Sunday, September 10, 2006

Fall Previews!

Surely there can be few simple pleasures to equal the Fall Preview issue of TV Guide!

Ah! The age-old joy opening the issue, surveying all the upcoming fall shows, weighing and balancing each's possible merits against its chances of cancellation.

And the joy is heightened these days by the unprecedented free-wheeling mindless bloodsport that network tv has devolved into. except in weirdly isolated cases or backwater channels, shows have precisely ONE episode to score enormous, unparalleled ratings, or else they're ignominiously shuttled around the schedule and then cancelled. Instead of winning an audience with good writing and acting, new shows try to TRICK their way into an audience by upping the adrenaline levels ('24') or relying exclusively on plot twists ('Lost,' 'Prison Break').

Specialty channels can get around this, of course ('Deadwood' and 'Battlestar Galactica' spring to mind), but network TV has come more and more to resemble the way big-screen movies now operate: the opening splash is everything.

This creates a dichotomy here at stevereads. As some of you may know, I like to watch every new show at least once, rather than follow the buzz of just a few (to put it mildly, sometimes I find myself liking a show the critics, overworked and paid to be cynical, all panned). This was always possible in the past, but now, with the sword of Damocles hanging over every new show, I've got to watch them all QUICK, or they might vanish altogether.

I'll manage, don't you fear! In addition to multiple VCRs, I'll use my customary two strategies: a) I'll defer watching old favorites if they conflict with new shows, and b) of course I'll completely ignore 'reality' shows and 'game' shows - programs that not only want but NEED their audiences to be stupid.

So! Let's see where that leaves us!


'The Class' and 'How I Met Your Mother' opposite '7th Heaven' opposite 'Prison Break' ... only 'The Class' is new, and network sitcoms don't tend to be actually funny. Still, I'll give it a try, skip the rather anemic 'How I Met Your Mother' and then settle comfortably into ignoring ALL of these shows and reading on Mondays from 8 to 9


'Two and a Half Men' and 'The New Adventures of Old Christine' opposite 'Runaway' opposite 'Vanished' opposite 'Heroes' ... the sitcoms can be ignored, and I've already seen enough of 'Vanished' to know that I like it plenty - that leaves 'Runaway,' which already bores me, and 'Heroes,' which I'm kinda thinking is going to be my favorite new show of the season. So I'll watch 'Heroes' and tape 'Runaway' and hope to get around to 'Vanished.'

MONDAY at 10

'What about Brian' opposite 'CSI Miami' opposite 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip' ... I can skip 'CSI Miami' for a few weeks (even though I like it well enough, despite the instantly lampoonable rantings of David Caruso), and that leaves me with a choice of evils: a show about how ODD it is that a 25-year-old guy isn't married and procreating, and a block of cheap cynicism about what a rotten place TV is. Barry Watson is slightly more talented than he's given credit for, but I doubt that'll save 'What about Brian' for me; and I doubt there's any chance I'll enjoy 'Studio 60' ... but I'll watch 'em both and get it over with. Who knows? I might be surprised.


'NCIS' opposite 'Gilmore Girls' opposite 'House' opposite 'Friday Night Lights' ... the first three can be skipped for the fourth, but what happens if I LIKE 'Friday Night Lights' (some weird intuition is telling me I might)? 'NCIS' is really enjoyable but comparatively lightweight; 'House' ditto ... and, now that I think about it, ditto 'Gilmore Girls' despite its hugely intelligent writing. Still, 'House' will probably end up winning in the long run, especially if 'Friday Night Lights' gets cancelled.


'Knights of Prosperity' and 'Help Me Help You' opposite 'The Unit' opposite 'Veronica Mars' opposite 'Standoff' opposite 'Law & Order Criminal Intent' ... the sitcoms can be ignored (even Steve's 'watch everything' rule doesn't apply to Ted Danson vehicles), and the premiere of 'Standoff' was boring (despite the presence of the mighty Gina Torres, who really deserves to STAR in a show, instead of yelling at McBain to follow the book), and 'Criminal Intent' is a butcher's shop full of hammery ... which leaves 'The Unit' up against 'Veronica Mars' - which, as all discerning TV viewers know, is no contest at all.


'Boston Legal' opposite 'Smith' opposite 'Law & Order SVU' ... 'Smith is the only new show here and seems intensely predictable in a 'Sopranos' meets 'Desperate Housewives' way (although it stars Amy Smart AND Jonny Lee Miller, two actors I also think are underrated). 'SVU' is just too damn depressing, although well done - I really don't see either of these shows competing with the gut-bustingly hilarious performances turned in week after week by William Shatner as Denny Crane on 'Boston Legal' (oh! How I wish Leonard Nimoy could be tempted to return to TV in an equally signature role ... not broad farce comedy, but something more cerebral, more brooding ... but what? I'll mull ... )


'Jericho' opposite 'Bones' opposite 'Twenty Good Years' and '30 Rock' ... the sitcoms are both knew but look ex-tremely perishable, and despite its razor-sharp dialogue 'Bones' hasn't managed to hook me (maybe because EVERY FIBRE OF MY BEING rebels against the HERETICAL AFFRONT of calling ANY other TV character by that nickname, other than Leonard H. McCoy), but 'Jericho' intrigues me slightly, despite the fact that it stars that fish-mouthed block of wood, Skeet Ulrich. We shall see...


'Lost' opposite 'Criminal Minds' opposite 'One Tree Hill' opposite 'Justice' ... which leaves 'Justice' the clear winner! The first three barely rise to the level of 'meh' in my book, but I've very much liked what I've seen of 'Justice' so far, especially, of course, Victor Garber in the center role.


'The Nine' opposite 'CSI NY' opposite 'Kidnapped' ... hmmmm... 'CSI NY' has never done anything for me, so it can be safely skipped. 'Kidnapped' is of course getting all the big buzz, but strikes me as a tad boring for the long haul. Whereas 'The Nine' has Kim Raver, the mighty Chi McBride AND one of my favorite TV character actors John Billingsley. I don't like the show's gimmicky premise, but I might learn to live with it.


'Ugly Betty' opposite 'Smallville' opposite 'Til Death' and 'Happy Hour' opposite 'My Name is Earl' and 'The Office' ... the sitcoms here seem egregiously rotten, eminently skippable, except for 'The Office' - but that could be WORSE than rotten ... it could be CORRUPTED, if the network follows through on the tone of its commercials and turns the show into the Jim and Pam Romantic Dramedy Show. That would be more painful by far than watching a bad show. 'Ugly Betty' seems boring, and really, how could anything compare with 'Smallville' as the show continues to ratchet up and up? Elsewhere in this issue of TV Guide, there's a picture of the teenaged Green Arrow who'll appear on the show October 5th ... even without General Zod and the Phantom Zone, that would be reason enough to tune in!


'Grey's Anatomy' opposite 'CSI' opposite 'Supernatural' opposite 'The O.C.' ... well, 'Grey's Anatomy' is out because I'm not, in fact, a woman. And 'The O.C.' is one of those shows (like 'Melrose Place') you're always surprised to learn is still on the air - it's like once it flashed in the pan, the pan should have been cleaned and put away until the next flash shows up. That leaves the mighty 'CSI' (which can do no wrong) up against 'Supernatural' which ended with the mother of all cliffhangers. So I certainly know which premiere I'll be watching (although I'll be COMPLAINING through the whole of it, since the cliffhanger in question was one in which our trio of main characters COULD NOT SURVIVE ... the only thing possible for the writers to do is either a) alter some detail of the cliffhanger or b) have the bad guys act entirely out of character ... I'm as big a fan of cliffhangers as walks the Earth, but I HATE it when they cheat like that)


'Six Degrees' opposite 'Shark' opposite 'ER' ... I'm thinking about reading for this hour folks, or perhaps popping in 'High School Musical' for a quick pick-me-up...


The only thing I'll be watching is 'Law & Order' at 10 ... and I won't even be watching THAT, since I will automatically, unalterably, eternally look for the show at 10 on Wednesdays ... perhaps one of you can explain to me what could possibly possess the network to move this show ...


Why, there's absolutely nothing on Saturday night! Guess I'll go out drinking! Or, er, stay in drinking ... ulp ...


Aside from the mighty 'Simpsons,' there's a new show called 'Brothers & Sisters' that stars, on the plus side, the always-wonderful Ron Rifkin and on the negative side, the weirdly off-putting Calista Flockhart ... hmmmm...

And there we have it! All things considered, a fairly orderly fall TV season! No major pile-ups at any one hour of any one day, and by happy chance most of the new shows that intrigue me seem unconflicted, at least for a few viewings. Of course, there'll be 'Dexter' on Showtime, and there'll be the aforementioned 'Battlestar Galactica' ... and I may very well LIKE more new shows than I anticipate ... but for now, I foresee lots of good clean fun!

The Cantabridgians among you can stop scrolling down now ... yes, it's true: the WHOLE THING was about TV.

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