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The Ever-Fluctuating Judgment Of Basic Network Television

Spring break is now but a memory. One of my co-workers came back tanned from Cancun and I watched four new television shows. Okay, I also visited Sean and the Doktor in Milwaukee, plus other wonderful friends and family in Madison and Chicago, jamming out solo style to a new smattering of albums in the car, plus eating out (and in) so much that the feeling known as "hunger" just hit me for the first time today in over nine days. It was strange. Regardless, I still saw four new television shows (plus caught up on Dollhouse and Life, and watched my first live ep of Lost - my God the tension's so thick with commercials!) and that's what I'm here to give you a rundown on. They are ranked as follows: good, so-so, terribly entertaining, and terrible. But those final judgments were only given after some heavy deliberation during the actual viewing of said programs. They're also all on Thursday nights, so based on what you're in the mood for, you can use this column to help inform your decision. Or if you can keep having a life for all you non-TV obsessed people. Ah, basic network television. I never know how "good" you are or when you're actually just tricking me into staring my life away (see aforementioned addictions to and Dollhouse and Life for proof).

Southland [Thursdays, NBC, 9pm CST]: Handheld camera work with gritty aesthetic and no pandering to an obvious audience - wait, am I watching NBC? Home of glossy bright shiny things like Chuck and Medium? First Impression: whoa, this is going to be a profoundly subtle drama with moments of severe sadness and desperation that will only ever be one-upped by rewatching past seasons of The Wire. Haha look at Ryan from The OC's funny face. Hmm this is getting a little boring now. Are we really going to just go back and forth between all these cops and not get the opposing viewpoint of gang life in LA? Oh I almost forgot, I'm not watching The Wire with the swears bleeped out. Second Impression: This attempt to be deeper and more naturalistic than most cop shows was clearly cut short by producers who loved Crash and a couple actors who may need to win me over throughout this first season (if NBC even lets it finish out). Holy crap, is that "Fake Empire" by The National playing over the final montage? Final Impression: I'm going to watch every episode of this show. It's not perfect, but it's definitely the best pilot of any show I've seen since Life. Speaking of overly glossy...

Parks & Recreation [Thursdays, NBC, 7.30pm CST]: What hasn't been said about this show already? Yes, it's The Office redux. Wow this already feels like a reluctant obligation to watch, whereas it took Michael Scott and co. about three seasons to trick me into watching every week without really enjoying it. First Impression: This is going to be an easier habit to break, yet I don't see myself not watching anytime soon. Oh look, Paul Schneider from All The Real Girls and Snow Angels. I didn't really like either of those movies that much, but maybe David Gordon Green's hypnotic powers made me automatically want to like this guy in everything I see him in. And Rashida Jones - she's....nice. Second Impression: Not asleep yet. Not sure why. Giggled twice. Okay, I've decided Aziz Ansari is not annoying. He's actually pretty funny when he's not trying too hard. Wow this show really is just a matter of liking these comedians or not. And I like them all (not love, but definitely like) so of course I'm already planning on watching the rest of whatever manages to get on the air before NBC sadly realizes that people still don't like hour-long Office episodes, whether the have the same characters or not. Final Impression: Not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be, and it's nice to see someone as likeable as Amy Poehler in the lead doof role, rather than Steve Carrell, who I often hate as much as I sympathize with.

Harper's Island [Thursdays, CBS, 9pm CST]: A hilariously bad horror movie cut up into thirteen parts? That could either be a delightful diversion from spending money at the theaters to get my slasher laffs or it could be drawn out so hard and long that it'll make me yearn for watching Joshua Jackson looking scared on screen for a mere 85 minutes. First Impression: I'm nervous about this. Not just that I'll get addicted, but that I'll get addicted to something on - GASP! - CBS. That'd be just sad. Oh my sweet hosannah did someone just get their face whacked off by a yacht engine? Okay, I'm in. No bluffing. Eeeeee (pulls collar), these actors are for real, aren't they? That's too bad. Good thing they're pretty and bad acting can be a hallmark of the best horror storytelling, otherwise I would be jumping ship before we even land on the island (no, this island is not nearly as frightening as the one on Lost). Second Impression: It could still go either way by the end of the episode, but right now I'm on board me mateys. I'm also depressed that the boat puns will have to end soon, or at least until they finally decide to leave the island where their friends are getting married to escape the serial killer that they thought died seven years ago! Haha just typing that and re-reading the ridiculousness has sealed the deal for me. Final Impression: so many lame twists, so little time. Harper's Island, you are the perfect show to watch and laugh at with friends. Thank you for existing.

The Unusuals [Thursdays, ABC, 9pm CST]: Oh Michael from Lost, why did you have to go do this? I hear the quirky music, I see someone flashing or chasing a cat or something in the streets of New York, and I do not ask my friends to get quiet so I can pay attention to you. Sucks to be you. First Impression: Charlie Crews is the only man who gets to joke around while being a detective. Sorry, you ABC sadsacks, you're just too goofy. Even Crews knows how to quote zen mantras and get badass on his suspects when he needs to. Ugh, and here's the dealbreaker - stealing a scene from The Wire but only mining it for laughs, not also for tension and social commentary. Haha a copier that they make the suspect think is a lie detector. HOW ORIGINAL. Bah that makes me so upset. I'm all for The Wire inspiring more cop shows (hell, Southland stole from them quite nicely) but it's no fun when they're clearly lifting direct ideas for scenes. Second Impression: I am so ready to turn you off, The Unusuals. Just give me one more reason. Oh and there we go. These actors are insufferably wacky. Adam Goldberg is the same nervous depressed guy in every movie/TV show and Amber Tamblyn is the too-witty-for-her-own-good lady cop that shows how dumb the guys are (gotta give her credit though, the guys are dumber). And oh how I hate Jeremy Renner. I just found out his name, but wow I can't even begin to explain how much he rubs me the wrong way. Final Impression: It's already bad enough I'm liking another cop show. And at least that one has the wherewithal to leave the comedy to others.

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  1. Anonymous LQ | 9:52 AM |  

    The thing about Southland is, if you made a drinking game where you took a drink every time Ryan from The O.C. said anything, you wouldn't get very drunk. I never saw him say anything on any of the previews, so when I flipped to the show in the middle of an episode, I decided I would at least watch until Ryan said something. I watched about 5 minutes, and Ryan was in it the whole time, and he had 1 line. Whoa dude, whoa. I don't know why writers are afraid to give him dialogue, but let the guy say something!

  2. Blogger qualler | 9:59 AM |  

    The good part of Southland is it has a mostly unsentimental, "gritty" feel to it. I do wonder how much more or less I would like it if it were shot less like a documentary and more like a standard drama series, but the aesthetic appeal is certainly strong. Plus, I think Ben McKenzie is most effective when he's just looking at stuff.

  3. Blogger Sean | 10:00 AM |  

    southland doesn't bleep every swear. the version i saw on hulu had the word "ass-hole" in it about 5 times. that's progress.

    the unusuals is typical mid-season crap.

    parks and rec needs a few weeks to develop its own thing. remember how the office was just a rip-off of the uk version for about 6 eps? i think there's potential here.

  4. Blogger chris | 2:13 PM |  

    I liked that Ryan said barely anything. Think about any job's first day. You barely say anything, just absorb and listen, to make sure you don't screw up. It was a nice change of pace from the smart-mouthed rookie trope we usually get on cop shows. His faces are ridiculous, though, I'll give you that.

    Good point about Parks and Rec, Sean. There's definitely potential. Maybe my subconscious realizes this and that's why I know I'm going to keep watching. I definitely didn't fall in love with The Office right away (though I never really did).

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