The new TV season has seemed to have shown up from out of nowhere—where the hell did the summer go? But I’m always happy to welcome back established favorites and to try out new shows, hoping that I’ll get in on the ground floor of the next 24, Lost, Sopranos, or NYPD Blue—some unique show that comes along and really changes the television landscape, specifically for the better.
We’re still in the very early stages of the 2010-2011 season, but here’s my rundown of everything I’ve seen thus far.
DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (ABC, 9 PM)
A good start. Solid season premiere. And Vanessa Williams—who I consider to be one of the most beautiful women on the planet—is a welcome addition to the cast. Hopefully the writers will serve her well, something they were not able to do with previous season-long guest-stars Alfre Woodard and Drea DeMatteo, both of whose characters became tiresome distractions almost immediately. Nice to see Mark Moses back as Paul Young, who could turn out to be a strong villain this year. But I’m sorry to see Kyle MacLachlan reduced to “guest star” status—I’m figuring his character’s days are numbered. And I’m still getting over the loss of Dana Delany from the cast. She was part of the reason I kept watching the show during its “down” periods. Other thoughts: Carlos looks like a kid without the facial hair! I found Brian Austin Green surprisingly tolerable. And most of the ladies—particularly Teri Hatcher—don’t seem to have aged a day since the show began.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO, 9 PM)
Steve Buscemi is terrific in a role that is fairly atypical for him—the big man in charge, the power player. The attention to period detail is impressive, the overall premise is compelling, the characters are intriguing, and there’s plenty of sex and violence. So what’s not to like?
BORED TO DEATH (HBO, 10 PM)
The chemistry between Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis is absolutely wonderful, and this show, now starting its second season, just keeps getting better and better. Schwartzman, as freelance writer/unlicensed private detective Jonathan Ames, is one of the most unlikely heroes you’ll ever see. His cases always end up with him in very hot water (or very hot leather, as in the second-season premiere) and his interactions with his high-living pothead editor George (Danson) and his sad-sack cartoonist best friend Ray (Galifianakis) are surefire comic gold.
LONE STAR (FOX, 9 PM)
Having watched the first two episodes, I declare that this is one of the very best new shows of the season. But it doesn’t matter. Because after airing those first two episodes, FOX has already pulled the plug on it. Apparently, my friend Weird Pete and I were the only ones watching it. A damn shame—it was well written, well acted (the cast included Jon Voight and David Keith, both of whom were turning in wonderful performances), the main characters were very interesting, and the plot twists kept coming fast and furious.
THE EVENT (NBC, 9 PM)
Far as I can tell, it’s trying to be a cross between The X-Files and Lost, with some of the stylistic flourishes of 24. But I couldn’t care less about any of the characters (though Jason Ritter, pictured above, has been pretty solid as the male lead). And I found the “big secret” behind the main plot, revealed in the second episode, to be utterly underwhelming—something I feel like I’ve seen a million times before. I’m giving this show one more episode to impress me, and if it doesn’t, I’m done.
TWO AND A HALF MEN (CBS, 9 PM)
Always good for a few really big laugh-out-loud moments per episode, but the increasing reliance on crude sex jokes is unfortunate. Plus, the reveal that 16-year-old Jake is now taking part in threesomes was totally irresponsible and borderline reprehensible. There’s also the fact that pretty much every single character on the show is now thoroughly unlikable. Charlie, while still funny, is becoming more and more evil, even sadistic. I’ve hated Charlie’s housekeeper Berta since Day One, and I see absolutely no reason for her continued presence on the show. (They kept her on and reduced Melanie Lynskey’s Rose to occasional guest-star status???) Jake has become a fairly repugnant shithead, and his relationship with his father is just sad and depressing. Alan still provides laughs, but he’s really pathetic now. It’s hard to root for him at this point. The only really likable character is Herb, Judith’s new husband, but he’s not a regular cast member and shows up only sporadically. And I really wish the writers would provide stronger material for the female love interests. Jennifer Taylor’s Chelsea was a one-dimensional bore who lacked any hint of a personality and did nothing but set up punchlines for all of the other characters. I fear the same fate will befall Courtney Thorne-Smith’s Lindsay—which would be most unfortunate, as Thorne-Smith is a talented actress who can handle comedy well. Thankfully, Kelly Stables is back as Melissa, one of the few female characters on the show who was actually allowed to get laughs.
MODERN FAMILY (ABC, 9 PM)
What the hell happened? Last year, in its debut season, this show was a breath of fresh air—clever, witty, endearing, genuinely funny, with likable and believable characters put into situations that, as far as sitcoms go, were pretty down-to-earth and relatable. Two episodes into its second season, Modern Family has been utterly devoid of any of those elements. It’s just another mediocre sitcom now, with the characters portrayed as exaggerated caricatures of themselves and thrown into increasingly silly and typical sitcom scenarios. It usually takes YEARS for a sitcom to get to that point. For some reason, Sofia Vergara is now playing up her accent like never before, and her character Gloria might as well wear a big sign that says “I’m from Colombia.” To make matters worse, the writers are now portraying her as an insecure, scheming, borderline psychotic, threatened by and jealous of her young son’s female schoolmate and determined to humiliate her husband because he doesn’t believe in ghosts like she does. Ty Burrell’s Phil, who was a riot last year, is now just a dopey schmuck. In the second episode of this season, he actually admits out loud in front of his wife Claire that he hasn’t been paying attention to what she’s been saying—something he never would have done last year. Speaking of Claire, she’s now little more than a joyless, perpetually tense, tightly wound nagging machine. Yes, that was part of her nature last year, but it seems to have taken over completely. Mitchell and Cam have probably fared the best so far this season, but nothing truly FUNNY has been done with them. Their moments have either been mildly amusing (Mitchell’s dislike of public displays of affection) to echoes of better episodes from last year (Mitchell getting trapped in a confined space with a bird). Ed O’Neill’s Jay has gotten off pretty easy thus far this season, but that’s only because not much has been done with him yet. The show’s newfound reliance on slapstick humor is regrettable, and only succeeds in removing it even further from the “grounded in reality” feel it used to have. I ask again—what the hell happened?
LAW AND ORDER: SVU (NBC, 9 PM)
The cases themselves are still compelling enough--though the dialogue and the manner in which relevant characters enter a scene defy believability. Plus, we’re now three episodes into the new season, and each one has fallen apart almost completely in its final moments. Might be time to finally put this show to rest, especially with Christopher Meloni leaving at the end of the season.
COMMUNITY (NBC, 8 PM)
I can take or leave this show. Sometimes it’s pretty darned funny, other times it leaves me cold. During its first season, if I missed an episode, I didn’t consider it a major loss. Two episodes into its second season, I feel the same way.
30 ROCK (NBC, 8:30 PM)
Still very fun and funny. Tina Fey remains one of the most adorable and appealing women on television and Alec Baldwin is simply brilliant as Jack Donaghy. His video messages to his unborn child in this past week’s episode were just the latest example—with a totally straight face and not a hint of irony, he quoted word for word Marlon Brando’s holographic greeting to young Clark Kent in Superman: The Movie: “My son… you do not remember me… I am your father,” thus continuing the show’s proud tradition of throwing in clever pop culture in-jokes that only us geeks would get. (“Help me, Liz Lemon, you’re my only hope!” and Rip Torn’s now deceased Don Geiss being frozen in carbonite being just two others). This is a “can’t miss” show at Casa de Greenberg.
THE OFFICE (NBC, 9 PM)
First of all, the cold opening they did in last week’s season premiere—in which the entire cast took part in a music video set to “Nobody But Me” by Human Beinz—was downright FANTASTIC. This show certainly has had its ups and downs—last season was particularly uneven—but even at its worst, The Office is better than almost any other comedy on television. Based on the first two episodes of this season, we seem to be in an “up” period—which makes it all the more bittersweet. It’s impossible for me to imagine The Office without Steve Carell, and as of now, my feeling is that the show should go off the air once he departs next May. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I really don’t see myself watching the show beyond this year. All I can say is, it’s going to take some MAJOR brilliant writing and casting—I’m talking GENIUS level—to win me over.
THE BIG BANG THEORY (CBS, 8:30 PM)
I only started watching this last season, but it’s grown on me. The cast is uniformly strong and the writing is often clever. I’m actually interested in seeing how Penny and Leonard will relate to each other now that they’re no longer dating. It’s not a GREAT show by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s good enough to keep me coming back for more.
SMALLVILLE (The CW, 8 PM)
I abandoned this show completely at one point, but I started watching again a couple of seasons ago, once Erica Durance’s Lois Lane became a regular cast member and the emphasis shifted from “Kryptonite Freak of the Week” to Tom Welling’s Clark Kent getting out of school and taking his first real steps to becoming Superman. The writing is sometimes sloppy, and the show’s budgetary constraints sometimes cripple the storytelling (the final showdown with Doomsday, anyone?), but I like the addition of so many other DC Comics characters—particularly Justin Hartley as Green Arrow and last season’s introduction of the Justice Society of America. Here’s hoping that in the show’s final hours, it gives us a satisfying confrontation with Darkseid—and depicts some kind of planetary mind wipe so that Lois, Lex Luthor, Tess Mercer, and pretty much everyone else who knows Clark Kent will forget that he has super powers. Otherwise, there’s really no point in him ever putting on the glasses, y’know?
REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER (HBO, 10 PM)
Very hit and miss. It all depends on who the guests are, and how much Maher feels like he has to fawn over them. Maher is notoriously smug and arrogant, and fawning doesn’t come easily to him. So when he does it, it just comes off as smarmy, insincere, and shameless show-biz phoniness, and it’s uncomfortable to watch. And it’s downright annoying when he has on inarticulate morons who aren’t well versed on current events and bring absolutely nothing to the conversation. (Did you see Dana Carvey’s last appearance on the show? I’m hoping it REMAINS his last appearance on the show.) But when he’s got a strong line-up of panelists—one that includes folks like Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens, Amy Holmes, Chris Matthews, Cornel West, Alec Baldwin, and Thomas Friedman—who can discuss the issues intelligently, eloquently, and knowledgably, it makes for good and sometimes even enlightening viewing.
So that's my rundown. What're YOU watching?