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Cable Television Rundown: Baseball Fever

It's April, which means my OTHER non-physical-activity obsession, Twins baseball, is again in full swing, which has ended up swallowing up much of my discresionary time these days. (Not to mention, my day job is in its most busy time of the year right now, and studying for the CPA exam takes almost all the rest, that is, when I'm not trying to get my pale self outside and do something active so I don't go crazy.) Needless to say, coming across time to actually sit down and watch cable television is getting scarce these days. But never fear, Blogulutioneers -- Qualler is still here and checking out the cream of the crop. These days, Qualler non-sexual man-crush Gabriel Byrne is back in psychotheraputic action, HBO continues to go down the trail of giving the greenlight to what will surely be the Next Great Show, a (relatively) fledgeling pay cabler picks up the scraps and puts together one of the best new shows of the year, and a firefighter gets Qualler's (almost) complete forgiveness.

HBO: Season two of In Treatment is two and a half "weeks" into its new season, and already it is lining up to be my personal fave show of the year. Last year's first season certainly had its moments, notably any time the superb Gabriel Byrne as troubled Dr. Paul Weston was on screen with young actress Mia Wasikowska and 2008 TV superstar Blair Underwood. Monday and Thursday's "sessions" last season were mos def the weak links, though, which gave the entire season an intriguing, if uneven, feel. Thankfully, all of the weaknesses of the first season are fully ironed out -- though there are totally new patients, certain plots from the first season have major implications with how Paul handles them. It also helps that all of the patients are excellent actors and have intriguing problems. Future Pretentious Movie Alert breakout star director Ryan Fleck directs the Wednesday episodes featuring patient Oliver, while the suddenly-to-me fave actress Hope Davis anchors the Monday sessions, 20-something soon-to-be breakout star to pop culture Allison Pill rawks, and John Mahoney of Frasier fame brings it. And Dianne Wiest is reliable as ever.

Perhaps more importantly, because the weaknesses of the first season are pretty much gone, it allows the focus to be put squarely on the ingenious structure of the series. Two people sitting in a room talking sounds totally boring, but instead, each episode ends up being intense, powerful, and, in a special kind of way, a little bit theraputic itself. Amid a wash of dramas with big, sweeping musical queues (I'm looking at you, Big Love), it is refreshing to just be able to sit down with two people talking, calmly, with each other, with basically just a couple at a max scenes per episode. By the time each session is complete, I take a deep breath, take it all in, and feel a sensation of peace all over my body. Yes, even earlier this week when I went home sick from work, I crashed on the couch, with a fever of 101.1, watched an ep with Oliver, cried a little bit, and felt better. I think Dr. Weston would be proud of my progress.

Meanwhile, in other HBO news, the gut-busting Eastbound and Down was picked up for a second season. While Chris accurately summed up the good and the bad of the pilot in an earlier post, the problems of Kenny Powers being an unlikeable central character are all but solved in the subsequent episodes by introducing characters who are by far more despicable than he is. While that might not be everybody's cup of tea, there's no doubt the world he inhabits is a unique one to television comedy, while the direction of David Gordon Green in episodes two through four give some of the comedy a level above simple laff-factory production and into something a little more artistic, even if its strictly for looks only. Additionally, the pilot for the new David Simon series (developed with fellow Wire alum Eric Overmyer) Tremé (pronounced "Truh-may") has wrapped and it's just waiting for the OK from the Home Box Office to get a series order. This article is a must-read for Wire fans (and if you're reading this blog, then why haven't you watched it?) If there is any justice in the world, it will be picked up. Pick it up. Please. Please. PLEASE.

Starz: The Qualler-Brigitte family succumbed to the no-doubt-cuz-of-the-crappy-economy Starz and HBO free for 3 months deal, mostly because I wanted to be able to catch the first season of Starz (yes, Starz) second (ahead of the also solid Head Case) original comedy series, Party Down. Led by an excellent ensemble cast (Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Ken Marino, Martin Starr, Jane Lynch, and Ryan Hansen), so far in five episodes, the plots are very standard-sitcom-formula, but the writing is subtle and sharp and the performances are hilarious. Probably the most hysterical character combo is Kyle and Roman (played by the aforementioned Hanson and Starr), who turn the formula of cool guy and nerd who are friends upside-down, as Starr's Roman is undoubtedly a total creepazoid and Hansen's Kyle is dopey but kinda cool too. Marino's Ron twitches uncomfortably but with a bigger twinge of deep sadness than your local Michael Scott, Lynch brings the usual Christopher Guest-esque dry quality, while Scott and Caplan play the standard office romance card with more desperation and realness than your average Jim and Pam. Episode four, "Investors Dinner", contained a scene that was completely predictable as to what the punchline was (Ron let a guy point a gun at his head thinking that he knew it was the fake, but Roman was the one who actually had the fake and it was a fo' realz gun) but the way it was executed was wonderful. All in all, sharp writing, great cast, and standard sitcom interplay mixed with off-the-wall performances make this one definitely one of the best new shows of the year. And good news -- you can still watch episodes one and three there for free, online. Yes, the channel that brought us the Crash original series has good things going on, too.

FX: Rescue Me has inexplicably gotten to be not only tolerable again, but somewhat back to the greatness of the first two seasons. Season five premiered a couple of weeks ago and so far features the fine interplay between firefighters that we've grown accustomed to (I especially enjoyed the premiere episode's discussion of whether you would rather lose an eye or a...well, this is a family blog, but to quote Flight of the Conchords, one of your sugar lumps) and a return of the core of the show's drama, 9/11. It's also helped by a big assist by Michael J. Fox, who plays Denis Leary's ex-wife's new paraplegic, sarcastic jerk boyfriend. Pretty much every scene he is in is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Word is the 22-episode season starts a bit slow but builds some major momentum through episode nine. No doubt, I stopped following this show after Leary's character Tommy Gavin a little too casually raped his ex-wife in season three, definitely giving me (and other blogulutioneers) a big case of the creepazoids, but it appears the show is getting back on track. And if you haven't watched since season three, you really haven't missed a beat. And yes, you can also watch this show for free on the interweb.

As for Damages...well, I still have the second half of season two sitting on my DVR, but my serial "what's-a-gonna-happen-next?" show obsession is currently filled by LOST on DVD. So...that might be a while until I get there. But as the person in the bathroom connected to the office of The Michael Scott Paper Company stated, Damages is indeed as good as anything on HBO.

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  1. Blogger Brigitte | 11:25 AM |  

    i really like party down so far (though I've only seen two episodes). very funny. i still have to watch the rest of east bound and down...i wasn't that into the first coupe eps, but if you say it gets funnier, then i'll give it a go.

  2. Blogger chris | 9:29 PM |  

    I've still only seen the pilot, but PARTY DOWN RULES.

    Part of me wants to just dive back in Rescue Me with the new season, but I don't think I've ever done that with a drama, just skipped over a crapload of eps...nervous face!

  3. Blogger qualler | 2:19 PM |  

    You've also seen the third ep at our place! Eps four and five definitely ramp up the comedyz. I think it might be my favorite overall comedy cast on TV (outside of the It's Always Sunny gang).

    I was a little concerned about doing that with RM as well, but in this case you really didn't miss very much at all, other than getting filled in on a few changes in characters. I did the same with Nip/Yuck and fell pretty easily back into it (although new Rescue Me is much more genuinely good than new Nip/Tuck is).

    Also just read that Jan from The Office is cast in the new "The Wrestler but with boxing" show that will be starting in the next year or so, "Lights Out".

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