Monday, October 13, 2008

What I’m watching: Fall TV 2008

Here is how my fall TV season is shaping up so far…it even includes a few shows from England that a pal sent over to me. How special! Let’s compare notes on TV we’re are loving and hating right now, shall we? I am eager to hear in the comments what you are watching, not watching, considering watching, so on and etc. Please share.

Note to spoiler-virgins, aka spirgins: I’ve tried hard to indicate which paragraphs have spoilers in them for all these shows, so that you can have a look at most of this entry.

FanGrrl Magnet’s
Best Show On The Air Right Now (tie):
MAD MEN and
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

FanGrrl Magnet’s
Best New Show of Fall 2008:
TRUE BLOOD



TRUE BLOOD

This easily wins my personal Best In Show for a new series so far this season. Sexy, intelligent, funny, dark, adult fun. I was pretty much made to love this show, being a lifelong fan of vampire tales, an admirer of showrunner Alan Ball’s work, and an ardent fan of HBO’s style of sophisticated, R-rated television for the mature mind. For any of you who consider yourselves long-term consumers of vampire storytelling, there is so much here to enjoy -- intense eroticism, violence, vamp history and lore, and tons of truly original ideas thrown into the mix thanks to Charlaine Harris’ and Alan Ball’s vibrant imaginations. The show was renewed for a 2nd season after only one episode aired, and I am already getting way too gleeful pondering Michelle Forbes as a dangerous woodland creature, The Maenad, coming up next season, tee hee. I hope y'all are along for this here ride, these vahmpahrs sure are one hell of ah time.


A few fun TRUE BLOOD links:

...HBO has released short, mildly spoilery descriptions of episodes 6-8. This livejournal community also posted descriptions for eps 9-12 (source seems to be the password-locked HBO corporate web site for the latter).

...Rope of Silicon noticed the use of favorite Bush poster of mine prominently in ep.#104.

...Food for thought from Alan Ball in a recent interview:
New York Magazine: So, what’s appealing about vampires as characters?
Alan Ball: People are also drawn to the idea of immortality. The idea of only being out at night so you can give rein to your darker, primal, carnal impulses. And I suppose we all know people who suck the life out of us. I don’t really know what it is about vampires that makes them such a powerful symbol, metaphor, whatever in people’s consciousness. But I do know they’re tremendously powerful. I mean, there’s a vampire on Sesame Street. And Count Chocula. I don’t know why it’s so powerful. As a culture we are not comfortable with mortality. We do not accept it the way other cultures do. We cling to youth, and we don’t want to die. It’s like, well, too bad, we do.

...An interesting piece on what the ratings for the first month of TRUE BLOOD tells us about cable and premium channel ratings in the age of DVR and Video-On-Demand.

...Anne Rice doesn't want to think about vampires anymore -- and isn't going to be watching TRUE BLOOD, it seems.

...If you are just now starting to get hooked on this show, it is never too late to go back and check out the two full months (!!) worth of advance plot backstory that was set up over at BloodCopy.com beginning this past July. Worth reading in chronological order, IMHO.


FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

If someone had told me five years ago that I would soon be head-over-heels in love with a show about small-town Texas footballers and their families, I certainly would’ve laughed them out of the room. This addictively inspiring and profound little drama (that waaaaay too few people are watching! *sob*) continues to shine in the first two episodes of season 3 on DirecTV’s 101 Network.

I don’t have DirecTV, but a very kind friend is taping the shows for me this fall so that I can see the longer, commercial-free version now -- instead of waiting for the cutdown version that will air on NBC early in 2009. 301 and 302 are as good as ever, with plenty going on and a few new folks in town shaking things up. 302 brought me to tears in a couple of places (a first for this show).

(Skip this paragraph for spoilers.) I’ve heard a few complaints that Tami Taylor would never be hired as principal “in real life,” a plot point which isn’t bothering me too much, given the ramshackle state of the school and Tami’s good track record as a guidance counselor. Then again, I had no problem with the Tyra/Landry murder plot last year either…so if we get to fisticuffs over the show this season, so be it. Also it’s great to see that Saracen’s mom is already on the show in 302 – welcome to Kim Dickens (DEADWOOD).

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS remains an unique, incandescent highlight of a mostly dim fall TV calendar. I have no idea if this is going to be the last season…the ratings for 301 have been spun as both positive and negative. We shall see.

Starting with this Wednesday’s episode 303, the 101 Network will be running LIVE FROM DILLON just after each episode airs:
Friday Night Lights fans will get to spend more time with their favorite cast members on the new companion television show Live From Dillon (Wednesdays immediately following Friday Night Lights beginning October 15). The program will feature different cast members each week as they discuss their characters, plot lines and even take live viewer questions. The Taylor Family (Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton and Aimee Teegarden) are scheduled to appear on the first episode.

Of note for you BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fans, FNL director/producer Jeffrey Reimer, who directed 301 & 302, is also the director of the CAPRICA prequel film. No word yet if CAPRICA will ever go to series…


Some FNL links I enjoyed:

...About a month before FNL premiered, the NY Times’ Quad Blog was having a big online chat about the book that started it all.

...EW.com’s Popwatch convinced five of the FNL castmembers to blog from concerts at this year’s Austin city Limits Festival. Here’s Connie Britton, Scott Porter, Jesse Plemons, Gaius Charles, and two from Adrianne Palicki.

...Sporting News gathered a roundtable of TV journos to discuss the show.

...Get a fix of FNL/HEROES crossover in this interview with Brea Grant (Landry’s exGF and currently playing Daphne on HEROES this fall).

...TV Guide’s Matt Roush discusses what the move to DirecTV might mean for the show’s future (hey, it’s never too late to fret on this one folks!).


MAD MEN

What is left to say about this show that you haven't already heard on 25 other web sites? (Especially the best fansite out there, Basket of Kisses!) I fell hard for this show last year and am still hooked. The feminism, the behind-the-curtain glimpses at advertising creativity, the family dramas, the office politics, the details of manner and attitude that are both antique and shockingly relevant...so much to enjoy here. It was nice to finally see a script credit for consulting producer Marti Noxon (BUFFY, GREY’S ANATOMY, BROTHERS & SISTERS), on ep #210 "The Inheritance." I was wondering when we’d see her work here.


Let me dump some more of my favorite links here. There are so many this season...Chill, blend, and enjoy straight up till next Sunday.

...A local agency created these fun MAD MEN inspired TV ads to run during the show in their local market.

...Artist Dyna Moe has been creating amazing art throughout this season…some of my favorites feature The Rothko (above), "Ossining Calling" (aka Betty and That Chair), little Sally Draper’s Bartending Cheat Sheets. But they are all pretty amazing!

...You can still get your own piece of Sterling Cooper here (I’m leaning towards the magnet myself).

...This is one of the simplest and best reviews of the show I’ve read that covers the main reasons I love this show…the writer describes MAD MEN as "a crash course in the second wave of feminism" and “a Great American Novel of a series.” Word.


FRINGE

Putting all the intense advance hype aside, I'm willing to ride this show out long term for the fun pseudoscientific creepiness, conspiracies, and family relationships. This will never be my favorite show, but it draws me in and keeps me there with a clever combination of serialized details and one-off procedural plots designed for maximum user-friendliness and erratic viewing. I respect that. Mad scientist Walter is a nutty gas...I get a big kick out of him and his damaged, deranged relationship with his adult son. Enjoying Anna Torv's groovy, androgynous macho...and that Jackson boy – so grown up now, and clever. The good news came down the pipes recently that Fox has greenlit the rest of a 22-ep season, so along with one other little Bad Robot project you might have already heard about, I’m really looking forward to more from these boys.

Some fun links:

...The fans over at FringeBloggers and their associated forum are continuing to pick away at screengrabs of every ep, looking for crazy clues. This site is really good with the “easter eggs” as they call them.; and the show, in full Abrams/Pinker fashion, continues to offer rewards for the curious. I don’t have the patience, but you LOSTies are into this stuff! Knock yerselves out!

...Here’s JJ Abrams on Conan O’Brien recently, finally getting asked about his obsession with airplane disasters.

...The Guardian UK did a fan Q&A with JJ over here last week.




TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES

The premiere episode this season blasted out of the gate last month and even gave us a delicious T-1001. But the following two eps were pretty lame. I got worried. Then last week's ep 204, "Allison From Palmdale," was a big improvement. And this past week’s 205 just BLEW. ME. AWAY. It was very BAG-centric, which is always my favorite, it had this classic scene, and there was a lot of flash forwards to Future World. All good stuff.

There are warnings about the ratings, warnings which we should be scared of...I just want the show to be good. The latest update from the show’s PTB is that 2 more scripts have been ordered…always a cause for slight hope that this is not the final 13 eps, that the show will get its back 9 order. My fingers are crossed. Either way, this is one of the most impressive Sci-Fi or Fantasy TV casts on the air, and I am watching till it's over. Hope you are reading their writers' blog, it's tons o fun. Also, no matter what happens now, at least we had The Beastwizard.

On a much brighter note, a Sci Fi Wire writer is so enamored with Sarah C. and her little TV show, he wrote her a love letter! And so did some other journos

Here’s the promo for the next new ep, which airs next week – and it looks like we’ll be seeing BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Stephanie Chavez-Jacobsen on there as Derek’s fellow…erm. Lover? Fighter? We shall see.





HEROES - I really didn't mind season 2, so if you have a problem with that you should probably ignore my opinion now, huh? We are four eps in and I'm having a good time…while other fans and journalists are losing their sh*t over how bad it is. This show has always had a stylishness to it, a comic book look, tight engrossing direction and an amazing rainbow-colored cast. I know a lot people who have complained and bitched about it and many of them have given up by now. But I still think its great fun. Not rocket science. Not the next Great American Novel. But pulpy good fun. By the way, if you've already geeked out for hours on NBC's HEROES web site...have you also visited the blogs of Jesse Alexander, Greg Beeman and...HRG himself, Jack Coleman? Fun stuff.

UGLY BETTY - I still love to hate Marc, Amanda and Wilhelmina way too much to give this show up. Even though the series has by its nature had to get repetitive, there is still something so wonderful about watching underdog Betty make her way in The Big City. Sans Mahnolo's. Make sure to watch ABC’s weekly webisodes for this season, all Marc and all Amanda, all the time!





GREY'S ANATOMY - I was going to cross this off my list this year, but Kevin McKidd's (ROME, JOURNEYMAN) performance with Sandra Oh in the season premiere convinced me to give it another chance. So far – icicle or no icicle – it hasn’t been a disappointment. The upcoming arcs with doctors played by Mary McDonnell (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) and Melissa George (IN TREATMENT) may keep me there a bit longer.

PRIVATE PRACTICE - We all need silly escapist fun, right? Well this, GREY'S, and UGLY BETTY are mine. So sue me! I know real grown-up people (doctors!) do not talk like this...do not act like this. Consider the writing on these shows to be a modern equivalent to the screwball comedy films of the 1930s, or the film noirs of the 40s and 50s: extremely stylized, unrealistic, yet an art unto itself. Taking the perspective of art and of entertainment, surely these shows can be appreciated more for their craftsmanship than any degree of realism. These shows are incredibly honest on a purely emotional level. I know plenty of adults who have 12-year-old type emotional reactions...

ENTOURAGE - Still fun, still ridiculous. Every time I think I'm bored with these guys and their rises and their falls, Ari or Drama makes me laugh out loud...or there is some insane sexual situation...or another challenging deal gone awry. It has just been renewed for another season, btw.

CALIFORNICATION - Now that the nasty good times of SAVING GRACE and WEEDS have ended for the summer, thank god Hank Moody is back. Welcome new guest actor Callum Keith Rennie, who is a joyous addition and pops up immediately in ep 201. This show has grown on me over time, and I now prefer it to ENTOURAGE, which it is often compared to. Unlike ENTOURAGE, CALIFORNICATION doles out its snark and heartache in equal measures, and swims in the deeper waters of wisdom, experience and family. It has about 200% more sex…and, there are female characters who get to have serious speaking parts! Without wearing bikinis! Imagine that. ;-) Both shows are tons of fun, but CALIFORNICATION has the real grown up heart and soul. I keep expecting Vincent and E, 20 years in the future, to pop up in Hank Moody’s universe. Maybe some day. This show also has a mostly serious, sometimes ridiculous, writers production blog.

FEASTING ON WAVES WITH ALTON BROWN - fun, and a great sight-seeing adventure...but I don't eat like the folks down on The Islands, so this is of limited value for me. At least there are a few vegetables on the table now and then.

SANCTUARY - While this show is not really my cup of tea, I highly recommend you give it a try if you like DOCTOR WHO, TORCHWOOD, PRIMEVAL and the like. Some folks are complaining about the all-CGI sets (most of the show is shot again a green screen background), but I think it's quite well done for a TV show. Not only that, but this form of CGI points to the means for more SciFi producers to get their product to television looking good on a low budget. That's A GOOD THING folks. There is a nifty psychological angle to this story that works nicely. I watched the two-hour premiere and don't plan to continue, but don't let that stop you from giving it 1-3 hours of your time. Similar to MERLIN (see below), I can appreciate this show without feeling any need to watch all of it. The premiere is actually on Hulu now…and BonnieGrrl linked to all the webisodes, if you’re interested.

EASY MONEY – Purely on Mo Ryan’s recommendation and her comparison of this new show to BREAKING BAD, I gave this a try. The first two eps were definitely enticing, and in fact this show makes an effective double feature with CRASH (see below) -- two thoughtful and well-written shows about our culture that touch on the sides of life we might rather leave hidden. This sorry bunch of conmen, loan sharks, and the losers who cling to them like liferafts is a bit depressing, sure – but the appearance of a show about easy loans and The American Dream (Wild West Version 2.5) is so shockingly timely and affecting, given our Wall Street meltdown. Apparently one or two SOPRANOS producers are involved with EASY MONEY, but the show has definitely got more in common with BREAKING BAD. In the end, all these shows can be seen as in the same genre: extended crime families.

CRASH – I just saw ep 101 of this 13-episode series, currently streaming free before its Oct. 17th premiere on the Starz channel, and found myself completely engaged. (ETA: they are now streaming ep 102 as well.) If you admired the Oscar-winning film, I suggest you give this a try. The film’s author Paul Haggis is involved in this show and so I remain curious. TV Squad posted some clips: watch what Haggis is saying in the 2nd video over there about how he originally imagined CRASH as a TV show. Interesting stuff. Ep 101 was worth watching just to enjoy the trainwreck of Dennis Hopper’s manic, unpredictable LA music producer. There are many other serious, detailed, effecting (and R-Rated) plot lines being woven into the firmament.



MY BRITISH IMPORTS: I have a friend in England who is passing me a few new British shows this fall. Perhaps you can get your hands on them too.


LOST IN AUSTEN - This four-episode miniseries for England’s ITV network just finished airing and is coming out now on UK DVD. I do not know when we Americans will get to see this on our shores but Austen fans looking for a lighthearted variation on our canon should check it out. It’s silly, and unreal, but has plenty to delight. Sending a thoroughly modern Englishwomen into the world of Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and then cracking open (and changing!) the story in a million tiny ways, adds up to laughs and a few trifling insights. Jemima Rooper is really entertaining as the luckiest Austen fan in the world. There is great whimsy in the show’s completely artificial yet clever twists on a beloved book – in particular for the characters Caroline Bingley, Mr. Wickham and Lady Catherine de Bourg (the latter marvelously played by Lindsay Duncan). Let’s hope PBS or BBC America gets this show over here right quick.

[I don’t know how long it will stay up, but this person seems to have posted the entire series in little pieces on UK youtube. Enjoy…if you get there in time.]


MERLIN - This is currently airing on the BBC, and the best description I’ve heard of it is the SMALLVILLE-ization of the Arturian Legend. I’m not a fan of that US superhero show -- it's aimed at a much younger viewer than I -- and I didn’t expect to get very into this one either, but I’m up to episode 3 and sort of getting drawn in. Much like what I imagine JJ Abrams' STAR TREK XI will do for that famous story, MERLIN drops us into the lives of Arthur, Merlin, Morgana, Guinevere, and the rest of these characters from the Arturian Legend at a young age, and allows us to watch as myths are born. BUFFY’s Anthony Head plays Arthur’s father King Urthur, TORCHWOOD’s Eve Myles guests in Episode 1, and BIONIC WOMAN’s Michelle Ryan appears in Ep. 3 for what promises to be a more long-term arc as the powerful and evil sorceress Nimueh.



SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL - I still really enjoy this sassy show. Certainly it's sad, but never as sad as those awful shows on HBO like CATHOUSE and the like. Billie Piper is perfect, and those short shocking 30-minute doses are just right -- like a harried nooner on a busy Tuesday, just enough, not too much. I'm up to episode five as of now and the show took a suprising detour into new ground for a few episodes...very moving, well-handled, and a wonderful showcase for sides of Belle and Hannah that we haven't seen before. Meanwhile, I recently stumbled upon the book this show is based on…and the blog. For extra fun.

Word has just come down that this second season of SDCG will be on Showtime here in the USA in January, to air in a block with the Diablo Cody/Steven Spielberg show THE UNITED STATES OF TARA and the final season of THE L WORD. Oh, what a night that shall be!

Speaking of TARA, which will star Toni Collette -- Toni was heartbreaking and fantastic in Alan Ball's indie feature TOWELHEAD, which I just saw last week. The film manages to be incredibly disturbing for the sex with minors content, while also rising to profound and moving heights. See it -- unless minorsex really bothers you; the scenes vary from consensual flirting and imagined romance to outright violation, driven by the desires of a dangerously curious preteen girl. Ball has some delicious future film projects up his sleeve…one wonders when he’ll have time with TRUE BLOOD season 2 in the works. NPR’s Fresh Air did a fantastic and revealing interview with Ball last month about both his film and his TV show, I highly recommend it (available for free download via iTunes Podcasts page).


So...what are you watching?

2 comments:

fourth wave said...

Wow. I wish I had enough time to watch all that television. I love Mad Men and I've been planning to check out Fringe for weeks now (especially before the first few episodes disappear from live-streaming on Hulu). I also adore Criminal Minds, which just started its fourth season and is as excellent as ever. I can't wait for 30 Rock to start up again, and I'm a fairly recently convert to The Office. I love the idea of The Sarah Connor Chronicles (even bought the first season on DVD), but have trouble keeping myself interested in it. I used to religiously watch CSI, but I got so tired of all the cast changes that I switched over to CSI: NY to which I am now addicted (I will not, however, watch CSI: Miama because I find the main guy so obnoxious. I also adore Dexter but don't get Showtime, so have to wait until the new season's out on DVD.

I think my favorites out of all those are Mad Men, Dexter, Criminal Minds and 30 Rock.

ProgGrrl said...

It's true, I've given up much of the time I used to spend on movies to devote to TV these days. :)

Police and law procedurals, as you have probably noticed, are not my cuppa tea. You CSI & Criminal Minds fans are so, so dedicated! Rah rah!

Cannot wait for 30 Rock! Just weeks away now...