Sunday, November 30, 2008

Distraction TV

As the holidays creep inevitably closer, the amount of work around the house seems to get exponentially higher. Decorating, baking, cleaning, wrapping gifts; all these things need to get done, and like most people, I have my go-to shows for just such occasions.

You know what I mean, something that will keep you entertained, but that you can keep one (or both) eyes off the television and still know what is going on. The obvious choice is something you have seen a million times, like your favorite Buffy episodes, reruns of a sitcom, etc. But when the DVR is stacked up above 80% and you just need to get it cleared, these are the shows I have found do not require 100% of your attention.

Law and Order (SVU): I have a strong preference for SVU, but any of the Law and Orders will do. The acting isn't really subtle, you can pretty much understand what is going on by just listening, and there aren't any real exciting fight scenes or anything you need to run into the room to see. Actually, the same thing applies to the CSIs. And then you don't have to actually see the gratuitous gore and violence against women.

How I Met Your Mother: Maybe it's because a lot of the humor from this show comes from the zingers, but I don't need to give it my full attention.

Fringe: This is a show that I probably should be watching closely (it is J.J. Abrams after all), but I just can't being myself to do it. In fact, I usually end up emailing, playing online bridge, etc. while it's on. I get the gist...the Dad acts crazy, Pacey is adorable, Olivia is robotic, yadda yadda. I do like trying to spot the weird bald guy though. But still, I tend to wander around the house when Fringe is on.

Any awesomely bad Sci-Fi Channel movie. The parts you watch = awesomely bad. The parts you don't watch = awesomely bad. It's a win win!

So, what shows do you all put on when you need to get some chores done! Comment away!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bromance is the new Black

So a few weeks ago I was watching House (a show I admit, once upon a time was huge turn off to me because he is such a jerk). For all of you following the show (which should be everyone because Hugh Laurie is phenomenal), the House-Wilson friendship took a HUGE hit last season and there was no reason to see that changing in the nearby future. And then House's dad died, and the ensuing trip to the funeral sparked a friendassance (thank you Joey and Phoebe for that word!). While great for the show, what struck me was the publicity the show got and how suddenly I was seeing the word bromance everywhere. Now House is certainly not unique in this regard with two male leads who act and at times are a de facto married couple. But bromance seems to be on the rise in shows, and many shows are embracing this fact.

Perhaps one of the more popular examples in recent history has been Joey and Chandler. I mean, who really would argue that Monica knew Chandler better than Joey. Certainly not me. Since Friends went off the air I can think of only two good examples, other than House and Wilson (although I'm sure there are more out there and I encourage any and all of you to provide some additional examples): Alas Shore and Denny Crane in Boston Legal ('nuff said) and my personal favorit JD and Turk in Scrubs (I've been missing this show so much I've started watching it on DVD; I'm only up to season 4). And I would argue that the JD-Turk bromance is the ultimate example in modern TV. Season 4 begins with this chasing each other all over the hospital as Turk returns from his honeymoon. Carla speaks to their daughter, describing JD as the man who will compete for her father's love and let us not forget the season 6 musical episode where they express their "Guy Love."

Bromance is in the air. But what about 'womance'?

Friday, November 21, 2008

RIP Daisies & Stone

Dearly Beloved,

We have gathered here to pay our greatest respects to two shows, who despite valiant effort, have been victims to the ABC show axe. Our beloved Pushing Daisies and Eli Stone were axed this week. This is all due to the fact both shows ratings plummeted this season. It is possible that due to the writer's strike that the high ratings of these two shows last season may have been artificial.

Pushing Daisies was born October 3 2007 and in its brief lifetime was nominated for 10 Emmy awards.

Eli stone was a mid season replacement in 2008 and its first season is currently out on DVD.

I know I will miss these shows a lot.

In lieu of flowers please send letters of disappointment to ABC!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Private Practice should never have gone public

I should have known. When I saw my very first episode of Grey's Anatomy, I spent the entire hour yelling at the TV. My friend Emily, who is a fan of the show, spent the entire hour hating my guts. I can't help it - when medical dramas don't even attempt accuracy, it makes my blood boil. Especially when they use genetics purely for dramatic effect. During Grey's, my breaking point was when McDreamy called the BRCA1 gene "braca." During Private Practice last night, it was when Addison "diagnosed" a fetus with a 22q11 deletion after a five second ultrasound.

I hate you and everything you stand for.

I won't get into how bass-ackwards the writers got this situation - frankly, I don't have the time. See me later if you want the full diatribe. Needless to say, within ten minutes I was severely pissed. And it just got worse from there. There was unprofessional conduct, irrationality and schmaltz as far as the eye could see.

The problem is that everyone on this show is just so damn pretty. The doctors are pretty, and they wear fabulous outfits. The receptionist is played by Chris Lowell, of Veronica Mars fame. For crying out loud, they've got Taye Diggs running around the place! No wonder everyone is too distracted to practice medicine.

Piz - What happened to you, man? You used to be cool.

And yes, I know it's all part of the fantasy. Tons of medical professionals love these shows (witness my friend Emily, one of the smartest people I know). I'm sure it's largely because they are pure fluff that is completely detached from a somewhat depressing reality. But to me it just feels dishonest and so very, very wrong.

On the other hand ... maybe I can just watch it on "mute."

Crossovers of quirky fantasy shows make me want to say "squee!"

Pushing Daisies. Wonderfalls. Both whimsical, fantasy-based television shows that have struggled to find an audience but have been embraced fully by a small percentage of television viewers. And now fans of both are getting a treat!


Mary Ann Marie Bettle, played by Beth Grant in the Wonderfalls episode, Muffin Buffalo, will appear as a character on Pushing Daisies. Beth Grant is a total, "hey, it's that girl!" so I'm sure you've seen her around, but having a shout-out to Bryan Fuller and Lee Pace's other fun, albeit short-lived series, will be neat.

Plus think of all the wacky trouble she can cause around the Pie Hole with her muffins!

This show is seriously conspiring to ruin my "get healthy" campaign. Why all the baked goods, show? Friends are supposed to help each other out, not tempt!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Comfort tv

It's come to my attention that certain people have had a crappy past couple of days. Make that a crappy past couple weeks. I've been struggling to think of ways to help them, suggestions to offer, etc., and so the best I can come up with is a list of my comfort shows. You know, the ones that you return to when you need to feel uplifted, or simply don't want to think.

So, unnamed people who have had crappy weeks, this one's for you! And feel free to name some of your favorite comfort tv shows in the comments.

1. Firefly: Joss Whedon's sci-fi show is ostensibly an adventure space western. But what it's really about is family. And when I'm feeling down, sick, or just not able to be with my family, I can sit down with 13 episodes of one of the best television shows ever made. It's got everything: action, romance, comedy, escapes, swordfights, pirates (that's a Princess Bride reference, but it really does have escapes, swordfights, and pirates). But the show is really about how families are created and how you don't have to be related by blood to care about a group of people.

2. The West Wing: sometimes you just want to be inspired, and Aaron Sorkin's political drama is the best way to restore my faith in humanity, and in the system, when I'm running on faith fumes. Never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world. Because it's the only thing that ever has.

3. America's Next Top Model: there are times when I just don't want to think. When what I want is pure mindless entertainment. For my money, ANTM is the best bet. Seek out a marathon on VH-1 and you will understand.

4. My So Called Life: you think your life is angsty? Try Angela Chase's. Remember, things could always be worse. You could still be in high school.

5. Veronica Mars: Veronica is someone who doesn't take crap from anyone and can save her own ass (except for when she needs Logan, but hey, I'm not gonna begrudge girlfriend getting rescued by Jason Dohring once in a while). When I'm feeling blue or powerless to control events in my life, it's nice to see a heroine who fights back, always gets revenge, and can save the day using her brain, especially her powers of deductive reasoning.

One more thing. Below is quite possibly the most powerful vignette ever told in the history of television, and it comes from John Spencer, as Leo McGarry. It never fails to make me tear up, but it also never fails to remind me that no matter how bad things are, I can always count on my friends.
This guy's walkin' down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, "Hey you! Can you help me out?" The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, "Father, I'm down in this hole; can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. "Hey, Joe, it's me. Can ya help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, "Are ya stupid? Now we're both down here." The friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Astrophysicists do it with heavenly bodies

A friend of mine recommended The Big Bang Theory to me some time ago. This show combines two of my favorite things - science humor and cute nerds - into one adorkable package. But I was hesitant to get involved with Big Bang. I assumed that something that seemed so perfect for me was unlikely to tickle the fancy of anyone else. Honestly, I didn't want to fall in love and have my heart broken by a mid-season cancellation.

Now, with Big Bang in it's second season and going strong, I finally felt safe enough to start watching. And it's everything I dreamed and more. Big Bang concerns itself with the lives of two roommates (Leonard and Sheldon), their fellow post-doc buddies (Howard and Koothrappali - homeboy represent!) and their across-the-hall neighbor (Penny). You may recognize Leonard as Johnny Galecki, who played Darlene's shiftless boyfriend David on Rosanne and Howard as Simon Helberg, who played Moist on Dr. Horrible.

The basic conceit of the show is the difference between Book Smarts and Street Smarts. Each character pairs academic brillance with total incompetence when it comes to basic human interaction (or in Penny's case, vice versa). As such, it is chock-a-block with nerd humor (see: Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock), awkward moments, and geniuses making fools of themselves.

Have I piqued your scientific interest? You can catch The Big Bang Theory Monday at 8pm on CBS, or online at the official website.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Maybe I should start watching SNL again...

I know SNL has been in the headlines a lot recently (with all the election parodies, especially Tina Fey's Sarah Palin), but I haven't been watching. I was just getting sick of the election anyway (it was kind of "OMG would Obama hurry up and win, already?" kind of mentality).

But if they are going to have sketches like this, I am so there.

Justin Timberlake in Spanx people. If he keeps this up, he is going to rank up there with Alec Baldwin as one of the best guests EVER. And props to Beyonce for making such a kickass song and video and being willing to be a part of the joke.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

As I have mentioned before, I come home after a hard day at work really looking for some comfort television. Lately I've been curling up under a fuzzy blankie with a hot cup of cocoa and the good people of the 4077. That's right ... thirty-odd years later, and I'm still watching (and blogging about) M*A*S*H.

This is a show that consistently makes me laugh and makes me cry ... often within the same episode. It will always be topical, because it captured something essential about the human reaction to the horrors of war. Set in a medical unit close to the front lines, M*A*S*H shows us that the real enemy in any conflict is Death. And in the end, he always wins. Some people crack under the pressure. Some people just crack wise.

The hero of this series, Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce, is one of my favorite characters of all time. He paved the way for sarcastic sawbones everywhere. Every smart ass M.D. from Perry Cox (Scrubs) to Gregory House (House, M.D.) owes a debt of gratitude to old Hawkeye.

You know who else I love? Maxwell Q. Klinger. He was one of the first Arab Americans on television, as well as one of the first cross-dressers. Basically, every character on this show would become an icon in his or her own right. It's a classic, an American in-joke we all understand. M*A*S*H shows us what television can be - no less than life-altering.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Legend of the Seeker

Whenever someone mentions "syndicated tv shows," the first examples that spring to my mind are The Lost World (yay), Xena (meh), and Hercules (ick). The later two were created by Spiderman director, Sam Raimi, who has basically cornered the market on first-run broadcast syndication television.

Unfortunately, first-run syndication has kind of fallen by the wayside for the past couple years. There have not been any new dramatic first-run syndicated series since the show She Spies debuted six years ago, and I think we all know how that one ended up. You've never heard of it? My point exactly.

But things are changing! Sam Raimi has brought us a new dramatic first-run syndicated television series based on Terry Goodkind's fantasy book series, The Sword of Truth, called Legend of the Seeker. It premiered two weeks ago, but I can't tell you when or where since you have to "check local listings" to determine when it plays in your tv market.

Ah, the plight of the syndicated series fan...having to search through newspaper tv grids to find a show. Or you could use the show's website. Whichever.

I blogged briefly about Legend of the Seeker back in April, and I have been waiting eagerly for it to premiere. Three episodes (counting the two hour premiere as two episodes) have aired and so far, I've enjoyed it. Saying it exceeded my expectations might be praising it a bit too highly, since my standards for syndicated series are not that high, but it's clear they have put a lot of time and money into the show and it certainly looks good. The acting's not bad, the scenery is gorgeous (what up, New Zealand?), the people are pretty, and as a fan of the books, I don't have any major quibbles with its treatment of the story.

You say you want a brief plot summary? Fine. So there's this dude Richard.

Hi, Richard! *waves*

He lives in a land called Westland, which is separated from this other place called the Midlands by a boundary that prevents the magic in the Midlands from getting to Westland. Richard is a woodsguide and a normal guy. One day, he comes across this hot chick in a white dress being attacked by a group of burly guys and he comes to her aid. Although she's pretty badass and ends up saving him.

Hot chick, white dress, any other show she would totally be monster chow.

Richard discovers that the hot chick, named Kahlan, had crossed the boundary from the Midlands, and was searching for him because he is The Seeker. The Seeker carries a magic sword, called The Sword of Truth, and is, according to prophecy, the only person who can defeat the Main Villain with a British Accent, named Darken Rahl. Richard's best friend growing up, Zedd, is actually a super powerful wizard who knew all along he was the Seeker, but wanted him to live a normal life for as long as possible. So the three of them, Richard, Kahlan, and Zedd, embark on a quest to defeat Darkan Rahl and save the world.

Richard, Kahlan, and Zedd will save the world! And look hot doing it.

I'm already psyched that Ted Raimi has put in his obligatory guest appearance (the creator is his brother after all), and I hold out hope that Bruce Campbell is not far behind! Every show can be better with a little more squared-jaw in it.

My only concern is that the show will have difficulty balancing its overall arc vs. plot of the week. Last week, when there was a little side adventure rather than anything epic like in the premiere, was kind of boring, and we still have 19 episodes to go. But I'm a big fan of the books, the guy playing Richard is hot, and there is the lure of a possible Bruce Campbell appearance, so I'm on board, at least for now. And if you are a fan of the whole sword and sworcery genre, I definitely recommend you check it out. Your best bet for finding it is to check your local CW affiliate on a Saturday afternoon/evening.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fox hates the Whedonverse

So, remember how everyone and her sister were getting all keyed up over Fox's new Joss-Whedon-helmed series Dollhouse? Like, even though it stars Eliza Dushku and had to go through extensive re-writes because Joss didn't think the pilot was strong enough? Remember how you were all so excited because our televisionary overlord Joss would lead us all to the happy place again?

Yeah. Don't hold your breath.

According to the official Fox website, Dollhouse finally has a premiere date: set your TiVos for February 13, 2009. Which, as you may notice, is a Friday. Its lead-in? Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. This show, although well-loved, was earlier this season rumored to be on the chopping block itself.

As you may know, Terminator: TSCC features one Summer Glau, who we all loved as River Tam on Firefly. Which was epically mangled by Fox and prematurely yanked from its primetime lineup. Its timeslot? Friday, 9pm.

Why you gotta hate the Whedonites, Fox?!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Still Behind

Maybe I was naive. Or more likely, just plain dumb. But for some reason I thought that going out of town for 3 weeks in September during fall-launch season and for a week in November during sweeps would not impact my tv-viewing too much. I would just catch up on what I missed, right?


Here we are, the middle of November and my DVR remains at 85% capacity. Some shows have already been sacrificed to the alter of time management (see you in reruns, Numb3rs!), and some have just been languishing on the DVR back-burner (Crusoe and Stylista, I'm sorry!), but in any event, I am behind. Way behind.

Times like these really highlight your priorities. I thought I was tired of Heroes, and yet I have managed to stay up to date. And while I thought I loved Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles I find myself avoiding the most recent episode. Same with Chuck. I'll get around to it eventually....but I don't seem in too much of a rush.

Anyway, I'm back to my normal schedule now and I promise many excellent tv-related blog posts this week including some notes on the election night coverage and the new fantasy series Legend of the Seeker from Hercules and Xena creator (and Spiderman director), Sam Raimi.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Life and Times of Tim

The time slot after Entourage has been the BLACK PIT of time slots for the past five years. Looking back, I have given every show in the slot a solid chance. If you recall, Lisa Kudrow's show"The Comeback" lived there in 2005. Though it was mildly entertaining there was no lasting power. In 2007, we were graced with "Lucky Louie", which had a following but not enough to remain in the slot. Too many folks felt the blue collar/ poverty stricken cast were merely crass and not funny. This year HBO gives us "The Life and Times of Tim."First of all, I have seen little to no advertisement for this show HBO is airing. I have only caught it at random times while watching TV in bed, however, I truly enjoy this show. Unlike this season of Entourage, I actually hear myself laughing out loud. This show is Dilbert meets the dry humor reminiscent of Paul Rudd. The basic premise is that "Tim" works in an everyday office and has the everyday girlfriends and he gets put in the these random yet entertaining and plausible situations. Though the plot lines are not stimulating at all the one liners that come out of the show make it worth it. Last night I found myself laughing about one line in the show for over an hour.Now, no, I do not think this show will last. Especially since Entourage itself is spiralling into oblivion, however, if nothing else is on, give "The Life and Times of Tim" a try.

Its on at 10:30 on Sunday evenings on HBO.

Monday, November 10, 2008

MSCR: Total Drama Island

It's time once again for Monkey Sri's Cartoon Round-Up! Today I'll be blogging about Total Drama Island, a cartoon parody of Survivor-type reality shows. It details the adventures of eighteen teenagers at Camp Wawanakwa, the summer camp from hell. Every episode the campers are faced with a new challenge - often something reminiscent of Fear Factor.

The theme song, "I Wanna Be Famous," is nothing short of inspired.

There are a couple of things that make this show way better than actual reality TV. For one, creators don't have to worry about safety issues. And neither do we - it's easier to enjoy death-defying stunts when it's not a real person on the line. Secondly, the online content is pretty impressive. Website visitors can create their own avatar and play games based on each week's episode. At the end of the season the top twenty-two scorers will be entered into a drawing, and their avatar will be edited into the season finale. Lastly, the characters on TDI are about a thousand times more likable than any reality show star. Even the bitchy ones.

Still, Heather better not win.

Fair warning, the show originally aired in Canada, so internet spoilers abound. On the upside, a sequel is already slated for Spring 2009: Total Drama Action. Fifteen campers will return, and this time the battleground will be a deserted studio lot. It will be interesting to see how that show shapes up. Until then, you can enjoy TDI Thursdays at 9pm on Cartoon Network.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What, too soon?

When I was in high school, SNL was what all the cool kids were watching. Nowadays, college students proudly proclaim they get their news from the Daily Show. And there isn't a twenty-something alive in the US that hasn't seen at least one full episode of the Colbert Report. So when the big names in topical comedy both promised live election coverage, you can bet the young voters turned out in droves ... myself included.

But was I the only one who found SNL's Election Coverage and Comedy Central's Indecision 2008: America's Choice less than hilarious? SNL's primetime coverage was largely a clip show - while funny, it didn't have nearly enough new material for me. In contrast, Comedy Central paired up Colbert and Stewart for a night of witty banter - it was new material, but a lot of it flopped.
Stewart: Yes, the Bradley effect ... named after Milton Bradley, whose popular board game "Poll Tax" entertained and disenfranchised millions.
Audience: *cricket chirps*
I think the gravity of the situation dampened the comedic effect of these shows. Everyone was on edge - if the formula for comedy is tragedy plus distance, on Tuesday we were way too close to potential tragedy to enjoy ourselves. Maybe now that the election is over, we can catch the reruns (or the online content) and have a proper laugh.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

We come in peace! (Shoot to kill.)

It happened on a twenty-hour, transatlantic flight. I had read every book I brought with me (twice) and my mother was too busy playing Sodoku to chat. I turned to the in-flight entertainment - happily, I was on one of those planes with personal consoles on the back of the seat in front of you. Browsing through the selection of television and movies, I stumbled upon Life on Mars. I had heard tell of this series from the Doctor Who fandom (John Simms, who plays The Master in the new series, stars in the British version of Life on Mars). So I gave the show (specifically, the 1st episode of the 2nd season) a try.

I am so glad I did.

It makes sense that Life on Mars originated in the UK. We just don't get creative plot lines like this in the US anymore. Sam Tyler is a modern-day cop who gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. Is it time travel? Is he dead? Is it a dream? Sam (and by extension, the audience) doesn't know. This uncertainty creates a dramatic tension that is more psychological than situational. Sam must navigate this new world without the benefit of knowing what is real and what is not. This strips him down to the very essential elements of his nature - he can't be certain of the consequences (if any) of his actions on the world around him, so he must focus on their effect on him as a man. In this way, his alien surroundings help him become more like himself than ever before.

Confused yet? I certainly was.

This goes back to what I was saying before, about giving "strange" shows a chance. I find the American version to be quite as delightfully quirky as its British predecessor - possibly moreso with the addition of Sam's neighbor, hippie love-child Windy ("I don't believe in coincidence. I believe in the curlicue whimsy of Fate."). So keep an open mind about Life on Mars - it may surprise you.