as a retired fighter. It’s a little difficult to believe in a white Heavyweight champion in this day in age, unless he is a Russian giant. We’ve seen this plot in Raging Bull and Rocky. While this is a deeper look with a few tweaks, it isn’t anything stunning, and believing that the show can go on for a full season – much less multiple seasons – is doubtful at this point.
The Setup – Three damaged American doctors go into the jungle of South America to train at a clinic in the bowels of the rainforest.
The Good – A medical drama on a jungle backdrop is very interesting; fascinating actually. Dealing with the culture shock of moving from industrialized hospitals to the backwards arena, and caring for impoverished citizens of an entirely different society is something I would love to see gain mainstream success in xenophobic America. Having to utilize natural cures and alternative methods could only be more interesting or alien if dealing with Antarctic civilizations…if any existed. All the actors that play experienced doctors on the show are reasonably good, while the new recruits are sufficiently wide-eyed and inane, creating the ability for them to evolve.
The Bad – The problem is that the show isn’t using science or the jungle as characters. Lie to Me is a fantastic example of a show wherein the methodology itself plays a profoundly engaging role. The primary problem with this show is they aren’t relying on the strange reality of jungle life. It isn’t South America by way of Heart of Darkness, but rather by way of MTV’s Spring Break. The South American jungle is rife with myth and superstition, and the medical facilities there are usually as much voodoo as they are modern medicine. That would be a watchable show. This is more Prime Time gibberish that is going to rapidly degrade into storylines driven by the relationships of the characters, which should be secondary to the strangeness of the circumstances.
The Setup – Kathy Bates plays Harriet Korn, a burned out patent lawyer that gets fired from her firm and undergoes a series of accidents in which she meets up with a suicidal young man fighting addiction and facing prison time, her bubbly, superficial blonde assistant that is just an obvious pair of legs, a former legal opponent of hers that comes to work with her, and a street hustler and gunman. She goes through a Sliding Doors transformation in which she opens her own law firm in a disenfranchised, crime riddled part of town and goes from a life of bored corporate drone to an independent humanistic existence.
The Good – Well, Kathy Bates is good, because she’s Kathy Bates and if we could watch her slide naked into a hot tub in About Schmidt, this is easily palatable. The writing is fairly strong and intelligent without succumbing to many of the clichés that pepper legal television shows. The dialog is fairly crisp, but sometimes overreaches. It is essentially a quaint addition to the niche Boston Legal and Ally McBeal created of surrealist law drama / comedies. It’s cute and easily digestible.
The Bad – It’s another goddamn show about lawyers, and I plan to boycott it on those grounds alone. The courtroom scenes are predictably preposterous and unrealistic, because real law is frightfully boring. It doesn’t offer anything remarkable and the basic premise is very similar to the mostly forgotten television show Judging Amy. It’s very basic television fare that’s watchable without being a challenge. I predict a long, banal existence. Shows of this kind are a lot like dorm room pornography, it basically accomplishes what it sets out to do, but is easily forgettable and not something you would ever pay money to watch.
The Setup – The show revolves around Tony and his group of adolescent friends which spend the entirety of the show trying to procure sexual favors for an unappealing member of their collective. They then end up inadvertently creating a hi-lar-i-ous mix-up regarding buying narcotics from a deranged suburbanite.
The Good – I’m not the target audience for a show like this, so there was very little to be said for it. I suppose it is escapist fantasy in the same realm of the Home Alone; which is to say the “children outsmarting adults” arena. It is driven by the same motive as movies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Charlie Bartlett. They try to wax philosophical about rites of passage in the modern era, of which virginity is one of the last bastions.
The Bad – While I am not the audience for this show, I can’t really figure out who is. It is far too juvenile for anyone of high school age, and the rampant drug use and sexuality of minors is something that should never be aimed at anyone younger. It is a hideous collage of all the worst elements from films like Dazed and Confused, Kids, and Human Traffic. It has no real message, no likable characters, and mostly the end result is just sad, which I don’t think was the intent. It speaks ill of life, youth, love, loyalty, sexuality, women, and worst of all: chemicals. When you make drugs unappealing, you have failed, and failed morbidly.
The Setup – It is depressing that it has become old hat to say this is yet another series in which all the creatures of the night: vampires, werewolves, walking dead, restless damned, and publicists are real, alive (after a fashion), well, and some of them work at a hospital. That is the circumstances of our two protagonists, Josh and Aiden, who have jobs as straight male nurses, which are far more mythical than anything that goes bump in the night. One is also a vampire, the other a werewolf. They live with a ghost…named Sally.
The Good – It is essentially The Odd Couple with a supernatural addition. It brushes with the issues of change in the lives of regular humans taken to illogical extremes. It doesn’t often get lost in maudlin ruminations and there is a mixture of levity. It takes itself too seriously at times, but has an appreciable balance. I would have enjoyed a little more tongue in cheek humor, and it could stand to wink a little more often than it does, but it could become very entertaining when it hits its stride.
The Bad – Unlike many of the shows I’ve looked at, this one has elements that could be explored better and it is not hopeless overall. It has not yet arrived, but there is immense potential that surfaces from time to time. However, it could easily run down the path that poisoned Angel and to an increasing degree >Bones, which is that it becomes soap operatic in its entirety, and as such mawkish and unwatchable.
This week was much more pleasurable than the horrors of last week. I was worried that the entire mid-season would make me feel like an abusive spouse, repeatedly subjecting my television to untold abominations of writing, acting, and plot. Our relationship is stronger than ever after having lived through the first salvo of January and allowing the networks the latitude to warm up before delivering some truly enjoyable television. We are not out of the woods yet, and the broadcasters may yet pull back the curtain to reveal their most twisted horrors, but at least I have some hope for the future of the medium.