Saturday, August 26, 2006

"That Remote In Your Hand Is A Crack Pipe!" (Or, What I've Been Watching Lately, Pt. 2: Television)

Psych: I like the premise for this -- about a guy with amazing crime-solving powers of observation who tells people he's psychic to get them to take his deductions seriously -- a lot, if only because it appeals to my hardcore-skeptic sensibilities in ways that no TV show[*] has done since Scooby Doo[**]. The execution doesn't quite live up to the promise, I think, mainly because the main character's a bit too consistently goofy for it to seem plausible that anybody ever believes him at all. "Real" psychics manage by being charming and convincing as well as observant, and I think that faux-psychic Shawn would be a much more interesting character if, say, he could switch back and forth between something like that and his (admittedly entertaining) habitual goofball mode. The other characters are a bit two-dimensional, too. The detective who doesn't believe in Shawn's abilities would be more interesting if he were a bit more sympathetic, given that, after all, he's right. And the sidekick (played by Dule Hill, who I quite liked on The West Wing) seems to have a personality that's almost completely defined by contrast to Shawn's, like he's some kind of a photographic negative of the guy. I've watched all of it now, though, thanks to USA handily running it as a marathon, and the episodes do seem to get better as they go along, so I think it's got potential to evolve in good directions. The mystery plots, while not exactly Agatha Christie, are fun, and at least tend to take place in interesting and unusual settings. I may tune in for this one when it comes back in January, as it does seem that I'm starting to reverse my DVD-watching-only habits a bit, but it won't break my heart if I manage to forget.

The 4400: I wasn't quite as drawn into this show this season. I'm not sure if that's mainly due to the fact that this is the first season I've watched as it was aired, rather than on DVD, but I do the week's separation between episodes makes some kind of a difference. It may also have to do with the way they kept writing out characters, then writing in new ones, then writing them out, then writing them back in... Whatever. I can't seem to find it in myself to get particularly excited about this show, but I'm still finding it interesting enough that I will almost certainly be tuning in next season. Erm, there will be a next season, right? I got a little nervous a couple of weeks ago when USA kept advertising that there were "only two episodes of The 4400 left!" but I assume they meant "left in this season." Although it would be absolutely typical for something to get cancelled just when I've started tuning in.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: This is a show that's premiering on NBC in the fall, but Netflix subscribers can get a sneak peak at it on DVD if they so choose. I so chose, partly because I really liked Aaron Sorkin's work on The West Wing and was curious to see what he was doing with his new show, and partly because I like to encourage TV networks make us of new technologies like DVD and the internet, rather than clinging to the same old "it's our job to put stuff on your TVs and your job to shut up and watch the commercials" model. It's interesting that they chose this particular show to explore this new marketing possibility, because the show itself is all about television and its current (rather sorry) state. Even before the opening credits roll, we're treated to a long, scathing, and utterly brilliant diatribe about how television these days is complete crap and we shouldn't be watching it. Yowza! My initial reaction to that was, "Whoa, and they're going to show this? Wow, what a display of guts!" My immediate reaction after that was, "Well, come on, the network is going to have no problem whatsoever with airing a show that tells you television is crap and you shouldn't watch, as long as they think you still are going to watch anyway. I'm sure they're perfectly happy with self-denunciation, as long as it's making them money." Given this cynical attitude, all I can say is, Mr. Sorkin has his work cut out for him. Sure, he was able to make me believe in magic fairy leprechauns honest, competent, idealistic politicians, but an honest, competent, idealistic network executive is another matter entirely. Still, I'll be interested to see if he can pull it off, and his dialog is always a joy to listen to, so I probably will be catching this one when it airs.

Kidnapped: The pilot episode for this was on the same disc with Studio 60, so I gave it a shot. By which I mean, I watched about the first ten minutes. It was very stylishly produced, but the dialog sucked. It is possible that eventually the plot would have been engaging enough to make up for this defect, but I wasn't interested enough to stick around and find out. I'm gonna skip this one. If it turns out to be wildly successful, and people whose tastes I respect tell me that I'm seriously missing out and the rest of the series is nothing like the first ten minutes, I'll catch it on DVD.

[*] Well, fictional show. I mean, I gotta give props to things like Penn & Teller's Bullshit.

[**] Hey, the ghosts always turned out to be Old Man Witherspoon. And Velma was an infinitely better skeptical thinker than Scully.


  1. I couldn't watch a show entitled Kidnapped without thinking of Robert Louis Stevenson.

  2. I couldn't manage it, either, actually. :)