21 September 2011

Troy Davis is Dead

19 September 2011

Buffy's back! Fall season reviews, part one

Don't know what to watch this Fall? Fear not, Comrade Bingo is watching everything for you and telling you what to hit and what to miss. This is promising to be an exciting season so it's worth keeping tabs on what's going on.

Ringer (Premiered 13 September)

Genre: thriller
Stars: Sara Michelle Gellar
Channel: The CW

WARNING: all the trailers below give away plot and jokes

Sarah Michelle Gellar's return to the small screen with a plot that is such a ringer (sorry) for The Lying Game which started airing one month ago, is a tad disappointing. Mind you, this is a well-trodden storyline; twins who have been apart for some time reunite and switch lives. The plot inevitably involves following the downtrodden twin into the life of the rich twin. Rich twin dies or is other unable to resume her life which leaves downtrodden twin in luxury -- which is fine by the fooled family of rich twin who don't know what's happened to "twin" but they find her inexplicable sudden amenable personality rather enticing. I first read that plot in an Higgins Clark novel when I was a kid.

Derivative Buffy is better than no Buffy at all and The Lying Game isn't of better quality anyway and this is the grown up version. Acting is solid. Pilot ends with a non-shocking shocker but it's up to you whether you decide to play along.

Verdict: Recommend, although series-long thrillers are always a gamble. So, don't lock in that time slot for the entire year.

Free Agents (Premiered 14 September)

Genre: sitcom remake of a Britcom of the same name
Stars: Hank Azaria, Kathryn Hahn
Channel: NBC

Kathryn Hahn is an interesting actress who I didn't know before this but it's not enough to stick with a series that seems tired by the end of the pilot. Anthony Head (Buffy again!) plays the a-hole boss. Since The Office, every boss has to be a special kind of a-hole. Hank Azaria plays a newly-divorced man who is having trouble getting back in the sadd… zzzz…. there's nothing new here. No sense is wasting time telling you more.

Verdict: Don't recommend. Surfing the internet is a much better use of your time. Oh, and that joke in the trailer is the only funny joke in the entire show.

Up All Night (Premiered 14 September)

Genre: sitcom
Stars: Christine Applegate, Will Arnett
Channel: NBC

Yes, Will Arnett was brilliant as Gob in Arrested Development, but I am truly surprised he was ever forgiven for Running Wilde, a show which was pulled after a handful of episodes, a show which should have been pulled ten minutes into the pilot.

Here, we have a couple dealing with a first born. Mother goes back to work, father stays at home. We are meant to believe Arnett's character has never been in a grocery store. Now, how funny is that? Applegate's character has a female boss who is child free and (therefore) self-centred. Childfree people are all so awful, don't you know.

Run wild from this show.

The Secret Circle (Premiered 15 September)
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Romance
Channel: The CW

Another series based on L.J. Smith books and don't you wish you'd got on the Twilight bandwagon and got rich because, seemingly, there is no possible way of quenching that teenage/adult female thirst for this sort of tosh.

Ok, so I watch Gossip Girl because it's decadent and lurid. I watch The Lying Game because I'm a sucker for that twin thing. But I draw the line at The Secret Circle. Ok, that's not true. I'll be watching for a while but this is lacklustre execution of a lacklustre trope: girl moves in with grandma after mother was killed, to a town said mother fled as a young woman. Everybody in the town of New Salem (subtle) is a witch but they need our heroine's power to be, like, super powerful. 

If you decide to give up the day job, don't forget to involve adults in the plots of your books and soon-to-be tv series and make them super evil. This way you get a double audience, teenage girls and their loser (me) mothers (I'm not a mom).

The acting is blah, and, for the genre, the pacing for this pilot was lazy. 

Verdict: I hate myself for watching this show. Unless you are a girl under the age of 18, just don't do it.

Whitney (Premiered 15 September)
Genre: sitcom
Stars: Whitney Cummings
Channel: NBC

Ah, Whitney, Whitney, Whitney. Whitney Cummings is a terribly bad comedian who is hated by other comedians and that is quite a feat because that crowd is tighter than a bunch a rich boys who find themselves in separate interrogation rooms after raping the country club maid. You have to work hard to make that crowd turn on one of their own. Whitney (the real one) is cute and deluded into thinking that she's amazingly beautiful. Actually, she is an anti-feminist who say stupid stuff like that the problem with television today is that women on it are not beautiful enough. For starters. So she had to put herself out there to push up the beauty quotient. Her stand up isn't funny. Her show even less so. I don't know that one would have to work hard to convince me they were a photographer but I never believed for one second that (fictional) Whitney could be one. She can't act. Seinfeld couldn't act either and yet the show worked. Her boyfriend cannot convince us for one second that he would be with her.

Verdict: nothing to see here, folks. Move it along.

Homeland (Premieres 2 October)

Genre: Psychological thriller
Stars: Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin
Channel: Showtime

Showtime was smart enough to build up momentum for this show by releasing the pilot on the intertubes. It's time television understood the internet is its friend, not its enemy. Now I can't wait for the second episode of Homeland. 

A CIA agent after the bad, bad, bad terr-rists isn't at all my bag yet Homeland is simply excellent. The writing is tight. The cast is packed with excellent character actors and the story begins with an arc I could see stretch whilst maintaining tension for a while. The Manchurian Candidate highlights only add to the tension and potential of this show.

The problem with tv series thrillers is that the writers don't know how long the show will last. Will they have to stretch the story for one, two or five years? The problem with this of course, is that if writers are not prepared for a long run, they will keep adding complications to the plot until it makes no sense and there will never be a way to elucidate the plot. The sad casualties of this phenomenon include  The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, and Lost. However, if the writers plan for a long run, they will drag the plot and hardly ever reveal anything and bore us all. It's a catch-22. The Wire is one series which avoided this by ending a story every season. It's not as ambitious and dareisay lyrical but there is a reason why critics and viewers alike call it the best television show ever made.

Back to Homeland. Danes is a troubled CIA agent who screwed up an operation in Iraq and almost lost her job over it. Patinkin, her mentor, is not entirely deluded by his attachment to his duckling, and yet he realises she is a valuable asset to the agency. The chica has brains and let us pray the gods of television the writers won't bring relationships into the mix and make her all forlorn and tortured. So far, this show has respect for its female character: write the day and date. Danes is the bad cop who breaks the rules to get at the truth with her fist clutched to her heart and tears streaming down her cheeks whilst the star-spangled banner is playing, but, somehow, her zeal is attractive because the writing treats it for the dysfunction that it is. And, no, the show doesn't have a star-spangled banner scene, it's too smart for that, but we know she's that girl.

Verdict: Do not go to pass Go. Watch this.

Next week is the big one and I will probably break it down by posting a mid-week blog by Thursday or Friday. And I will try to add British shows but, British television seasons are even more fluid than they are over here, so I'm struggling a bit to find them.

Shows premiering this week:

Sunday 18
Downton Abbey

Monday 19
19 Two Broke Girls
19 The Playboy Club

Tuesday 20
New Girl
Raising Hope
Body of Proof

Wednesday 21
Fresh Meat
Modern Family
Harry's Law

Thursday 22
Person of Interest
Prime Suspect

Friday 23
A Gifted Man

Saturday 24
Rules of Engagement