When I was just a young lad, especially during those pre-teen years, I had to go to my grandparents' apartment every Friday evening for Friday night dinner. See, my secular Jewish family cared enough about our identity to come together and mangle the prayers, but not enough to really call it shabbos dinner. Nevertheless, my memories of those days some 20+ years ago don't involve the dinner as much as the TV after.
While my father, his siblings and my grandparents would chat, I would go into the back room with my two younger cousins and we would watch TV. I remember the Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas. The Incredible Hulk gave CBS a must-see night of a TV for a while. Although even in those early days I had the choice of the hour-long CBS shows or the sitcoms Benson and Bosom Buddies. Fantasy Island and The Rockford Files lived on Fridays for a bit too. Eventually there was also The Greatest American Hero, Knight Rider and Remington Steele. And for some reason I remember The Brady Girls Get Married. The point is that back in the day – we're talking the turn of the 80s here – Friday night was actually somewhat competitive. The networks would stick some of their most popular and/or interesting programs on Fridays. And for that matter, Saturdays too. Not any more. Fridays (and especially Saturdays) have become a bit of a TV wasteland. That's not to say there's absolutely nothing good on Friday, but it is slim pickings, and calling it a resting place for mediocrity isn't far from the truth. Tomorrow I'll post comments for Saturday nights, but I may hold-off on Sunday until after this week's premires. Next week, I'll write about some of the newer shows which have since premiered. I also plan to go a bit beyond the networks and talk about what else to look forward to in the fall plus a closer look at Fox's January schedule. But in the mean time, here's Friday:
|8:00 PM:||8 Simple Rules||Joan of Arcadia||Dateline NBC||TBA / The Complex: Malibu||What I Like About You||Star Trek: Enterprise|
|8:30 PM:||Complete Savages||Grounded for Life / Commando Nanny|
|9:00 PM:||Hope & Faith||JAG||Third Watch||The Complex: Malibu NOT The Next Great Champ (encore) / TBA||Reba||America's Next Top Model (encore)|
|9:30 PM:||Less Than Perfect||Blue Collar TV (temp) / Grounded for Life|
|10:00 PM:||20/20||dr. vegas||Medical Investigation||Local Programming|
Those days of great, or at least entertaining, Friday night television are long gone. There's really only once show that's even worth anyone's time, and that's Joan of Arcadia, which deftly manages to merge creative and drab into something interesting. The show has the same ol' CBS straightforward family drama undertones as the rest of that network's bread and butter, but the gimmick (a teenage girl speaks to God – for real – and is given seemingly innocuous tasks to complete) is clever and the cast is fantastic.
The rest of the 8 PM hour – actually, the rest of the night – is filled with mediocrity. Even NBC's Dateline has a sense of sensationalism to many of its stories one doesn't generally see on 60 Minutes or 20/20. ABC decided last year to reinstitute its T.G.I.F. labeled lineup, and while the shows may not skew as young as Full House and Family Matters did, they're still silly simplistic family comedies. 8 Simple Rules was actually a relatively clever show originally, but they should have simply cancelled it when John Ritter passed away. The addition of James Garner and David Spade may help from a star name standpoint, but the show is relatively awful now.
ABC added one new program to the night at 8:30 PM: Complete Savages is the story of the Savage family, a single father and five sons who can't keep a housekeeper because – get this – they live like savages! Metaphorically, of course. The kids fill all the stereotypes: dumb musclehead jock, good looking popular kid, nervous smart kid, etc. But I must admit, I didn't absolutely hate this show. Maybe it's Keith Carradine or something, and while I wouldn't set the DiVo or anything, but it's a not-terrible mildly entertaining diversion. Yes, high praise indeed.
In the 9 PM hour, ABC has the Faith Ford-Kelly Ripa "comedy" Hope & Faith – a comedy in name only. Every damn episode is exactly the same. Faith (that would be Ripa) does something stupid, often involving Hope's (that would be Faith Ford) kids, and then Hope's husband (Ted McGinley, natch!) freaks out and Hope has to calm the whole situation. Both Ripa and Ford have engaging screen presences' but the writing is so average, the show becomes very blah.
Less Than Perfect is slightly better but falls into the same look-at-how-funny-this-is-supposed-to-be traps. Any reason to watch the show falls primarily on its cast, and even that needs to be a qualified statement: if you don't like Andy Dick, you should just stay away.
The WB started taking on ABC head-to-head on Fridays a couple years ago, and has been quite successful in doing so. While I'm sure Uncle Grambo has his own personal collection of the Bynes-fest What I Like About You, there's not really any reason to watch the show other than a love for Amanda. Overall, though, the WB's shows barely beat out ABC's lineup, but we're talking about a barely perceptible difference. The WB is having some schedule problems right now because they're new show Commando Nanny had to postpone production due to star Gerald McRaney's recent surgery. For the time being, they've moved their 9:30 show Grounded for Life to the 8:30 slot and stuck another episode of Blue Collar TV in at the later time. When Commando Nanny finally starts, Grounded for Life will supposedly return to 9:30.
But ultimately, who the hell cares. Grounded for Life is utterly average (not an oxymoron) and who knows about Commando Nanny, but the title alone gives me nightmare flashbacks of Hulk Hogan's attempt at action-comedy stardom in the early-90s with Suburban Commando and Mr. Nanny This show happens to be Survivor/Apprentice producer Mark Burnett's first attempt at producing a "scripted" show, and apparently it's based on his own life. I'm guessing he'll be encouraged to stick with the "unscripted" by the time this season is over
CBS and NBC both offer up ho-hum series at 9 PM. There's nothing inherently terrible in either JAG or Third Watch, but neither are all that compelling either. Third Watch has always been ER's ugly stepchild; it wasn't a spin-off, but it might as well have been since comes from the same producers and tries to approach stories in a similar way. I've tried getting into it on more than one occasion and I always find myself bored 15 minutes in.
JAG, in case you've never known, stand for "Judge Advocate General." It's the Navy's legal arm, and the show is one of those investigative legal dramas, just one that lives within the world of the military. However, in TV Guide's "Returning Favorites" issue, we're reminded that "Where we left off" is that "Harm (David James Elliot) reminded Mac (Catherine Bell) of the deal they made years ago to have a baby together – unaware she has a serious medical problem." I'll admit, I haven't even tried watching an episode of JAG in over a year, but when the hell did it become a daytime soap? I can't believe this show is even still on the air. The only reason I could contemplate watching it is to enjoy some Catherine Bell eye-candy.
Fox and UPN really don't seem to care much about Friday, especially at 9 PM. Fox has this show called The Complex. I haven't actually ever watched it, but it's another one of these makeover shows of the home variety, as opposed to body. In this one, a bunch of couples move into an apartment complex in Malibu and have to fix up some rooms in order to give them the right to completely renovate four of the apartments which will later be sold at auction. Whichever couple's apartment brings in the most money gets to keep all the money paid for all the apartments. You know, I loved Trading Spaces for a while, but there are so many of these home makeover shows, I can't keep them straight, nor do I care. I suppose this is big in the Midwest and south, but Fox seems content letting it bounce around the schedule. It was supposed to be at 8 PM, but it's been airing at 9 PM. Originally, Fox was going to just air an encore of The Next Great Champ at 9 PM, but then that show did so poorly in it's original airings that this second showing, in a time slot which they were basically filling just for kicks, got pulled. Tonight they're showing The Simpsons and That '70s Show repeats at 8 before The Complex.
What I can't figure out is what happens in November. Fox has its hands full with baseball all this month, and this first series of The Complex ends next week. Come January, they have two brand new hours to fill the void, but what happens for two months? Who knows.
UPN fills the 9 PM hour with an encore airing of America's Next Top Model, which is great, especially if you decide to get hooked on Lost or Smallville on Wednesdays because now you can just record ANTM on Fridays and not worry about missing it. Isn't that precious?
10 PM is just more of the same. ABC presents a now Barbara Walters-free 20/20, and CBS and NBC have two shows that mimic the quality of the 9 PM shows. For some reason, Medical Investigation is a "TV Guide Favorite." I found it to be a barely above-average medical/science drama that wants to be CSI really badly but isn't. The show has a solid cast led by Neal McDonough, but his character is just an asshole. Like many of these shows, the episodes supposedly will often be based on real-life events. That was true with the premiere episode which dove right in to the action without wasting too much time on establishing things but still managed to wrap everything up all too neat and quickly in the last 10 minutes. The show deserves a second viewing (which I have yet to give it), but I was fairly underwhelmed.
Still, Medical Investigation is better than CBS's dr. vegas. Basically what I think happened here is that CBS gave shows last year to Rob Lowe (The Lyon's Den) and Joe Pantoliano (The Handler). Both shows failed (on Fridays, I believe) and so they decided to give the two another shot by sticking them in the same show and relegating them to Fridays again. As a bonus, they threw in Tom Sizemore. See, between Hustle and this, Sizemore is getting all the good gambling gigs. That should keep him out of jail.
dr. vegas has a great cast, but I can't tell if it has a good premise because there's no there there. Lowe plays a doctor who saves the life of Pantoliano, a casino boss, years ago becoming his friend. Pantoliano brings Lowe to Vegas to be the house doctor at his casino, where Sizemore runs security. Lowe's character seems to be this very altruistic type with a gambling problem. Or is he just a bad gambler without a problem? And did he leave his wife and kid, who he calls late one night to wish happy birthday but misses her? And then she calls him back; how the hell old is this daughter who I was thinking was 5 or 6 but sounds much more like a teenager? And 785,396 other questions pop-up, which is just way too annoying for any show. The things that did happen weren't that interesting: oh look, a singer star-attraction has a drug problem. Shocker. But she's pregnant so the doc convinces her to go away to rehab, but not without hiding it from his buddy who's now lost his star attraction. And then there are the kids trying to run cons in the casino until one of them gets beat up (and the female partner just disappears?). And there's the really smart, hardworking and attractive female dealer who has to handle her alcoholic father. And there's … ZZZZZzzzzzz.
I applaud the networks for doing their part in getting people out of the house. Obviously, if they actually wanted people to watch, they'd put on more than just one good show.
Saturday's are basically a wasteland in the world of network television, but Sunday is a huge , and ABC premieres two of its most anticipated new shows: Desperate Housewives and Boston Legal, the latter being the spin-off of The Practice. But since there's no reason to stay home tonight or tomorrow, there is plenty of other moving picture entertainment to be had, such as DIG! (which should be your first choice), I ♥ Huckabees, and just about everything playing at the New York Film Festival.
Don't miss: none
Worth watching: Joan of Arcadia; Dateline NBC; America's Next Top Model (if you missed it on Wednesday); 20/20
Tolerable: Star Trek: Enterprise (but really to Star Trek fans only; Complete Savages (maybe – jury's still out); Third Watch; Reba; Less Than Perfect; Grounded for Life; Medical Investigation
Snoozer: 8 Simple Rules; What I Like About You; Hope & Faith; JAG; dr. vegas
Ouch my eyes! My head! Oh, the pain! Please make it stop!: nothing seems that bad – yet.
The verdict is still out (have yet to air/see): The Complex: Malibu (now airing); Commando Nanny (in October)