Sunday, July 16, 2006

Opinionade: The Series

For a while last fall I was doing capsule TV series reviews, but then new shows started coming so far apart that I couldn’t do a few at once, and devoting an entire blog entry to one show just seemed excessive.  And shows come and go so fast; I would have given a favorable nod to Emily’s Reasons Why Not if it hadn’t been cancelled after one episode.

But I’ve realized that there are now a few shows I’ve started watching recently that seem interesting, so I’ll write a few words on them.

Psych (10 pm on USA)
Premise: Guy with Sherlock Holmes-style skills pretends to be a psychic

Review:  There was a brilliant, short-lived comedy-detective show years ago called Tenspeed and Brownshoe with Jeff Goldblum as a nervous dork and Ben Vereen as a cool, con man type.  About a year later there was some other show I remember nothing about that had four characters, and the one black character was a cool, con man type.  And I thought at the time, why can’t the white guy ever be the con man and the black guy be the nerd?  I knew black nerds and white slicksters, and it just bugged me when TV runs to the obvious stereotypes.

Well look how far we’ve come in a measly 26 years.  In the very fun new detective show Psych, the white guy is faking it ever step of the way, dragging along his nervous Nelly black partner every step of the way.  (And yeah, I know there have been black dorks on TV shows, most famously Urkel, but this just happens to be exactly what I felt was missing in the 80s, so it caught my attention)

The show is a lot of fun.  Shawn, whose father trained him to be hyper-observant, has been phoning in tips to the cops based on what he notices on TV shows, but his advice is so good they decide he must be a criminal himself (this part is not convincing, but now that it’s out of the way we probably won’t have to hear about it again).  To get out of hot water he tells them he’s a psychic, and uses his observational skills to convince them, doing such a good job that they hire him to investigate a case, which he solves.

This comes on right after Monk, and it’s very much in the same mold (of the early Monk, not the present hit-or-miss Monk).  It’s funny and reasonably clever, and it’s neat the way the camera zeroes in on the telling clues Shawn notices.  It’s not, perhaps, as good as I remember Tenspeed and Brownshoe being, but hopefully it will last longer.  

Conclusion: Well, I’ve only seen one episode so I may be getting ahead of myself, but this looks like a winner.

Kyle XY
Premise: mysterious kid with strange abilities and no belly button joins a wholesome American family

Review: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  Guy wakes up naked in the middle of nowhere with no idea of how he got there or who he is.  Fortunately he turns out to be preternaturally brilliant, and … oh, you have heard this before?  Of course, that was the short-lived  series John Doe.  Kyle XY has pretty much the same opening, although according to the producers they had the idea for that scene years before John Doe came out.

Anyway, John Doe started out great and went downhill, but I’m hoping that Kyle XY, which also started out great, keeps its momentum a little better.

The first two episodes were great.  Kyle is reminiscent of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, an observer of humans trying to puzzle out why they do what they do.  The show is often funny and it’s playing out the central mystery quite well.

The third episode worries me a bit.  This is on the ABC Family Channel, and the third episode was like something you’d see on a “family channel,” with lessons learned about lying and too much sweetness with too little story.  But I’m still hoping this won’t go the way of John Doe, getting bad and then getting lost.

Conclusion: I’m hoping Kyle can avoid both family sappiness and the loss of focus, sense and interesting stories that plagued John Doe.  If it does, this could be really great.

Dog Bites Man
Premise: inept news team goes around pestering people

Review: Comedy Central has only had a few series that more-or-less fall into the classic sitcom form.  There’s Reno 911, a series that has been running for years that I think is horrible, Stella, a brilliant and original comedy that was cancelled after one season, and now Man Bites Dog, which falls somewhere in between comedically.  The show details a news team’s adventures as they investigate important stories like spring break.  The central conceit is that while the news team is made up of improve actors, everyone else on the show is a real person who isn’t told they’re on a comedy show, and presumably believe these people are who they’re pretending to be.  

I haven’t really decided on this one. It’s amusing but not hilarious, and the real-people angle hasn’t really resulted in anything that funny.  The Daily Show’s interviews with people who don’t see to be aware they’re talking to someone from the Daily Show are funnier.  Still, I always have admiration for comedians who have the guts to act like total jackasses in front of people who don’t realize it’s a put on.

Conclusion: I could go either way on this one, but for now I’ll keep watching.

Blade: The Series
Premise: a couple of good vampires try to kill a lot of bad ones.

Review: First off, I think adding “the series” to the end of a title is incredibly lame.  But then, Blade likes the obvious.  The show is mean and macho and generic, with the only interesting personality a peripheral cop-gone-very-bad character.

I don’t need to write a review of this now, because When I saw the movie Blade II I posted a review on, and the series is so like the movie that I can just use most of that review:

Blade II Blade: The Series is basically decent. It's got a few cool and/or effective moments, it keeps moving, and everything about it says "basically adequate though uninspired action flick." Snipes The series' star makes an acceptable b-movie sort of action figure, with less presence than Vin Diesel but more talent than Chuck Norris.

I watched it to the end and didn't feel overly restless, so if you just kind of like action pictures and it's on TV it's worth at least looking at. But that's about the best I can say for it.

Conclusion: This is just keeping me slightly interested enough to stick with it, but it’s really a week-by-week decision.  I could very easily give up on this one, but it’s pretty watchable all the same.

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