Through the grace of someone else’s DVR, I’ve been watching some of the new TV season. This year there’s a rash of “speculative TV”, which is cool. Too bad so many of these shows seem to be rehashes of earlier ones. I haven’t mustered any interest in either Chuck (rehash of Alias and/or Johnny Mnemonic, but with a geek as the main character) or Reaper (rehash of Dead Like Me, but with a geek as the main character). Come to think of it, maybe I’m put off these shows not by their rehash nature, but by their geeks. After Knocked Up and Superbad, nerds are all the rage, but suffice it to say, I don’t identify with the Hollywood representations of my kind at all.
So what have I been watching? I checked out the pilot of Bionic Woman. One of its executive producers is David Eick, who also works on Battlestar Galactica. Could be good… except that over the summer, he made some comments about the themes of the show that struck me as ominous. (See this Feminist SF Blog entry for details and discussion.) And more recently, I read several accounts of turmoil on the set — people being recast, production staff leaving, etc. By the time it aired, I didn’t have high hopes at all, but I wasn’t really prepared for how bad it turned out to be. This was trash TV. It said nothing interesting about its subject matter, it was so hurried that it was impossible for me to connect emotionally, the dialogue was embarrassingly bad, the characters were either boring or nonsensical, even the action scenes were crappy. I would call it a complete waste of time except for the fun I had playing “spot the BSG actor”. Katee Sackhoff was billed ahead of time as the psychotic “first bionic woman”, but there were a smattering of others as well. Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol) showed up for about 30 seconds as a prison guard, and Mark Sheppard (Romo Lampkin) was the guy he helped spring out of jail. But my favorite catch was Dominic Zamprogna (Jammer) as a medical technician in the helicopter that picked Jaime up after her accident. He was on the screen for about 2 seconds, tops, and we couldn’t get a clear look at him even on freeze frame, but I confirmed via IMDB that it was him. Score!
I’ve given further episodes a pass, and since a friend told me the second one was even worse than the first, I feel no guilt. Instead I pinned my hopes on Pushing Daisies, the new Bryan Fuller show. It got insanely good advance reviews, and stars Lee Pace, who I liked in Wonderfalls (another Fuller show that was canceled after about 4 episodes, but had quite a few others in the can – check it out on DVD if you’re interested). It wasn’t as good as I hoped, but it has promise. My first recommendation is that they dump or severely scale back the voiceover by Jim Dale. It got really annoying, particularly the numerous recitals of exactly how many years, months, days, and hours old each person was. It wasn’t interesting or relevant to the plot the first time, let alone the other five times. I was also surprised by how poorly executed some of the details were. The name of the town that the main characters grew up in is “Coeur d’Coeurs” (which means “Heart of Hearts” in French), but on the town sign, which is prominently featured a couple of times, they spelled it wrong! I can’t remember when I’ve ever noticed such a glaring copy editing mistake on a major TV show. There’s also a scene where Chuck’s aunt doesn’t see her because she has an eye patch and her view is supposedly cut off by a door frame. Except they picked the wrong eye. Basic geometry, anyone?
All that griping aside, I really enjoyed some of the dark humor, and the characters are appealing. There’s a moment when Chuck gratuitously kicks the dead body of the man who killed her (how she is alive to kick him is explained in the show), and the narrator notes that Ned is delighted by the sight. That really made me laugh. If it can tighten things up a little and develop some momentum, the show could be good. I’ll be watching episode two next time I visit my friends.
The other show I’ve been watching is Heroes. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll keep with it. I thought the season finale last year was truly terrible, something the show’s producers really needed to bounce back from. With episode one this year, they didn’t redress the situation at all. Instead, the single element in favor of the finale last year (that there were real consequences for the characters, with both Nathan and Peter presumed dead), was invalidated when we learned that both of them are still alive. And the first episode was so boring and uninspired. The second episode was much better, but number three was again a piece of junk. I’ll give it a few more episodes out of loyalty and because my friends are watching it, but if trends continue I’ll be giving it up before midseason.
Thank god for TV on DVD. I’ve been having a great time with a couple of old shows I’ve been renting from Netflix: Fullmetal Alchemist and Homicide. They’re about as different as two shows can be, and really deserve their own blog entries. But I can say I highly recommend both. Coming up, season 4 of The Wire is finally being released in December. Yay! I’m also looking forward to the DVD release of Mad Men, which has been getting amazing reviews. Given that it’s just finishing its first season, it will be a while before I can see it. That’s OK. When it comes to good TV, I’m patient.