Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What I’m Watching: Ah, Hiatus

I haven’t done one of these in months, and I’ve never done this kind of update on this particular blog. I used to do it all the time on a blog I wrote for the local newspaper, but… I haven’t really done it here.
What is “it?” It is listing all the shows I’m watching, and my thumbnail thoughts on them. Why do it? Because it’s my blog, and I can.
The Sing-Off
My wife got into American Idol last season when an acquaintance of hers auditioned. Dude didn’t even make it on the screen, but by then, my wife was into it and we kept going.
Same deal with The Sing-Off, wherein a group from our home state got the nod, and she got to speak to them for the local paper. She wanted to see how they did. Answer: They were out in episode 1.
But we persevered.
It’s hard to call the show good or bad, but I would say it’s overlong, with lots of bumpers and reviews of where the groups are at emotionally each week. That gets old, as after about two weeks, they all talk about how they’ve “come this far” and they “can’t go home.”
Of course, one of them goes home. Because that’s the show.
Over the weeks, I’ve grown into a fan of Pentatonix and Afro Blue, and for the most part I enjoy the weekly performances. But I have to say, I wish the show was an hour of dynamite performances, and that they would slice out the padding. It’d be a lot more fun.
Glee/The Glee Project
Last summer, my wife got a little obsessed with The Glee Project, which was basically American Idol, only you couldn’t vote, and all the contestants got to make music videos. It wasn’t a great show, but most of the people on it seemed nice and… I don’t even know, really. It was nice people trying to get on a TV show they all liked a lot. It was kind of huggable, as TV goes.
In the end, there could only be one winner... except they decided there should be two, because all the characters on Glee are about to graduate, which means they need to fill the bench with players. Plus, two non-winners also won the chance to be in a couple of episodes. That was unexpected, but had to drive all the people who didn’t even get ONE episode a little bonkers.
I’ve written elsewhere that Glee is essentially a sitcom (because after you yank out the songs, they have about a sitcom’s worth of time to tell an actual STORY) and that the show only works if you assume every one of the characters is an idiot whose personality changes from week to week.
At its best, the show can break your heart. At its worst, you’ll debate whether watching another episode, ever, is worth your time.
The thing that might have fixed the show came this year when they hired an actual writing staff, some of which I liked when they were working on other shows. In some ways, it helped, as the show suddenly seems compelled to address a bunch of forgotten storylines.
In other ways, not so much, as the characters frequently feel even more randomly motivated than they ever did before.
Could the show be fixed? I think so. It needs to drop Sue, because her character wore out her usefulness about two seasons back. They need to cut the number of storylines each week down by at least one, because they don’t have time for what they’re trying to accomplish.
And they need to take a much longer view of their character motivation, and actually let things build from week to week, instead of randomly remembering things long forgotten.
Modern Family
The first time I really fell in love with Modern Family, I was in the middle of episode five, and something happened that made me laugh so hard I stopped watching the show and started over from the first episode with my wife.
Over the last three years, the show has racked up a ton of Emmy awards and has continued to be funny, though not quite AS funny as that glorious first year. And I get that. The show isn’t as fresh now, the character relationships are more obviously defined, and the great trick of the show – getting all the stories to relate to one another – is just too hard to accomplish every week.
Still. Funny! And well worth watching week by week.
South Park
As I type this, South Park just got renewed through its 20th season, which means it will be on the air when I hit my forties. I am old.
As for the show, well, week by week it’s based on whatever is happening RIGHT NOW in the world, and that keeps it fresh, and mostly pretty funny. And that’s really all I have to say about that.
The Vampire Diaries
Second best show on TV. Fast-moving (in 2.5 seasons, they’ve covered the ground most shows cover in 5 or 6), funny, surprisingly touching, and did I mention fast-moving?
So much fun. Good vampires. Bad vampires. Werewolves. Horrible deaths of people who you don’t expect to die.
So. Much. Fun.
Watch it today! Until the CW folds, taking all its shows with it.
The Big Bang Theory
Ah… yet another painfully flawed show. A bunch of really quite good actors hamstrung by the fact that their dialogue is built out of series of punchlines.
But some of those punchlines, man… brilliant.
It’s funny, really. This was, for a while, my favorite show, but as I write this I’m realizing it’s sort of my favorite show because nothing else has vaulted over it.
And yet, I’m not in love with this season.
It’s tough to pinpoint why, but I suppose it’s because they’ve done just about every possible plotline now, and have gone from long-form storytelling to more of a monster of the week show. There are long-form plotlines, and when they come back into play, the show is just as outstanding as it ever was.
But, well, I always thought the weekly monster stories were the weakest part of the show, so I’m not hopping up and down to see them back.
I dunno. The show has hit its peak, I suppose. And we’ve had to sacrifice the great episodes in order to rid ourselves of the ‘sodes we’d rather forget. Here’s hoping for a strong season closer.
The Walking Dead
You know what this show needs? Plot coupons.
Plot coupons are those things where everyone has a goal, and has to get to it. They need to get to CITY X by DAY Y or bad things will happen.
And of course nothing bad will happen, because the show isn’t gutsy enough to try to pull that off. But at least, episode to episode, they’ll have a goal and accomplish it.
Instead, what happens now is, people walk around. And maybe they have a little goal, but a lot of the time, the cast wanders around not working on the little goal. And they don’t really have a plotline of their own, or they have a vague one that isn’t going anywhere.
On the bright side, even though the show takes a long time to get anywhere, every episode flies by. That’s a neat trick, and I’m not sure how they do it.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Parks and Recreation
My wife really, really wanted to see this show, for reasons I still don’t quite understand. She wasn’t a fan of anyone on the show. She hadn’t heard much in the way of reviews.
And yet… she wanted to see it.
So we got the first season on DVD, and it was okay. And then, in season 2, it got good. Then really good. Then really, really good.
We were about halfway through catching up on season 3 when the new season started, and we suddenly had way, way, way too much to watch anyway. So we stopped trying to catch up. But the hiatus is here, so soon we shall delve into the show. I’m excited.
What makes it great? Character work, in the writing and in the acting. Every week, they grab a new situation, and fling these fascinating people at them, and they bounce off each other in hilarious ways. It’s brilliant. Watch it.
Though I do feel there’s one more thing I should mention, character-wise. I think the only show that has such a deep bench for characters is The Simpsons. Week in and week out, Parks and Rec brings back people you’ve seen before. Not as guest star cameos… more like characters who would show up every week if the show could afford to pay them.
I love that kind of thing. It makes me happy.
Degrassi: Season 10, part 1
I get mixed reactions to my unending love of Degrassi, and when I do, I feel compelled to bring up the fact that they’re up for an Emmy again this year.
Back in the 80s, the show was brilliantly issue-driven, with the various problems of teen-hood resolved or not resolved, but always with a long-lasting impact.
Today… they’ve run out of issues. They’ve recycled some, to different effect, often taking a different results path. And it mostly works.
But most of the time, it’s a teen soap opera. But it’s a well-acted, well-scripted one, that allows the kids to make mistakes that impact their fake lives, and that’s not nothing. Also, they still find issues to tackle, and many of those are brilliantly handled. (See: Up for an Emmy.)
I miss the old Degrassi, to be sure. But as long as the storylines continue to be fun to follow, I’ll stay with the show.
And that’s what I’m watching.

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