Tuesday, September 27, 2005

TV: Hey, it's fall premiere time

I really don't watch a ton of TV. I mean, there's also DVDs to see, toddlers to play with, wives, books, exercise to all fit into the day as well (I gave up any attempt at a social life the day Baby Peter was born). So for a comprehensive look at the fall TV season, don't expect one here (however, Tom The Dog has been in rare form lately with his excellent TV season blogging). But of the half-dozen shows I watch, here's my impressions of the new season --

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My Name Is Earl is the only one of this season's new shows I was interested in seeing, based on great reviews and star Jason Lee ("Almost Famous," "Chasing Amy"), who I always like. Last week's premiere was terrific fun, about a bozo hick small-time criminal who undergoes a crisis of conscience and decides to start making the world a better place. The show's got an offbeat point-of-view and some clever characters, led by the reliable Lee in the lead role. Some great one-liners – "I know this might sound crazy in this day and age, but we live in a small town and I've never been face to face with a gay before. I understand now the runnin' probably wasn't necessary" — and a premise packed with potential mean I'll be coming back for more.

The Office - Like most fans of the BBC series, I was skeptical about a U.S. remake, but in its short run last spring the American version starring Steve Carell wasn't bad at all, albeit different than the original. This one is starting to find its own voice, spinning off in interesting ways and really nailing the laughter vs. cringe factor balance. It's not a comfortable comedy to watch -- last week's season premiere and the "Dundie" awards just made you ache with its spot-on awfulness -- but it's really pretty great and unlike most sitcoms on the air. Give it time and it might catch up to the reputation of its parent.

Arrested Development - It's hard to believe a show this subversive and intelligent has made it to a third season. The premiere last Monday was another layered mini-masterpiece. (How can you not love a show that creates fake Web sites like imoscar.com for a two-second joke?) However, while I loved it, I kept thinking about what a labyrinth of in-jokes the show has become, requiring you to have a pretty in-depth knowledge of the last two years to get half the references. While it works for people who are already fans like me, it sure makes me worry this show doesn't have a chance of making it to season 4 unless it gets a little more accessible - yet I don't want it sacrificing that unique "Arrested Development" vibe that makes it the best comedy on TV. Either way, I'm with it until it heads off into the sunset.

Lost - Last Wednesday's knock-you-on-your-ass-and-kick-your-teeth-in season premiere summed up every reason why this is my current favorite show on TV. The saga of the island castaways left us hanging back in May, but the first 10 minutes of the season premiere managed to be both fulfilling and left us with a dozen more questions -- the keys to any mystery. Who the hell is Desmond? What's going on? Heck if I know, but I can't wait to see where it goes. The biggest risk for this show is that it fizzles out in "X-Files"-style meandering, but right now "Lost" is at the peak of its powers.

The Simpsons - In its 439 or so seasons, I've consistently enjoyed "The Simpsons," ever since it premiered my senior year in high school (!!!). It's been up and down, but I've stuck with it, ignoring the naysayers who say the show stopped being funny at season 10 or whenever. But... this year, well, wife Avril and I are just not quite into it. There hasn't been a huge plunge in quality, but suddenly "The Simpsons" just seems really tired. Last night's episode was so lethargic that I barely felt interested in following it through (How many times has Marge gotten fed up with Homer now? And how can you mess up so badly a parody of as easy a target as "The OC"?). I'm not giving up the show, but it's suddenly no longer "must see TV" for us (particularly now that FOX has gutted their Sunday schedule so that "Arrested Development" is on a different night).

There's a few other shows I'll strive to catch when I can -- we're newly converted to "The OC," although so far season 3's episodes haven't been quite as cool as the first season DVDs we've been watching, and when they return next January, "Scrubs" and the campy jingoistic joys of "24" are high on our watching list.

By the by, if you're a fan of music, documentaries, or both, be sure to tune in to PBS tonight to catch the first half of "No Direction Home," Martin Scorsese's acclaimed documentary about Bob Dylan's early career. I watched the first half on DVD last week and it's great stuff - and I'm not the world's biggest Dylan fan. Scorsese does a great job though of establishing the context for Dylan and his amazing creative run in the early 1960s, and the filmmaking is phenomenal, cutting back and forth between revelatory mid-1960s footage of Dylan, interviews with many talking heads, and astoundingly erudite talks with Dylan himself (if you picture "mumblin' nasal Dylan," you'll be amazed at how, well, normal the man sounds here). It airs tonight ("check local listings" as they say for the time) with part two tomorrow night. Watch it.

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