Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review of the TV year:Part 1

It's mid-summer and it's now time to review the year that was in TV. The two greatest tragedies were the cancellation of My Name is Earl and Pushing Daisies. I am greatly disturbed by the state of TV when I think of how powerless I am to change these things. Here is a list of some of the shows I followed this past year (more will be covered soon):

Sit Down, Shut Up- An animated comedy about incompetent teachers at a flailing school that really has very little to do about teaching at all. It’s made by the Arrested Development guy and stars such big names as Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Kristen Chenowith, Keenan Thompson, Will Forte, Cheri Oteri, Henry Winkler and Nick Kroll. The expectations were high to live up to and that brought a lot of disappointment and I can see both sides of it. The show got a little bit too meta too early in its run. In the 4th episode and last before leaving the remaining 9 episodes of the season (and most likely the series) in limbo, there were no less than three or four self-referential gags going on: characters kept trying to consciously match themselves to 80’s archetypes, characters alluded to how they had few adventures before episode one, and Miracle was self-conscious about being nothing more than a plot device fueling the rivalry between Ennis and Larry.

On the other hand, I really like most of the characters (the sexually confused Andrew is definitely an exception) and there is a sense that the writing is witty and sharp and will be even better once a coherent tone is found. Most of the running gags the show has works: I think there is a good amount of running gags they have: The assistant principal is really really incompetent and was a prison clown before he was a principal, Happy's ethnic mumblings superimposed with proper-soundng British, Willard always having a different way to get to school, the fact that no one cares the least bit about actually teaching and we know very little of the students, etc..

Burn Notice, USA: In the world of TV, it is generally not a bad thing to have a gimmick that hooks you in. The show is about an exiled spy in Miami who is Bond-like in his ability to outwit his foes. The gimmick? Imagine if James Bond was letting you pick his brain while he was kicking ass. In Burn Notice, Michael Weston is an exiled CIA operative who takes freelance jobs (usually involving dealing with dangerous people) in his hometown of Miami while he attempts to figure out who ratted him out and compromised his identity to the CIA. As he’s slipping into and out of trouble, Weston provides voiceovers about how a spy should handle this or that situation that really makes things interesting. Also in the show are Weston’s mother (the only person who will take him in), an old male associate, and an ex-girlfriend (played by the dainty-looking Gabriel Anwar)

Important Things with Demitri Martin, Comedy Central-Demitri Martin is, by far, one of the best comics out there. He can be creative on so many mediums and he has such an uncanny ability to pull hilarious observational humor where no one ever looked before. He’s the ideal star for his own show, because it doesn’t just include 30 minutes of stand-up and he can mix it up, through different mediums and interlace some great sketches: For example, he has one in which a high school student gets his wish granted of meeting three great minds for dinner- Ben Franklin, Galileo, and William Shakespeare- and all they want to do is hit on the waitress.

30 Rock, NBC: I am not one who demands excellence from a TV show or demands it be cancelled. 30 Rock is good and provides humor better than a high percentage of shows still out there and by no means do I want that to go away. That being said, 30 Rock didn’t really raise the bar this season. In fact, the comedy that was previously limitless in the ways it could surprise the viewer with a limit, became somewhat formulaic as of late. Every plot would include three plots:
1) Liz looking for love or trying to convince herself that she hasn’t lost her plebian roots because she’s now part of Jack’s inner circle.
2) Jack dealing with his love life or family problems
3) A C plot with either Jenna trying to come to terms with her snobbishness or someone doing damage control for Tracy’s latest escapade

The Root of All Evil, Comedy Central: A novel idea that might not have legs to last several seasons, but good enough to allow those talented under-the-radar humorists like Andrew Daly, Patton Oswalt, Greg Giraldo, Andy Kindler and Paul F Tompkins to riff on various topics in what sort of plays as a comedic sport. Lewis Black could stand to play a larger role in the show. Every comic has their own unique style and everyone has their own preferences. I get a kick out of Tomkins and Daly who take themselves as seriously as lawyers because they’re suddenly dressed in suits. You can also never get enough of the debate over which is worse: Beer or Weed, American Idol or High School, Donald Trump vs Tila Tequila, etc.

More to come....

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