Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Meet the new series, same as the old series - new TV series (part two)

I've seen enough shows now to get a sense of the season, which is basically made up of a whole bunch of generic comedies and X-Files clones. Almost every crime and suspense show is indebted to X-Files. It seems strange; why, five years after it went off the air, is everyone trying to capture the X-Files vibe? Here's my take on a few more shows, and some revisiting of ones I mentioned before.

The Night Stalker
Premise: Like the old Kolchak: The Night Stalker series except different in every conceivable way

Review: I really don't understand the point in taking the name of an old series for a show that's nothing like it. Kolchak: The Night Stalker starred the middle-aged character actor Darren McGavin as a pushy, rumpled loner reporter fascinated with unusual murders that always turned out to have supernatural causes. He constantly tried to publish the stories but his editor resisted.

This new incarnation is about a young, attractive reporter obsessed with the mysterious death of his wife who teams up with an attractive female reporter and investigates mysterious murders that may have supernatural overtones, not to write about them, which he refuses to do for some dumb reason, but to find out if there's a connection with his wife's death.

The Night Stalker is not really a remake of Kolchak, it's actually a remake of the X-Files, and was in fact created by an ex-writer for that show. You've got the true believer guy and the woman skeptic and all sorts of scary monsters. And while as a remake of the McGavin show this is a complete failure, lacking that show's personality and humor, as a remake of the X-Files it's really pretty darn good. It's scary and stylish, although I could do without those dumb intros and outros where the good-looking Kolchack pretentiously prattles on while key phrases appear onscreen.

My Name is Earl

Premise: White trash low-life discovers karma and decides to make ammends for everything he's ever done wrong

Review: Hey look, it's a clever, original comedy! You don't see much of that, do you? This is a really funny show that plays off the dumbness of its principals but never really looks down on them. Earl is ill-informed (after seeing Carson Daly discussing karma on TV, Earl comes to believe that the concept was invented by Carson) and he's done a lot of bad things, but he's got an admirable determination and a certain childlike logic. The show manages to create a character who you can believe would try and right his wrongs but that you also believe would have done those wrongs to begin with. So far this is the only show I've seen this season whose cancellation would upset me.


Premise: girls talking really fast

Review: Related manages to be kind of clever without ever actually being funny. A group of sisters banter about this and that with the rat-a-tat delivery from the Gilmore Girls, and sometimes they say something that seems like there's a certain intelligence in the thought, but it's not funny or witty or anything like that, it just exhibits a certain facile cleverness. This is from the producers of Friends, and the characters are just as bland and generic as those on Friends. Friends kept me watching because of its sharp writing, but Related is written in an annoying manner and glib dialogue delivered by generic women is not my idea of a good time.


Premise: Something's going on, but what? The title suggests aliens, but the show isn't telling

Review: I wanted to check this out because it was from the creator of the brilliant, short-lived horror series American Gothic, Shaun Cassidy, who has apparently created a few other shows since then that were canceled without my ever knowing they existed. If not for Shaun's involvement I might have stopped watching in the middle of the first episode, which managed to make a hurricane seem dull, but I kept watching and the series picked up.

Invasion is definitely a slow build, which is why the first episode was all set-up and no excitement. Now the pieces are falling into place but you can't make out the picture. A doctor who was found after the hurricane naked in the forest has become obsessed with water. The doctor's sheriff husband acts suspiciously but may be okay (judging from this and American Gothic, Cassidy finds small-town sheriff's intimidating). A military guy was found injured with holes in his body, but he was supposed to be overseas; did he really die in the hospital? A reporter is intrigued by mysterious goings on in the area, but her boss, who also was found naked in the forest after the hurricane, insists she not investigate.

At this point, I'm intrigued. The show has a low-key eeriness to it, and while it's no American Gothic so far, I think as the story unwinds this show could have the same mysterious quality that gives Lost its charm. Here's hoping.

And here's comments on two shows I'm giving up on:


Premise: Sea monsters galore

Review: When I saw the second episode of the series I thought the recap of the first episode was too confusing, but having seen the first episode I realized there was no way around that, because the whole episode was confusing. Surface simply isn't done very well. It follows four separate stories, but none of them are especially involving, and the show often fails to make clear what's going on or why. I feel they're trying to squeeze in a lot of stuff and thus glossing over important details. It's not a terrible show, but it's not really worth watching either.

Commander in Chief

Premise: Woman becomes the president everyone wants

Review: Dream presidents work great in comedies like Dave, where one can take delight in a forthright guy who always does the right thing, but the world is too complex for a fantasy president to work in a drama. Here, Geena Davis is a president who is tough yet compassionate, a straight shooter who always does the right thing for the right and noble reason. But she's doing stuff that wouldn't work in the real world. Sure, it sounds great to intimidate a country into overthrowing their dictatorship, but in the real world patriotism and hatred of the U.S. generally trump hatred of one's own government And in the real world there is not always a good solution to a situation; sometimes you have to choose between a bunch of bad options none of which is going to get you anything close to what you want, a fact conveniently ignored by this show.

There is also a certain connect-the-dots quality to the story, which hits the subjects you would expect it to hit in the order you would expect it to hit them, doing the whole how to run the free world and still be a good mom thing and other such nonsense.

The cast is great, especially an unctuous Donald Sutherland, but the show feels false and contrived. It also just isn't that interesting.

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