Monday, September 28, 2009

TV Review: Lowdown on the Freshman Class, Part One

The first official week of the new TV season has come and gone. As with every year, there are some real winners, some real losers, and some that simply fall into the "meh" category.

"Bored to Death" - HBO

This one was just asking for a critical bludgeoning with a title like "Bored to Death" (note to TV execs: Avoid using titles that can be used against you as punny put-downs by witless headline writers). Title aside, the show's kind of good -- slight, but good.

Starring Jason Schwartzman, "Bored" is about a self-loathing New Yorker, recently dumped by his girlfriend, who inexplicably puts up an ad on Craigslist offering his services as an unlicensed private detective. His credentials: he's read a lot of detective novels and thinks he gets the swing of it. Rrrrright. It's a comedy, so just go with it. His cases are of the low stakes/high quirk variety (in the pilot episode, a woman hires him to find her missing sister, "who was supposed to go to a concert with me.") Schwartzman does his sighing, narcissistic thing he's been doing since "Rushmore," often more concerned about whining over his broken heart than listening to the needs of his clients.

Executive producer Jonathan Ames creates a world that's equal parts Woody Allen and Wes Anderson, with the neurotic prattling of the former and the cute, deadpan superiority of the latter. Nothing of big consequence happens, mostly just some small laughs and some droll observations about self-centered, over-educated dopes who could live productive lives if they simply pulled their heads out of their own asses. Remarkably, "The Hangover's" Zach Galifianakis comes off as the most socially well-adjusted character in the cast, as Schwartzman's comic book artist friend. Ted Danson, looking more and more like a Frankenstein's monster version of "Mad Men's" John Slattery, is amusing in a supporting role as a publisher who occasionally employs Schwartzman as a freelance journalist, but mostly uses him to score weed. Grade: B

"Eastwick" - ABC
Very loosely based on the John Updike novel and the successful 1987 movie, "Eastwick" has been described as "Desperate Housewives" with magic. That's about right -- plus lots of ten o' clock time slot-appropriate jokes about vibrators and boobs. The show retains the basic premise of earlier iterations -- three desperate women (Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price and Jaime Ray Newman) unwittingly summon the devil in the form of a dashing man (Paul Gross) who then shakes up their lives in exciting and dangerous ways -- but updates it with a feminist twist: these ladies don't need men to help them realize their full potential. Of course, that doesn't stop them from obsessing over men in just about every scene. (Gotta have sexual tension, right?) OK, so the show sends a mixed message, but give it points for trying.

Where "Eastwick" loses points is with its male characters. They're either thinly developed caricatures (as with Newman's deadbeat Hillbilly husband), charisma-challenged oafs (the wooden Johann Urb, who plays the woefully miscast object of Price's desire), or motivationally muddled quasi-villains (what exactly is Gross's Devil in a Gucci Suit going to do week to week other than look dashing and occasionally menacing?)

The message seems to be "Boys are stupid and girls just wanna have fun." "Eastwick" operates at the maturity level of a rebellious junior high school girl -- which isn't a bad thing, just know what you're getting into. The leading ladies' magical powers are seriously downplayed, but one guesses that's so the show can build to a moment when our characters will fully embrace their inner "witchiness." That pretty much sums up the show on a whole: not quite there, but ripe with potential. Grade: B-

"FlashForward" - ABC

Another show ripe with potential, but suffering on several fronts. The premise is killer: everyone on the planet blacks-out for two minutes and seventeen seconds, during which they see a glimpse of their future six months from now. The possibilities for story are endless. Why did everyone blackout? What did everyone see? Can the future be changed or are our fates fixed?

The show spends its first hour setting up this premise, complete with awesome, apocalyptic special-effects (see what happens when the world falls asleep at the wheel for a couple minutes -- cars crash, buildings burn, and kangaroos run rampant down Wilshire Boulevard). Joseph Fiennes plays an FBI agent reacting to this global event much in the same way Matthew Fox reacted to the plane wreck in the pilot to "Lost," a show this one is positioning itself to replace (going so far as to use the same font for its opening credits). "FlashForward" certainly has the mystery factor going for it, but where it fails to live up to "Lost" status is with its characters. There are no Hurleys or Lockes or Jacks or Kates or Sawyers or Charlies. No one introduced in the first hour has a unique or compelling personality. There's little in the way of humor. Everybody's too busy talking about what they saw in their flash-forward or wondering aloud about why the blackout happened.

But this is just the first hour. Here's hoping future episodes focus more on distinguishing its characters so we have people to care about amongst the sci-fi concept. Grade: B

Come back tomorrow for grades on more new shows, like "Modern Family," "Cougar Town" and "The Cleveland Show."


seetarkrun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
seetarkrun said...

Eastwick - A for awesome.

Show a girlfriend some solidarity. And by "a," I mean "your." But by "A," I still mean awesome.