Monday, October 27, 2008

I Speak TV Couples Counseling II

(Continuing our advice column for the staggeringly dumb males featured in commercials.)

Dear, Guy who scopes out women on his cell phone during a coffee date with a lady-friend,

When she catches you taking pictures of girls on your cell phone, and then actually texts you to tell you, "Dude, WTF!" And you ask, "What? What?"

She may be willing to put up with a lot of your crap, and so you may be getting mixed signals. Allow us to answer to your question. Her answer to, "What? What?" is, "I'm thinking I should've dropped your inconsiderate, leering frat-boy ass months ago, that's what."

We hope this has been helpful.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So getting down to brass tacks: what are we watching this fall?

Sunday: "Dexter" and "True Blood"
Monday: "How I Met Your Mother"
Tuesday: "House," "Fringe," and "The Mentalist"
Wednesday: "Pushing Daisies"
Thursday: "The Office" and "30 Rock"
Friday: "Life"

Let's take a couple posts to look at how my favorites are holding up, now that we're deeper into their new seasons.

Oh, goddamn it. We might be in trouble. As the A-story between Dexter and D.A. Jimmy Smits gets more complicated and interesting, we’re getting smacked in the face by the "Dexter" Curse: increasingly annoying B, C, and D stories.

B! Deb is being lured into a relationship with an informant and an internal affairs investigation against a new detective; C! Angel feels lonely; and D! LaGuerta’s got some case that ties in with D.A. Jimmy Smits. At least LaGuerta’s plot will likely come back to the A-plot, but man, do I not care about Angel’s Lonely Cop Life - and I like Angel!

The problem with “Dexter” as a series is that the only interesting thing about it is the lead character – any time the plot checks in on the supporting crew, it turns into, well, a mediocre cop show.

I thought they learned this in season two, when they tied Deb with the FBI agent hunting her brother, and Doakes was instrumental to the plot's resolution. And this season started its side-plot promisingly, showing how Angel’s promotion has affected his relationship with the cops investigating Dexter’s accidental killing.

Really thought that would cover a lot of ground, but here we are with Angel getting busted by a cop undercover as a hooker, and Deb mysteriously drawn to a couple of dudes we don’t care about.

Come on, show, you’re better than that.

“Pushing Daisies”:
I love how much the characters’ psychological backstories are informing the emotional core of the show, grounding it in believable human needs even as the visual puns go hog-wild with easy nun and clown gags.

While, say, a car in a lake holding the bodies of 17 drowned clowns is wacky and goofy and all that, it’s the emotional themes of absent families and how that dictates the behavior of the characters that makes the show brilliant.

Even though he’s the lead, I still feel like Lee Pace doesn’t get enough credit for his portrayal of Ned the Piemaker. His closed body language and barely-disguised need for affection isn’t just a response to being in love with a girl he can’t touch. He’s becoming aware that his own childhood abandonment has affected him more than he’s realized, and it’s making for great, slow-build storytelling (since the audience has been shown his deadbeat dad will be returning soon).

And I won’t lie – the subtle references to Ned and Chuck’s unconventional sex-life crack me up. On ABC at family hour, no less! Good for you, show!

Quick update: every time I read a new recap of a "Heroes" episode, I feel really good about the decision to drop it. Just putting that out there, for those of you who keep watching. You know who you are. You don't need to feel that sense of shame every Monday at nine, people!

Next time: "Fringe" vs. "The Mentalist"! Stupid scheduling bastards have to make me choose?! Also: "True Blood": Annoying, pompous, or pulpy entertainment? Or is it all three?
Also, also: I'm watching "Life"? Really? I had no idea!

Friday, October 17, 2008

ISTV Couples Counseling

Today, the I Speak TV Global Stronghold presents our first romantic counseling session for TV. It's come to our attention that men on television - particularly in commercials - are portrayed as either thoughtless boobs, or simply retarded (generally when it comes to healthy food consumption).

Never fear, we're here to help. And so, we present our new advice column, "Open Advice Letters to Morons on Commercials":

Dear the guy who sings catchy, Jason-Mrazy jingles about wishing he'd known about his girlfriend's credit rating before trying to buy a house, and ending up living in her parents' basement instead:

Did you, at some - and any - point in your relationship, attempt to have a serious discussion about finances prior to your apparently seat-of-the-pants, wild-hair-up-your-ass decision to apply for a mortgage loan?

Because I'm thinking all the free credit reports in the world wouldn't have made up for that straight-ahead five-minute chat.

Oh, and by the way, Mr. Accoustic guitar, three-day-scruff, uncombed hair, wide-eyed-like-you've-been-awake-for-days, track-jacket-in-the-afternoon-wearing's your credit, hmm? Making (excuse the pun) boatloads of cash at your job waiting tables at a pirate-themed seafood restaurant?

So here's some advice: Don't foist all the blame on the girl whose parents are nice enough to put your penniless ass up in their basement. And how about you back up a bit before you write another cute little ditty about your girlfriend's shitty credit?

We'll be back next week with another column, attempting to help out the guy who thought it'd be a good idea to snap pictures of women's asses with his cameraphone while his lady-friend watches the whole damn thing.
Because we are here to help.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bobby Flay: Food Network Asshole

So let me get the premise of this "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" show straight:

Bobby Flay, TV personality-chef, practices dishes, and then goes to the restaurants of people who have worked hard to build a reputation on these dishes. Where it's a sense of neighborhood pride, like say, buffalo wings in Buffalo.

And then Bobby Flay pops up during a crowded public promotion at the chef's own restaurant, and challenges that chef to "defend his title" regarding his/her signature dish.

Now, I know absolutely nothing about Bobby Flay. I am not a regular Food Network viewer. I just stumbled across this show.

But I have to ask: What kind of asshole is Bobby Flay?

Best-case scenario for him: He wins the taste-off, humiliating the hard-working cooks who have spent a lot of time and hard work developing a specific flavor and style that's earned them recognition. Which makes him a total dick.

Worst-case: He is beaten by the cooks, and he looks incompetent.

I'm sure, behind the scenes, the Food Network contacts all the restaurants and they agree, because hey, free publicity. But nevermind that. Based only on the narrative of the show...what the hell is the point of this show, other than to make Bobby Flay seem like some kind of TV-star egomaniac who thinks he can do better than the local pride?

Honestly...what a jag-off.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pilot Season: "My Own Worst Enemy"

Oh, now that's a shame.

NBC's new spy show, "My Own Worst Enemy," should be good. It's a great (if outlandish) premise, with good supporting players and wide-open mysteries (which may just be plot holes, but oh, what holes to fill)...all totally undone by the need to hire a big-name "star."

The premise: A spy who willingly split his own personality to hide out in the suburbs as a completely average guy finds the conditioning techniques separating the two personalities is breaking down. Hijinks ensue.

The supporting players: Alfre Fricking Woodard! A fantastic actress, in the shadowy-boss role. (Last year's failed "Bionic Woman" reboot had Miguel Fehrer in the shadowy-boss role, and I maintain that this is the best role for seasoned actors. Victor Garber kicked ass in the role during his time on "Alias." It just looks like a lot of fun, standing around complicated computer devices and being condescending to the leads.)

Wide-open mysteries: Why in the holy living hell would any organization blow billions of dollars to put a top operative (let alone, as the pilot suggests, multiple operatives) under a sleeper program, when...seriously, what the hell would the need for this be? Keeping the operative hidden? The guy is apparently a medal of honor winner. He's hardly a spook.

The answer, of course, is: it's the premise of the show, with it. Everything else is secondary. The pilot delivers no answers, but I'm sure the creators (including producer Jason Smilovic, whose credits include great shows "Kidnapped" and "Karen Sisco," and aforementioned crap show "Bionic Woman," which this one most resembles) have plenty of ideas in their notepads just waiting to be toyed with.

The problems: There are two, so we'll start with the lesser first - the pilot blows its chief gag way too early. Ten minutes in, and we get the joke - superspy and family guy are the same person - but then shit immediately breaks down.
Ideally, the pilot would follow both their lives, concurrently, only letting the two characters realize they're the same person around the last act, creating a hell of a good cliffhanger that would lead into the series proper. It was a stupid move that leads me to suspect this was written as a feature first.

(And it would make a good movie. Or a terrible one, since it feels a lot like the hacky movie pitch featured in Adaptation.)

But nevermind that now, because we've got to deal with Christian Slater.

Somewhere between bad movie choices and certain incidents involving guns and biting ex-girlfriends, Slater's star-power began to dim, making him available for TV roles. So I'm sure when the producers realized they could cast him, they were ecstatic.

Problem is, Christian Slater has only ever played Christian Slater. Asking viewers to accept him in two separate roles, when he can't be bothered to switch up any of his mannerisms, isn't just a problem. It is, in fact, THE problem, and as a result, the show just doesn't work.

A character actor is needed here. An actor who can do two roles: One who thinks this ludicrous scenario as acceptable, and one who thinks it's...well, a ludicrious scenario.Some kind of, say, affordable Paul Giamatti, who can alternate between capable agent and run-of-the-mill everyman, is absolutely essential to sell the premise.

So...not Christian Slater.

It's unfortunate, because this really is a fun, if wholly laughable premise. NBC is currently full of laughable shows (okay, "Knight Rider" and "Heroes"), and it really could've used one that was grounded by a decent enough actor.
If you want to watch a goofy spy show, "Chuck" is still on NBC at 8pm. It's very pleasant, well thought out, has good actors and writers, doesn't try too hard, and could use some viewers. Give that one a go instead.

Friday, October 3, 2008

"Torchwood"...only Canadian?

Let me read you a synopsis of a science fiction show:

"There are creatures that live among us, abnormal offshoots of evolution that live in the fringes, unseen by most. Some are dangerous, but most are benign, becoming violent only because they are threatened by an ever-encroaching world. A mysterious leader of an expert team have dedicated themselves to tracking these mysterious creatures: harboring the benign ones, and protecting the world from the dangerous ones. Using their unique combination of instinct, medicine and cutting edge technology, this eclectic team must take on the creatures that lurk in the corners of our civilization."

This show's mysterious lead character is a transplant from another country, and over 100 years old.

The show's viewpoint character is an underappreciated cop whose investigation into a bizarre case leads to the secret organization's world.

For 300 big boys, WHAT is the name of this show?

You poor bastards went and said "Torchwood," didn't you? You would be right, if you weren't also wrong.

The show is actually SciFi's new series "Sanctuary," which started life as a Canadian web-series.
So...that right there will tell you how good it is.

"Torchwood" takes a lot of flack (often by me) for the fact that all the characters seem to be having sex with all the other characters. It's almost like Captain Jack Harkness hires people because they are bisexual and alarmingly horny (actually, that may be some unspoken fact that never made it out of the series bible). It's meant to be more adult, but it comes off as a bit ridiculous.

But I will never chide "Torchwood" again, because after sitting through a painful half-hour of the "Sanctuary" premiere, I now know what the BBC series would be without all the sex:

Canadian. Very, very Canadian.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lookit! Good TV!

Ohhh, there's that feeling. The reason I watch TV: new episodes of genuinely good shows. Man, that feels good.

"Pushing Daisies," last year's #1-super-best show ever (granted, pickings were slim), came back tonight after its strike-abbreviated first season, with an episode devoted to...bees. And realizing the whole damn episode would be filled with bee-related puns, I was a bit worried that the show's cloying aspects would overwhelm the re-introductory premiere. (And jeez, ABC, did the first five minutes of the episode have to be a season 1 recap for new viewers?!)

I accept that this is a love-it-or-hate-it show. Either you're on board with the modern fairy-tale Seuss-meets-Burton style of the show, with its cute weirdness and weird cuteness, or you find its super-saturated color-scheme and adorability annoying and sensory-obliterating. This is a show whose success is entirely dependent on how cynical a viewer is feeling that Wednesday. If ever the phrase "not for all audiences" was built for a show, this is it.

But I know I'm a terribly cynical person. And I also know that for the hour that "Pushing Daisies" is on, I'm not quite so cynical. Bee-puns and all. I'm so happy this show is back, and urge everyone to watch it (and also go get season 1 on DVD).


Speaking of introductory recaps, "Dexter"'s new season started with a looooong one. "Previously on 'Dexter'..." has never been such an understatement. Seriously, ten minutes recapping season 2, huh? Okay, fine, whatever.

But if you could slog through that, you got to watch Great Television in Action! The first episode managed to reset things to the status-quo of season 1 (before Dexter was being hunted) while at the same time amp things up into new and unexpected levels of danger.

SPOILER! (Ugh, I hate that term. But I realize some people only watch the show after it's out on DVD, so yeah, tread lightly here if you wanna stay blind for the next three months - and really, good luck with that.)

OK? Ready? Good.

Dexter getting Rita (SERIOUSLY, SPOILER, TURN BACK YOU BASTARDS, AAAAHHH!!!) pregnant is one of those developments that would seriously fuck up a lesser show. But the main theme of "Dexter" has always been how a man deals with an absent father's expectations. And last year, our lead made his peace with his departed dad - learning new things about him, and realizing that while "Harry's Code" is deeply important, doesn't rule his life.

So seeing how Dexter deals with the idea of himself as a father is an absolutely fascinating road to take. That's going to be the B-story, what the meaning of the show is about. But in the meantime, we're also apparently going to get Jimmy Smits as the friend Dexter never ever wanted. It's all looking pretty good.


Speaking of puns (from the "Pushing Daisies" bit, get it?...look, sometimes you have to work a little harder for your segues), HBO's "True Blood" made me proud for the first time in its few episodes with this line of dialogue:

Bill (after Sookie rolls her eyes at the name of the local vampire bar being "Fang-tasia"): You have to realize, most vampires are very old. There was a time when puns were considered the highest form of comedy.

The show's not perfect. There are way too many Southerner-stereotypes, Jason Stackhouse is so astoundingly stupid I don't know how he even remembers to breathe, and the actors' accents venture into Foghorn Leghorn territory at points...but I feel like this show's going somewhere fun, and that's more than I can say for...oh, say "John From Cincinnati" at this point.

But anyway: Good TV! Hooray!