Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Caustic Critic's Fall Television Awards '05

So there are a handful of interesting new shows, several shows I'm discovering for the first time, and some beloved classics with new twists this fall. I've been meaning to discuss them for quite some time (notice how we're, like a full month into the fall season) but I haven't had the time previous to this. But now I have all the time in the world and a lot to say about the appalling number of television hours I watch. (God bless the DVR--without it...I'd probably have to get a hobby or something.)

Best New Show: Criminal Minds on CBS">This is yet another crime show, this time revolving around a group of FBI profilers led by Mandy Patinkin (you know, the guy in the cholesterol drug commercial who walks down the spiral staircase...oh, he was also Inigo Montoya--you killed his father, prepare to die.) There's nothing particularly new here--just a team made up of different personalities who investigate and track down dangerous criminals. However, I think the writing and characterization put this particular show in the "Best New" slot. I especially like the young genius, Patinkin's protege (Matthew Guy Gubler, previously seen as "Intern #1 in Life Aquatic.) He's nervous, geeky, too-smart-for-his-own-good, and--in my opinion--totally endearing. I also dig the developing friendly-flirty relationship between the departmental playboy (Shemar Moore) and the chunky but AWESOME tech (Kirsten Vangsness.) I feel like the writing on this show puts it above some of the others currently on TV, taking the time to develop characters and work in actual science and current techniques instead of just trying to draw the viewer with gory corpses and giant explosions (not saying that they don't have some of that, too, but it's not the focal point.) The only drawback is Thomas Gibson's wooden portrayal of the head agent. He sucked on Dharma and Greg and he still sucks now.

Worst New Show: Wanted on TNT > I was going to put Head Cases in this slot, but since I only watched ten minutes of the pilot and then it was cancelled after only two episodes, I figured it was already obvious to everyone that it sucked. Therefore, Wanted gets the award. Everything that's great about Criminal Minds is what sucks about this show. There were some attempts to develop the characters, but mostly those got bogged down in stereotypes and the main character's annoying interaction with his bitchy ex-wife and lame kids. (I have strange preference when it comes to my crime shows--I want to see the characters' personalities, but I don't want to be in their houses. I want to see how their personalities affect and motivate them ON THE JOB. I don't care what goes on at home--especially if it involves some miserable harpy.) I kept waiting for this show to get good--I watched it every week, the whole hour, hoping that maybe THIS week, it was going to finally figure out what the hell was going on. The cast seemed promising: Gary Cole of Office Space, Lee Tergesen (the very talented man behind the much loved Beecher from Oz), and Ryan Hurst, seen most recently in The Ladykillers. However, no amount of talent or effort on these poor beleagered actors' parts can make up for terrible writing and gimmicky editing. In a script littered with lame cliches, gratuitious violence, unneccessary explosions, and appalling police techniques, filmed in a style rife with lurching, jumpy cuts and pointless filters, these actors don't stand a chance. There were a bare few redeeming points that made the show watchable--the performance of Hurst as an ATF agent trying to find a way to reconcile his Christian faith with his job tracking down the worst and most evil members of society while keeping his own dark secrets under wrap is definitely a high point. Another is the surprisingly low-key and amusing performance of Josey Scott (lead singer of Saliva) as a pierced-tongue techno-geek. In conclusion, I spent an entire season of a show waiting for it to get good, and I was seriously disappointed.

Still Not Sure Just How I Feel About It New Show: Ghost Whisperer on CBS >Pros: Sometimes interesting plots, some real tearjerkers, interesting concept, Aisha Tyler can be funny. Cons: Jennifer Love Hewitt, some really lame plots, Aisha Tyler was better on CSI, Jennifer Love Hewitt's ridiculous wardrobe full of symbolic white flowy dresses, the fact that she helps all these people all the time in her small town, but every time something happens she has to explain yet again that she can talk to spirits and no one ever believes her, did I mention how much I hate Jennifer Love Hewitt?

Best Show I've Recently Discovered: Numb3rs on CBS > You know a show is good when it can make ME care about...MATH. Yes, math. The premise of the show is that an FBI agent (Rob Morrow, best known for his outstanding performance as Dr. Fleishman on Northern Exposure) who, when a case is really giving him trouble, calls on his brother Charlie (David Krumholtz, the nerd who got the dick drawn on his face in Ten Things I Hate About You) who is a math genius. Charlie then teams up with his eccentric and hilarious colleague Larry (Peter McNichol of Ally McBeal fame) to use math to help solve crimes. I know it sounds a little like Mathnet, but trust me, it's not. Do you know how remote-controlled car locks work? No? Me either, until I watched an episode of this show and Charlie explained it. The characterization is great--the dynamics between the two brothers (the rivalry, the competition, and yet still the affection), their relationship with their father (Judd Hirsch of Taxi), their relationships with women (yes, there is personal life in this show, but it's actually surprisingly interesting), and of course their feelings about the crimes themselves. In addition, there are two great female roles on this show (something not often seen in crime shows). Don's partner is a tough talking detective who seems to be developing a soft spot for the geeky Larry, and Charlie's grad student/assistant Amita is a brilliant Indian woman who may or may not have the hots for Charlie. I wouldn't usually endorse anything having to do with math, but I think this is a must-see for math geeks and regular people alike.

Runner-Up: Cold Case on CBS > Okay, yes, it's another crime show. But I love them, so leave me alone, all right? Good. This is another one that has pretty good writing (though it occasionally comes dangerously close to being corny). I haven't watched it enough to see the characters be that fleshed out, but what I've seen so far has been acceptable. The focus in each episode is on the case (as it should be) and I enjoy the way these cases unfold, usually through witness flashbacks. I'm not so sure about the gimmick of showing characters at their current age and sometimes flashing to them in their current setting but as themselves at the time of the crime. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't--if the crime happened when the character was a teenager in 1970, then the flashback makes sense, but if it happened three years ago, it seems kind of ridiculous (of course, I suppose you have remain consistant with gimmicks like that.) However, I very much appreciate that they consistantly use music from the year the crime happened throughout the episode--it definitely helps to put the viewer in the proper context. The main character is pleasant but kind of annoying in her good-hearted earnestness, but the other members of her team--cynical older veteran detectives, a hunky yet sensitive detective, and now a new, enthusiastic young female detective even things out a bit. Also, the final montage which revisits all the players in that episode's story (flashing both their present and past forms) and then the appearence of the victim at the end is pretty hokey, not to mention suspiciously long.

Best New Twist in an Old Show: Law & Order: Criminal Intent on NBC > I can sum it up in one sentence fragment: Chris Noth as Detective Mike Logan. I loved him ten years ago when he was on the original, and I still love him now.

Worst New Twist in an Old Show: Law & Order on NBC > I realize that this is actually a twist that happened last season, but I am still pissed off: Detective Fontana sucks. He's annoying and obnoxious and if you think he is Lenny Briscoe-alike, let me tell you something: I remember Lenny, and he is NO LENNY. I realize that Jerry Orbach (God rest his soul) had to be replaced. However, Dennis Farina (Cousin Avi in Snatch--and this character is so similar it's almost frightening) is NOT the proper replacement. Not to mention that he's kind of crooked and hello, I am so not interested in his "mysterious and shady" past. Also, I dislike the new ADA--I had just gotten used to the last one. Okay, I am picky about this show, but it's my most consistanly watched show since I was about 11--it's like a part of the family.

Best New Reality Show: The Apprentice: Martha Stewart > It's kind of comforting to realize that this is pretty much the only "new" reality show this season. (I'd like to point out that Hell's Kitchen, which was on during the summer season was MUCH MUCH better--mostly because Gordon Ramsay is just totally AWESOME--but unfortunately doesn't really qualify for this award. However, when it comes on again [whenever that is] you should definitely watch it.) This version of The Apprentice makes a lot more sense to me than the original did. The tasks seem to at least sort be connected to what Martha Stewart does--each episode has a "Martha Lesson" so there is some kind of focus for the teams to build their project around. They have also had tasks that seemed like real jobs and less like sheer publicity stunts (writing a children's book, decorating a themed hotel suite). There is of course the usual mix of interesting/charming/annoying/crazy people to keep the dynamics interesting (I'm rooting for Howie, but that's just me.) Plus, you all are aware of how I feel about Martha. She can pretty much do no wrong as far as I'm concerned, so I'm interested in seeing (even a skewed view of) how she runs her business. Plus, she's a lot less creepy than "The Donald", and I really dig the chilly little notes she writes to those booted off.

Best New Season of an Old Reality Show: Survivor: Guatemala on CBS > First of all, the season began with the survivors doing a 24-hour, 11 mile hike through the Guatemalan jungle followed by a canoe race just to determine where each tribe would be living. Apparently, the cries from viewers that the past few seasons were "too easy" were heard by Burnett and crew. This season has been the most difficult I've seen since I began watching Survivor. The challenges have been very difficult, and the tribal switch-up in the most recent episode has definitely kept everyone on their toes. I will say that bringing back Stef and Bobby Jon from last season seems a little contrived, but I can't complain too much, as they were my favorites. Of course, Stef has become less "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar" and more "I am Woman, Hear Me Whine", but BJ is still awesome, if not particularly classy or intelligent. I'm anxious to see how the alliances will shake out. So far, Stef's bad luck cloud hasn't abated, and the tribes have been voting off those who are perceived as weak or lazy. It's still too early for much individual strategizing, but I figure BJ won't last too long once that happens, since he has until this point survived on sheer brute strengh and bullish determination. The Boyfriend and I watch this together every week and during the commercial we discuss what's going to happen, what people might do, and what we'd do if faced with the same situation. It's probably one of my favorite parts of the week, so I suppose I could be biased toward this show just a bit.

Best Guilty Pleasure Reality Show: America's Next Top Model on UPN > There's nothing quite like watching a bunch of vapid chicks compete against each other at bizarre and totally random tasks. The sub-plots are obviously heavily edited, the shoots are usually extremely ridiculous ("Now we're going to dress you up entirely in pompoms, paint your face orange, hook you up to this camel, blow sand and wind at you with this giant fan, and then fly you and the camel through the air on a cable in front of a green screen--now look sexy!") and the girls tend to be amazingly stupid. However, watching them begin to frazzle and start to break down and attack each other is a lot of fun. I always pick the wrong one to root for (as I've mentioned before, it's always the tall, awkward, small-town girl who is confused about her sexuality and incapable of walking in heels) but it's interesting to see who gains weight, who has a total breakdown, who hates her make-over, who gets sick, who gets ostracized, who quits, who lasts and who doesn't. I will admit that I find both of the Js somewhat annoying (though Miss J's Esther Williams get-up was a high-light of last week's episode and Mr. J actually gave useful advice during the photo shoot, which was probably a first...) and that Twiggy--fashion icon or no--is inutterably dull when compared to the clinically insane Janice Dickinson. Oh, and Nigel is cute, but he still creeps me out just a little.

So there you have it--the picks and pans of the Fall 2005 schedule. This list (with the exception of Survivor) is made up of the shows that I tend to record and watch when The Boyfriend is either busy or at work, so this is purely my opinion. Were you to ask him, he'd likely say that ALL of these (except the previously mentioned) totally suck. There are of course some great fall-backs, as well as some shows (Scrubs, Arrested Development) that I always mean to watch and dont, some that I end up watching whether I like it or not (Celebrity Poker, World Poker Tour, Poker Superstars,), and some that we watch regularly together (Simpsons, Family Guy, Good Eats, Pardon the Interruption, Hockey).