This was a pretty good week in TV land. We had some great new shows—Aliens in America and Pushing Daisies—and some improvements over last week’s premieres and pilots. At least one show has already fallen off my “must-view” list, with more to follow if they continue to rile me. You hear me, Dr. Gregory House? If you want me to keep watching, you have to solve a medical mystery that involves your entire former team dying. That will finally prove to me that anything can happen.
Aliens in America (The CW)—The CW proves its commitment to not being a laughing stock by producing yet another great show. Along with Reaper and Gossip Girl (which is apparently quite good, though you couldn’t pay me to sit through it), Aliens in America stands out as the best new comedy of the season, by far; it also proves itself as one of the best new shows of the season.
The concept is fairly simple: Justin (Dan Byrd) thinks senior year will turn things around and he’ll finally get some popularity, until he’s voted the #8 “most bang-able chick” in school. This doesn’t do much for his self-esteem, so his mother (Amy Pietz) finds the solution: host an athletic Swedish foreign exchange student to essentially become Justin’s best friend. Instead, the exchange program sends Raja (Adhir Kalyan), a Pakistani lad. This doesn’t go over well with anyone in their provincial community, and Justin’s parents want to send Raja back—until the two boys forge the unbreakable bond of mutual loserdom.
This show could so easily fall into the trap of racial stereotypes (of both American small-towners and Pakistani Muslims), yet it manages to sidestep all of that by playing on the stereotypes and making the story more about misconceptions on both sides, and about discovering similarities, than it is about differences and intolerance. Also: it’s really, really funny, in a way that resembles the cartoonish-ness of Malcolm in the Middle but retains some of the grounded, awkward humor of Freaks & Geeks.
The Bionic Woman (NBC)—So, here’s the thing: this show sucks. A lot. Last week, I said I’d check it out again and hope that it’d focus more on action and intrigue now that we’ve moved beyond a pilot front-loaded with exposition. But what the fuck was this episode? Why did they make Jaime go on this mission? When did her bionics prove essential (or even useful) at all?
On the plus side, with the quarantine and poison gas stuff, it felt like a leftover script from NBC’s late, so-bad-it-was-great series Medical Investigation. The downside? It lacked Dr. Stephen Connor and his mysterious visions of plagues.
I’ve officially given up on The Bionic Woman. Neither Michelle Ryan nor Katee Sackhoff can act, the supporting cast doesn’t exactly prop them up (though Miguel Ferrer, after sleepwalking through the pilot, actually seemed to try a little this week), and the writing is just so, so awful. I find it difficult to believe that Jason Smilovic made something as brilliant as last season’s Kidnapped (a series cut brutally short but thankfully released in full on DVD), but I guess maybe he decided making a total, network-approved pile of shit is a lot easier than fighting them every step of the way to make something great. I can’t say I blame him.
Bones (Fox)—My suspicion that this show would shift its focus to the mystery safe seen in the premiere was wrong. Granted, they played around with the artifacts from it, so I know they’ll continue to mine it for stories, but as far as a single, 22-episode arc about a safe—not gonna happen. I suppose I’m okay with that.
As far as the content of the episode goes, the subplot with Hodgins, Angela, and the “super-hot” consultant didn’t work for me at all. The rest of the episode was pretty decent—parts of it were a tad predictable, but I pegged the FBI agent who’d worked the case as the killer, and I was way off there. I still admire the show for maintaining consistent characterizations and not abusing the usual procedural rule of forcing each case into “personal” territory by revealing bizarre new hobbies, past professions, former lovers, etc., week after week.
Dirty Sexy Money (ABC)—In its second week, I still don’t know what to make of this show. It tossed some interesting monkey wrenches into the storylines it established last week, and I suppose it’s allayed my initial fears that it’s a dramedy version of Arrested Development, but I think maybe Nick (Peter Krause) needs to be more of a dick. He makes it clear he doesn’t like the Darlings, their lifestyle, or the various things they do that require his legal services—but couldn’t he be blunter about his reasons, or maybe act like a hypocrite once in awhile? It’s only the second episode, so maybe those shades of gray are coming. They aren’t there now, and after awhile the show may suffer as a result.
Everybody Hates Chris (The CW)—Well, I’m glad this show’s back. It’s still very funny and well-written, but the Chris Rock cameo did nothing for me. I love his narration, but did he need to appear in front of the camera? Really? Was this, like, a “Do this or you’re canceled”-type thing? Otherwise, the episode worked pretty well. I liked the overall message that hey, he’s not even in high school yet: he doesn’t need to know exactly what he’s going to do with the rest of his life.
Heroes (NBC)—After complaining last week that the show meandered a bit, Heroes really stepped it up with an episode that went deeper with everything established in the premiere, with laser-precise focus on guiding the story on its path. I…still have no idea what that story is, how the various subplots will intermingle, where anything will lead—but now I’m hooked. Right around the corner, though, I know more characters—old and new—will pop up with their own storylines. I don’t know if this will affect the momentum, but I do have a lingering fear that the show will become so overstuffed it’ll implode.
House (Fox)—After a lackluster season and the awful tragedy of last week’s episode, I considered dropping House from the must-watch list. I decided to give it a few more weeks to show off the new blood and see if maybe they can shake up the stale formula a bit. Answer: maybe. I guess the problem here is, with the new blood coming in, why keep the old blood around? Say what you will about the Law & Order franchise (and I will say a lot of unpleasant things, trust me), at least Dick Wolf knows the economy of character introductions and exits: one day they’re here with a two-line explanation, the next day they’re gone with a half-assed justification (or none at all). Does House need to have three characters who are no longer diagnosticians? Are we working with an arc where House “misses” his team so much that he’ll end up firing the new team to bring back the old? Just get rid of them. I’m liking the new people and am extremely tired of the old team and their wheel-spinning storylines. Okay, Foreman still has some potential, but they’ve squandered it so far.
Journeyman (NBC)—This week shares the same problems as last week—not enough focus on Dan’s purpose for time-traveling, too much focus on everything else—while managing to add a potential new one: Livia (Moon Bloodgood) is also a time-traveler. That’s right, she didn’t die in the plane crash all those years ago. She time-traveled out of it. We don’t have any idea how long she’s been traveling, why her present-day self manages to pop up in the same time periods as Dan (Kevin McKidd), or what purpose she’ll serve. Will she become his Al? Can she somehow control where and when she travels? It’s a very interesting twist that could go so, so badly if they do it wrong.
As for the rest of the episode, they did do some things right: they injected much more wit and humor into an already-humorous show, which makes it easier to gloss over its problems. While Dan didn’t really commit to the job of getting to know the people he needed to save, his traveling to these different times served a higher purpose (and got more screen-time) than the pilot. I’m still not quite sold on it, but this episode improved on an already-interesting pilot, so if they keep going this way, the show might turn into the best new show this year.
King of the Hill (Fox)—Looking at the episode last week along with this one, it would appear the real weakness this season is in the subplots. The A story—Bobby’s hilarious efforts to impress a girl by protesting, then growing horrified as it spirals out of control—was top-notch, but the B story of Dale starting a quote journal in the alley was drastically underdeveloped and had nothing to do with the rest of the show. At least last week’s “Peggy as superfan” B story tied into the overall football theme.
My Name Is Earl (NBC)—Wow, Craig T. Nelson! And that guy from According to Jim! And…other people! This was a fun episode that put the prison setting to better use than last week’s opener. I still think the prison storyline should end sooner rather than later, but if they mine the setting for comedy like the warden’s “sentence reduction certificates,” it won’t wear out its welcome as quickly as it seemed.
Numb3rs (CBS)—I enjoyed Traveler quite a lot this summer, so it was nice to see Aaron Stanford again, but…the episode fell a bit flat. I guess an L.A.-based show can only go for so long before acknowledging the city’s status as the hub of the film industry, rather than focusing on gritty “Any Metropolis, U.S.A.” criminal activities. Still, the whole pseudo-Entourage thing, plus the “big twist” at the end that Stanford killed his brother, kind of ruined the episode. The dead girl in the bathtub, the prostitutes cut to look like twins, and the math involved in finding the killer were all reasonably interesting. The subplot where Colby (Dylan Bruno) tries to integrate back in the unit was a nice bit of character development for him, Warner (Aya Sumika), and Sinclair (Alimi Ballard), but it didn’t quite make up for the lackluster A story.
The Office (NBC)—Well, this episode came a lot closer to “The Negotiation” than last week’s, but we’re not there yet! The return of “wunderkind” Ryan (B.J. Novak) as the boss who wants to bring Dunder-Mifflin into the 21st century, his unresolved issues with Kelly (Mindy Kaling), Toby (Paul Lieberstein) discovering Jim and Pam’s “secret” relationship—all of that was gold. The A story, which had Michael Scott (Steve Carell) resenting the changes to the business model and taking it to insane extremes, shared the same kind of pacing and build that “The Negotiation” had, but forcing a former client to return his gift basket doesn’t quite have the same humiliating, pathetic effect as wearing a women’s suit.
Pushing Daisies (ABC)—This has all the style but less of the manic brilliance of Wonderfalls and The Tick. Some of the whimsy feels a bit forced, to the extent that it falls in the trap of “let’s talk extremely fast because it’ll make the material seem funnier than it is.” Which is not to say it’s not funny or whimsical—just not quite as much as the producers clearly think it is. Like Wonderfalls, it has more style than anything else on television. However, beyond the initial setup, the narration gets to be a little too much. The narrator’s constant reminding of how events in the story parallel famous fairy tales, thus reminding us that we’re watching a big syrupy fairy tale, is thoroughly unnecessary.
On the plus side, Lee Pace, Anna Friel, and Chi McBride give remarkable performances, and the show has loads of potential—more than I can say for most shows. Perhaps most fortunately, Kristin Chenoweth barely appeared in the episode. Keep her role this small, and I’m guaranteed to keep watching!
Reaper (The CW)—A peculiar step back from its pilot, but nevertheless it maintained the dark comedy and action. I’m actually glad much of the action was confined to the Work Bench, because so many shows establish a character in a workplace and then…you rarely see them there. The Work Bench was established as an ingrained part of the show, so I’m glad they didn’t just drop that in favor of setting the story out of work. The goofy dialogue and situations—and performances—continue to be the best part of this show, but I guess I’m just not as enthusiastic about this week’s lightning killer as I was about the pyromaniac fireman.
Stargate: Atlantis (Sci-Fi)—I’m still where I was last week, for the most part. Weir (Torri Higginson) has been left behind with David Ogden Stiers and the rest of the Borg—er, replicator—collective to make room for Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) to…I don’t know, act smug? Seriously, why is she here? More importantly, why should I care? Say what you will about Spike leapfrogging from Buffy to Angel—at least they made him an important part of the story and took the time to re-establish his characters for non-Buffy fans. I’m pretty close to done with this show. I’ll give it another week for Carter to prove her usefulness, and if she doesn’t, I’m out.
Supernatural (The CW)—This show managed to become much better than it had any right to during its second season, and it continued the trend with this premiere, which reminds us of last year’s opened gateway to hell and shows us right off the bat that we’re going to be dealing with some different, unusual villains this year. Although it takes us away from the original “ancient myths and urban legends are real” premise of the show, it’s probably a good move to avoid that formula getting stale. Producers have added to female demon-hunters to the cast, but so far we’ve only seen one of them. I don’t have much of a reaction to her either way, though I did admire her magic knife of doom. It’s a bit more visceral than the rock-salt shotguns the show loves.
Well, there you have it. I’ll be back next week, hopefully with some more rage directed at House and Stargate: Atlantis.