Thursday, September 10, 2009

What To Watch: Fridays

Previously, on TNRLM's What To Watch: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

Remember when Friday used to be a television graveyard? Well, times are a changin' (at least for those of us old, nerdy and socially averse to spend a Friday night on a couch. Or who, er, have a TiVo). Long the place used to dump unwanted programs or fill with cheap reality drivel, more nets are actually programming Friday with honest to goodness scripted programming. And most of it is actually watchable!

Show Net Day Time Priority
Law & Order NBC FRI 800 Sleepytime
Dollhouse FOX FRI 900 Watch
Monk USA FRI 900 DVR
Stargate Universe SYFY FRI 900 Watch
Numbers CBS FRI 1000 Sleepytime
Psych USA FRI 1000 DVR
Sanctuary SYFY FRI 1000 DVR
White Collar USA FRI 1000 Watch

Law & Order: The original returns for yet another season. This programming staple got re-energized with one of its signature cast revamps, and this collection of actors is the strongest the show has had since the Lenny Briscoe glory days. If you gave up some time around "is this because I'm a lesbian?" do yourself a favor and check out the new "kids." (Of course, there's nothing wrong with lesbians. Or Elisabeth Rohm. Or Elisabeth Rohm as a lesbian. I'll be in my bunk).

Dollhouse: Gather round the campfire, and settle in for a long one, because there's a lot to say here. First, and most surprising, is the fact that Dollhouse is coming back at all. Ratings started off low (when it was paired with the equally ambitious and well done Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), got lower, and then steadied at a level that said "see ya!" Yet FOX, perhaps seeing the show's concepts and presentation get sharper (which would be ironic, since their meddling is what made the first few shows so shaggy) or maybe fearing the wrath of Whedon fanboys (and girls) again after aborting the masterpiece that was Firefly, surprised everyone, including Joss himself, by renewing DH for a second season. They talked about online and DVR viewing, but I would guess one of the biggest factors in the renewal is that the show is produced by sister company 20th Century Fox, so all the ancillary revenue stays in the family, and Whedon fans are nothing, if not obsessive purchasers (he says, looking at his Dollhouse DVD set). Regardless of the reasons, we have season two coming, though it will be inexplicably paired with a couple of FOX's awful sitcoms as a lead in. Hey, you take what you can get. As for the show itself? I've written extensively about it (check the tags), but here's a good way to summarize my thoughts. The wonderful Galactica Quorum Podcast (which previously, was about just what you think it was) asked for feedback on Dollhouse, and I was only to happy to contribute. Most of this made it onto their Dollhouse ep, which you can listen to here. Below, you can find what I wrote to them:
Hey guys. In response to your twitter, here are a few thoughts on Dollhouse. But first, some background on my experiences with the previous Whedonverse series:
  • I’m an unabashed Joss fan. That said, I’m not a mindless automaton who will accept everything he touches as handed down from on high.
  • Buffy rightly deserves its place in the pantheon of great TV. The first season is a “finding our way” slog though, with a couple of breakout moments.
  • Angel similarly took some time to find its voice in the first season, but resulted in a mature, apocalyptic noir that I may have enjoyed even more than the parent show (save the baby arc. For fuck’s sake, please don’t add babies to a show). I loved S5 and thought it got cancelled too soon.
  • Firefly was pretty much fully formed and perfect out of the box, and got hosed by FOX.
I was giddy with excitement for Dollhouse. Great cast on paper, solid stable of writers and intriguing concept. Did it deliver on the premise and potential? Kind of:

The first five eps were hit and miss. Only “The Target” and “Gray Hour” worked as solid episodes, and “Stage Fright” is right up there with the worst television ever produced by Whedon (Angel’s “She” and “Provider” and Buffy’s “Teacher’s Pet,” “The Pack” and “Where the Wild Things Are” are similarly terrible). Too much cheesecake (and I say that as a straight male eminently appreciative of Dushku’s sexiness) and way too many “glitches” for a supposedly competent and high priced organization.

“Man on the Street” was the ep where things turned around, and it seemed they really grasped the potential of the series. The home stretch of season one was vastly improved, and very entertaining.

At first, they didn’t really make a case WHY someone would spend all that money to hire a doll. It was a plot hole that stuck out like a sore thumb. And one that could have been easily explained: what you pay for is not ONLY the “special skills” (whether it’s safecracking, midwifeing, spycraft, asskicking or whoring), but the ability to have all the knowledge and experienced wiped without a trace provides an anonymity you can’t get elsewhere.

The whole Alpha story was well done, and Tudyk gave an exceptional performance.

There were great plots twists, that kept you guessing. Alpha. November. Whiskey. Dominic. Adelle’s weekend rendezvous.

From an acting standpoint, there were some distinct highlights, include Olivia Williams (great hopped up on drugs in “Echoes” and revealing more about the character in “Spy in the House of Love”), Enver Gjokaj (good in everything he did), Harry Lennix (appropriately weary and stoic), Fran Kranz (yes, Topher is annoying, like a smarter, caffeinated Andrew from Buffy, but he was written that way and he delivered), Reed Diamond, Mark Sheppard (not given much to do) and of course, Amy Acker, who brings immeasurable depth to everything she does.

Lord knows I love me some Dushku. She was great as Faith, is hot as the surface of the sun, and is, by all account, a great person to boot (her recent trips to Africa, for example). She's smart, funny, ambitious and self-effacing in interviews and on commentaries. But I’m not sure she has the chops to pull off such a multifaceted and constantly changing role and inhabit it fully and believably (losing all traces of the “tough Southie broad.”) I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, and hope she improves in S2.

Also, though I enjoyed Helo on BSG, Tahmoh was terrible here. I’m sure some of that was the fact that Paul Ballard was written as one of the stupidest characters on TV (Jason Stackhouse notwithstanding. At least Jason is funny).

There’s a lot of potential here, and the questions the show asks – what exactly are we? What is a “soul?” What makes a personality? What’s the morality of programming and renting people? -- are interesting and worth exploring in a weekly high concept drama. Whedon and company didn’t get a handle on it until late in the game of the first season, same as with Buffy and Angel, so here’s hoping that S2 results in a similar leap in storytelling and executional quality. I’d give the whole season a solid “B -.” (First half, C- and second half, A-)
That about sums it up, no? And you bet your ass I'll be watching.

Monk: I'm as weary of the Tony Shaloub Emmy parade as anyone (though he did initially deserve the recognition), but like Adrian Monk, I can be a little OCD, and unless a show totally craps the bed which Monk was verging on, if I have the time, I'm likely to see it through. This being the final season for Monk, I'll be tuning in. I'll give them this, the writing and guesting during this last go round has markedly improved. Ted Levine is underrated and Traylor Howard is adorable.

Stargate Universe: The whole Stargate franchise is an interesting one. While they tried to tackle some big ideas on occasion (a la Trek) with SG1 and Atlantis, it was primarily a light Friday night action adventure diversion, where the heroes dispatched the bad guys with a smile and quip, usually on a planet that looked amazingly similar to a forest in Vancouver. The good thing is that they usually cast very well, and gave viewers the sci-fi equivalent of an Outback Steakhouse. You know what you're going to get, and it went down well. With Universe, they're attempting to break the mold, go a little darker and a little more realistic, and provide an entry point for new viewers unfamiliar with 15+ seasons of Daniel Jackson, Rodney McKay, Samantha Cater and mythology based aliens masquerading as "gods." Will it work? I don't know, but from everything I've seen, they are putting their best foot forward, and having Robert Carlyle as the lead certainly helps establish their quality bona fides.

Numbers: Something I've added to the bedroom TiVo as another enjoyable, funky concept (use math to solve crimes!) procedural. If you're not watching yet, there's probably no need to.

Psych: About to wrap up for the season, to make way for another USA new series, but always fun. How can you not love a show about a fake crime solving psychic that displays such an unabashed love for everything 80s pop culture? Leads James Roday and Dule Hill have unbelievable chemistry, and the rest of the ensemble is solid (and Maggie Lawson is cute as a button). The mysteries, like with Monk, are no great shakes, but the laughs are found in the execution, which offers far more hits than misses.

Sanctuary: This show started as a web only, totally greenscreen/CGI limited series about a mysterious scientist who seeks to assist and study paranormal creatures. The first season, to be honest, was a bit of a snore, picking up toward the end of its run with a deepening mythology and sharper character work. I'll give it another chance, if for nothing else than the boundless charms of lead Amanda Tapping (late of the Stargate franchise). If you've ever seen her in interviews or listened to one of her DVD commentaries, you'll fall hopelessly in love with her. She's hot, smart, funny, sweet as a fresh from the oven cookie and overwhelmingly appreciative of fans.

White Collar: This is USA's latest character based show, about a master thief recruited by the government to help them solve crimes. Track record plays an important role here, as USA has done a fantastic job developing new shows, from the mildly entertaining (Monk, In Plain Sight) to the terrifically executed and must watch (Burn Notice, Psych and even the sadly little watched American adaptation of Touching Evil, which also featured Jeffrey Donovan). Only Royal Pains, which was a ratings success, has felt flat to me. So I'll check out White Collar, which has a good premise and an intriguing cast (Matt Bomer, Tim Dekay, Tiffani Thiessen, Willie Garson and recently added cast regular Natalie Morales, late of last year's Best. Damned. New. Show. The Middleman).

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