Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Danny's SUPER-sized Fall TV Premiere Week Round-Up: Fringe, Smallville, Glee, Wilde, Hope, Lone Star, The Simpsons, and MORE!

Well, it's been quite a week. Of course, right as I am basically overflowing with pop-culture stuff to blog about, I get stuck on jury duty. As of Friday though, the trial concluded and therefore ... I'm back, baby. I will say this though: jury duty had its not-so-fun moments (mostly the insane morning commute between Burbank and downtown LA, which is basically stop-and-go traffic on the 101 for an hour), but, overall, it was a pretty fascinating and even entertaining experience. Being here in LA, you can rest assured that there are going to be some pretty colorful characters in the jury box, and some pretty colorful lawyers to boot. We definitely had that in spades on this case, and it made for some entertaining and memorable moments. So, civic duty is done.

Other than that, I had a fun weekend. On Friday, I kicked off Halloween early with a trip to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. Despite living minutes from Universal and being an NBC UNI employee for five years now, I've never actually been to the parks' annual Halloween horrorfest before. So, I figured it was about time to check it out, and so I went with some friends on opening night to take in the scene. It was a lot of fun, even if i was dead (bwahaha!) tired from my week at jury duty. Still, I did my best to get a second wind and enjoy attractions like the haunted tram tour, the Saw maze, the House of 1000 Corpses maze, and Bill & Ted's Halloween Adventure show. Interestingly, the Kardashian clan was at the park, taping an episode of their reality show, and their presence often meant that the crowds of people in line had to wait for Kim and Khloe to pass through a maze before they could enter. Only in LA, people. Speaking of which ...

... on to TV.

I'm late in reviewing stuff, so I'm going to run through a number of shows fairly quickly. The fact is, this has been an INSANE week for TV fans. More so than usual, everything premiered during the same weeklong period, and there were a TON of new shows to boot. I usually like to check out several of the new pilots that most interest me, even if I'm ultimately planning to drop at least a couple of them. That means that my DVR was filled to the breaking point this week, and there's a still a lot I need to catch up on as well. So let's get to it, I've got a lot to talk about ...


- I'll be honest - there was a point where I was DVR'ing Chuck and watching Gossip Girl on Mondays. Chuck was okay, but it just had trouble climbing that final rung, going from good and fun and likable to *great*. But last year, Chuck went from being a pretty good show with the occasional great episode to a show that week in and week out was bringing the goods. Chuck became true must-see TV, and last year, I think, really began to hit its stride. But, even when Chuck isn't 100% clicking for me, I still love so much about the show. I love the characters, the humor, the geekiness, the cast. Chuck is a unique thing on television. Not a remake, not a ripoff. It's cool. It's funny. It pays homage to things like Y: The Last Man, Tron, Rocky, and the music of Rush. Do you get what I'm saying here? Even when Chuck isn't great, it's still pretty damn awesome. And that's how I felt about the premiere of Season 4. Not the best episode in the show's history, but, man was it great to see Chuck back, in September, on the air. The episode had all sorts of cool moments, guest stars, etc. Harry Dean Stanton as a repo-man. Olivia Munn as a too-cool-for-school Buy More manager-slash-CIA spook. Dolph freaking Lungdren as a Russian badguy. And Linda "Sarah Connor" Hamilton kicking ass and taking names as Chuck's long-lost mom. That alone is enough to make any Chuck fan smile and cheer. That said, I did think the show moved a little quickly to re-establish the old status quo (what happened to Chuck and Morgan on their own, away from the CIA?). I also thought that some of the humor was a tad overcooked (Morgan's insistence on sexting with Sarah on behalf of Chuck was at times more creepy than funny). And, I missed the Buy More crew of Jeff, Lester, and Big Mike, who have become an integral part of the show and a chief source of comic relief. But hey, this was a very solid ep, and I hope that it's just the build-up to a great season. Watch CHUCK. Seriously.

My Grade: B+


- Look, the fact is, there's a lot that remains to be seen about The Event. We've all heard the cautious warnings comparing the show to the likes of Flashforward, and we've all wondered whether the show has a real narrative plan and vision behind it. I don't know, at least not yet. But, I do think the show had a damn good pilot. It was exciting, riveting, and left me eager to find out more. It was an effective Chapter 1. Very, very curious to see Chapter 2. In the meantime, I would like to see a couple of characters a little better fleshed-out. Lost worked so well out of the gate because, if nothing else, we had the likes of Locke, Sawyer, Jack, Kate, etc. If The Event can give us at least a couple of characters to really get behind, it may just live up to the hype.

My Grade: B+


Man, it's disappointing to me, just as a fan, that this show scored such a low rating after its Monday night debut. To me, Lone Star had an amazing pilot episode. It set up some really compelling storylines, and featured a charismatic cast. The acting was stellar all around. And the premise is something unique for network television - a con man leading two lives, playing each one against the other, working the long con yet wanting to get out of the game altogether. I found the whole thing pretty fascinating, and I was really appreciative of the fact that the main character isn't forced to have a certain set of moral standards. He's unapologetic about some of the more controversial aspects of his lifestyle, and that's refreshing. I hope this show survives. It's got a ton of potential, and it's already operating on a higher level of quality than most shows on television. It's a character-driven drama, something rare on TV, especially nowadays. It's got Jon Voight as a badass oil czar. I think FOX really blew the marketing on this one. Especially given the history of FOX Monday nights - with gritty action dramas like 24 and Prison Break, they really should have pushed Lone Star as a cool, gritty, morally-grey drama with some badass actors in it. But I don't think people were aware of the show, and clearly not many tuned it. Nonetheless, I give this one a big recommendation.

My Grade: A-


- Was not a fan of this one. I liked My Name Is Earl, for a while, but I think a lot of that had to do with great actors like Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee elevating the material. Raising Hope has the same sort of style as Earl - just barely trying to be quirky and wryly humorous in the style of Wes Anderson or the Coen Bros, but never taking it too far in that direction, instead settling for easy jokes and base humor. Worse, the mostly bland cast couldn't bring life to the characters like Lee did for Earl. This one was, to be honest, hard to get through.

My Grade: D+


- Okay, you've got Mitchell Hurvitz, creator of Arrested Development. Will Arnett. David Cross. How could this go wrong? The bad news is that this was an unspectacular pilot, especially given the talent involved and the expecations that go with that. The good news is that there were some rays of hope. A couple of jokes felt spot-on, the basic premise is sound, and there were, overall, enough moments of entertaining comedy that, hey, this might just get better and get good. Still, a number of the supporting characters fell flat, and I wasn't yet sold on Kerri Russell as a legit comedic lead. I also worry that Arnett's character is just a more cartoonish version of Gob. We shall see.

My Grade: B-


- I really enjoyed the Glee S2 premiere, for the most part. The show seemed to pick up right where it left off at the end of S1, and included some great bits of humor. There was some very funny self-referential stuff, as well as the usual hilarity from the great Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester. I always find the music on Glee to be hit or miss, so it's hard for me to really judge the musical numbers in a given episode. That said, the final song just felt very long, boring, and not particularly relevant to the plot. It was just a shame to end the episode with such a thud, after it had been mostly excellent to that point. I really loved everything with the new female football coach though, and her interactions with Will and Sue were really the highlight of the ep.

My Grade: A-


- As usual, Modern Family is pure comfort food. I have to admit, the show's pilot last year made me think that MF might turn into the next Malcolm in the Middle - a sublimely ridiculous comedy of the absurd that still somehow hits on essential truth. But the show eventually became something else - a show that mixed the documentary style of The Office with the homespun sentimentality of an old TGIF comedy. And that's cool - I still get a kick out of it and watch eagerly each week. It's a show that anyone can laugh with an enjoy. I just now know to expect a big aww-shucks group-hug moment at the end of each episode, the kind of thing that would make Danny Tanner proud. But, what I still love about MF is that it's consistently funny, and that the characters are awesome. Those two factors alone were enough to keep me tuned into the show, and also helped make the Season 2 premiere a light but enjoyable slice of TV apple pie. Mitchell and Cameron build a castle for Lilly. Phil is reluctant to get rid of his old beat up station wagon. Manny has a new ladyfriend who makes smothering mom Gloria jealous. All pretty standard stuff, but again, the characters and the phenomenal cast who portray them make it all work.

My Grade: B+


- We're now up to Episode 3 of Terriers, and the show is quickly becoming one of my favorites. In Ep #3, the intensity was really ratcheted up, and some of the overarching character stuff really began to come to a head. I'm really digging this show - and definitely getting that Veronica Mars-like vibe from its mix of weekly mysteries paired with ongoing subplots that slowly peel back the corruption and criminal activities at the heart of a small beach town. Good stuff, highly recommended.

My Grade: A-


- This show has an intriguing premise, and it seems aimed squarely at someone like me. Like the characters in the show, I graduated high school in 2000, and it's interesting to think about what's changed in the ten years since. I was really hoping that this could be a show that accurately captured the Gen Y zeitgeist and that really resonated with people my age. But, instead of feeling real and relatable, My Generation instead came off as cheap and cliched. The characters just felt like broadly-drawn stereotypes straight out of a John Hughes movie, only, you know, without Hughes' wit, humor, or ability to deconstruct those established archetypes and make them into something more. There was a show I really liked a few years back on FOX called Reunion, and that show had a sort of self-aware campiness to it as it flashed through time to different years in the lives of its principle characters. For that show, the device really worked, and the cheesiness of flashing to a given year in the 90's only to hear some Third Eye Blind song playing was part of the fun. But My Generation seems to be just going through the motions, making it feel like an eye-rolling chore each time we flashback to 2000 and hear songs like The Real Slim Shady and The Thong Song, for no good reason except that they were popular in that year. And the moment in the flashbacks in which a character (in high school) talks about mP3's, and the documentarian says "what are those?" and he smiles and says "you'll see" ...? Ugh. Just ugh. Also, the show just felt lazy in how within one episode it already made its universe so insular. These characters have been mostly apart for ten years, but within an hour it felt like they lived in a world with no one else but each other. There was just a lot of clunkiness to this show that made it hard to get through. I wanted to like this one. I like the concept, and I like the idea of a show that is specifically about people my age and the issues we deal with that are unique to our generation. But the show didn't seem to really cover that. It was just a laundry list of cliched characters and news events that most of us are already sick of hearing about in this age of 24 hour news cycles. It's funny, I think that CHUCK, even with all its self-aware humor humor and goofiness, is a better and more definitive show about "my generation," in its own way, than My Generation. As it stands,

My Grade: C-


- Awesome premiere, and Community is really firing on all cylinders right now. If the show keeps this up, I don't think I'd hesitate to call it the best sitcom on TV. The ensemble cast kicks ass, and all of the little in jokes and references to past episodes, near-fourth-wall-breaks, and random pop culture references give this show a depth and texture that can only be compared to something like The Simpsons at the height of its powers. Community is absolutely must-watch TV comedy right now.

My Grade: A-

30 ROCK:

- I know there's been a lot of debate about the relative quality of 30 Rock over the last year or two. There's a whole camp who thinks the show took a considerable dip in its last few seasons, and others who think the show's as sharp and funny as ever. Personally, I do feel like 30 Rock hasn't been quite as amazing and superlative as it was at its height in, say, Season 2. I feel the show got a little too soap-opera-ish and, instead of playing up the fast-paced randomness that made it so great, it started becoming a little less wacky and a little more standard sitcom. But, praised be Liz Lemon, the Season 5 premiere was hilarious, and one of the best episodes of the show in quite a while. Even the relationshippy stuff - between Tina Fey and guest star Matt Damon - was really funny and had some of the episode's best dialogue. And, just about everything Alec Baldwin said, as he faced off with Avery in a Machiavellian battle of wits - was comedic gold. Plus: Kenneth in a CBC Page uniform! So wrong and yet so right. Great start for 30 Rock.

My Grade: A-


- On the other hand, I thought The Office's return was alright, but a little blah considering that this was a much-hyped season premiere. The episode was a pretty inconsequential standalone about Michaels' incompetent nephew getting an assistant gig at Dunder-Mifflin. There was some amusing comedy derived from the premise (I loved the nephew's line about being a film buff - his favorite movies are "Citizen Kane and The Boondock Saints"), but overall this felt like a pretty standard-issue episode that could have aired at any point during the show's run. And, it seemed to give the short shrift to standout supporting cast members like Andy, Erin, and Daryl. Extra points though for the infectiously fun cold open dance number, which was pretty sublimely entertaining. Despite the only-okay premiere, I'm still very much looking forward to seeing where things go from here.

My Grade: B


- Fringe was quite possibly the best TV show on the air last season. By the end of Season 2, FRINGE was kicking ass and taking names, delivering episode after episode that brought the straight-up ownage. John Noble was doing the best acting on TV. The mythology was expanding and becoming increasingly epic, intense, and mind-blowing. The cast, overall, was really beginning to gel - with Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson stepping up and improving leaps and bounds since Season 1. Fringe was THE must-see serialized drama on TV, eclipsing the likes of Lost and 24 as a true TV event. And now, with those shows off the air, and no new heir apparent to take the torch, as of yet, all hail Fringe - the current king of sci-fi television. Now, Fringe is going for something really ambitious in Season 3 - alternating episodes between its two parallel universes. The S3 premiere was almost entirely set in Earth 2, where our Olivia is trapped and trying to find a way home, all the while encountering alt versions of her friends, family, and colleagues.

I really liked the slow build here. Whereas the season finale felt like a blockbuster movie, this opener methodically took its time to establish the stakes of this new season, all the while keeping some key mysteries hidden, at least for now. But this was great stuff, with Anna Torv really carrying the episode and doing a nice job of it, as TV's premiere kick-butt leading lady. The episode played out like an extended chase scene, so there was a lot of action and tension. But, there was also a lot of character and mystery. Most intriguing is what, exactly, was Walternate's intention in implanting the memories of Earth 2 Olivia into the Earth 1 version? And how does he plan to use her dimension-hopping abilities to his advantage in the impending war between worlds? God, John Noble is so freaking badass. His take on the Earth 2 Walter Bishop is brilliant - similar yet highly different from the crazy, shaky Earth 1 version. Walternate is stone-cold, calculating, and rimming with ridiculous amounts of gravitas. Just awesome. And so far, we've only gotten a very brief tease of how things are going over on Earth 1, where "Faux-livia" is currently posing as the real deal, unbeknownst to Walter and Peter. Next week we're back on Earth 1, and it's going to be fascinating to see that new dynamic play out.

Fringe is really swinging for the fences right now, and it's great to see. The S3 premiere didn't have the kind of jaw-dropping moments we got in the S2 finale, but man, it was an ultra-compelling first chapter of this new volume. And you can feel the groundwork being laid for something big and epic, which is what makes this all so absorbing. Unlike certain other shows of this type, you feel with this season of Fringe that there is a plan, an endgame around the bend. So of course, I'm in for the long haul, and psyched to see where this all goes.

My Grade: A-


- Unbelievably, here we are at Season 10 (!) of Smallville. Pretty incredible. I still remember watching the early seasons with my friends in college, wondering when Clark and Lana would finally hook up, or when Lex would finally fully given in to his dark side. For it's first three seasons, Smallville was really a great show - a fresh new take on the Superman mythos that delivered a great mix of adventure, intrigue, and romance. From that point on, things have been up and down, to say the least. There's been a lot of crap in the last several years of Smallville, but there's also been enough good stuff to keep me coming back. I love the legend of Superman, and Smallville always has just enough of those iconic "super" moments to prevent me from pulling the plug on the show, which I've been tempted to do several times. In fact, Smallville has so much potential, so many great stories to draw on, that when the right writer comes along with the right vision, you can easily make something great out of the show's fundamental building blocks. Witness last season's "Absolute Justice" - written by comics scribe Geoff Johns, the extra-length episode was a classic comic book story come to life, and a flat-out great episode of television. It's moments and episodes like that that have ensured that I'm sticking with Smallville to the end.

Now, there was a lot last season that I wasn't enamored with. The overarching Zod storyline was way too dragged out and overcomplicated to have any real dramatic impact. Worse, the show kept bringing Clark to the brink of flull-fledged superherodom, only to keep him in this frustrating purgatory between being an anonymous do-gooder and coming out to the world as Superman. Nobody wants to see Clark Kent as proto-Superman mystery man "The Blur." After ten years, it was time for Clark to stop brooding and start kicking ass in red, blue, and yellow. So here we are, the final season, Season 10, and it's time for Smallville to go all-out and be super. Did it?

Overall, I liked the premiere. There were a number of intriguing plot points - from evil clones of Lex Luthor running around, to the Suicide Squad's interrogation of Oliver Queen, to the many ominious warnings that a "greater evil" (revealed, as has been speculated, as uber-villain Darkseid) was on the way - there was a lot of big, crazy stuff happening here. Perhaps best of all, we got the return of Jon Shneider as Jonathan Kent. Losing Schneider has always been a huge loss for Smallville. Along with the great Jonathan Glover, Shneider helped to class up the show, and was always great as Clark's strong-willed adoptive father. Seeing him appear again - even if it was in the context of a semi-random vision from beyond the grave - was really cool, and he and Tom Welling shared a great scene of father-son bonding. Meanwhile, there were strong hints that Erica Durance's Lois Lane is finally wise to the fact that Clark and The Blur are one and the same. Even if this is veering pretty far from the established Superman continuity, I support Lois finding out everything, because really, how far can you drag out a secret like that on a show like this? Do we really need yet another season of Lois stressing over whether Clark is keeping secrets from her?

And then there are the two big fanboy-friendly moments in this ep ... the first being the reveal of the Superman suit from Superman Returns. I don't love that particular version of the suit (the S-shield is too small and the rubbery texture looks weird), but still, it's the iconic outfit, and I hope that we see Tom Welling in it sooner rather than later (if it's dragged out for the whole season, then seriously, kill me now). But, after all the early talk on this show of how Smallville would have "no tights, no flights" it's nice to see the producers realize that, hey, after ten years, it's time to rethink that. Secondly, we had the reveal of Darkseid as the season's big bad. Now, I am a total geek for the character and for all of Jack Kirby's Fourth World creations, and if Darkseid is NOT the villain in the next Superman movie, it will be a huge shame. Because Darkseid is to me the ultimate Superman villain other than Lex, and certainly the one who makes for the most epic storylines - a near-invincible intergalactic warlord who rules the planet Apokolips with an iron fist, and who seeks to eliminate free will via the mysterious Anti-Life Equation. Hell yeah. If Smallville can pull it off, more power to them. Will they? Can they? In the glimpse of Darkseid we got in the premiere, he at least looked like the comic version as created by the legendary Kirby. But, he also looked very CGI-ish, which was a bit worrisome. Hopefully there will eventually be a happy medium between having Darkseid be a badass alien stone-monster and yet still looking like a guy who could have one hell of a smackdown with Clark.

Now, although there were indeed a lot of intriguing developments in this episode, there was still a lot of stuff that was a little underwhelming. I was turned off, for example, by the fact that so much of the episode was AGAIN about Clark doubting himself and worrying that he could be a danger to humanity. Like I said, enough brooding already. I'm also sort of sick of Tess Mercer. Her character makes no sense at this point, and the most intriguing revelation about her - that she was secretly a spy working for Checkmate - now seems to be all but ignored.

But, we'll see. It's kind of exciting knowing that this is the final season, and, at least in theory, all bets are off. I'm intrigued to see Deadshot pop up next week, and can't wait for the Blue & Gold episode that Geoff Johns is writing for later this season. And hey, there seems to be some big, epic stuff on the horizon. Will Smallville deliver? I hope so.

My Grade: B


- Speaking of long-running series, how about Season 22 of The Simpsons? You know, when people ask me why I'm still watching the show, long after its glory years have faded, I usually say that it's because a.) out of habit / loyalty, and b.) because every so often, the show surprises me and airs a genuinely funny, well-done episode that's close in quality to the old days. The S22 premiere was genuinely very funny and clever, and had a surprising number of laugh out loud moments. It also had one of the more memorable guest appearances in a while, as Brett and Jermaine of Flight of the Conchords showed up as two bohemian artists who show Lisa the good and bad sides of being a penniless musician just trying to express yourself. I enjoyed the fusion of Simpsons-style humor with the Conchord's unique sensibilities. And, honestly, it was just great to see those guys again (even if in animated form) after the end of their awesome HBO series last year. Some Glee cast members also made an appearance, but it was just for a quick musical number, whereas Brett and Jermaine really stole the show. There was also a pretty funny subplot in which Bart and Homer try to prove Krusty's merit in from of the World Court. Honestly, it's hard to remember the last time The Simpsons had such a solid B-plot matched with a funny A-plot. So, I know some people are inclined to just dismiss the show at this point - but I say be open-minded. If you missed last night's premiere, then you missed a pretty darn good episode of The Simpsons.

My Grade: A-

Okay, deep breath! And ... I'm done (for now). So, what'd you think of premiere week? Any hits or misses that I left out? Thoughts on Fringe, Smallville, The Event, etc? I think I am going to have to ease up on writing about a lot of these shows, but I'll definitely check in to cover some of my favorites in the weeks ahead. I've also got some movie reviews coming up, so stay tuned. Until then, happy TV watching.

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