28th Sep2010

2010-2011 TV Season: A Week’s Worth of Analysis

by Will

So, we’re a week into the 2010-2011 television season, and I decided that I needed to write up a little review in order to sort my thoughts on the shows. Since I love attention, I thought I’d share those opinions with you. You may have seen some of these thoughts on twitter, but I wanted to expand on some of them, as 140 characters can be a bit limiting. I didn’t take a lot of chances with new shows, ’cause they all wanna be the next Lost. I figure they’ll be canceled before they get the chance to actually disappoint me (plus, I never watched Lost), so I don’t even give them the chance. Most of these reviews pertain to returning sitcoms.

MONDAY

How I Met Your Mother (CBS): As we enter season 6, it seems that they’re now back on track in regards to the Ted-meeting-the-mother gimmick. There have been tons of interviews with the producers where they acknowledged missteps during season 5. They preferred doing standalone episodes last season, which critics called “sitcommy”. They hinted that the premiere was a game changer, but it didn’t feel like it. We were led to believe that the framing device had changed, so that now Old Ted was reflecting on his wedding day, while also reflecting back to the events that led to it. At the end of the episode, however, it seemed to be implied that Ted was actually the Best Man in the wedding scenario, leading us to wonder who might be the groom. It’s not Marshal, but could it be Barney? After all, who else is close enough to Ted that they would ask him to be their best man? I’m sure they’ll throw some kind of curveball into things, but for now there aren’t enough clues to really decide. In all, it was a pretty solid premiere.

Two and a Half Men (CBS): Returning for its 8th season, it’s the show that critics love to hate. It’s the butt of pop culture jokes, but it has lasted longer than many of the shows that criticized it. The popular joke is that it should just be called Three Men now, but I still think the concept works. There’s not a lot of character development here, so it’s basically the same show it was 7 years ago. This kind of show is PERFECT for strip syndication, as there are no real plots to follow. I did notice an interesting  joke, though: At the beginning Charlie Sheen’s character wakes up from a night of getting blackout drunk, and he doesn’t know where his pants are. When the housekeeper comes over, she hands him his pants, which she found in the mailbox. What I found odd, though, was that the pants were jeans. If you’ve watched more than 2 episodes of the show, you’ll know that Charlie NEVER wears jeans. He wears bowling shirts and shorts. Anyway, it was a pretty solid episode, even if it didn’t have a *premiere* feel to it.

Mike & Molly (CBS): This show is going to be interesting, from a behind-the-scenes perspective. Basically, it’s a sitcom about 2 overweight people who meet at Overeaters Anonymous. Most reviewers have said the same thing, but the problem is that the show doesn’t seem to know if the characters’ weight is the butt of the joke, or the thing that makes them endearing. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to root for them to lose weight, or if I’m supposed to learn to accept them at their current size. If it’s the latter, then I KNOW some media whore fitness guru, like Jillian Michaels or Jackie Warner, is gonna come out against the show because it “wants us to accept obesity as an acceptable lifestyle”. I expect it to be Jillian, as the latest season of The Biggest Loser just started.

TUESDAY

Glee (Fox): Well, the show everyone seems to love has returned. Since it’s a new school year, that means there are also new students. I said this on twitter, but I haven’t seen a “hear come the new kids” episode that heavyhanded since Head of the Class. I know they had a lot of points to hit, but it all just felt forced. In fact, it felt as forced as the songs. I’ve had a problem since Glee became a hit, and that’s the fact that the songs are now dictating the plot, rather than vice versa. Plus, it was nice when they pulled out older songs, while now it’s just a Top 40 showcase, with no real context for the songs. And don’t even get me started on the autotune effects. I also found it unnecessary to introduce new kids when they haven’t really utilized the ones they had. We just finally learned that Asian dude has abs and a speaking voice! Final problem: Rachel’s too hot this season. It’s not that the character wasn’t attractive, but she never really played it up. The thing with season premieres is that everyone has the new look they acquired over the summer, but she seemed to be a bit more fashionable than she had been in the past. Her old look was “slightly dated schoolgirl prep” – not the most “in” look, but it worked for her. Now, she seems to have gotten a bit more fashion-forward, and I don’t know if I like that for her character.

Raising Hope (Fox): A single camera comedy by the creators of My Name Is Earl. It is such the spiritual cousin of that show that I wouldn’t be surprised if they were set in the same universe. One unique thing about Earl, which I think was lost on the people who didn’t get it, was that it’s setting was always unknown. It was never said in which state Camden was located, and Earl was poor enough that he didn’t dabble in modern luxuries, so the show could have been set at any time period over the last 20 years, and you wouldn’t have known it. The same could be said about this show, where a young guy struggles to raise a baby – the product of a one night stand with killer who’s later executed. It felt like a Fox show, almost like a darker Malcolm in the Middle, but I don’t know if there’s really a home for that kind of show anymore, even on Fox. It’s got a Glee lead-in, so it’s being given a fighting chance on a silver platter.

Running Wilde (Fox): I hate this show. Really. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. It’s the kind of thing that should appeal to Arrested Development fans, but won’t, because it TRIES TOO HARD to appease them. Where AR was a smart show, this thing is just a live action cartoon. Will Arnett should only be taken in small doses, and Keri Russell is horribly miscast. I’m not going to get too upset because it’s only a matter of time before Fox ends up moving it to the graveyard of Friday Night (or worse, the Sunday 7:00 slot that’s always preempted by sports).

WEDNESDAY

Modern Family (ABC): Considered the best comedy of last season, Modern Family came back with a very non-premiere episode. It’s not that it wasn’t good, but it didn’t come out of the gate swinging. It felt like a non sweeps filler episode. Everyone was in character, but it just lacked any heft to it. I wonder if ABC’s showing the episodes out of order.

Cougar Town (ABC): It was great to see the gang again, and all of the Bill Lawrence quirk was intact. The Anniston cameo seemed wasted. She didn’t bring anything to that guest role, and it could’ve been saved for a ratings boost during sweeps. You don’t have to resort to stunt casting for a season premiere. People are tired of the 2 months of reruns, so they’ll show up. As much as I love the show, I’m always worried that ABC might not like it as much as I do. I haven’t heard anything about low ratings, but it seems like it has a loyal fan base, while it isn’t necessarily attracting a lot of new viewers. Some felt the name was off-putting, but the “cougar” aspect was mostly abandoned by the middle of last season. Now that it’s an ensemble show, I think it would appeal to anyone who liked Scrubs. You don’t have to like Courteney’s character, but you’re bound to love one of the characters.

THURSDAY

Community (NBC): The best thing about this show is how meta it is. It fully acknowledges sitcom tropes, and then uses them to its advantage. Just like with Cougar Town, the ensemble nature guarantees that you’ll love at least one of the characters. I enjoyed how Abed acknowledged how he wanted their return to school to be as epic as the time they played paintball, which was a reference to their most critically acclaimed episode from last season. It’s a show that knows what people wants, and it delivers.

Big Bang Theory (CBS): There was a slow build with this show. When it premiered, I never thought it would work. It seemed like a geeky, inverted Three’s Company, and it didn’t seem to know who it was targeting. Was middle America supposed to laugh at the nerds, or were geeks supposed to laugh at how dumb Penny seemed to be? Over the past 3 years, though, it has really found its stride. That’s why I was surprised to see it rock the boat so soon. For one thing, something about Sheldon in the premiere seemed…off. I’m not sure what it was. Maybe Jim Parsons is taking a new approach to the character, but it’s almost like he forgot his “voice” during the offseason, in a figurative and literal sense, as the Texas accent shone through more than usual. Also, considering “Sheldon as Asexual” has been a big part of his gimmick, I’m not quite sure where they want to take this Mayim Bialik thing. It was fine as a one-off, but she’s recurring now, and I don’t really enjoy those scenes. His shtick works because he was a virtual unknown before BBT, but she keeps making me think to myself “Why is Blossom acting like this?” It’s a hit, and CBS is banking on it as the anchor for their Thursday comedy block, but I feel like BBT is going to use this as their “phoning it in” season.

30 Rock (NBC): I hated last season. Too much Jack comedy when he’s supposed to be the straight man. They basically made Elizabeth Banks and Julianne Moore regulars, while completely stiffing us on Tracy and Jenna goodness. This is their season to make it right, especially since it’s the last season for Baldwin. I feel his departure will somehow be tied to the whole Kabletown purchase of NBC, but I’d like to see a return to the old 30 Rock before he leaves. There were a lot of jokes about how “nobody thought we’d make it five seasons”, so I enjoyed the 4th wall humor. The comic geek in me, however, thought there was something wrong with that timeline. After all, if we’re to believe that each season of 30 Rock is also a season of TGS, that means TGS has been on the air longer than 5 seasons, as Tracy Jordan was only brought in once the ratings started to slump, so the show had been on the air for some time by the pilot of 30 Rock. Maybe it premiered as a summer series? Anyway, I’m hoping for better things this season.

$#*! My Dad Says (CBS): Yeah, everybody knows about the twitter feed. Making it into a show, however, was a bad idea. I think everyone involved in development understood this, which is why they turned it into a Shatner vehicle. Again, as I said on twitter, the best part about the show is the MadTV reunion of Will Sasso and Nicole Sullivan. CBS has had Sullivan in a talent holding deal for years, so it’s good they’re finally doing something with it. That said, the characters feel wrong. I’m not sure about you, but I always got a bit of a gruff, blue collar feel from the @shitmydadsays twitter feed. I know “Dad” was a radiologist, but I didn’t really see him having shiny, nice things in his retirement. The show was developed by the Will & Grace team, and I feel they gave the setting a bit of a polish that’s out of place. The way the characters speak to each other is also full of W&G riffs, again out of place here. It’s all at a “New York pace”, if that makes any sense. It’s a show that feels like a pilot. It doesn’t seem fleshed out, and there’s really nowhere for it to go. The show could last 7 years, and it would still just be Shatner being Shatner. To get picked up as a series, it needed a marquee guy like Shatner, but I feel like the role would’ve been better served by someone like Kurtwood Smith. After all, he played this same kind of guy for 8 years on That ’70s Show.

The Office (NBC): This show should’ve ended with Jim & Pam’s wedding. If not then, the series finale could’ve been the birth of their baby. There’s no reason for this show to still be on, other than the fact that NBC has nothing to put in the slot. Sure, the ratings are still healthy, but the quality has been on the decline for some time. And Michael’s nephew? Are we going to be stuck with him next season, so that there’s always a member of the Scott clan around? It’s Carell’s last season, and I wouldn’t mind if Dunder-Mifflin saw this as the time to close up shop.

Outsourced (NBC): Young guy exits manager training for an American novelties corporation to find that everything has been outsourced to India. So, he either goes to India to train the call center, or he’s out of a job in a bad economy. What can I say about this show that hasn’t already been said? Plainly put, the plot is “America kicks ass, you backwards foreigners!” This would already be offensive if it involved someone from India coming to America, but the ethnocentrism is even more pronounced as the lead guy goes to India and tries to Americanize everyone and everything. The culture shock provides some humor, and there’s a spark of a message as the Indians fail to see why Americans waste time and money of something as trivial as fake vomit and foam fingers. That observation leaves the viewer with the hope that The American will actually learn more about himself once he gives in to the experience, rather than try to change everything. Then again, such an approach would mean he’d probably lose his job, which is the sole anchor of the loose plot. It’s clear that, should the show actually last, the main focus is going to be the love triangle between The American, The Aussie, and The Bollywood Queen, while the assistant manager schemes to get promoted to this Big Job. We’ve seen this all before, and the only thing that makes it “unique” is the setting. The problem is that Americans don’t know enough about India for this to be culturally acceptable. The only show to successfully pull off Indian humor was The Kumars at No. 42, and that was because it was created by an actual Indian who used his own experiences for inspiration. The show has a great cast, and it is inspired by a critically acclaimed indie film, but I’m not sure if it’s going to make it. Maybe it’s just a case of a weak pilot. I feel the goal is Northern Exposure, but the execution is Desmond Pfeiffer.

Not a lot to say about cable shows, as their seasons got underway over the summer, but Mad Men‘s still excellent, The League is a gem, and It’s Always Sunny is still as offensively hilarious as it’s always been.

Come back next time, when I’ll probably talk about comics.