Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Catching up on last week's television: Brothers and Sisters

Well, the Walkers were back in full Walker fashion - there was a family get together, secrets were revealed, arguments broke out, there were some wacky hijinks and lots of drinking (it wouldn't be a Walker family gathering without lots of alcohol!)

It was a little weird seeing Justin and Rebecca making out. They're a cute couple and the actors always had great chemistry, but the characters spent almost two seasons believing they were long lost half-brother and half-sister.

Holly is still annoying. Her character is there to cause trouble, I understand that, but she just annoys. Now that Rebecca isn't William's daughter, it's time for Holly to be gone.

I can't believe that barely three seasons in we're already revisiting the secret William Walker love child storyline, except now instead of it being Rebecca the daughter it's Ryan the son...after all, Rebecca's reluctant and messy incorporation into the Walker clan is what drove much of the first season. Still, it wouldn't be Brothers and Sisters without the soap...and much better soap, I might add, than the actual soap opera I pretend to still watch (that's a topic for another day).

Overall, the show feels the same, and I'm glad. I love the Walkers because they feel like a family, they act like a family, the have secrets and fight and make-up and gossip and tattle and support each other like a family. The cast is incredible in that their interactions ring true as a family. Even with the soap. Looking forward to what this upcoming season brings.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Let's talk about Britcoms

If you've never seen a British sitcom, you're really missing out. There's something decidedly different about British humor from American humor. I can't put my finger on what it is, but it's not for everybody. Think of Monty Python. You either love it or you hate it. Me? I frickin' love it.

I don't know how my Britcom obsession started. I'm pretty sure it was with Ricky Gervais' The Office. I had heard good things about it. It was the surprise winner of a Golden Globe for Best TV Comedy in 2004. I don't base what I watch on what award shows give prizes to, but I decided it was time to check it out. And once I did, I never looked back.

British television is very different from American. Humor (or humour, as they might write) aside, British shows very rarely (with the exception, it seems, of Dr. Who, which I believe the dinosaurs and cavemen used to watch together) last more than two or three seasons (or series, as they say). Each series is very rarely more than 10 episodes. And there can be a lapse of two or more years between series. It definitely lends itself to a different kind of storytelling. When I discover a show I love, this American can be very frustrated that the story ends after only 20 episodes. But it also lends itself, like the Spanish-language telenovela, to more complete stories as well as to fresh stories. American television can often be dictated by economics. A powerhouse show can stay on the air long after it has lost creative steam, simply because viewers are still watching (and hence, ads are still selling). Ok, enough about that. That is your television lesson of the day. Back to Britcoms.

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are geniuses (genii?) and the two series and Christmas special of The Office quickly made it into my DVD collection. I don't remember in what order the other Britcoms followed, or why these turned up in my DVD collection as opposed to others, but my best friend and I devoured Absolutely Fabulous (Eddie and Patsy were so Sex and the City before Sex and the City even existed!), Coupling (which was Britain's answer to Friends, which the US then tried to turn back into an American series that seriously failed, but the British version's Jeff Murdock is one of the funniest television characters of all time), Little Britain (an American version with the same stars just premiered yesterday on HBO but I have yet to see it), Extras (Ricky Gervais' hilarious follow-up to The Office), and Jeeves and Wooster (which if you're a fan of House but unfamiliar with Hugh Laurie's background, you might be surprised to know that he is in face a British comedian). There have been various Britcoms thrown in that failed to tickle my fancy and a few dramas as well (Bob and Rose, the Pride and Prejudice miniseries to name two). We recently finished watching Spaced, after becoming obsessed with Simon Pegg following the movies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

There's an episode of Friends (well, two actually...wait, no three, a two-part season finale and the next season's premiere) when Ross and Emily were going to get married that was filmed in London. I didn't know it at the time, but the stars of many of these Britcoms I would come to know and love showed up in guest spots on these episodes - including Hugh Laurie (which, he had a total of maybe three lines but so nailed them that I instantly fell in love), Jennifer Saunders, and June Whitfield. So maybe I should really credit Friends with initially expanding my comedy horizons to across the pond. In any case, there's a world outside American television, and some of it is actually bloody fantastic!

So how was premiere week?

This was television's unoffical premiere week and boy, did it leave me overwhelmed. I still haven't watched everything I wanted to...I think I watch entirely too much tv...

So what was I watching this week? Let's take a look...

Sunday night: The Emmys. Boring, boring, way too long, and boring. How can a show that celebrates television and how wonderful it is be so painful to endure and make me want to throw my television out the window?

Monday night: The Big Bang Theory - this isn't a must-watch for me, but if I have time (and how do I ever have enough time? Gotta figure out what life experiences I'm missing out on when I'm watching tv instead...), then I check out this show. It's about two nerds who are neighbors with a hot chick and one of the nerds has a crush on her. Cliche. But the reason I like it is the hot chick, even though she doesn't get the nerds, is friendly with them anyway. The laughs don't come from her being mean to them. Not cliche.

How I Met Your Mother - one of the funniest shows ever, and the season premiere does not disappoint. Neil Patrick Harris is hilarious. For that reason alone I would watch the show. But this week also worked for me because just like Stella, my best friend has never seen Star Wars, and just like Stella, I have a boyfriend for whom Star Wars is the Best Movie of All Time. I enjoy it as well but I think it's probably Just Okay. But I would never tell him that...moving on...

Heroes - I watched half of the premiere, read the rest in recap. I think I want to like this show more than I actually like it. I'll continue to follow it, and I've heard it's on an upswing from last season, but for now, this show is not must see, but something to be caught up on.

Worst Week - I had heard rave reviews about this show, based on a British show. I love Britcoms. You'll hear all about that one day. But Worst Week was not my cup of tea, British or American. So many bad things happened to Sam but instead of being excrutiating but funny, they were just excrutiating to watch. I can find humor in other people's embarrassment (see The Office, both British and American), but I thought Worst Week was predictable and boring. Sometimes I'll give a show one more ep after the premiere to hook me, but unless I start hearing raves about this show, I think this'll be it for me.

Tuesday night: House - I gave up House for a few seasons, but I think I am now totally back on board. Love seeing the new dynamic between House and ex-best friend Wilson, and love the quirky PI House hired to spy on Wilson. Of course, I'm a huge Michael Weston fan from his stints on both Scrubs and Psych, but I thought he was believably wacky and a great foil for House.

90210 - loved finding out that last week that Dylan is the father of Kelly's baby (even though I'm a huge Brandon fan, I'm still a sucker for history!), but this new version just doesn't do it for me. Plus, Shenae Grimes and Jessica Stroup are so scarily skinny, it's distracting from the lame storylines. Maybe it'll get better. I hope so. I love Rob Estes and Jessica Walters.

Fringe - I think I could really love this show if it's given a chance to find it's footing. I'm not completely on the J.J. Abrams bandwagon, but I like the fringe science ideas on this show and I like the characters, especially Walter Bishop. Plus, hello, Pacey! I love me some Pacey...I like that there seems to be an overarching storyline (who or what is behind the Pattern), so I'll keep watching for now.

Privileged - cute in a Gilmore Girls kind of way. Discovered it by accident and am enjoying it way more than the way more hyped 90210. Don't know how long the CW will stand behind it, but it's light and it actually makes me chuckle, so it's still on my list.

Wednesday night: Bones - I watch this show mainly for David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel. The mysteries I find run-of-the-mill, I thought the Zack as Gormagon storyline from last season eyerollingly awful and contrived, I love John Francis Daley's super young psychologist and wish they could find a better way to fit him into the show if they wanna keep him around. Not a must watch for me, and this week was no exception - I didn't get to this episode until Saturday night, but I do like the Boreanaz and Deschanel banter and relationship.

New Adventures of Old Christine - Barb and Christine got married? Kinda silly. But I still think this show is hilarious, even when Christine is over-the-top in her self-centeredness. But the rest of the actors/characters make me laugh, and more often than anything else, that's a show that will keep me hooked. I think this show is still on it's game, although it could probably ride my viewership for another season based on the episodes where Matthew can't find any of his med school classes and with his first trip to Home Depot (mainly because, like Richard, I love Home Depot, and like Matthew, I probably would've picked out a flower, too).

Project Runway - this whole season has been somewhat boring but this week I really wanted to see Kenley go. Nobody's jumping out at me this season, personality-wise and talent-wise. And I think we've reached the Real World threshold. That's the point when a reality show, like The Real World, has been on the air for so long that the new cast grew up on the show and were fans of the show and know what kind of "characters" and "storylines" make the show work. I want my reality shows to be real. And have a purpose. And involve talent. Although if you get to Sunday on my list, you'll see that that's not really true. I'm so ashamed...but more on that later...

Thursday night: Oh yay, my Thursday night glut of shows is back! Coordinating my DVR/online viewing/live viewing on Thursdays (and 30 Rock and Scrubs aren't even back yet) is already giving my a nervous tic in my eye, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

My Name is Earl - last year was kinda rough. My Name is Earl went from Must Watch to not even really something to catch up on. But with Earl back to his list, the show seems to be back to form, and I really enjoyed the premiere. This show has a great supporting cast and great use of recurring townie characters, so we'll see if this show is back on track this season.

The Office - I love The Office. I've loved it since it was British. I actually did not love the American premiere because it was word-for-word exactly like the British premiere, and as we all learned with the American Coupling (which sucked, and I only discovered afterward that the British version is hilarious), word-for-word, even though we both speak English, doesn't translate from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Anyway, my love reblossomed after that one misstep. This premiere was pretty good. Classic Office. Michael Scott was a dork. And a jerk. And put his foot in his mouth. And embarrassed himself. But he actually acted like a human being around Amy Ryan's character, which is funny in itself to see, not the least because she's playing a female Michael Scott. Jan's baby -eh. Don't really care. Pam at art school in New York? We'll see if that works better than Jim working in the Stamford branch, but I love that they didn't save his proposal for sweeps, I love that it was simple and messy and pretty much completely normal. This show is best when it's focusing on the absurdity of the normal, when you can point to a character and say, "I know someone like him in real life." I'm so glad this show is back...

Grey's Anatomy - this show has become unbelievably soapy but I can't stop watching. Even with the George/Izzie misstep last season. (Misstep? Complete understatement...). Anyway, Meredith still has issues. George unbelievably has another woman in love with him. He's cute and dorky, but he's not heartthrob. Still, it's Lexie, and I think she's cute and dorky, too. Best thing about the premiere? Kevin McKidd. Huge fan of him from HBO's Rome but there was just something about his take-charge, no-nonsense, actually acting like a doctor that was super sexy and a breath of fresh air. And, he made me not hate Cristina. For that alone, I can't wait for him to come back. Plus, you know, the sexy...

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - yet another hit and miss this week with the two episodes. The first one was okay - it's always funny to see Dennis trying to convince everyone else he's as good-looking as he thinks he is, and Frank had some funny lines, but the rest kinda fell flat for me. The second was definitely better, with all the fighting over who's actually the best friends out of their group of three and Charlie and Dennis thinking Mac is in love with them. I always tell people this show is like Seinfeld on crack (the same group of self-absorbed, ignorant, egotistics except ramped up 200 percent) and I guess they can't be on their game every single ep. Will of course keep watching because even mediocre Philadelphia, like mediocre any of the sitcoms I watch, still better than a lot of the crap out there.

Friday night: Thank God, a night off! Miss watching Psych, but even this tv-loving chickie needs a night out in the real world with real people. Or, you know, catching up on all the shows she couldn't watch during the rest of the week because she had to spend her time doing other things, like watching other shows and, you know, going to work...

Saturday night: It's Saturday Night Live! I actually watched it Saturday night, though I watched it delayed on my DVR. This show is too hit-or-miss, mostly miss, to actually watch it live. Luckily for us, it's a huge politic year, and not only that, there's all sorts of new and interesting political twists, like a black presidential candidate and a female vice presidential candidate, to make fun of. I think SNL is at its best when its satirizing politics. Will Ferrell's George Bush, Darrell Hammond's Al Gore and Bill Clinton, Amy Poehler's Hillary Clinton, even Norm McDonald's Bob Dole, are some of the funniest characters from the more memorable skits from the last few years. This season is no exception. It's great to see Tina Fey back to play Sarah Palin, and this week's cold open with Fey and Poehler as Palin and Katie Couric was just as funny as the season premiere's cold open with Fey and Poehler as Palin and Clinton. Other than that, this ep, like all SNL eps, was eh. Weekend Update is usually pretty good. Don't know what'll happen to it when Poehler leaves, though. I think it might be time for another cast shake up. You can't have a funny show without funny comedians. Darrell Hammond is great and Will Forte is pretty funny, but Poehler's leaving, Jason Sudeikis is okay (unlike on 30 Rock, where he's hilarious)...we need to see more of Kristen Wiig, but she needs to play more of her weird characters and fewer of her annoying ones.

Sunday - Ah, Mad Men, how I've missed you! Even though you were only gone for a week because the craptastic Emmys were on. This is why I watch television. This show is an experience. The flawed, real characters. The fictional lives set amidst a real historical setting...this week's was the death of Marilyn Monroe. And just the way it's filmed, the sets, the lighting, the make-up, the costumes. I feel like I'm not only watching a show set in the 1960s...I feel like I'm watching a show made in the 1960s. I know Christina Hendricks and Vincent Kartheiser and John Slattery and January Jones from other roles, but everyone else, I think I would feel weird seeing them playing contemporary characters or even being themselves because they are the 1960s. Even those I named. Love it. Love that Don and Betty's marital problems have not yet been resolved. Can't wait to find out what happens with Joan finds out about Roger and Jane. Love Peggy's uneasy rising star in the ad world. Wish there had been more Ken, only because he was so brilliant in "The Gold Violin" episode. This show actually makes me glad when it's Sunday...

Brothers and Sisters - had to make a choice between Mad Men and the premiere of this new season, and it was a tough call. Will try to get to it today.

I Love Money - yes, I have a problem. For some reason, I cannot stop watching this trainwreck. I think everyone needs a guilty pleasure, an escapist show, something you watch and think, "My God, these people make me look like a good person with a good life." For some people, that show is Jerry Springer. For me, well, I can't even say it out loud...I think the reason this show doesn't grate as much as other scripted reality shows is that finally, the contestants are being honest about their motivations. They're not there to find true love. They are there for the money. They are fame whores and money whores and whore whores and they will do anything to be on camera and win a lot of cash. I can appreciate the honesty. And I actually can't wait to see the finale. And oh my God, I just realized I was dreaming about this show last night, which is just beyond embarrassing and almost makes me want to quit cold turkey. Almost...

Coming up tonight! (Because the television viewage just never ends!) - in addition to everything else I have to watch, it's the season premiere of Chuck, definitely in my top five, possibly top three favorite new shows from last season. I've already watched it. It's great. Check it out!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

So, what shows am I watching anyway?

Just so you have an idea where I'm coming from, I'm going to give you an idea of what shows I waste (I mean spend) my time watching. Some of them I watch because I think they are everything that is great and wonderful and inspiring about television. Some I watch because I know I'll walk away with pains in my sides from laughing so hard. Some I watch because I'm addicted, even if I don't think they are the best thing television has to offer. But isn't that the great thing about tv, that sometimes it makes you think, sometimes it makes you cry, sometimes it makes you laugh, sometimes it just helps you escape from your own life, and sometimes it makes you realize your life isn't so bad after all.

So, are we coming from the same place? I don't watch Gossip Girl. I don't watch Survivor. I don't watch Two and a Half Men. I don't watch CSI. Some I don't have time for. Some I have no desire to. I watch some top ten shows. I watch some critical faves. I watch some things you've never heard of. I watch some things you might rather pluck out your eyelashes than try. But if it turns out we have a comedy in common, then maybe something else I watch might be something you'd like to try. We may not agree on anything at all. But television, like most art, creates opinions and dialogue and debate, and well, let's just get to the fun part...the lists!

Top 14 shows, in no particular order, that are currently on the air that I'm totally into: Mad Men, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, How I Met Your Mother, The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Office, 30 Rock, Dirty Sexy Money, Grey's Anatomy, Brothers and Sisters, Chuck, Pushing Daisies, Psych, Friday Night Lights, House

Top 10 shows, in no particular order, that are no longer on the air that I was or am still totally into: Friends, Sex and the City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, The Office (British version), Coupling (British version), American Dreams, Veronica Mars, Wonderfalls, Firefly

2008 Emmys

Tonight are the Emmys at 8 pm EST on ABC. Much like the Oscars, sometimes the Emmy voters get it right. Sometimes they have a completely different inexplicable definition of "outstanding television" from me.

What wins am I hoping for?

Outstanding drama: I've never seen Dexter, Damages, or Boston Legal, but out of the other three nominees (Lost, House, Mad Men), even though the last two episodes of House this past season completely blew me away with how great they were, I'm hoping for a Mad Men win. I'm new to the Mad Men bandwagon, but if this show had been around in 2001, I may have considered this show for my college thesis paper on how television is art.

Outstanding comedy: I've never seen Two and a Half Men and only a handful of Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes, but I think I would be happy with either a 30 Rock or The Office win.

Outstanding lead actor in a drama: Jon Hamm, hands down. Love, love, love Hugh Laurie (especially considering that he is a British comic playing an American misanthrope), but Jon Hamm *is* the 1960s Madison Avenue ad exec Don Draper. I think the only reason I would hate to see him win is because it would be weird to see him as himself when he accepts the award.

Outstanding lead actress in a drama: The only one I'm familiar with is Sally Field in Brothers and Sisters, and even though I think she is excellent in her role as Walker family matriarch Nora Walker, I don't really have a preference here.

Outstanding lead actor in a comedy: Steve Carell has perfected the art of Michael Scott's social awkwardness and awkward earnestness on The Office, and Lee Pace is my tv crush on Pushing Daisies, but Alec Baldwin is golden as Republican NBC exec Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock.

Outstanding lead actress in a comedy: I would be happy with a Christina Applegate, Tina Fey or Julia Louis-Dreyfus win, but there's just something about Julia Louis-Dreyfus on The New Adventures of Old Christine that always leaves me giggling that gives her the edge on the other two.

Outstanding supporting actor in a drama: I'm not completely sold on Lost as great tv, but Michael Emerson is beyond creepy and yet still somewhat sympathetic as the mysterious Ben. That being said, John Slattery is an actor I've seen in other roles (unlike Jon Hamm), but he also has managed to become his character on Mad Men for me. Since I like Mad Men better than Lost and Slattery is a fellow alumnus of The Catholic University of America, I would be really happy with a win for him.

Outstanding supporting actress in a comedy: Chandra Wilson for Grey's Anatomy or Rachel Griffiths for Brothers and Sisters. In a show with many ups and downs, Wilson is always an up, and Griffiths nails her role as the eldest Walker sibling.

Outstanding supporting actor in a comedy: Neil Patrick Harris, hands down. How I Met Your Mother is one of the most underrated shows on tv right now. Why is nobody watching this hilarious and heartfelt comedy? I discovered it by accident and I've never stopped watching since. But in a show full of great story lines and great characters, if I had to give you one reason to start watching, Neil Patrick Harris's character of Barney Stinson would be it.

Outstanding supporting actress in a comedy: Eh. For some reason this category doesn't excite me, but I'd be happy with an Amy Poehler, Jean Smart, or Kristin Chenoweth win.

The only other categories I care about are outstanding lead actor in a minseries or movie and outstanding supporting actress in a miniseries or movie because I would love to see Ricky Gervais and Ashley Jensen win for Extras (Ricky Gervais is also the brilliant mind behind the original British The Office).

Friday, September 19, 2008

About this blog

I think the title of this blog says it all. Television is an art. There are many who would argue with this thesis, and just to play devil's advocate, I could immediately throw out most reality tv shows, Full House, and Cavemen just to name a few that seem to refute my theory.

But not all art is good. And not everybody agrees on what art being good is, to be fair, mostly subjective. Though I think saying "I Love Money" is not art, just trash (though addictive trash) is a completely objective statement.

Still, there is television that is beautiful. There is television that tells epic stories, television that makes you feel great emotion, and television that you just experience. And how can you say that's not art? Television is becoming more and more sophisticated and complex and meaningful every day. Not all tv. "Moment of Truth" makes me think tv might signal the downfall of the human race. But it is most definitely an avenue of artistic expression and a window into the human experience and the human soul.

Poetic enough for ya?

I wrote my college senior thesis on television as art, citing the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush" as an example. That was almost 10 years ago. I think since then tv has only gotten better. For the most part. There's no excuse anybody thought turning the Geico Cavemen commercials into a 30 minute sitcom was anywhere near a good idea.

Anyway, television is not just art for me, but an obsession. And when it comes to tv, I have mastered the art of obsession. Just look at my DVD collection. I think I've surpassed 300 DVDs. And of that number, probably more than half are television shows, not movies. My DVR is recording at least one show every night. I thank God for the advent of Hulu and the networks broadcasting shows on the Internet. Television is not just on the TV set anymore.

Now that I've given that whole speech, here's what this blog is about. It's about talking about good tv. It's about talking about bad tv. It's about talking about both good and bad tv that I can't stop watching. It's about the phenomenal episode of Mad Men that might have just aired. It's about how half the season premiere of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia fell flat on its face and the other half had me cracking up. It's about how I can't stop going back and watching old episodes of Arrested Development even though I know them all verbatim. It's about how if I'm feeling sad and want to cry, I know the exact episode of Angel or Buffy that'll get me going. I'll probably do some reviewing, I'll probably do some ranking, I can probably guarantee there will be at least one list, because after obsessing about television, making lists is what I do best. You probably won't agree with everything I say. Or anything. But something I say might get you thinking or turn you on to something new or turn you back onto something old. Or maybe just knowing I'm out here will comfort you and make you less ashamed in knowing that you're not the only person who thinks that television is so great and obsesses about it so much that if tv were a person, you would be a stalker and it would probably have a restraining order out against you.

Now that's love.