Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The CW's Real Guilty Pleasure

Privileged: Tuesdays on CW, 9:00/8:00 Central

It turns out that the CW did come through with its requisite guilty pleasure show this year after all. Whereas the much-hyped 90210 reboot is just plain guilty, their other Tuesday night drama "Privileged" is the pleasure. Megan Smith is a recent Yale grad trying to make it in the world with her writing degree. Unfortunately, instead of writing the next great biography she's stuck working for an NYC tabloid. When her apartment building goes up in flames and she loses her job in the same day, a door unexpectedly opens bringing her back to the ultra-rich society in Palm Springs where she grew up. Her task? Tutor spoiled teenage twin granddaughters of the rich and the famous so they can go to Duke.

Another show about rich people (see "The OC", "Gossip Girl", "90210"), you ask? Sort of. The focus this time is on our outsider, Megan, so a lot of time is spent poking fun at the lifestyle instead of seeing how cool and glamorous it is to be stinking rich. Another plus is that she's an adult, so we hopefully won't get bogged down in the minutiae of high school life once class is in session in future episodes. Joanna Garcia ("Reba", "Welcome to the Captain") brings a high level of energy to the spunky and sarcastic lead role. I'd seen her before on last year's short-lived "Captain" comedy, but here she's a revelation bringing just the kind of humor shows like this need.

Although it fills the role of a one-hour drama in the network's schedule, this feels more like a comedy to me. It fills a niche that shows like (dare I say) "Gilmore Girls" used to occupy. Sure the plot may be a little obvious so far: one twin is nice, the other bitchy; there's an obligatory love triangle; and an estranged family, but "Privileged" is genuinely entertaining. I can't say that about a lot of shows on the boob tube these days.

If you're currently giving attention to "90210" or other such drek, I strongly urge you to check this out instead. It's unfortunate when worthy shows are overlooked because the hype machine hasn't been employed in their favor, and that seems to be the case here. No matter if you believe in them or not, the pilot last week did horribly in the Nielsen ratings so it's probably going to need some help if its planning on sticking around. It's on at the same time as Fox's "Fringe" (coming to a post near you), so I won't be able to watch it live but I'm definitely going to keep up with it online. Thanks to the CW streaming full episodes on their website, you should too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

This Blood's For You

True Blood: Sundays on HBO, 9:00/8:00 Central

Alan Ball ("Six Feet Under", "American Beauty") is back with a new HBO original series. If you were expecting something with the sophistication or gravitas of either of those previous works, you're probably going to be sorely disappointed. Instead, "True Blood" is a pulp-tastic vampire story set in small town Louisiana. Based on the Southern Vampire series of novels by Charlaine Harris, the story centers around a young barmaid Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin - "The Piano", "X-Men") who just happens to be able to read people's thoughts. Everyone's except for the new vampire in town, that is.

The real star of the show is its backdrop and setting. Being the pilot episode there wasn't a whole lot going on here plotwise, but you can see how many story possibilities there are for the future. The difference between this and other vampire stories is that here the vampires are a known entity. They've recently revealed themselves to the world in a move known as the "Great Revelation", trying to become a viable part of society. This is made possible by the invention of a synthetic blood beverage called Tru Blood. Having vampires out in the open creates the possibility for stories centering around race relations and oppression with vampires playing the role of minority, as well as the standard vampiric "seduction of the innocent" tales.

The show is easy to follow, but the backstory isn't fully fleshed out within it. For that, there are a number of cool websites that detail the world of "True Blood". Since the Great Revelation, organizations have sprung up both for and against the integration of vampires into society. There's even a proposed Constitutional amendment that would grant vampires equal rights, complete with commercials for and against its passage. If you're interested, you can get a good summary of the buildup to the events of the show from HBO's YouTube channel. Good stuff for the most part.

As for the show itself, there are a number of things you're probably going to need to get over in order to enjoy it at all. First, the accents. The show is set in small town Louisiana so everybody has one form or another of the classic over the top Hollywood Southern accent. If this is going to bother you, you might be in trouble. I managed to get over it after about 30 mins. Second, being an HBO show the first 20 mins are chock full of graphic sex, and not very attractive sex at that. This goes hand in hand with the third issue. This show is not played for laughs... at all. Despite the otherworldly premise, everything is absolutely serious. If you're looking for the next "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", look elsewhere.

At the end of the day, I'm intrigued. Given the pedigree and thoughtful world-building there's the potential for this to become a great show. I'm far from the target demographic (although I have no idea who that might be) and it's far from great now, but I'm willing to give it some time to get there.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


90210: Tuesdays on CW, 8:00/7:00 Central

After somehow surviving the last 8 TV seasons without a show containing the numbers 90210 in the title, Americans can breathe easy again. In a make or break move that may determine the future of the network, the CW has decided to create yet another teen drama. In hopes of hooking multiple generations of viewers, this one's even tied into the continuity of the original Beverly Hills 90210 going so far as to bring back Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty.

As someone who's only seen a few episodes of the original show, I can't really do much to directly compare the two. That's probably for the best. To my knowledge, the original 90210 (debuting in 1990) was the first primetime show to prominently feature teens. As such, it was able to break a lot of ground and explore topics that were previously taboo. This new show has entered a brave new world where the trail has been continually blazed over the years by shows like My So-Called Life, The OC, and Gossip Girl. Given this environment, what is 90210 adding to the mix?

To be honest, not a whole lot. It feels a bit like the perfect frankenteen drama: a bit of The OC here (it's a teen show, but we have storylines about adults, too), Gossip Girl there (more rich high schoolers, and one of them has a popular dirt-dealing blog), even some Saved By the Bell (the main adult character is the principal). With a pedigree like this, it should be good, if you're into the whole teen drama thing, but it just leaves me flat. The acting by the kids is pretty poor, particularly Shenae Grimes (Degrassi: The Next Generation) as the lead girl, Annie Wilson. There was an especially painful scene in which she won a spot in the chorus for the school musical. I wish I had a screenshot or video I could show you, but the amount of anguished faces and bad dancing she did while singing was enough to make you want to watch a Hilary Duff music video instead. Not incidentally, that's probably where Shenae got most of her pointers.

There are some aspects of the two premiere episodes that I did like. Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) is pretty funny as the Wilson family's alcoholic grandmother. I actually enjoyed most of the adult storylines - Rob Estes (Melrose Place) as the new principal at West Beverly Hills High is particularly good. Although no one else seems to appreciate it, I liked that this series starts off with the exact same premise as the original one: a family with a high school-aged son and daughter moves to Beverly Hills from the middle of nowhere. Last but not least, in a scene early in the first episode you get to watch the most realistic portrayal of lacrosse I've ever seen in a movie or TV. In the end, though, it ends up not really serving anybody what they want.

Fans of the old show tuning in are going to be disappointed because even though some characters have come back, they can't possibly spend a lot of time on them without confusing and alienating their new audience. So although you may find out if Kelly's son belongs to Brandon or Dylan if you watch enough episodes, you'll probably be left wanting more. Fans of modern teen dramas will probably just go somewhere else for their fix once they realize that it doesn't measure up to current or recent shows of the same type that are just flat out better. There just aren't enough sympathetic characters and not enough humor. Sadly, I don't think I'll be coming back to it.

P.S. Apparently, I'm not doing this right. As I learned from watching this show, "Blogs are supposed to cause problems."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Game Night?

It occurs to me that not every reader of my blog is terribly interested in my thoughts about every TV series known to the history of man, so this time around I'm going to try to break those up with posts about other things. One of my favorite things to do with friends is get together and play board games. It's a fun distraction that encourages socializing and keeps your brain active (depending on what game you're playing). Meaghan and I have over 70 different board & card games that we've somehow accumulated over the years, but unfortunately not all that many of them can be played with only 2 people.

Sure we have a standing date where we try to get out to a coffee shop about once a week to play a random edition of Trivial Pursuit, but that only goes so far. A lot of our friends live down in the Small Town where we lived before we moved to the Big City over a year ago, so we've had some trouble getting people together on a regular basis for such things lately. After one aborted attempt, we actually managed to get 3 of Meaghan's teachery friends over to our place last weekend for an assortment of games. Much fun was had by all, and statements like "we should do this more often" were uttered. I'm not holding my breath though as teachers are a notoriously busy group of people.

I perused the Internet a little bit the other day in search of ideas to help scratch my itch and came up with a couple: volunteering at a nursing home or low-cost housing complex to play games with the residents there or joining a meetup dedicated to getting together and playing games. As someone who doesn't particualrly go out of their way to meet new people, these would both take a little convincing for me to actually do them. Anyone have any experience with Meetup or volunteering in particularly urban environments?

Raising the Bar?

Raising the Bar: Mondays on TNT, 10:00/9:00 Central

In his first offering since 2005's "Over There", Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, Cop Rock, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue) returns to the more familiar territory of law and/or order with TNT's new Monday night drama "Raising the Bar". I can't say that I've watched an awful lot of lawyer shows over the years, so things that may seem novel to me are probably par for the course. I'm sure you'll keep me in line if I swoon over something that's perfectly ordinary, right?

Jerry Kellerman (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, "Saved By the Bell") is a New York City public defender who believes so strongly in defending the truth that he's willing to go to the mat (or jail as the case may be) for his clients. Trudy Kessler (Jane Kaczmarek, "Malcolm in the Middle") is a hard-boiled district court judge who thinks that due process and the rule of law are guaranteed to deliver justice. Without needing to use any more words, that sums up the main conflict of the show: belief that truth will win out vs. belief that the system will reach the right conclusion. It's kind of reminiscent of the short-lived ABC show "In Justice" (a law drama I actually did watch) in that way. That show was about an organization that sought out wrongful convictions and tried to overturn them. Presumably, not every episode of "Raising the Bar" will end up this way since public defenders spend a lot of their time defending actual criminals, but that remains to be seen.

In the pilot episode, Kellerman defends an accused rapist who he believes to be innocent. There's shockingly little evidence presented on either side of the case. The DA's case centers around the victim's positive identification of the suspect. The defense counters with the fact that the identification was a bad one - the victim was shown only one photo. In the end, through a convoluted series of events that I won't go into here, the defendant is absolved, the real rapist is found, and truth prevails in the courtroom.

There's actually a pretty large ensemble cast that I haven't spent any time talking about, full of defense lawyers, assistant DAs, and judge's assistants that, for the most part, all happen to be friends outside of work that went to law school together. Who they are isn't all that important as they only serve to bring interpersonal relationships into the backdrop. Kellerman is sleeping with the cute lawyer in the DA's office? The assistant DA is a slimeball who also wants to sleep with her? Another defense attorney wants to sleep with his boss (Gloria Reuben, "ER")? The judge's assistant is secretly gay? <gasp> All of these are shocking developments... if you happen to have never watched a primetime soap in your life.

The only possibly interesting angle this brings up is how these relationships affect what takes place inside the courtroom. Would a lawyer try a case differently if a good friend were on the other side of the aisle? Should a system that's purportedly about reaching justice be susceptible to such faults? There are a few ethical dilemmas that could be explored here if the show takes off in the right direction.

As it stands now, though, there's little reason to tune in. Although Gosselaar is earnest in the role (it's good to see Zack back on the small screen, although that hair has got to go), the acting is just all right. If you're a fan of law dramas, you might want to check it out. However, if you're a fan of law dramas chances are you're already watching "Boston Legal" in this timeslot. I'll probably give it one more chance to impress me.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Everything Hits at Once

If you're a long-time reader here at the Tower, you'll recall that last year I attempted to give a somewhat detailed rundown of every new network TV series that debuted in the fall. It turned out to be too much for me to handle in the long run, but was enough fun for me to give it another shot this year. The plan is to both reduce and expand the scope of my efforts. Reality shows of all types are out as they're a pox on humanity, but cable & premium shows are in.

Here's the rundown of everything new, what channel it's on, and it's normal timeslot:

New Series, Fall 2008
8/24Z RockiFCSun 11:30/10:30
8/24Moribito: Guardian of the SpiritAdult SwimSun 1:30/12:30 AM
9/1Martha SpeaksPBSWeekdays
9/1Sid the Science KidPBSWeekdays
9/1Raising the BarTNTMon 10/9
9/290210CWTue 8/7
9/3Sons of AnarchyF/XWed 10/9
9/5Samurai GirlABCFamFri-Sun 8/7
9/7True BloodHBOSun 9/8
9/8Sorority ForeverWBWeekdays
9/9FringeFoxTue 9/8
9/9PrivilegedCWTue 9/8
9/9SomebodiesBETTue 10:30/9:30
9/10Do Not DisturbFoxWed 9:30/8:30
9/13Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D'sCWSat 11:30/10:30 AM
9/21Spaceballs: The Animated SeriesG4Sun 5/4
9/22Easy to AssembleWebMon
9/22Worst WeekCBSMon 9:30/8:30
9/23The MentalistCBSTue 9/8
9/24Knight RiderNBCWed 8/7
9/24Gary UnmarriedCBSWed 8:30/7:30
9/26The Suite Life on DeckDisneyFri 8/7
9/27GogorikiCWSat 8:30/7:30 AM
9/28Little BritainHBOSun 10:30/9:30
9/28The Life & Times of TimHBOSun 11/10
10/3The Secret SaturdaysCartoonFri 8/7
10/3Star Wars: The Clone WarsCartoonFri 9/8
10/3The Ex ListCBSFri 9/8
10/3SanctuarySciFiFri 10/9
10/4Making FiendsNickToonsSat 11:30/10:30 AM
10/4Turbo DogsNBCSat 12/11 AM
10/5ValentineCWSun 8/7
10/5Easy MoneyCWSun 9/8
10/9Kath & KimNBCThu 8:30/7:30
10/9Eleventh HourCBSThu 10/9
10/9Life on MarsABCThu 10/9
10/9TesteesF/XThu 10:30/9:30
10/13My Own Worst EnemyNBCMon 10/9
10/15Chocolate NewsComedyWed 10:30/9:30
10/17CrusoeNBCFri 8/7
10/17CrashStarzFri 10/9
10/20Rita RocksLifetimeTue 8:30/7:30
11/1Legend of the SeekerSynSat
11/3Novel AdventuresCBS OnlineMon
11/8True Jackson, VPNickSat 9:30/8:30
11/9The XtaclesAdult SwimSun 12/11 PM
11/9Summer Heights HighHBOSun 10:30/9:30
11/14Batman: The Brave and the BoldCartoonFri 8/7

I may fall behind again, but in this brave new world there are so many ways to watch what you want when you want that it won't matter in the long run. I find very little need to watch shows when they're actually on anymore, so there are a number of them that I plan on catching up with someday. Between Netflix, Amazon Unbox, iTunes, AOL Video, and the network websites themselves there are tons of legal ways to view things online. If shows are good enough (Twin Peaks, Lost, Airwolf) you can even watch entire seasons long after they first aired. Of course, there are loads of "illegal" (not sure how well the term applies to network shows that are freely available in the first place) ways to get the job done, too, but in a lot of cases that's not necessary.

If there's something you definitely want me to take a look at, let me know. Otherwise, wish me luck!