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Cable (and selected broadcast!) Television Rundown: The End of the Strike Hiatus Edition

Whew. It seems as if the effects of the Writers' Strike are finally passing we, the television viewing community, by. Our stories are pretty much returned, including a few shows from (gasp) 18-month layoffs (due partially to the strike, partially to HBO's wacky television scheduling). Jack is back, as well as a few pervy doctors, and, of course, Mormons. Sweet, sweet, Mormons. Here's a rundown of the shows that have returned this January that have wasted my time most successfully.

How freaking long has it been since this show has been on? Season six ended in May 2007. In May 2007, I wasn't married, I worked at a different company, and Kiefer Sutherland hadn't even been arrested for drunkenly tackling a tree. Now, I wouldn't go around saying any season of 24 is particularly groundbreaking, inspiring television, but the first five seasons were more or less ridiculous fun. Nobody yells "DAMMIT!" better than Jack Bauer. But season six, for multiple reasons (Jack Bauer's dad is evil, so is his brother, something about an oil plant, blah blah blah...) was less than entertaining. It didn't help that the November 2008 TV movie 24: Redemption was also less than entertaining.

Thankfully, the first four eps of the new season seem to have recaptured some of that ridiculous fun of the first five seasons. It's probably the use of the trusty 24 "Holy-shiznit-that-guy-who-was-in-the-last-season-secretly-showed-up!" twist that was used not once but twice in the first four hours. And, the general premise of the new season (a conspiracy that goes so high up in the government, who knows who's good or bad anyway?) is obviously recycled from years' past. But the "Is torture OK?" undercurrent that looks like will be a theme throughout the season brings a new, if not level of depth, wrinkle to the show. Dammit -- I'm hooked again.

Is there a more frustrating show on TV than this show? Ever since midway through season three, when it became obvious that the show was becoming more about the things that were just made up in the middle of the season and not actually about the characters (i.e. the Carver plotline), the show has needed, shall I say, a facelift (hey oh!) I skipped the fourth season as soon as I heard the words Larry Hagman and testicles in the same sentence, as well as Rosie O'Donnell, dogs, and peanut butter. Season five began in September 2007 but was interrupted in January 2008 due to the writers' strike. Where we left off, Sean McNamera was stabbed by a crazy woman who posed as his agent (oh yeah, also they moved to Los Angeles) and was left bleeding in the operating room. Great place to end a season, right?

Wrong -- the writers decided to pick up the season where it left off, so technically this is the continuation of the season that was pre-empted a year ago. Smartly, in the first two episodes of "Season Five, Part Two", the focus gets back at least a little bit back on where it should be -- the effed-up minds of Sean and Christian Troy. However, it seems the writers forgot how to make this show into actual compelling drama with also hilariously bizarre situations. Christian's brush with his own mortality (breast cancer) should be more messed up than it is -- instead, the "karma" aspect of his new situation was weakly played with Kimber, while the writers threw in a wholly unnecessary plot involving Christian sleeping with anesthesiologist lesbian Liz and focusing on the wackiness of that. And, instead of taking advantage of a fairly interesting development at the end of last season (Sean trying to trick newly memory-erased Julia into thinking they were still married), they focused more heavily on Sean's wheelchair and his desire to be coddled (illustrated by a new flame's baby fetish in which she puts a diaper on him).

Wow, after writing all of that, it all sounds like total garbage. Yet, I'll probably keep coming back knowing that there's an end date for the series on the table, and knowing that there are a few glimmers of hope that the show can turn around (the closing dual shots of Christian and Sean looking at themselves in the mirror looking at their newly disfigured bodies was genius!)

I'm not going to talk anything plot-related about this show, as pretty much anything that happens beyond the first five minutes of the first episode is pretty much a spoiler. Needless to say, I've watched a lot of addictive TV shows before, but this one is the crack cocaine of addictive television drugs. It's impossible to put this show away, pretty much right after you start watching it. Watch it, if you like crack cocaine-like television.

What I will talk about, though, is the cast. Yeah yeah, Glenn Close is great (she is, really, no sarcasm involved), Zeljko Ivanic is a wonderful character actor, and even Ted Danson can act. I'm sure if you've seen any press about this show, you know all that already. What you never read anywhere, though, and what I was shocked about when Brigitte and I made our ways through the first season this past December, was the involvement of one Tate Donovan. Yes, Tate "Jimmy Cooper from The O.C." Donovan. Tell me this -- when has the comforting presence of Tate Donovan ever brought anything down? More importantly, why is it that articles about this show must gush about the obviously good actors like Glenn Close and then tarnish Donovan's image by calling him things like "the capable Tate Donovan"? Basically, Donovan plays the same character here as he does in The O.C. -- warm, inviting, yet totally weak-willed, especially regarding stronger women -- but with a "hey, maybe he's evil, oh wait he's not, but wait maybe he is?" kind of twist. God, I love this show. So. Much.

My only commentary on the new season (no spoilers, I promise!): Rose Byrne (as sorta-main-character young lawyer Ellen Parsons), eat a cheeseburger! Also, Timothy Olyphant of Deadwood looks totally weird without a mustache and sounds totally weird without being able to say the F-word a lot.

Big Love
Oh, sweet sweet Big Love, you've been away from me for 17 months! The Qualler family subscribed to HBO in September 2007 waiting for the new season of Big Love only to have to wait until last night to finally get a new season (and in the meantime suffering through dreck like Tell Me You Love Me).

But you're back, Big Love. You're back. Honestly, I don't think this show is up there with the greatest shows to have been on HBO, fitting somewhere in that second-tier of goodness alongside True Blood and In Treatment. But the third season premiere brought a surprising level of tension while still bringing what the show brings so well -- the family dynamics with this big ol' polygamist family. It looks like the new season is going to bring the tension even more. Loved it!

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  1. Blogger chris | 1:40 PM |  

    I was just saying last night that Big Love seems like it's built itself into a place where it will never become one of the best shows ever, but it also will never be a bad show. Every aspect of it is completely solid and fascinating, but it never mind-blowing or sob-inducing. In other words, totally reliable, and I like that.

  2. Blogger Brigitte | 3:37 PM |  

    i'd really like to see the first two seasons of Nip/Tuck...

    also, i enjoyed the Big Love premier, but i was a little disappointed...i wanted more on the oldest son/daughter plot lines.

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