Thursday, September 10, 2009

What To Watch: Thursdays

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

It doesn't matter if you are a network executive, a showrunner, a media buyer or a viewer. You might want to rework the U2 anthem to be "Thursday, Bloody Thursday," because the pile up of shows on this, the weekday's most watched night, is going to epic. Thursday has long been a high traffic, high profile night (remember "Must See TV?"), but this year, each and every network (along with some cablers) is pushing their chips to the center and saying "all in." There's probably a little blood in the water, as one of the highest rated shows in recent memory, CBS's CSI: Original Recipe, showed signs of slowing down last year with the departure of star William Peterson.

So what to do here? Probably push your TiVo to the limit, and make some concessions about what to watch at home, what to watch online, and what to catch on DVD.

Show Net Day Time Priority
Bones FOX THU 800 Watch
Flash Forward ABC THU 800 Watch
Fringe FOX THU 900 Watch
Supernatural CW THU 900 Watch
The Office NBC THU 900 DVR
30 Rock NBC THU 930 DVR
Community NBC THU 930 DVR
It's Always Sunny in Philly FX THU 1000 Watch
The Mentalist CBS THU 1000 DVR

Bones: Bones has steadily grown in its time on the air, and become a nice little Moonlighting-esque crime show rounded out by a talented supporting cast. However, there were some serious missteps this past year, culminating with one of the worst season finales I've ever witnessed (if you watch the show, you know what I'm talking about, but suffice to say, an overly complicated coma dream sequence combined with a visualization of a novel in progress that results in character development that doesn't really happen is not how you want to cap off an up and down season). During the season, Booth had several hallucinations (the ghost of a dead war buddy, a hockey player, Stewie from Family Guy) that could have been ultimately explained by his brain tumor. Yet in the episode with the "ghost," the writer/director made a conscious decision to have Brennan actually see and interact with the damned "ghost." How can people, on a non-supernatural show, share a brain tumor created hallucination? Yikes. So, I'll give Bones a shot at explaining some of this away and getting back on track, but it's on a short TiVo leash.

Flash Forward: Interesting premise. Everyone on Earth blacks out for two minutes, seventeen seconds (expected cataclysmic chaos ensues), and has a "vision" of their future, six months from that point. Too high concept? Not sure, but it has an appealing cast, including Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Jack Davenport, Peyton List (Roger Sterling's new bride!), Courtney B. Vance and Lost's Dominic Monoghan and Sonya Walger. It's based on a novel by Robert Sawyer, but will depart dramatically from the book (though it has the blessing of Sawyer, who will also contribute scripts to the show).

CSI: Still the best of the CSIs (though that's not saying much these days), this old warhorse went through some serious upheaval. Peterson left, and was replaced (awkwardly) by Laurence Fishburne. Great actor, but I'm not sure his character "clicked" with the rest of the cast. Jorja Fox, who I can't stand to watch, also left the show, but apparently, she will be returning in some capacity this season. One of the few new characters they introduced, Lauren Lee Smith's Riley, leaves the show, which I view as a loss. Still, the writing here is sharp (with plenty of geek scribes on staff, including some from Trek and BSG -- the murder at a sci-fi convention was a highlight last year) and the "lab rats" are consistently amusing. I'll probably keep my season pass, albeit on a secondary DVR (or west coast feed).

Fringe: Like most new shows, Fringe had problems figuring out a consistent tone and style of storytelling during its freshmen debut. However, it got much, much better as the season progressed, and it features one of best casts on TV, anchored by Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Blair Brown, Lance Reddick and Emmy worthy scene stealer John Noble as a literal mad scientist. (Many critics were divided on Torv, but I think she played what they gave her beautifully). Spock himself, the legendary Leonard Nimoy, will build on his cameo at the end of season one as the mysterious William Bell, and the reveal of an "alternate reality universe" gives this tech-driven X-Files for a new generation plenty upon which to build new mysteries and thrills.

Supernatural: I was late the Winchester brothers party, and caught up last year via a DVD binge, but it was well worth it. (Noted TV critics Mo Ryan and Matt Roush did the same thing). I had initially dismissed the show as yet another featherweight CW teen pander, but boy, was I wrong. Supernatural is a worthy heir to the mantle of shows (like Buffy, Angel, Lost and the X-Files) that effectively and creatively blend thrills, chills, scares and laughs with moving long term storytelling. You'll be on the edge of your seat one moment, then laughing your ass off the next. This year, the show adds to its usual classic rock and monsters sensibility by letting Lucifer walk the earth engaging in an apocalyptic showdown with militant angels. Fun!!

The Office / 30 Rock: The Office is one of those rare shows to effectively handle the "will they or won't they" romantic tension between the leads in a logical and appealing way. Jim and Pam got together, got engaged, and are expecting. While this is great news for the shippers, it puts me on alert, since nothing kills a show for me more than pregnancies and kids. Still, it's very well written and acted, and I'll likely keep it around until the Babies R Us stuff becomes unbearable. As for 30 Rock, no show on TV has a higher laugh per minute ratio.

Community: A new show, headlined by The Soup! snarkmeister Joel McHale and Chevy Chase, looks subversively promising.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Another show I missed originally, and caught via the power of reruns and the interwebs, but will be adding to the season pass list without hesitation. Sunny isn't for everyone -- the characters are all hilariously self-absorbed and amoral. Take a look through the list of episode titles (which include "The Gang Gets Racist," "Mac Bangs Dennis' Mom," "The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby" and "Sweet Dee's Dating a Retarded Person") and see for yourself if this appeals to your sensibilities. It certainly does mine, and holy shit is this show laugh out loud funny.

The Mentalist: This was last year's highest rated new show, and it finally made a bona fide TV star out of Aussie Simon Baker (after failed attempts with The Guardian and the sadly little watched Smith). As the wits on USA's Psych like to mock (deservedly so), The Mentalist is basically straight crime procedural version of the former show. Is it "must see" TV? Probably not. Is it one of the better and more engaging crime dramas on? Probably so. Baker is a charming lead, and the supporting cast plays well together. There's room enough on my TiVo for two fake psychic detectives (even if both of them aren't fascinated with pineapples and 80s pop culture references).

Whew. I can smell the DVR overheating now.

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