Sunday, September 27, 2009

First Impressions of the Fall Season

Whenever a new TV season starts, I like to test out new shows and see what I will be keeping on my personal Watch List. I mentioned below what was on my sampler platter for this fall. Most of the shows have aired their first episode, so I wanted to get down some of my initial thoughts. I selected these new shows based on their casts, concept, marketing, etc. I usually give a new show two episodes to hook me so I'll probably go back for more of each of these shows, but here's what struck me:

*The Good Wife: I like Julianna Margulies, and I tend to like courtroom dramas, so I figured this would be a good fit for me. Overall, I enjoyed it, but there was something "off" about it that kind of stuck in my craw. It could be the fact that it is set in a law firm, and I work in a law firm: when I watch TV, I'm looking for an escape from the rest of my day. Also, some of the characterizations were weird. Really? Do we need another cut-throat associate who is willing to throw anybody under the bus to make partner (played by Matt Czuchry)? And what is with the character played by Archie Punjabi? I think she's supposed to be the firm's in-house counsel, but no firm would let one of their attorneys dress like she does. While I don't mind watching beautiful women, this character and her costuming just pulled me out of the show when she was on.

Pluses: Good actors (Margulies, Chris Noth, Christine Baranski); Decent dialogue
Minuses: Some weird characters; Danger of becoming just another courtroom drama
Grade: B

*Glee: Perhaps it's my love of musical theater (I used to work for Les Miserables, and my wife is a Broadway actress), but I think Glee is absolutely fantastic. What they have managed to avoid, for the most part, is a lot of the stereotypical characters that exist in shows about high school. Yes, we have the jock, but he like singing and sticks up for his group-mates. We have the gay kid, but he's on the football team. There's a kid in a wheelchair who's not a source of cheap humor (when was the last time you saw THAT on a comedy?). More important than that, Glee has been willing to address certain issues without a glaring "after-school special" feel. In just the last episode, teen pregnancy, abortion (didn't use the word, but Planned Parenthood was name-checked), and homosexuality. The last issue delivered my favorite line in TV so far:

KURT: Dad, I'm gay.
DAD: Yeah, I know.
KURT: Since when?
DAD: Since you were three. All you asked for for your birthday was a pair of sensible heels.

Hilarious! Of course, you also have all the great musical numbers used in very imaginative ways. The football team dancing to Beyonce's "Single Ladies" to distract the other team? Genius. Beyond that, there are great performances being given by the kids, Matthew Morrison as the teacher leading the glee club, and the incomparable Jane Lynch as the cheerleading coach determined to destroy the glee club.

Pluses: Musical numbers; Actors; Stories
Minuses: Can drag at times
Grade: A-

*Modern Family: ABC ran a whole bunch of promos for this new sit-com about three related families. We have the "typical" suburban family: parents with two daughters and a son, where the dad thinks he's cool because he knows all the dances to High School Musical; a May-December romance where the May is a vivacious Colombian immigrant with a son; and a gay couple who have just adopted a baby girl from Vietnam. This kind of set-up could be perilous if the characters are just wacky for wacky's sake. Fortunately, the writing was so crisp and some of the situations so unexpected (the typical Dad shoots his son with a plastic BB gun to punish the son for...shooting his sister with a plastic BB gun; one of the gay dads presents his new daughter like Simba in The Lion King with full-on "Circle of Life" playing) that the show doesn't fall into this trap. Here's hoping they stay this witty and unpredictable.

Pluses: Great writing; Funny actors; Unexpected plots
Minuses: Risk of being too wacky
Grade: A-

*Eastwick: This is an adaptation of the movie and novel, The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike. In a New England town, three women (played by Rebecca Romjin, Lindsay Price and Ashley Benson) who are down on their luck for various reasons, make wished by throwing coins in a fountain. This action brings a mysterious, wealthy and charming man named Darryl Van Horne (Paul Gross) who starts to make their wishes come true. The women themselves begin to exhibit special powers as well. It's not a big surprise that Darryl is the Devil (get it, Van Horne?) and that the woman are actually witches. The writing was pretty snappy, and Paul Gross is pretty great as Darryl (I mean, he's no Jack Nicholson, who starred as Darryl in the movie, but who is?). I worry that once the women learn how to control their powers and realize that Darryl is actually evil, the show will devolve into a "Darryl does something evil, the women stop him" pattern.

Pluses: Paul Gross; Snappy dialogue; Winsome lead actresses
Minuses: Stories could get monotonous; Possibility of cheesy special effects
Grade: B

OK, that's what I have for four of the new shows. I have to go celebrate my anniversary, so I have to leave it there for now. I will get thoughts on Flash Forward, SNL Weekend Update Thursday, and Community up soon. I'll also have some comments about where returning shows are heading.

Please post your opinions in the Comments. Also, if there is some other show you would like me to comment on, please make the suggestion. I'd like this to be a conversation, and as interesting as I find myself, I'd rather speak with you all out there. Thanks for reading. More TV thoughts coming soon!

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