October 5, 2006

What Lurks on Channel X? Channel Surfing the New Season

Well, we are a few weeks into the new TV season, and I am sure sure that your must see viewing lists are starting to take the shape of what they will be for the rest of the season. Of course, there will be some modifications as shows get canned, prematurely or otherwise,other shows that come back as mid-season replacements, and the eventual network schedule reshuffling. The question is, what are you watching? Have you done any schedule trimming?

One of the problems I have had for the past few years is that I just watch way too much. I have found myself actively hoping that some shows get cancelled to free up some time for other shows. I on, an average night during the big network season, have two VCRs going and sometimes I'm watching a third show in the same timeslot. Yes, you read that right, VCRs, and yes, I have heard of TiVO, and no, I don't have any plans to get it.

This season started like any other, I went through all of the networks offerings and began to tick off what new shows I would sample and what returning shows I wanted. Right off the bat there were shows on the bubble, and few shows that I had heard were good, but actively decided not to try them on for size.

We start with Monday nights. The show I was most eagerly waiting to return was Fox's Prison Break, which got an early start in August. It got off to a great start and hasn't looked back. Even with my anticipation, I was a little concerned. I wasn't all that impressed with how its premiere season ended, more of a whimper than a bang. Fortunately, the quest they have been on since the escape has been exciting and keeps me coming back for more. The cons have taken a variety of paths, but everything leads towards keeping them together in some form. Plus, the addition of William Finchtner to the cast, as the agent in charge of their recovery, is nothing short of excellent.

That was followed with the highly anticipated Vanished, also on Fox. A show that I truly wanted to like. A season long arc about the mysterious disappearance of a politician's young wife, who also happens to have a hidden past, would seem to be something I would like. The problem is that I don't care about any of the players. The good guys are abrasive, the victims are cold, and there is way too much plotting going on. I gave up after a few weeks.

Switching channels, jump over to NBC, they have some highly anticipated shows of their own. First up is the new show Heroes. It has been on for two weeks now, I've only watched the premiere so far, the second is awaiting me on one of my "Monday" tapes. The concept reminds me of USA's excellent The 4400. People discover they have powers, and slowly learn that they have some greater purpose that will bind them together. The premiere was a little slower moving than I expected, but it was intriguing enough that I will be back for more.

Following the pseudo-superhero tale is the new Aaron Sorkin series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I never watched his last show, The West Wing, never had any interest, this is different. The setting of an SNL-type sketch show, with a couple of former creative talent, who went off and became famous returning to it in a state of extreme disarray seems like a good one to me. The first couple of episodes have proven to be first rate television, and has jumped up on the must see list. I don't think this will be coming off anytime soon.

Over on the new CW network they started up a new show called Runaway starring former New Kid on the Block, Donnie Wahlberg. I watched the premiere, and will give it another week or two. It is about a man who is wrongly accused of a crime, who takes his family on the run while he tries to find out the truth. Sounds like a familiar plot, but this has a stronger family focus which gives it a slightly fresher feel.

I've never really cared for ABC's Monday sitcom lineup, but I gave their new show, The Class, a shot. I like Jason Ritter from his time on Joan of Arcadia, but he just doesn't work all that well on this show. The setup of the third grade reunion seems a little goofy, and it doesn't get much better. I gave it a few weeks and then dropped it. I didn't bother with the rest, no desire.

That pretty much covers my Monday's. I do watch WWE on USA from time to time, but my interest has been waning of late, and I will probably step away totally for awhile.

Tuesday's are anchored by two shows, with a few floaters in their orbit that hold my attention. Let's move on to the worthy watchers.

The CW has one half of my must see Tuesdays. Their entry is Veronica Mars. It just had its season premiere, and it gives a good showing as why it is one of the best written shows on television. It has a spunky lead character, an interesting supporting cast, and has built up an amazing universe over the first two seasons. The new season picks up with Veronica in college, complete with new mysteries. If you aren't watching, you should.

Jump over to Fox for their medical drama House, now entering season 3. Hugh Laurie anchors the series as the irascible title character. The new season has brought a number of new mysteries, as well as the continuing issue of his leg. Last season ended with what seemed to be a cure, but has proven to be short lived. This series is worth adding to you TiVO season pass, if you have it. There is humor, drama, mystery, and amidst the sarcasm, a good heart.

Following that, also on Fox, is the new action/romance series Standoff. It stars Ron Livingston as a hostage negotiator, who also happens to be his partner. This combination isn't something that is usually smiled upon in the business, but they are making a go for it. The new season isn't the greatest of shows, and I may end up dropping it, but it makes for some fun television. The two jump into action, but the relationship always comes into play. The series could fall into a repetitive formula, hopefully they will find a way out of it, if it lasts. I suspect this may be an early cancelation.

Click over to NBC and you may catch the new football drama Friday Night Lights, adapted from the movie and book of the same name. This show delves into the lives of the kids and the families of a small Texas town and the importance of the high school football team. The premiere was helmed by actor/director Peter Berg, and he brings a highly cinematic style to the episode. I was very impressed with how the introductions and action were handled, and I will be sure to tune in for a few more weeks.

That is followed by a pairing of Law & Order series. I don't watch the first, Criminal Intent, and I am seriously considering dropping SVU. I watched the first couple of weeks and have found that I really don't care. I think I am tiring of the formula. Sure, the stories are interesting, but it seems like the same thing week after week. Besides, you can almost turn on the television at any time of the day or night and find some flaver of the franchise on some station or other.

Moving down the line to CBS, they have the return of The Unit. The Dennis Haysbert military action series made an impressive debut last year with its mix of espionage and the home life. I have not yet watched any of this seasons episodes yet, but I plan on it. I also recommend that you give it a shot, if you can fit it in.

That is followed by Smith, a series about master criminals top lined by Ray Liotta. The first couple of episodes have left me cold. I don't have any reason to watch it, and it will probably get dropped soon. I will give it one more week. The show lacks heart, they haven't given me a reason to care about any of them. Sure, some of the action is good, and it has star power, but there is little else to latch onto.

Always keeping things moving ahead, Wednesday's have a cluster of shows worth my attention. Let's start with ABC this time. As I am writing this, the third season premiere of Lost is on. It starts off with a bang as we see the plane crash from the perspective of the Others. This show is maddening, sometimes the episodes slow to a crawl, almost enough to drive me away, but then they do something to suck me back in. Hopefully, this season will keep me enthralled without all of the maddening aspects. But then, it does have Evangeline Lilly.....

That is followed by the new Tim Daly series The Nine. I have not seen the premiere yet, but the commercials look good. The concept has a group of nine people who have a shared experience of being hostages in a 52 hour standoff between bank robbers and the police. Now they are forever linked by this happening. Hopefully it will turn out to be a good Tim Daly series, and not another one with an early exit.

Flipping over to NBC and you may catch Kidnapped with Delroy Lindo and Jeremy Sisto. This is proving to be the better missing person series than Fox's Vanished. This one features the kidnap of a wealthy couple's son and the near murder of his bodyguard. I like Sisto as the guy who isn't good with people, but is good at finding them. There is a interesting balance being built between his way of business and the FBI's way.

Coming next week is a new sitcom I am looking forward to, Twenty Good Years, starring Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow as a couple of aging men who decide to live it up like they were in their twenties again. At least that is what I think it is about. The two look to be a good pair for some very funny comedy. It is just a shame that Arrested Development had to come to an end for it.

Fly back to CBS for their one show that I look forward too, the apocalyptic drama Jericho. This has proven to be one of the more promising new serial dramas. It stars Skeet Ulrich and Gerald McRaney as father and son in the small town of Jericho. The nuclear bombing of nearby Denver cuts them off from everybody and throws them into something of a mess. It has proven to be intriguing over the first three episodes as those initial hours take a toll on the town. This, I will gladly tune into on a weekly basis.

Move on over to Fox and catch the David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel drama Bones. I grew to really like this show over the first season, and was honestly surprised that it lasted a full year and got picked up for a second season. The show has a good anchor of characters, which really are the reason to watch. Their interaction makes this show as good as it is. Sure, the murder mysteries are interesting too, but they are secondary to the characters.

Following that is a new law series, Justice, starring the excellent Victor Garber, of the now defunct Alias. This takes a new approach, giving us a look into the PR spin and the way media is used and abused over the course of a high profile case. From the initial meeting with the defendant through to jury selection, recreations, and the final speeches we are given front row seats. The first few episodes have been interesting and flashy, but it is a little boring as they have won every case so far. I want to see them lose, dammit.

Thursday's are a little bit crowded at the moment, let's start with the CW network. The evening starts off with the sixth season of the pre-Superman drama Smallville, which I believe was supposed to end its run last season. Still, I am glad it is back, it has fashioned an interesting mythos for those early years of Clark Kent and the gang. I know it doesn't quite gel with what has been written and re-written over the decades of comic books, but I like it nonetheless. This season has Kryptonian baddies Zod flying around, Lex going further off the deep end, and the future growing pains of our future hero.

That is followed up with Supernatural, which had a surprisngly good debut season. I am hoping that they don't have a sophomore slump. The season premiere gave the brothers, Sam and Dean, a bigger reason to continue their quest, while simultaneously hitting them with a huge emotional toll. The series has a good look to it, some good effects, and is building a mythology. All things to help build a long lasting, hopefully, series.

Turn the dial down to CBS and you can catch an eyeful of Ugly Betty, a show that I have chosen not to watch, despite the critical raves. I will, however, wait around for Grey's Anatomy. It has gotten off to a decent start, I am only worried that it will get a little too soapy, it is on the edge now. I can only see it heading down that slippery slope into annoying characters and pointless stories, much like what happened to Desperate Housewives after its excellent first season.

After that is the new drama Six Degrees, which I made it through about 30 minutes of. I just did not like this show, it was dull and populated with characters I just did not care about. The story follows a group of people related in the most mundane of ways who become hopelessly interconnected. Sorry, I'll pass.

Over at CBS, they continue to put out good episodes of CSI, the only good flavor of this franchise. I just hope they don't go too far with the teased relationship between Grissom and Sara, from last season's finale. So long as the stick to the crazy crimes, and maybe stick Gil with the dominatrix, I will still be around to watch. The new season has had an interesting crime featuring a miniature model of a real crime in the same room, and a strange clandestine attack on Catherine.

That is followed by another new law show, this time starring James Woods as a high profile defense attorney who winds up on the side of the prosecution, heading up a high profile crime task force. Woods makes this worth watching. I just wonder if he will be able to sustain my interest, or if other characters will step up to the plate. I enjoyed the first couple of outings, but this may find its way to the chopping block.

NBC, meanwhile, is trying to recreate it's "Must See TV." They lead off with the second season of the Jason Lee comedy My Name is Earl. It hasn't started off as good as the first, but it is still a show worth my time. The adventures of Earl, Randy, Crabman, and the rest are sure to bring me many smiles. They did start to branch out a bit with a two parter that doesn't focus on the list, not entirely successful, but a valiant attempt to shake up the formula.

Next is what just may be the best sitcom currently in production, and an Emmy winner to boot. That show is The Office. I identify with this series like no other. I watch it and I see co-workers, or combinations of co-workers. I love the documentary style, and the way the camera will occasionally become a character in the show. I love how the characters relate to each other, sometimes in unexpected ways. Steve Carrell is the wacky boss, but the anchors are Jim Krasinski and Rainn Wilson, and maybe a bit of Jenna Fischer. All you need to know is that it is funny, has good characters, and if you work in an office, you may get a little bit more out of it.

Lastly, there is the long running medical drama that everyone knows and loves in a variety of ways, ER. It is not nearly the powerhouse it once was, but it still has characters that I like and will most likely tune into each week to see. The premiere picked up where the finale left off, a shootout in the ER left friends hurt and on the table, and a nurse kidnapped by her ex-husband. The drama is strong, and the end results will likely be felt for the rest of the season. Somehow, they have managed to keep a compelling show, even with a near complete turnover of the cast.

Friday network TV is a bit barren for me, with only one show that I look forward to. That one show is over on NBC, the guilty pleasure of Las Vegas. It hasn't premiered yet this year, but I look forward to it when it does start. It is not a serious show, it is just a lot of light hearted fun. Actually, it is a pretty good way to spend a quiet Friday, even if they are few and far between.

Move onto the cable stations and the Sci-F Channel has a pair of shows that will keep me coming back time and time again. First off there is the new Doctor Who series, its second series just began airing in the US. I was never a big fan of the old shows, but this one is downright addictive. The new season, with its new Doctor got off to a great start bringing back some characters from last year, and is just a great planet hopping, time traveling adventure series.

Immediately following it is the incredible Battlestar Galactica. The third season is all set to start this week, and I can hardly wait. The combination of drama, action, characters, what else can I say? It hits all the right marks, and is just one of the best shows on television. I never thought that a recreation of a cheesy (in a good way) series from the 1970s and early 1980s would be this good. All I can say is tune in, watch it, love it, bow down before its greatness.

Saturday is pretty much a dead zone, filled with reruns and football. The only thing that will get me to the new stuff on a Saturday night will be the occasional Sci-Fi Original movie. Too bad most of them are barely watchable.

OK, that brings me to the final day to touch on, and I applaud you for your endurance making it this far through this novel!

Sunday brings the CW and its one show that I want to watch, it is just too bad that it got such a bad time slot. The show is Everybody Hates Chris, the early years of Chris Rock set to a laugh track. The show is wonderful for the entire family, its witty, smart and doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator. That said, the season premiere was merely OK. It brought in Whoopi Goldberg as a new neighbor, just as they go to start a neighborhood watch. Meanwhile, Chris is looking to fill the void of his crush that has moved away. Hopefully it will pick up in next few weeks.

Over on ABC, they are banking on Desperate Housewives, which I gave up on at the dawn of season 2. Hoping to catch the rub of its ratings is the new Calista Flockhart series, Brothers & Sisters. This is another series that I watched the premiere of and found that I just didn't care. It had something to do with dysfunctional family members who come together and, blah, blah, blah, who cares. Moving on.

Click over to Fox and you can witness the mediocrity of The Simpsons. Fortunately, this season has started off much better than the last few, so maybe there is some gas left in there afterall. Or maybe, they are just ramping it up in preparation of the big screen feature that is due next year.

Following it is a pair of Seth McFarlane creations. The first is American Dad, led by the titular patriarch, a gun toting republican CIA operative who endlessly seeks to better his family, except when it adversely affects him. That is followed by the show that was saved from the cancelation heap by its ever popular DVDs, Family Guy. A show that has retained its whacky jokes and stupid characters to the joys of people everywhere.

Finally, there is The War at Home. This show is awful. I watched it a little last year and despised it. I only watched it because it was wedged between The Simpsons and Family Guy, and was easier to tape than to program around. Now it has been moved to the anchor position. I figured I would try it again, see if it got any better, it didn't. It has joined the heap of the cut.

That does it. That is my current TV schedule for this season. I know, I know, I watch way too much stuff and there is no need to. I am going to try skipping a few here and there and see what I miss. Any suggestions on what to cut?

I am sure there are other TV addicts out there, what are you watching? There seems to be a few decent shows out there worthy of our time.


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