Monday, September 27, 2010

What I'm Watching: The Big Bang Theory

Here's the thing: Theory is not tough to watch.

I need to throw that out there, because the more I watch the show, the more I'm starting to see the flaws. But even as the flaws became more and more obvious, I never once wavered from zipping through all three seasons of the show in roughly a month.

So there's that.

But now the fourth season is up and running, and in a lot of ways it's like seeing a flaw in a really great painting... once you see the problem, you can't UN-see it.

So, yeah, Theory? Good show. But still...

1. Man, is it EVER a sitcom.

The sad fact of the show is, it's a really, really, really, REALLY light show. It's probably 40% catchphrases now, along with 40% obvious character jokes, 10% kind-of-lame silliness, and 10% cleverness.

The thing of it is, I really like the 10% cleverness. And Jim Parsons, as Sheldon? He earned that Emmy. And as long as he continues to channel a younger Rowan Atkinson, there will probably be more awards to come.

But still: It's a sitcom, with all that implies.

2. For a geek show? Not all that geeky.

And that's the thing - the show goes for the easy joke, while pretending it's the hard joke.

Most of the references on the show play into really, really, really, REALLY well-known areas of "geekery." Star Trek, which everyone knows. Avatar, which everyone knows.

And in superheroes, they cover Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman. The closest they come to a hard-to-get reference is probably The Flash.

Even in the realm of comic books, they go easy - talking about things that EVERYONE is aware of. Never mind the fact that Neil Gaiman is a New York Times bestseller, it's possible someone hasn't heard of him, so he gets no jokes.

And while they'll reference Star Trek, which made a huge splash in theaters in 2009, they totally skip over Watchmen, which also did very, very well.

When it came time to reference a comic book writer, they went to the Stan Lee well. Never mind that even a dude with a passing knowledge of comics should know Brian Michael Bendis. Or even Brian K. Vaughn - who also worked on Lost.

Is it whiny to want more from a show? Probably. But while I like to just sit and be entertained sometimes, more often than not it's nice to have one or two niche jokes, just for myself and my geeky pals.

And finally:

3. I question just how long they can keep the show going with it's current crop of actors.

This is not to downplay the folks on the show at all. Not one little bit. They're all talented, funny, and good at what they do.

But... there are only five of them, four of which are dudes. So making things stretch out using relationships is going to be not much of an option. And the whole on-again, off-again thing is gonna get old fast.

Right now, the show is one of the highest-ratest things on TV. But the backlash has already begun, with people deriding the show for often being too obvious (true) and for not being funny at all (not true).

It ain't a bad show. It goes down like candy. But I just wish it would try a little harder.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What I'm Watching: The Gates

In a lot of ways, I've insulated myself from "live" TV. I'd say that a solid 80% of the time, if I'm watching something, it's an old something... which I either recorded a while ago, and watched episodes back-to-back-to-back of, or something that I'm just now catching up with on DVD.

Sometimes, I'll catch up with something, and then make an effort to stay current.

But in the case of "The Gates," well... we just ran out of stuff to watch.

Summer in my house is all about the catch-up. Last year, we watched all of Roswell over the summer months, one or two episodes a night until we got to the end. This last year, it's been all about The Big Bang Theory, and Modern Family, and V, and a collection of FAR too many movies we borrowed from friends and need to return, and...

Then we came to the end.

And there was still a month of summer.

Somewhere-or-another, I had caught wind of a new vampires-and-werewolves series called The Gates, and I had set up the DVR to grab it, and here we were, with nothing left to watch.

(Well, that's not true. Now that Lost is finally over we intend to get through the last four seasons of that. But having finally watched with first two eps of season three, I'm remembering why we didn't think much of the show: It kind of sucks, and it kind of doesn't go anywhere for really, really, really long stretches of time. But that's for another day.)

If you don't know the setup, it's this: You've got a gated community with a new sheriff in town. He's got a dark past, and a family. Inside the community are werewolves, vampires, witches, and a succubus.

What goes on from week to week is, there's some kind of dark mystery, which may or may not be supernatural. Despite the fact that this is supposed to be a lovely, quiet town, a lot of people are getting killed or doing horrible things.

It's a little Degrassi, a little Desperate Housewives, and a little Twilight, and...

It's not bad.

That's really all I can say for it. My wife and I zipped through ten recorded episodes in a little over a week, and at the end, we were mildly entertained. The mystery solutions were fairly well handled, a lot of the drama was well spaced out, and the repurcussions of various people's actions appear again and again, which is always something that I dig, but...

I dunno. For some reason, I could just never invest.

A lot of shows take a while to find their feet, and I guess that could be why neighter my wife nor myself have managed to invest in this one fully. It's only got two episodes to go, and given the fact that the ratings have been sub-CW levels, I heartily doubt the show is going to return.

And yet...

In some ways, I hold out hope. There are good ideas here, and solid character dynamics, and somewhere in my subconcious, I feel like this show could be the next Supernatural - but it needs to get away from weekly mysteries and into something more serious and season-long, to really work.

I gotta admit, I'm kind of dying to see the end-game on this one. A lot of the time, shows up their final stakes, just to remind you to come back. There might be no "Next time on The Gates" after this Sunday, but I'm looking forward to what might happen when the writers get into a room and decide to bring their A game.

Farewell, The Gates. You held my interest, and got me into next week, when all the shows I dig will return. Good work.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What I'm Watching: The Vampire Diaries

I shouldn’t be the one to have to write this.

I can be honest about this. I can. The fact is, there just aren’t a lot of 30-something dudes who view Thursday night with great anticipation, because all those adults playing teenagers are going to be on the screen, being all vampire-y and such.

But I get tired of people kicking TV shows around. “Well, my girlfriend watches it…” “Well, it’s my guilty pleasure.”

Feh. Feh and nonsense, I say.

You enjoy something, or you don’t. You watch something, or you don’t. Unless you have some sort of a deal worked out with your girlfriend where she washes your car if you watch The Vampire Diaries with her, why waste your precious hours on earth if you don’t want to look at it?

(Also, please stop saying things like, “I watch this show for the eye candy!” Dude. If you just want to look at pictures of cute girls, the world contains something called The Internet, and it doesn’t suck up an hour of your time each week.)

Digression begins… now.

Most critics are bitter, angry people, and there’s a good reason for it – it’s because to explain why something is good is just about impossible.

Consider: In your workplace, do you spend more time talking about how awesome your coworkers are? Or complaining about how some people can’t, or won’t, do their job?

The latter. Right. Because it’s easy.

So here’s my quick list of reasons why The Vampire Diaries is great, and why you should be watching it RIGHT NOW, instead of wasting time watching things your girlfriend (or boyfriend, I suppose) likes.

First: The show is lightning fast. I mean this sincerely. After you get through the first few episodes of season one, the show is on rails, and people are dying or being horribly injured right, left, and center.

A perfect example: Early in the show, the idea of a chamber with a bunch of bad vampires is introduced. A normal show would have parceled that out. The characters would have spent the season trying to prevent the opening of the chamber. Then the last episode of the season would have arrived, and BAM, all the vampires are free.

These vamps got out less than halfway through the season. Then they did some damage. Then they did some more damage. Then they were killed of, in various ways enjoyable and heartwarming and sad.
Yes, sad. Vampires die, and dangit, you get a little weepy.

Which leads me to:

Point the Second: After a while, you start to get involved with these people.

Teen shows always have a certain amount of churn. Love triangles, past loves, all that kind of thing. It’s easy to be cynical about it, but they exist in real life, and The Vampire Diaries does a pretty decent job with it. People seem hurt. People seem confused.

And at the end of the day, the emotions they’re experiencing have a certain amount of truth.

Which leads me to:

Point the Third: There are some really good performances going on here.

Seriously now. Ian Somerhalder. The dude who mostly made me want to slap his character when he was on lost? The guy deserves a medal for being evil. But funny. And heartbroken. But mostly evil. Every week, the writers shove something like 16 emotions at the guy, and most of the time, he gets where he needs to be.

And the rest of the cast? Much better than people give them credit for. Much.

So yeah. That’s all good stuff. But here’s the big one:

Point the Fourth: The show is like a shark – it NEVER stops moving.

I know this sounds just like point number one, but I’ve got to close with this idea. While a lot of shows drag their feet (I’m looking at YOU, Lost) and set up mysteries they’re never going to work out (Lost again) and… just leave you hanging, week in and week out, SOMETHING HAPPENS on The Vampire Diaries.

You’ve gotta love that.

Of course, you’ve also got to go back to the beginning and get through five or six episodes.

Do it. You must.