It's the new season, and while several shows that I love haven't started yet (Bstar G, Lost), it's been slim pickings so far, both for new shows and returning ones.
Gray's Anatomy, the surprise hit medical serio-comedy that seems to grind all of the joy out of every song I discover on my own at the Apple Music Store (think Snow Patrol), has turned the corner into melodrama. It's now just another nighttime soap opera, although now the plot devices have gotten more and more ridiculous. Christina slips outside, and a giant icicle skewers her (after having only an hour or so to form in Seattle weather)! Leaky water pipes! Inappropriate and unprofessional behavior from the entire cast! Snore. Few shows are effective and entertaining after the first two or three seasons, and GA (now on it's fourth season, actually third considering the first was only a half season and the abortive strike season) has turned the corner into mediocrity.
Private Practice, the Kate Walsh spin-off of the above-mentioned GA, seems to be struggling with it's writing as well. The practice is in danger because they care too much to suck fat from people! The only thing, and I do mean the *only* thing keeping this show on my DVR is Walsh, who tops my laminated card of people my wife would let me fool around with and get away with. Actually, I'd just look in her eyes. OK, they do bring up occasional ethical questions in the medical community (do you do a dodgy procedure if it's what the patient wants?), but most of the storylines are repetitive, the guy from Wings has *nothing* to do, and the nice weather in LA is pissing me off.
Dirty Sexy Money is off to a decent start, but with a cast that includes Donald Sutherland, Jill Clayburgh, and whichever of the Baldwin Brothers that didn't find Jesus or is on 30 Rock, it's a very difficult show to screw up. Of course, Peter Krause's character, the lawyer who's dad had the same job and died under mysterious circumstances, is still facing exactly the same problems - just when he thinks he's drawn a line, he gets sucked right over it. While you'd think that might get old after a while, in fact it's a primer on 50 ways to corrupt someone and as someone who likes to think they're pretty ethical, I find it an excellent cautionary tale. Interestingly, the woman who plays the youngest daughter (one of the twins) is MIA, apparently drying out with little or no mention so far.
Eureka, my second favorite SciFi show, has come and gone rather quickly, with a strong third season. Like most cable series, this one is only 10-12 episodes long, but the writing is clever, the lead character is perfect for the role, the supporting cast (with the exception of his love interest, who has clearly pissed off not only the makeup staff but also wardrobe) is very strong, and the story lines are clever and interesting. This one is out on DVD (not this season, but the first two), and I strongly recommend it.
Dexter wins the award for the show I was absolutely sure would last for one season and be cancelled. And here it is on season three. Season two had it's moments, and I was a little concerned that season three was heading into the same "Dexter is the guy the cops are looking for" script, but it seems to be heading into new territory. Jimmy Smits joined the cast this year, and he looks just a little old and tired and just like he should - he's really a phenomenal actor, and it just makes the show that much better. Really great stuff, unfortunately only on Showtime in it's original form (and it's much better that way), but worth getting on DVD if you haven't seen it. Warning - having a serial killer as a sympathetic character is a real balancing act, and they pull it off beautifully.
As for new shows, Eleventh Hour turns out to be better than Fringe. By about a tenth of a nanometer. I didn't feel like hurling things at the television, but the same problem with sketchy storytelling, characters I have zero feeling for, yet another quirky intelligent leading character (why do intelligent characters have to be freaks?), and another ice queen FBI agent. I swear these guys were cribbing off of Abrams, or (more likely), he was cribbing off of them. All the production values in the world won't save this one.
Primeval, on Sci-Fi but imported from BBC, has a great premise - time/space anomalies are opening seemingly at random, and various critters from the past slip through and cause chaos. A lack of character development hampers the show, which recently jumped the shark (and damned early in the process) by having one of the characters come back to a time that was just a little different than the one he left, with mainly cosmetic differences. The CGI is really astonishingly good - for a TV series, but nothing like BstarG - enough to make one of my dogs (the dumber one) think a sabretooth kitty was the real deal. However, I just don't think there's enough there there for me to keep this one on my A list for much longer.
We've tried Pushing Daisies, the show that feels like Tim Burton on a *lot* of Prozac is writing it, but it just wasn't hitting the right buttons. It was a bit too much whimsy and not enough story, and the joke about how the Pie Man can't touch the love of his life Chuck (a woman, settle down out there) is old already. Still, "The Pie Hole" beats out "Cheese Gotta Have It" from Weeds as the best fictional storefront name in my book. BTW, Weeds got a little weird this last season, but I'm hanging in there.
True Blood, the Showtime series on vampires being real, outed, and in the Deep South, works as an amazing metaphor for race, gender, and sexual preference politics. The show is still finding it's feet in some ways, and as the source material is for all intents and purposes horror romance novels they're going to need to work hard to bring it up to snuff, but in general there's some really excellent work here. I don't know that it will survive, especially with Anna Paquin's gap-toothed smile giving me nightmares, but it's keeping my interest for now.
I've saved the best for last, of course. Most Brit shows that get copied over here don't work for me - I've never liked The Office (too much like the real thing for me), and of course Coupling's foray at a shot-for-shot copy using American actors was a complete disaster. So I was more than a little concerned that Life On Mars was going to be a mess. Still, Harvey Keitel and Michael Imperioli (of Sopranos fame) signed on... yes, I said Harvey Keitel. Let me just say that this show rocks in a way I haven't been so excited about since the first episode of Lost. BstarG didn't get me this happy about television. The 70's have been a bit overexposed recently, but this show does it right. They obviously spent a huge amount of money on sets, extras, costumes, everything. It's absolutely fabulous. And the story line, the script, the acting, everything - this may be the best thing on television right now. And it may be even after BstarG and Lost come back later on. Watching this after Eleventh Hour restored my rather badly tarnished faith in good television writing in about five minutes.
Did I mention this is the *first* time Harvey Keitel has been on a television series? Ever? Brilliant.
Seems like a lot of stuff, but of course a good quarter of it has been winnowed out already (if you count Fringe), at least from my DVR. And Lord knows I can use the distraction from the increasingly depressing election season. I got my registration card in the mail yesterday and it made me want to cry. So here's to you, well done television. We were thinking that the writers had taken off and hadn't come back, but it's nice to see that someone out there remembers the laughter.