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The Midseason TV Slambang of Death

That's what I've chosen to call it anyway. It's bright, shiny, and looks like it will either rouse you from a deep slumber with joviality (e.g. "Slambang! That's some good entertainment!") or shoot you dead in the face with time-wasting soul-crushingness (e.g. "Slambang! You're a boob tube-watching corpse!"). Yes, it's that time of year when premium and network channels alike try to rekindle our love for a good yarn without totally rebooting their entire schedules. Rather, they try to slyly sneak in fare that a) clearly wasn't good enough for the big promo push of the fall, b) was too risky to be part of the huge promo push of fluff and sure shots and would act better as a surprise hit, or c) both, as is most often the case. Yes, none of the midseason shows (all of which I have only seen the pilots of, so keep your pants on) are eye-opening successes, but all but one of them actually make me yearn for watching their second episode, so I guess that's worth something (probably that I'm easily amused).

United States of Tara (Showtime): I had such low expectations for this show that I waited almost a week until I actually watched the free streaming pilot on Nerdflix. I heard "Diablo Cody" and "mom with multiple personalities" in the same sentence when the prospect was floating around the internoob and instantly got a sugary tummy ache. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised to find a show more akin to its sister comedy show Weeds (which I've grown quite fond of over the past year) than and uncomfortable blend of Juno and Identity, for which I am grateful. Like its marijuana-obsessed relative, Tara seems like it will (and it may or may not have already; I ultimately didn't care enough to hook up cable AND a pay channel after watching the pilot) tread lightly on the gutbusting comedy and go more for chuckly dramatics, which is a nice niche Showtime is building for itself. The big problem is that Weeds was addictive (Editor's note: Good pun, Chris!) due to its large and varied cast. Tara, with all the impressiveness of Toni Collete managing to make a multiple personality disorder shtick not insanely annoying, seems like it will remain a small cast, even if there are essentially three rotating mother characters. And that could keep intertwining storylines from happening and holding my attention. Nevertheless, I'll giv'er (the first season) a go come Nerdflix time.

Lie To Me (FOX): So I've recently made a habit of basically always watching Law & Order: SVU while eating dinner during the work week. I love it. It's formulaic, but the twists are always well thought-out, the dialogue hardly ever dumbed down, and it's usually all delivered with subtle wit and quickfire pacing. And while Stabler and Benson have always been a favorite on-screen pairing, the third season I'm into now heavily features the duo of Ice-T and Richard Belzer, which is just magnifique. Why talk about all this when the heading for this paragraph explicitly implies some ruminations on the new Tim Roth crime procedural Lie to Me? Frankly, because it's terrible and really not worth the time going into too much detail about. But I went into it with some kind of idiotic notion that if NBC could do it with no-name actors as a spin-off show back in the late 90s, then surely FOX could pull it off with an amazing long-underused character actor in a completely new premise. Then I realized that said premise was actually a gimmick (he can tell when anyone's lying, in case you couldn't figure it out) and they actually do everything the opposite of the way SVU (at least back in the day) did things: employing twists that are not only predictable but also boring, and while they do talk fast, it's only to make things seem exciting and repeat things over and over again to make sure we know what happened earlier or that we heard what a certain character JUST said even. (Example: Tim Roth to Boss: "See that? His eyebrow flinched. He's lying." Roth's Random Partner Two Minutes Later Watching Tape of Roth From Two Minutes Ago: "His eyebrow goes up, like he's surprised you just said that. You think that means he's lying?")

Eastbound & Down (HBO): I know Qualler does the Cable Television Rundown, but I thought I'd just throw my two cents in here quick before we get to watching the second and more episodes down the road and he surely gives a more well-rounded review of the show. You see, I did a bad thing I don't usually like to do: I read more than a couple glowing reviews of this Danny McBride as a washed out baseball player comedy before sitting down to view the pilot. Even the worst review only said that the show might not have traction, but damn if its initial offering isn't the funniest, crass, and most knee-slapping good time on TV right now. But watching all the brilliant highlights from when Conan was consistently funny during his final week over the past five days made me realize something: I don't really laugh so hard that I cry at TV nowadays. Conchords sometimes makes my cheeks hurt (and the music is just downright enjoyable, even when it's not high-larious) and The Soup gives me sharp bursts of hilarity, but nothing has made me squee with joy since the last season of It's Always Sunny... ended. Same goes for this show. It's interesting, mixing an absurd personality with an otherwise realistic cast of likable (albeit lightly drawn) characters, but the swearing, the rudeness, and the all around detestable qualities of McBride's Kenny Powers seemed neither that clever nor that shocking. Oh well, let's keep watching and see if it can either make me care about its cast enough as a dramedy or get witty enough to be a genuine laugh riot.

Dollhouse (FOX): I never totally got on board with Buffy or Firefly (more like I got on bored after a few eps! Hey-oh!), but Joss Whedon proved to be a worthy man to follow when he deservedly got mad praise for Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog last year. While the logic would imply that I tend to enjoy him more when he's focusing his efforts on being a culty nerdy musical comedy nerd and less on being a culty dramatic sci-fi/horror nerd, I am pleased to say that Dollhouse is at the very least more engaging and less pandering than your average FOX show. It's probably on par with Fringe, which I have recently given up on, but only because the serial aspect of that show never got interesting or involved enough to hook me on board. It seemed too focused on its half-assed X-Files-wannabe procedurals than telling a story or developing characters. The same might happen here, but I see more promise with the way the pilot's structured and executed, moving so fast that you're left with so much to sit and chew on between the frame story that involves whether the "dollhouse" of secret agents will be found by the U.S. government (which could become an interesting, while yes totally ridiculous, serial premise) and the procedural crime put in play by our main "doll(?)" played by Eliza Dushku, who is at times competent and other times vacant. The problem of course is that that's what the role calls for (as she's an agent with a personality long gone in favor of constantly reprogrammed ones to fit to any crime she may need to chase after a solution for), but I really can't tell if Dushku is good at it or just easily programmable herself as a token attractive actress. Nevertheless, there's enough to work with here to make it work, but it could also easily implode into an illogical mess of action scenes with fast cars and short skirts. We can only wait and see...

Also looking forward to catching the premieres of Castle (March 12th on ABC), starring Nathan Fillion trying to make good on the crime procedural as amusing banter playground, and Kings (March 15th on NBC), featuring Ian MacShane doing a Lynchian-level adaptation of David & Goliath in an alternate reality of weirdness. I will certainly report back on those and possibly more next month.

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  1. Blogger Sean | 9:47 AM |  

    all the advertising for castle has totally worn me down. at first i was like "oh man, he's a loose cannon writer, she's a stuck up cop. they fight crime! hahahaha, lame."

    but last night i laughed at one of those ads. "ho ho, this show looks pretty charming. i better tune in."

  2. Blogger qualler | 9:53 AM |  

    United States of Tara I was also pleasantly surprised with pilot-wise, and Sepinwall seems to be loving the series as it goes on. Personally I think Diablo Cody gets too much crap in the press as she is a clever and personal writer when the wacky-isms in her dialogue aren't too overcooked.

    I'm pretty meh on Eastbound and Down so far as well, although I think if the future episodes bring just a little bit more of the subtle humor into it, it could be pretty good. (I especially liked the snippets of Kenny Powers' book on tape.)

    Kings will certainly be something to talk about -- The Futon Critic gave the pilot and the three subsequent episodes pretty good reviews:

    http://www.thefutoncritic.com/rant.aspx?id=20090212_kings

  3. Blogger Sean | 9:57 AM |  

    isn't diablo cody from minnesota? she gets a pass then, right?

    more like, diaBLOWS cruddy.

    *high five*

  4. Blogger qualler | 10:09 AM |  

    Sure, you sexist.

  5. Blogger chris | 3:07 PM |  

    I felt the exact same way about Castle, Sean. Also, my love for Nathan Fillion in Waitress and Dr. Horrible trumps all ABC cloyingness.

    What I will NOT be watching: ABC's attempt to reboot their sitcom Cupid. Unwatchable.

  6. Blogger Anita | 2:30 PM |  

    united states of tara is downright rad. took me awhile to warm up to it (the ads suck), but it's quite witty.

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