Monday, September 28, 2009

Comedy Hour I

Community: Thursdays on NBC, 9:30/8:30 Central

Attempting to fill the shoes of My Name is Earl (along with its 8/7 timeslot starting in two weeks), Community is NBC's newest entry in their long-standing Thursday night comedy block. Unlike their flop from last year (Kath & Kim), Community is actually funny.

Jeff is a lawyer... or rather he used to be. It turns out that bar associations don't take it so well when your law degree came from an online "school" in Colombia. As a result, he's going back to college for the first time. Specifically, he's going back to Greendale Community College. In an effort to get in fellow student Britta's pants (she looks just like Elisabeth Shue), Jeff accidentally starts up a study group for his Spanish 101 class populated by a collection of misfits.

Community has almost everything I look for in a comedy. It's quotable (did you know that 90% of speaking Spanish is in how you move your hands?), self-aware, chock full of pop culture references (but not in an in-your-face Gilmore Girls kind of way), and walks the fine line between smart and silly. The pilot gets most of the dull exposition out of the way (character intros, etc.), but does it in a brilliant fashion. Throw 7 strangers into a room, let them interact, and you're bound to find out almost everything you need to know about them.

There have been two episodes so far, both hilarious, but in very different ways. You can catch up on Hulu or by watching the encore presentations tonight on USA at 11:05/10:05.

Bored to Death: Sundays on HBO, 9:30/8:30 Central

... Coming soon ...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Friendly Reminder

Just wanted to remind everyone of something I stated last year. If you keep watching a show that I post about, feel free to keep talking about it in the relevant comments section so we can know if it gets better/worse, etc. I'll periodically drag updates from folks like you out into a main post if I get enough.

Scads o' TV-related posts coming very soon:
Comedy Hour - feat. Community, Bored to Death, Accidentally on Purpose, Cougar Town, Modern Family, Glenn Martin DDS
Kid-Tested, But Are They Brian-Approved? - feat. The Troop, RollBots, The Super Hero Squad Show, Hot Wheels: Battle Force 5

I am way behind on hour-long dramas. I'll try to spend some mornings catching up this week.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Models Inc. Strikes Back

The Beautiful Life: TBL: Wednesdays on CW, 9:00/8:00 Central

In the spirit of reviving questionable Fox primetime soaps from the 90s, the CW offers TBL for your viewing pleasure, its modern-day analog for Models Inc. If we're lucky it will have a similarly short lifespan.

Co-created by Ashton Kutcher, TBL details the life of a group of aspiring models who share their agency's NYC flophouse. There's Raina the model with a heart of gold whose Fashion Week runway has made her the talk of the town, Sonja the washed-up supermodel with a secret child, Chris the Iowa farm boy who execs think might have the look, Isaac the child model finding it hard to get gigs as an adult, and on and on. You get the point. Think America's Next Top Model meets Melrose Place.

What should come across as an interesting premise (fashion-related shows are pretty hot right now) instead falls terribly flat. The pilot opens with the aforementioned runway show at fashion week, complete with all the flash and gloss you'd expect in a CW show. Once you crack through the veneer though, there's not a lot of substance. With so much "real" fashion on the tube these days, it's easy to see that this is not it. Photo shoots, go sees, runway shows, none of them are particularly well done. Unfortunately for TBL it's these things that are supposed to make the show unique.

Add to that the poor acting (Mischa Barton as usual is especially poor as the pathetic Sonja), predictable plot, and characters straight out of "Screenwriting for Dummies" and were left with not a whole lot to entertain us. Watch only if you're a masochist or can't get enough of that CW thang.

Note: I'm up-to-date on my viewing, but behind on my posting. One hour dramas will continue to get full write-ups, half-hour shows will get capsule reviews, and kids' shows are going to be lumped into one big post.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Want to Know a Secret?

A lot of people have asked me over the past few years how it is that Meaghan and I thought to go to Estonia for our honeymoon. Behold! The truth revealed. In a roundabout way, it all starts with my dad. When my brother and I were younger, we played a lot of computer games. Every once in awhile, my dad would give us a random selection as a present for a birthday or Christmas. Unerringly, this ended up being something high quality which provided us with hours of fun. ex. Drol, 2400 A.D., Out of This World.

One such game was a little franchise-starter by the name of Command & Conquer. In C&C, you take on the role of commander of either the UN's defense forces or the terrorist organization that they're trying to crush, the Brotherhood of Nod. If you choose to play on the side of the government, your first mission is to establish a beachhead in eastern Europe from which you can drive out the terrorist forces. Specifically:

The game goes beyond just naming the country where the action is, it gives you a specific point of conflict. In this case, your hovercrafts storm across the Gulf of Riga in the cinematic opening to land on the beaches of Pärnu, Estonia.

Going there for our honeymoon is perhaps an extreme example, but I often like to take the time to learn more about the world around us through video games. Don't get me wrong, it's definitely not the only reason we went there, but C&C is the spark that even put it on the map in the first place. Without it, we never would've had the experiences that we did like staying in this gorgeous hotel 100 feet from the gulf in Pärnu.

Perhaps in the future I'll share more of the things I learn through gaming, if I ever find the time to play more games. For those of you wondering what the next C&C-inspired vacation might be? Latvia, of course, with a special stop in Jelgava. Be thankful I didn't find inspiration in Nod's campaign of terror. It starts somewhere in lovely, seaside Libya.

Bonus Material: Even if you never get to Estonia yourself, I strongly urge you to check out the story of how it gained its independence from the Soviet Union in The Singing Revolution.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TV Preview: 9/14/2009

Briefly, new this week:

The Beautiful Life - CW Wed. 9/8 Central

The weakest link from The OC (Mischa Barton) lives the beautiful life... I guess. Not expecting much.

Community - NBC Thu. 9:30/8:30 Central

Chevy Chase returns to TV for his first regular gig since Saturday Night Live in this community college comedy.

The Troop - Nick Fri. 8/7 Central

Nickelodeon gets in on the fantasy genre with this show about ordinary teens that hunt monsters. Given the channel, I'm guessing this skews a little younger than Buffy did.

RollBots - CW Sat. 8/7 AM Central

New Saturday morning cartoon about round robots. Not sure if there's a story there.

The Superhero Squad Show - Cartoon Sat. 8:30/7:30 AM Central

I'm not looking forward to this comedic take on the Marvel universe. Rumor has it that sneak peeks of the first two episodes are already running as of yesterday.

Bored to Death - HBO Sun. 9:30/8:30 Central
A detective comedy written by Jonathan Ames (The Alcoholic) and starring Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, I Heart Huckabees, The Darjeeling Limited). I'm looking forward to this.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Monster Next Door

Durham County: Mondays on ION, 10:00/9:00 Central

Durham County is one of the best dramas I've watched on TV in quite awhile. If you trust my judgement at all, stop reading now and set your DVR/VCR to record the first episode. It's replaying tonight (Friday) on ION at 11:00/10:00 Central. Go ahead... I'll wait.

Homicide Detective Mike Sweeney has moved his family from the dangerous big city life of Toronto to the suburban county where he grew up. He and his wife are trying to escape their recent past, and have dragged their two daughters along for a fresh start. Mike's partner was recently gunned down in a drive-by and his wife Audrey is recovering from a bout with breast cancer that took multiple surgeries to survive. Across the street lives Ray Prager, one of Det. Sweeney's best childhood friends. A former NHL draft pick, his pro hockey career ended before it even started due to a car accident. Don't feel too bad for him though, he and his wife Tracy have managed to make a good living running a plumbing company.

There's just one problem: Ray is a bit of a psychopath. He witnesses a gruesome double rape/murder, and rather than report it to the authorities he uses it as the inspiration for his own grisly way of dealing with life's stresses. The game of cat and mouse that proceeds between Mike and his old friend Ray makes for compelling drama. In my previous post, I compared it thematically to Twin Peaks. After watching the six episodes which comprise the first mini-season, I think the comparison still stands up. They're both a dark exploration of the evils that man can do to one another. Interestingly, in this case you know who the bad guy is from the start. There's no question of "Who killed Laura Palmer?" here. It's essentially a murder mystery without the mystery, but it's so well-written that you still want to watch it play out.

The acting is top-notch throughout, particularly from Justin Louis who plays Ray. He switches from charming to monstrous at the flip of a switch, and his criminal acts only serve to make his charm more disturbing. The other actors are good as well, but the real star here is the story. In a world of disposable entertainment, it's refreshing to watch something where no line is thrown away. As Hugh Dillon (Det. Sweeney) put it in an interview I saw, it's "drama without pretension".

You may be wondering how it is that I've seen the first six episodes already. This is actually a Canadian import that originally aired on The Movie Network (think Canada's version of HBO) back in 2007. As such, it's chock full of cursing, violence, nudity, and 5-6 minutes of content that had to be cut out as it transitioned to American network TV. I'm happy to report that despite the editing, the show remains watchable. If you have the means to seek out the full-length version then do so. Otherwise, this can serve as a suitable alternative.

Aaah! More Vampires!

The Vampire Diaries: Thursdays on CW, 8:00/7:00 Central

In a world where Twilight and its ilk rule both the bookstands and the cinema with its saccharine vampire teen romance and HBO's True Blood is slowly gaining traction with its violent and passionate vampire drama for adults, you'd think there would be little room in the market for another human girl meets vampire boy story. And you would probably be right. And that's a little unfortunate. Just a little, mind you. CW's new show The Vampire Diaries walks the fine line between the two: teen romance with a little violence thrown in.

Elena was a typical high school girl from Mystic Falls, VA, until she became the sole survivor of a car accident that claimed the lives of both of her parents. Now it's the first day of the new school year and she's still dealing with the tragedy and all of the people who keep reminding her of it. Enter Stefan. Dark, brooding, and handsome, he just might be the perfect guy. Oh, except he's a vampire with a past that dates back to the Civil War and he has a brother named Damon, also a vampire, who's been attacking people in the woods near town. Other than that, he might be perfect. Surround them with a host of reasonably interesting high schoolers: the psychic best friend, the stoner brother, the jock ex-boyfriend, and you've completed the recipe for a decent show.

Okay, so it's not exactly ground-breaking. Or is it? Fans of other vampire stories are probably going to find much they recognize here, but a lot of that might be because it's based on a series of books written back in 1991 that has served as the inspiration for many of today's vampire hits. It won't make a difference to viewers though. Due to the way it's being marketed, it's likely going to be perceived as a Twilight ripoff. And in a lot of ways, that's true. Without the existence of those movies, would this show have been developed or green-lit?

The Vampire Diaries largely manages to dodge the twin bullets that plague most things on the CW: poor acting and slick production values. Unfortunately the writing, particularly the excerpts of the titular diaries that are read in voiceover, is a little cheesy at times. The show is created by Kevin Williamson(Scream, Dawson's Creek), so there's hope that it will turn around. If there weren't already similar shows to watch, it's good enough that I'd consider picking this up, but True Blood is better and is plenty for me. If you're the type who can't have too many blood-sucking creeps in your life, go ahead and give it a shot.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Hot Meh

Melrose Place: Tuesdays on CW, 9:00/8:00 Central

Fans of the original may appreciate the CW's attempt to breathe new life into yet another 90's primetime soap opera, but fans of good television need not waste their time here. Take seven new characters: a dorky would-be film director and his elementary school teacher fiancee, the film director's bitchy & bisexual publicist, an AA-attending sous chef, a rich art thief, an intern whoring her way through med school, and the unknown newcomer (played by Ashlee Simpson), add a couple of has-beens from the original show, throw them into an apartment building in LA, and let madness ensue. Not my idea of gripping drama.

The original Melrose Place ran for seven(!) seasons back in the 90's after spinning out of Beverly Hills 90210 in the summer of 1992. It's probably most well-known for bringing sleaze into the limelight on network television. The tenants of that apartment on Melrose Place hopped in and out of each other's beds, got into cat fights, and offed each other at an incredible pace. One such tenant, Sydney Andrews, was run over by a car and left for dead at the end of season 5. Why then is Sydney now the landlord at the apartment in this new incarnation? Who knows? Do we care? The reprieve is short-lived as Sydney's bloodied corpse is found bobbing in the swimming pool right before the first commercial break.

This show has that same slick veneer that most other shows on the CW (Gossip Girl, 90210) seem to have. A trendy soundtrack backs images that try to walk a fine line between reality and an MTV music video. Every actor is attractive, but only some of them actually seem to be able to act. If the show were slightly better assembled or seemed to have something to say beyond light and fluffy entertainment, the premise would be tempting enough to stick with. Who doesn't like a good murder mystery? All of the tenant/suspects have a certain greyness to their morality so any of them could be responsible. Who did it? We'll probably find out in December should you be willing to stick with it that long.

If you missed last night's pilot and want to see it for yourself, it looks like you're out of luck for now. If it shows up anywhere online, it'll be on the CW site.

Monday, September 7, 2009

TV Preview: 9/7/2009

It's the time of year again where I watch a bunch of TV so that you don't have to. I have a plan this time around, and I think I'll be able to stick to it. Wish me luck.

In case I don't get in-depth reports up in enough time I wanted to quickly cover what's started already and what's coming up this week.

In the Week to Come:

Durham County - ION Mon. 10/9 Central

Don't be put off by the fact that this is on ION (formerly PAX). It's a fantastic Canadian drama that explores the dark underbelly of suburban life. Probably the highest quality show I've watched in a long time, it reminds me of Twin Peaks because of the thematic material it covers. Don't worry, there are no dancing midgets or supernatural forces to deal with here if that sort of thing is a turn-off. There have been two 6-episode seasons so far, and as far as I know ION is going to show them both. I strongly urge you to check this out.

Melrose Place - CW Tue. 9/8 Central

The CW just keeps getting trashier. Gone are the few enjoyable shows like Reaper and Privileged, all replaced by drek like this. Granted I've not seen this yet, but I'm not holding out much hope. If the 90210 remake from last year was your sort of thing, chances are good you'll enjoy its more "adult" cousin, too.

The Vampire Diaries - CW Thu. 8/7 Central

I suppose the people who find Twilight to be gripping drama need TV to watch, too. At least, that's what the CW is hoping. I think that vampires are so hot right now that there's no way this show will fail, but is it any good?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rites of Passage

They say that it can take awhile for a new house to feel like home, but we've had a number of firsts over the first month of living here that have helped to accelerate the process. Let's just say that we've been here for five weeks and buyer's remorse hasn't set in yet.

First Houseguests: Back in the middle of August, Meaghan's cousins from California Leo and Rebekah came to visit. Rebekah, 20, is a junior in college. Leo, 14, is going into 9th/10th grade on a 3-year high school program. Their arrival forced us to have quite a bit of the house clean and in working condition. If you're ever lacking in motivation to unpack and clean after moving, just invite some people to stay with you 3 weeks after your move-in day. Many games (mostly of Bohnanza, Killer Bunnies, & Seafarers of Catan) were played into the wee hours of the night, a day was spent at ValleyFair, and much fun was had by all.

First Repair Bill: Coinciding with the arrival of our first houseguests was the appearance of our first needed repair. When we ran the washing machine for the first time, we discovered that tree roots and other junk had completely clogged our house's sewer line to the street. Mopping up after a backed-up basement floor drain is not on my short list of final preparations for houseguests. Thankfully, our realtor hooked us up with a reliable sewer guy who rooted a large sack's worth of detritus from our line.

First Party: This Saturday we hosted our official housewarming party which meant we had to make a second pass of cleaning and arranging. Much of the work this time focused on cleaning up the yard since we were planning on having folks hang out on the back patio at the party. We spent six hours a couple of weekends ago pulling enough weeds and assorted plant life to fill five large yard waste bags. That's one major advantage of renting: you don't have to care about or take care of any of the green thumb work. And I am not a green thumb.

First House Payment: Yay for automatic payments. Our first mortgage payment went out the door right on time Sept. 1. I guess that means it's for real.