My TV Season Sitcom Wrap Up

Last fall, I wrote about my expectations for the new TV season here and here.  Now that the season finales are all wrapped up I thought I would go over the shows I initially reviewed to see how the shows, and my comments on them, panned out.  I’ll go over the freshman shows at a later date.

The Office:  With the departure of Steve Carrell I still had high hopes that the show would continue putting out the same high quality comedy even though the departure of its main star forced the show to switch gears.  As I said last fall…

Although I have been a loyal Office fan, I admit that my interest has waned a bit the past few seasons.  I mean, how long are they going to film this documentary?  But the addition of James Spader’s Robert California has breathed new life into the show.  Spader showed up in last year’s season finale as an interviewee to replace Michael Scott as Manager.  The couple of minutes of screen time was so compelling, that I would consider it Emmy worthy.  Truly, great acting as Spader’s character shows himself so supremely confident that he intimidates the search committee into selecting him.  As the new season opens Jim’s to-the-camera interview reveals that Robert California immediately drove to Florida and talked the CEO out of her job, a concept that seems totally plausible given how Spader is portraying the character.  I think James Spader is a great addition to the show, and actually may have been the only direction the show could go into that would continue to make The Office worth seeing.

So what happened?  I lost interest.  Spader was not on the show frequently enough to retain my interest, and I stopped making the show a “must see” program.  From what I’ve heard from other Office fans, my opinion is fairly widely shared.  Andy (Ed Helms) taking over as manager struck me as kind of a clunker.  Although the character is entertaining in small bites, I never was enamored with the character and couldn’t care less about his relationship with Erin.  Maybe that’s just me though since the show will be back next fall.  Perhaps my mood will change by then.

The Big Bang Theory:  My theory that Leonard and Penny would get back together panned out, although in extreme slow motion.  I’m not sure a couple who had been together, broke up for over two years, and then got back together would actually get back in such careful, baby steps, and in such a totally unromantic way that these two did, however the romance/non-romance of Leonard and Penny is one of the key building blocks of the show, so if you really want to stretch it out over several episodes, this is the way to do it.

Otherwise the general quality of the show remains strong and entertaining and I’m enjoying the budding romance, if that’s what it is, between Sheldon and Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik).  Although they have been technically dating for two seasons, the relationship has only been one of convenience, to keep both of their parents off their backs.  However now Amy Farrah Fowler (for some reason it feels more natural to use her full name) wants to bring that relationship to the next level via B.F. Skinner-like operant conditioning.  I can see that some fans might have some hesitation that a real romantic relationship for Sheldon could change the character, but my gut feeling is that even aspies need love too and a Sheldon romantic relationship could work.  We’ll see how this plays out next season.

Two And a Half Men:      Since I wasn’t a regular viewer of the show, I probably wouldn’t have even commented on it other than the very public mental breakdown (what else would you call it?) by Charlie Sheen, that lead to him being fired from the show.  It was still a popular moneymaker so CBS wanted to continue it, adding Ashton Kutcher to the cast, in what I felt was as TV-plausible way to integrate him into the cast as possible without hiring some prize winning novelists to carefully craft a high concept season opener.  But high concept isn’t what this network show is about.  Still, it’s not the same show, and the ratings for this show have been steadily declining all season.  Not declining so much that this show won’t be back next fall. But I doubt if it can eek out any more seasons after that, and that’s probably for the best.

Community:  Community is of course my absolute favorite sitcom.  It follows in the tradition of Arrested Development in that the show has a sometimes sophisticated and complicated storyline, requiring the viewer to actually pay attention, and has lots of Easter eggs that will pay off several episodes later.  Also, like Arrested Development it suffers from perennially low ratings.  That’s to be expected of course.  A majority of people are not interested in paying close attention to a sitcom.  They’re popping popcorn in the microwave, and fielding homework questions from the kids at the same time.

The low ratings lead to Community being taken off the air in November of last year until finally returning to the schedule in March after a fan protest.  When the show returned in March, it was evident to me that the producers had already decided that they were probably going to be cancelled.  I mean nobody; NO BODY does a parody of Ken Burn’s Civil War unless they know this is their last hurrah.  That episode, awesome as it was, would have been totally impenetrable to an outsider.  And that’s the problem with Community, and similar shows like it.  At a certain point, the inside jokes, self references, and knowledge of the characters become so obtuse that only a hardcore fan would get the jokes.  Any casual user would be flummoxed.  I’m not the only one who’s made this observation.  It’s a real problem for a struggling show trying to attract an audience.  What new audience could sit down to watch an episode like Virtual Systems Analysis, and have any idea of what was going on?  The average guy sitting down on his couch to channel surf would have not understand this episode in the least.  If they were familiar with Star Trek: The Next Generation’s holodeck, they might understand what the Dreamatorium is supposed to be, but the finally detailed psychological profile that the show has built up on Abed for three seasons would be incomprehensible.  And the fantastic acting by Danny Pudi would probably go unnoticed.  Pudi played not only several versions of his own character Abed, but a version of Jeff Winger, not as he was, but as Abed imagines him to be.  That’s not only heavy writing, but heavy acting.  If you know what he was trying to do.

In spite of Community trying to sabotage itself for the last part of the season by doing some of the most brilliant avant garde  comedy on television, it got picked up for another season for a 13 episode order.  How the show can push the envelope any more than it already has I don’t know, but I’m perfectly willing to watch and see.

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New TV Season Review Part Deux

Continuing last week’s look at the new fall season, I start off with what is supposed to be the biggest budget, science fiction blockbuster of the season…

 

The New Shows

Terra NovaFirst the bad.  I’m sick of this same stock scenario showing up in Science Fiction over and over again, only to meet ratings failure.  The scenario?  We’ve destroyed our planet because of our greed, war, overpopulation yada, yada, yada.  Now we need to find someplace else and hopefully do things right this time.  Remember Earth 2?  Probably not.  The BBC took a try with Outcasts last year and meet with the same ratings failure.  Does anyone still think that population is the major danger facing the world?  I don’t think a social meme has been more thoroughly discredited than the thesis of Paul Erlich’s Population Bomb, the 1968 book which painted a Malthusian nightmare for a future United States.  And by future, I mean it predicted mass starvation across the United States in the 1980’s.  Remember those starving times?  Yet Terra Nova’s 2149 Chicago looks identical to the 1973 film Soylent Green’s  New York City of 2022.  Brown skies; and too many people.  People who grew up with those images as the future refuse to shake them, and are as indelible as silver suits, bubble helmets, food pills, and flying cars are for an earlier generation.  The idea of “population police” arresting people who have a third child is an idea that belongs in a 1970’s TV movie.

Or China.

The Good:  However once the action hits the prehistoric era, the show really takes off.  At that point, I didn’t feel like I was engaging in a long set up to some hopefully future story and action.  The action started immediately.  Family conflict, teens sneaking off to drink, hungry dinosaurs, and a mysterious second settlement, who are keeping some big secret as to why they are really there; gave me a satisfying good story and a desire for more.  Of course, the show is gorgeous to look at.  Filmed in Australia, the vista is lush and I admit, is a great contract to 2149 Chicago.  And the special effects, by which I mean dinosaurs, are at least Jurassic Park quality.  Not bad for a TV show.  The history of this genre usually means a show like this will maybe last the season, but won’t be picked up for a second one.  The actual audience versus the production costs will mean that the show won’t be a profitable prospect for Fox, who could probably replace it with a reality show for a tenth of the cost and twice the audience.  However, if the writing can hold up through this season, I hope to enjoy this ride as long as it lasts.

Whitney:  I wanted to like this show, and I do sort of.  For now, I find Whitney Cummings funny and she is kinda hot.  I go through these phases, almost like a comedy crush, in which I can find a certain female comedian funny; against type (because chicks generally are not funny).   But eventually I’ll tire of the humor, get bored and move on.  I think eventually, that is what will happen to me and Whitney Cummings.   It’s not you, it’s me.  I wish you the best in your future endeavors.

But for now I enjoy the show, mainly because I enjoy her and still find her funny.  It doesn’t hurt that her live in boyfriend on the show Alex (Chris D’Elia) is a good fit.  Long term however, everything about the show is same ole, same ole.  A bunch of 20 something urban “friends” getting involved in each other’s lives…  It’s almost the same background to every sitcom since Seinfeld; urban singles making it in the big city by relying on each other.  We don’t need our real families, look we’ve made a brand new one in New York City!  So my interest in this show will last  exactly as long as Whitney Cummings makes me laugh.  When that ends, there will be nothing else of the show to still keep me interested.

The Returning Shows

The OfficeThis show could have gone a lot of different directions after the departure of show star Steve Carrell; most of them dead ends.  It’s very difficult to limp along when a major character leaves.  In this case, the departure of the star should have meant a death blow to the show.  But I think the path they’ve chosen may give this show an opportunity for new life.

Although I have been a loyal Office fan, I admit that my interest has waned a bit the past few seasons.  I mean, how long are they going to film this documentary?  But the addition of James Spader’s Robert California has breathed new life into the show.  Spader showed up in last year’s season finale as an interviewee to replace Michael Scott as Manager.  The couple of minutes of screen time was so compelling, that I would consider it Emmy worthy.  Truly, great acting as Spader’s character shows himself so supremely confident that he intimidates the search committee into selecting him.  As the new season opens Jim’s to-the-camera interview reveals that Robert California immediately drove to Florida and talked the CEO out of her job, a concept that seems totally plausible given how Spader is portraying the character.  I think James Spader is a great addition to the show, and actually may have been the only direction the show could go into that would continue to make The Office worth seeing.

The Big Bang TheoryI would have been looking forward to this show coming back anyway; it’s one of my favorites, but the last season ended with a cliffhanger of sorts.  After a drunken evening, Raj sleeps with Penny… or did he?  That the social awkwardness of the situation could be diffused by the end of the premiere episode should provide its own answer.

So simple plotlines yes, but great characters, also yes.  The show manages to slice and dice the major symptoms of nerddom amongst its four major male leads.  And someone has gotten geek culture down pat.  The constant nerd talk is backed up by solid writing.  The show probably depends on its technical advisors for nerd culture as much as it does for its physics-speak.

And of course, any show that has as its main character someone who displays many of the symptoms of Asperger’s  is  OK in my book.  That’s a hard acting job to pull off and Jim Parson’s does it brilliantly as Dr. Sheldon Cooper.  Hopefully this season will finally get Penny and Leonard back together.  I’ve got bets on this!

 

Reposted from Muchedumbre.com

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