It is already October 15th! How did that happen? I guess you could say that the Earth rotated around the sun a specific number of times and that days winnowed into nights which bled into days and so on and so on in the circle game. I think that's it. So, how have we been spending these ever-marching autumn hours? Watching TV, of course! Lots and lots of TV. Some has been good (Mad Men, The Daily Show), some has been bad (90210), and some has just been puzzling (Two and a Half Men?). So as we approach the ever-important November Sweeps Week—when networks set their ad rates based on inflated, extraordinary episodes that don't actually reflect typical week-in, week-out quality—let's take a second to give a quarter term report card. How has television been faring, you know, quality-wise (because we already know that ratings are in the toilet)? We'll analyze after the jump.
SUNDAY Desperate Housewives Time Travels The big surprise in last season's finale was a series of short scenes showing the characters five years in the future. The new season picked up where that left off, with everyone older and not necessarily wiser. It's a bit gimmicky, yes, but it's allowed them to jettison tiresome plotlines and create brand new ones (Lynette's rambunctious twin boys are now rambunctious twin young men!). While some of us here at HQ still find the show to be a bit of a whiny bore, others are digging the series like it was the first season all over again. B+ Entourage's Cameoverload The HBO boyfest LA answer to girl business New Yorkfest Sex and the City has been overdoing it with the celebrity guest appearances, yes. But its arc has also been pat and frustrating. Drama has reached Inspector Clouseau levels of idiocy, Turtle has been given little to do, E continues to rankle in his snappy-short-guy-who's-kinda-earnest way, Adrien Grenier still cannot act, and poor Jeremy Piven is going to drive himself to an early grave with all his senseless bellowing. Credit to the underused Debi Mazar and Rex Lee for keeping their characters fresh and fun, though. C- Dexter Is Still Killer Showtime's gory character study about a Miami forensics expert cum justice-seeking serial killer (Michael C. Hall, steamy as ever) and the people who orbit him is still as thrilling as ever. Good grades go to Jennifer Carpenter's sassy new haircut, the always-dependable Lauren Vélez and David Zayas as Dexter's weary partners in crime fighting, and to the softly heartbreaking Julie Benz who brings a quiet dignity to every tiny scene she's in. This season's chief storyline (so far), concerning Dexter's accidental murder of an ADA's (Jimmy Smits) brother, is tense and ominous. You know, as the show should be. A- True Blood, Truly It's campy and silly at times, yes, but with the ever-increasing mysterious death toll, we're hooked now. Anna Paquin-factor be damned. B Mad Men Oh you know it's good. A
MONDAY Gossip Girl & The Hills: Hurt So Good The Upper East Side teen soap (fiction) and the Los Angeles post-teen soap (reality!) are both dumb and gut-churning sometimes, yes, but both have mostly been hitting on as many cylinders as they can so far this season. GG has tempered the silly melodrama of last season with more groan-inducing witty New Yorky references and word play, while The Hills has mined some sneakily affecting emotional depths. (Well, not really that affecting, but you know, relatively.) It's what the kids are watching and really, they could be doing worse. GG: B+, Hills: B- Two and a Half Men Apparently Exists Yeah, apparently it does. And lots of people watch it. Sigh. D
TUESDAY Greek Is The Best Show You're Probably Not Watching Well the third season of this terrific little confection of a college series is almost over, but I'm told the entire first season is available for your ears and eyeballs to consume online. It's a funny, sweet, nice-but-not-too-nice dramedy about a college in Ohio (where it's always sunny and warm!), that has soared these past couple of months. That Greek (heh!) guy from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is on it, and, well, swoon. The various romantic polygons have remarkably not gotten tired, and the sore-thumb single gay plotline has been treated calmly and evenly. Go watch! A- Please Do Not Watch 90210 This excreble misery of a remake is a sloppily-made, boring piece of drivel that mind-bogglingly managed to even underestimate the taste level of squealing teenage girls. With seemingly no feel for plot structure, continuity, character, or humor, the writers have blundered along, serving us tepid little piles of gruel that—despite the presence of o.g. stars Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth (plus a hilarious Hannah Zuckerman-Vasquez line)—woefully pale in comparison to the original teen whine and cheese party. Ugh. F- Fringe: WTF? OK, we admit we only watched the first episode of this sci-fi CSI meets X-Files pastiche. And we admit to sort of enjoying it. But nothing really pulled us back in. Joshua Jackson, way late of Dawson's Creek, is as wannabe suave and charming as ever, Anna Torv is sort of hard to pin down, and Lance Reddick is left to lurk in the shadows, reminding of us better work like The Wire and Lost. Who has kept up with this? How's it doing? We guess right now we'll give it a C
WEDNESDAY Goodbye Forever, Project Runway So it ends tonight, whatever. This season has been kind of unbearable, save for a few highlights (Leanne! Sort of!), with its annoying catchphrases, untalented contestants, and uninspired challenges. When the show comes back as a sad Pontiac Phoenix rising from the ashes on Lifetime (or, um, maybe not), we're pretty sure we're not going to watch it. Which is sad, because it used to be so damn good. Ah well. To everything a season and blah blah. C- I Suppose There Have Been Other Things Airing On Wednesday Nights? Um, let's see here.. Lipstick Jungle? No thanks. Knight Rider? Certainly not. America's Next Top Model? Never in a million years. Oh here we go. Top Design. Wait. Wait, nope. Not that either.
THURSDAY Clocking In At The Office We've only had two episodes, but they've been squirmy, swoony delights thanks mostly to the rainy day engagement between floppy old Jim and frizzy old Pam—though, it'd be nice to have her back in the actual office, rather than flirting it up with that teddy bear dude from Mad Men—and to the pitch-perfect Amy Ryan as a strange, nerdy, cautious love interest for ever-bumbling Michael Scott. Kudos also to the show's writers for giving lesser-seen characters like Meredith their chances to shine. A- Kath & Kim Sad. Just sad. Such high hopes for the usually likable Molly Shannon and Selma Blair, but this Australian import just didn't connect. D Live From New York It's... Thursday Night? Because of some sort of political and economic foofaraw going on these days, Lorne Michaels and co. have decided to add a special Thursday version of their Saturday Night Live Weekend Update segment to the NBC lineup. You know, to stay current and all. We've only had one so far (they'll run up to the election), and it was funny in parts and strained and awkward in others. The thing is, SNL is so skimpy on the funny as is, it seems a bit foolish to stretch out their best material to two nights a week. But, we'll keep watching for now and give it a tentative B. It Really Is Always Sunny In Philadelphia FX's hilarious, filthy, swear-filled, low-budget comedy It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia continues to blow the brain with out-there yet somehow completely salient themes like the gas crisis and how to fake one's own death. A (Note: Please come back, '30 Rock.' Pleeeassse??)
THOSE OTHER TWO NIGHTS NORMAL PEOPLE SPEND DRUNK Friday and Saturday... I dunno. I guess there's new stuff on, but who really watches. So instead let's take a moment to discuss the real TV this fall, which of course has been news and various humorous reportings on said news. As we said above, there seems to be some sort of election happening as well as some coverage of the large and troubling black hole that recently opened up here in New York, south of Worth Street. The "news" programs, as they were, have been of course loud and shouty and irksome and saturated with the kind of editorializing and conjecture that has somehow slunk its way to the top of the heap. It's so rare, like really honestly rare, these days to see any reporting that's not loaded with opinions and speculation and all manner of rabid fame-clawing by correspondents desperate to earn the next truckload of sweet ass O'Reilly or Olbermann cash. Fuck who's in the tank for who, let's toss out both tanks and start from scratch. And yes, though I like her, I'm willing to throw the Maddow out with the bathwater. F+ The parody shows, chiefly The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, have fared far better because, duh, there's just so. much. to make fun of. It's no surprise that these arch hosts (Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert) are performing ably, but all of their correspondents, writers, and editors have also been more on top of their game than we've seen in a long time. Wherever you fall on the issues (crazy, nonsensical shortsightedness vs. Barack Obama), the back-to-back lineup is always worth watching. A+ So that's that! Tell us what else you've been watching and if you've enjoyed it in the comments. And, you know, disagree with me. Because really I have no idea what the hell I'm talking about.