See, I'm not the only person still out there taking a microscope to the new TV season. NPR's "Talk of the Nation" takes a look at the networks' programming today during it's second hour (3 pm Eastern). Of course, the New York NPR station, WNYC, doesn't broadcast "Talk of the Nation," so I often stream it from San Francisco's KQED.
Not that you need to listen to them because all the guidance you require can be found right here, in my little corner of the interweb. For example, take Tuesdays. Please. (Har. Yeah, not really.) Tuesdays are definitely a step-up from Mondays this season, but there's still plenty of crap to avoid. But Tuesdays still have some changes on the horizon, especially with Fox changing course come November, at which time one of their supposedly most promising shows will premiere. But more on that after the jump:
If you're setting a DiVo (or TiVo or VCR or whatever), there are definitely some things to check-out on Tuesday. Two new series show promise in very different ways, and depending upon your tastes, three returning shows are definitely worthy of watching regularly, if not religiously.
|8:00 PM:||My Wife and Kids||NCIS||Last Comic Standing / The Biggest Loser / The Contender||Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy / The Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best||Gilmore Girls||All of Us|
|8:30 PM:||George Lopez||Eve|
|9:00 PM:||According to Jim||Clubhouse||Father of the Pride||The Next Great Champ / House||One Tree Hill||Veronica Mars|
|10:00 PM:||NYPD Blue||Judging Amy||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Local Programming|
There is a clear winner for the 8 PM hour across the board, and that is The WB's very smartly-written Gilmore Girls. I will admit that the current storyline with Rory becoming "the other woman" is actually not my favorite, nor was a I ever a big fan of any part of the Jesse arc, but overall this show has been quite good since episode one, adeptly combining comedy, drama and quirkiness without ever getting too heavy-handed in any one form. The cast, writing and production is superb across the board, and if you've actually never watched it, I encourage you to give it a chance. When people say there's nothing good on television (at least, television that isn't HBO), this is one of the shows they're not watching.
The rest of the hour, from what can be determined at this point, is fairly bland. CBS's NCIS is a basically their attempt to combine the stodginess of JAG with the hipness of CSI, and all it really proves is that in such a battle, dull seems to win out much of the time. If you're a big Mark Harmon fan, do yourself a favor and just rent Summer School for some fun Harmon kitsch.
NBC and Fox are both fairly schizophrenic in this time slot. NBC has been prepping a Mark Burnett (he of Survivor, The Apprentice and The Restaurant) boxing reality show called The Contender hosted by Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard. If you haven't heard of this, where the hell have you been? Because they've been in litigation with Fox trying to stop their own boxing reality show The Next Great Champ from coming to air. NBC failed, and basically, so has The Next Great Champ, currently airing at 9 PM. I'd be fairly certain that Champ's figurehead, Oscar De La Hoya, losing a huge pay-per-view match a couple week's ago isn't going to help the Fox show's ratings much. Besides, the show is rather dull. I watched two episodes, and until the match at the end, I don't remember anything happening that really had any impact. Plus, the producers seem to believe the best thing to do is make the whole show look like multiple music videos, going so far as to have this final episode-culminating match on a downtown LA rooftop so we can all relive that great Guns 'N Roses "Don't Cry" video I suppose.
Ironically enough, the theme song for The Next Great Champ is Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," which of course was the hit from Rocky III, starring Stallone who, in case you've already forgotten, is the host of The Contender. So now, NBC has pushed back the premiere of The Contender to an undetermined date no sooner than mid-November and possibly not until January. Is it possible that the show will be any good? Well, it has Burnett in its corner, and while the prepackaged and basically scripted The Restaurant quickly got tiring very quickly (hence nobody returning for the second season), he does do damn well with competition shows. So we'll see.
In the mean time, NBC currently is finishing-up its hastily assembled Last Comic Standing, the battle between seasons 1 & 2. This series of the show is probably the "jump-the-shark" moment. LCS1 was entertaining although it wasn't always that funny and one of the weakest of the contenders actually won. LCS2 had a much better group of comics, and personally, I was very happy with the winner John Heffron who consistently had me laughing and always wanting more. But this stupid-ass "battle" is just proving again how much better the season 2 comics were. Several comics are having to recycle material -- although why the hell Dat Phan is still telling jokes he used on the original series is beyond me -- and I imagine that's simply because they haven't had time since the end of the original series to work on a lot of new stuff. To make it even worse, they're venturing into stunt-casting mode. Last week, Louie Anderson and Carrot Top were guest "ringers" for each of the teams. Tonight's episode is supposed to be a roast of Jay Mohr featuring Triumph the Insult Comic Dog!
Thankfully it will all be over next week, and hopefully NBC will stay off the Last Comic Standing kick until next summer. However, as part of their delay tactics with The Contender, they will start the shorter series The Biggest Loser on 10/19. This show follows several people competing to lose the greatest percentage of their individual body weights in a set period of time. No, I'm not kidding. It's a TV show. NBC actually spent money to produce it. And the most terrifying thing to me is that I have a feeling a ton of people will watch.
And in case you've been asking yourself, Why are the other networks complaining so much about Fox stealing their programming ideas, Tuesday actually is a perfect night to see the case against them. Fox may have gotten The Next Great Champ to air first, but The Contender was announced first. The Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best doesn't start until 11/9, but it's a blatant rip-off of The Apprentice. And the show filling Branson's time-slot for now (and mercifully coming to an end this week because of baseball, I believe) is Trading Spouses, Fox's other rushed-to-air-to-beat-the-other-network-with-the-original-idea program, namely ABC's Wife Swap (which starts tomorrow).
The really sad part about all of this is that Fox is cribbing crappy shows (with the exception of The Apprentice), yet this truly bad collection of series keeps doing well enough. Trading Spouses (and I assume Wife Swap, although I wouldn't want to judge one series by the merits, or lack of them, of another) must be targeted to the flyover state Bush voters or something, because just as I can't fathom how anyone can see this guy as having done a good job at anything, I can't really understand the appeal of this series. OK, that's a bit much – I can understand why the idea of seeing how people react in the same role but different family situations might be intriguing, but maybe once or twice. And more importantly, the only element being judged, really, is these women's capabilities as housewives. That's so modern of you Fox (and ABC).
UPN again faces off with a major network at 8 PM with sitcoms, but this time, they don't have the "urban" audience all to themselves. Sure, My Wife and Kids and George Lopez are targeted at broader audiences with the hopes of more crossover appeal, but it's still different from the competition with CBS's white-bread suburban family sitcoms on Mondays. And the UPN shows are simply more-of-the-same as their Monday lineup: lowest common denominator, standard sitcom fare – nothing too clever, nothing innovative and plenty of laugh-track but not many actual laughs.
My Wife and Kids has always been Damon Wayans' attempt to skew The Cosby Show to his own slightly less-conservative viewpoint. I've watched it a few times and it's occasionally funny primarily because Wayans has always been the most talented performer of his familial clan. Where My Wife and Kids succeeds due to its lead, however, George Lopez has always suffered due to its star, George Lopez. Lopez always looks like he's reading cue cards. His method of selling a joke or showing shock or surprise basically boils down to opening his eyes as wide as he can. This can work in stand-up where he was often quite good; it's pathetic in sitcoms. Then throw-in the fact that this show is just the same as all the other clumsy-but-loving-dad-with-the-attractive-and-smarter-than-him-wife-and-and-a-couple-precocious-kids sitcom (it's lead-in and lead-out included), albeit with a Latino bent, and you get a pretty boring series that I'm relatively shocked is still around.
Not as shocked, however, as I am that According to Jim is still on the air. According to Jim and George Lopez might as well be the same show, except Jim Belushi can't do the Latino self-deprecating humor. This show is awful, but like the rest of ABC's Tuesday and CBS's Monday comedy lineup, there is a devoted following that enjoys these mindless family sitcoms, all of which are descendants of some weird combo of The Cosby Show and Roseanne, but none of them as good as either were at their best.
I can't comment on Rodney, which premieres tonight in the 1,765,839th attempt to turn a stand-up comic's personal life into a family sitcom. TV Guide says in its Fall Preview issue, "ABC may have found its own Blue Collar hit." In its own Fall Preview issue, Entertainment Weekly says, "The show's not revolutionary," and that's quite a shocker, "but may play well in the heartland." The premise is that a working-class guy in Tulsa dreams of being the next Jeff Foxworthy, so he quits his job to pursue stand-up comedy. This being ABC, though, he doesn't just try-out for Last Comic Standing.
While I don't want to criticize Rodney without having seen it, if you're watching a half-hour comedy at 9:30 PM on a Tuesday, you should be watching Scrubs. I wish they would stop their own stunt-casting arcs (I wasn't crazy about either Tara Reid's or Heather Graham's roles, although Tom Cavanaugh's turn as J.D.'s brother was great) because they've got a wonderfully hysterical and tight ensemble as it is. According to TV Guide, though, exec producer Bill Lawrence says, "We're going to do our darnedest to have Scott Foley, Tara Reid, Michael J. Fox and Brendan Fraser comeback." Either way, Scrubs is one of the funniest shows on the air right now, and it's anything but average sitcom crap. I realize its humor isn't for everyone, but if you've never seen it or just caught it once or twice, you should give it a shot, and revel in John C. McGinley's brilliantly straight-faced sarcasm.
NBC isn't doing Scrubs any favors, however, with its lead-in Father of the Pride. They spent a ton of money on this DreamWorks animated series lauded as "from the creators of Shrek," and while they could never have predicted the accident to Roy Horn of Siegfriend & Roy (who are characters on the program), that's not why the show sucks. Like the common theme among most subpar half-hour series, it's just not funny. I'm not quite sure why the writing is so bad: the people behind this show have credits on everything from The Ben Stiller Show to The Simpsons to Family Guy to Home Improvement to Spin City, but while watching a couple episodes, I didn't laugh at all. Thud, thud, thud was all I heard in my head with every single blatant joke. Maybe there's hope for this show as it develops its voice, but I haven't seen it yet, and I don't know that I care enough to give it a shot.
The problem is, there are two, and possibly three, other shows at 9 PM that I care about exploring much more than Father of the Pride. UPN's Veronica Mars is trying to be the more-quirky but less-supernatural successor to the late Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One episode in, I'm on the fence, but the pilot episode intrigued me enough to stick with it a bit. I'll be watching for more interesting stories and the overall season-story-arc; the writers threw a lot at us in this first episode setting-up the world and characters of the show, and there almost wasn't room for anything else. I sort of wish they'd created a more compelling first episode and let some of the other elements develop in coming shows, but whatever. So I'm definitely not sold, but I'm very curious to see where it goes.
Even less sold but also intrigued is CBS's Clubhouse which airs in its regular timeslot tonight but premieres this past Sunday. I love the idea and the basic world the producers have created, and the casting is great, but if the writers persist with roll-your-eyes huge stories every week, I'll drop this one really quick. In the opener, the main character, a 16 year-old batboy, is entrusted with a baseball superstar's Ferrari but can't drop it off at his garage in Brooklyn because the place is closed so he keeps it overnight, drives it to his catholic private school the next morning, then gets caught speeding through Brooklyn at which point he retardedly opens a small bag looking for the car registration only to find the certificate, but also the ballplayers illegal steroids. So of course he gets arrested, and there's a big NY tabloid controversy, and the ballplayer offers the kid his Ferrari if the kid keeps to his story about the steroids being his. It's all really stupid, and quite annoying.
BUT, again, the casting is wonderful. Mare Winningham plays the troubled but loving single mother; Christopher Lloyd is fantastic as the gruff but caring equipment manager who becomes the main character's father-figure; and Dean Cain plays the one role potentially better for him than Superman, that of a Major League superstar hitter who becomes akin to an older brother to the batboy. The best part of the first episode, however, involved our main character meeting a girl who gave him her number at the stadium late one night for their first "date." She tells him she liked him simply by seeing him on the field because she could also see his love and passion for baseball and being in that place at that time. That's the quality this show potentially possesses that could potentially transcend the guy-baseball element: the show translates that passion and love for something. It has the potential to bring viewers back to those nostalgic moments of their youth whatever they may be and to re-experience all the trials and tribulations, as well as the successes. If they can restrain themselves from dipping to deep into the schmaltz, corn and overdrama of stories that become too big, Clubhouse could be a keeper.
After the baseball playoffs, Fox will premiere House, which seems to be a favorite of both TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. The show features the great British actor Hugh Laurie as an eccentric doctor who solves mysteries. It sounds like the Murder, She Wrote or Columbo version of NBC's new Friday series Medical Investigation, which itself is basically the CSI formula paying less attention to autopsies and crimes and dealing more with any type of large medical emergency. House doesn't premiere until 11/16.
But just because you don't have House to try doesn't mean you should spend any time watching the truly terrible One Tree Hill. I really gave this show a shot last year, and I know it's managed to build a loyal teen following and I'm not part of that demo, but as much as I love The O.C., that's how much I hate One Tree Hill. All the situations and the majority of the characters are annoying and unrealistic as hell. Storylines make no sense and are often contrived. Basically, they tried to reinvent Dawson's Creek, but instead of figuring out what was good about the early years of Dawson's, they managed to mimic the absurdity of the final seasons. This is an awful, awful, AWFUL show, and in case you still aren't getting me, I hope it loses its audience and is cancelled as soon as possible. The only reason One Tree Hill isn't the worst show on The WB is because this is the same network that's broadcasting The Mountain. But I'll rant about that tomorrow. The 10 PM hour is filled with mediocrity and no new series. Judging Amy is a trifle with an appealing cast and not much more. I'll admit now that I've never been a big Law & Order fan, and SVU is the weakest of the current three series. Still, it's probably the best show on during this time slot. But as I wrote last week, you'll most likely catch me, if I'm watching any network programming, enduring the final season of NYPD Blue. I've been there since the beginning, and although they seem to run-out of stories to tell, it's still a consistently well-made show. Plus, they'll be showing it weekly with no repeats, so it will be done between January and March, I believe, probably going out big during February sweeps. So there's Tuesday for ya. Tomorrow we get into the first of the three best nights for television during the week. Ever time-slot has multiple choices for your viewing pleasure.
Don't miss: Gilmore Girls
Worth watching: Scrubs; Law & Order: SVU
Worth watching -- at least for now: Veronica Mars; Clubhouse
Tolerable: Judging Amy; Last Comic Standing (current season downgraded from "worth watching"); My Wife and Kids; NYPD Blue; NCIS
Snoozer: George Lopez; According to Jim; The Next Great Champ; Father of the Pride; All of Us; Eve; Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy
Ouch my eyes! My head! Oh, the pain! Please make it stop!: One Tree Hill
The verdict is still out (have yet to air/see): Rodney (premieres tonight); The Biggest Loser (premieres 10/19); The Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best (premieres 11/09); House (premieres 11/16); The Contender (premieres November TBA)