"His voice betrayed a craving for terrible things." -- Don DeLillo

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October 10, 2007 (Updated November 4, 2007)

2007 Fall TV Report
Since my girlfriend and I have no lives, we watch a lot of TV. A lot. Accordingly, with the new TV season upon us, we're watching a ridiculous number of new shows. Many will make the cut for a full-season order of our attention spans, some won't, and others will be cancelled whether we like it or not. Since I'll be sitting in front of the idiot box for more hours than I care to think about for the near future, I figured I'd get some use out of the time by putting up some quick reviews of all the new and returning shows I'm watching. I'll update this periodically as more stuff airs and I play catch-up on my DVRs (yes, we have two dual-tuner DVRs and, yes, there are times when we have four shows recording at once). Disclaimer: I'm going to write most of these reviews after seeing only one or two episodes of each show, so I reserve the right to drastically change my opinion down the road. Here goes...

ADDED 10/10/07: How I Met Your Mother // The Big Bang Theory // Prison Break // Chuck // Journeyman // Beauty and the Geek // Reaper // Back To You // America's Next Top Model // Kitchen Nightmares // Survivor // Desperate Housewives

ADDED 11/4/07: Everybody Hates Chris // Aliens In America // Heroes // Pushing Daisies // Bionic Woman // Dirty Sexy Money // Ugly Betty // My Name Is Earl // 30 Rock // The Office // Friday Night Lights

How I Met Your Mother (8pm CBS) -- I've watched over two seasons of this show now despite the fact that only one member of the five-character ensemble doesn't drive me crazy. I'm not sure whether that's an indication of how great that one character (Neil Patrick Harris's Barney, of course) is or just how pathetically low my TV-watching standards are, but there it is. I only wish I could climb into the TV to kill Robin and Ted and make the show soooo much funnier. No more of Ted's whiny, needy personality and embarrassing dating storylines (all involving Ted essentially cockblocking himself, as he did with the Jersey girls in the second episode this season); no more of Robin's abrasively bitchy and self-centered personality and seeming lack of any common interests or connection with her supposed "friends" (who would have dumped her Republican, gun-totin' ass in real life). Lily's offering little beyond constantly throwing up obstacles for Marshall to clear and otherwise treating the love of her life like shit way too often. I'll leave Marshall alone--I like Jason Segel and Marshall is much more fun when Lily isn't dragging him down. All these complaints and yet, I'll reiterate, I've watched every episode of this show. Would someone give Harris a Supporting Actor Emmy, please?

Everybody Hates Chris (8pm CW) -- One fun part about watching a show starring high schoolers is coming back each season to see how puberty's been treating everyone (assuming this isn't 90210). This year, the big shocker was hearing Tyler James Williams's not-a-boy-anymore voice. Kids just grow up so fast, don't they?

Aliens In America (8:30pm CW) -- At face value, it has international incident written all over it. A white-bread Wisconsin family signs up for the foreign exchange program, but isn't expecting a 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim to show up at their door. Culture clash galore! To its credit, it's a much more wholesome, sweet, and tolerant show than the commercials or plot summaries might make you think. It's a great companion with Chris...unless all the high school angst gives you bad flashbacks.

The Big Bang Theory (8:30pm CBS) -- As unfair as it may be, it's hard not to see Theory as the show that killed The Class, my favorite new show from last season. Though that dubious dishonor likely belongs to the awful Rules of Engagement, Theory still suffers in comparison to its timeslot predecessor. A blonde bombshell moves in across the hall from two ubernerds--she doesn't understand them, they don't understand her. Hilarity ensues. Supposedly. It sounds like a sitcom version of Beauty and the Geek, but it's really a one-joke premise that will wear out its welcome quickly. It's nice to see Johnny Galecki working again and I always appreciate calculus jokes, but I'd rather CBS instead focus its attention on putting out a nice DVD set for The Class (may it rest in peace).

Prison Break (8pm FOX) -- Is it possible that Prison Break managed to jump the shark in its very first episode of its very first season? I'd say it's entirely possible. Prison never bothered with believability right from the start and hasn't gotten a step closer since. Just try out this season's twist: our characters are trapped in a Panamanian prison that's so corrupt and dangerous that the guards have abandoned it to set up a perimeter around the prison, letting the ultraviolent prisoners run the place themselves, killing whomever looks at them wrong. Fun idea, but make sure your brain is running a screen saver before you start watching. I probably would have given up on Prison during its aggressively poor second season, but it's one of my girlfriend's favorite shows, so I'll keep watching for now. After all, it has William Fichtner in it, so it can't be all that bad.

Chuck (8pm NBC) -- Another from the "Seriously, that's the premise?" file: a computer nerd inadvertently downloads the country's secrets into his brain and now has two government agents following his every move. Lead Zachary Levi is affable enough and I still have a soft spot for Adam Baldwin after Firefly, but it's hard to see where there's a series here. It barely sounds like it has enough material for a miniseries, much less a full TV season or two. I'll give it some leeway for now, but I hope the producers know what they're doing.

Heroes (9pm NBC) -- Mired in a wearisome sophomore slump, Heroes has slogged through a dismal second season so far. I could be making this up (and I couldn't find anything in a two-minute Google search), but I seem to recall creator Tim Kring once saying that he originally conceived the show as having an entirely different set of heroes and storylines each season. Whether or not this is true, the lack of long-term direction for last year's characters certainly is glaring now. Rather than pushing things forward, the writers either stuck heroes in pointless, wheel-spinning arcs (Hiro's rambling adventure through ancient Japan) or lazily reset their storylines (Peter loses his memory, Sylar loses his powers, the Bennetts are back in hiding, Future NYC is in trouble yet again, et cetera). We're over a month into the new season at this point and it feels like it hasn't really started yet. With reports now coming out that the WGA strike may prematurely end the season in a couple weeks, hopefully the producers can use the time off to reevaluate their Heroes before the audience disappears.

Journeyman (10pm NBC) -- Vorenus stars in The Time Traveler's Wife? Cool...


Beauty and the Geek (8pm CW) -- If you're unfamiliar with Beauty or are still scarred by the abomination that was Average Joe, let me dispel one common misconception: it is NOT a dating show. A socially-inept geek is paired with an intellectually-inept beauty and they compete in challenges that push them out of their comfort zones (in one episode last season, the beauties had to tackle the Dewey Decimal System while the geeks had to get a girl's phone number outside). It has a refreshing sweetness at its heart compared to most cynical reality shows (and thank god that uberblonde ditzbitch Cecille wasn't rewarded last season for adamantly refusing to grow as a person at all). Like all reality shows, it may get old after a while, but we're still in its salad days, so I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Reaper (9pm CW) -- My favorite of all the new shows so far. It just has that certain je ne sais quoi--within the first minute of the pilot (literally), I knew I was going to love this show. The premise is crackerjack (a slacker teen learns on his 21st birthday that his parents sold his soul to the devil, forcing him to be a bounty hunter returning escaped demons to hell), the cast is winning (you can't find a better devil than Ray Wise and I'm still rooting for Tyler Labine after Invasion's untimely demise), and, simply put, it's really, really funny. I have a feeling it'll be one of the breakout hits of the new season and I couldn't be more excited.


Back To You (8:30pm FOX) -- <snore> Just your standard cliche-ridden sitcom. Put on the air because of its star power, there's not much to see here. I'll give it a couple episodes since the TV newsroom is such a ripe setting for comedy, but the love story/daughter angle was a very unwelcome surprise in the pilot and will lead to some groan-worthy "very special" moments. It probably doesn't deserve to survive, but, hey, FOX kept Til Death on the air, so anything's possible.

America's Next Top Model (8pm CW) -- The clock is ticking for Top Model and Survivor. They still perfectly exemplify the reality TV form, but after watching each for a few years now (though there are still a ton of seasons I haven't seen), I'm getting bored. At this point, I rarely get invested until the season's halfway over and the remaining personalities get a little more airtime. The producers are likely afraid to mess with winning formulas, but it's been more of the same for a while now. Thankfully for them, I'm lazy and don't have much better to do with my time, but this season might be a crucial one for these shows--if they don't step it up, I may take a year or two off.

Pushing Daisies (8pm ABC) -- The critical darling of the season, Daisies is a delight. Directed with a box of crayons by Barry Sonnenfeld, the technicolor pilot wisely paints the silly premise as a modern fairy tale, making it go down easier. It's a unique concoction of the sweet and macabre and is exactly the type of show that usually fails to find an audience and inspires dozens of Save Our Show websites and petitions before dying an unceremonious death, which is why it's even more impressive (and heartening) that Daisies has already been picked up for a full season. Sometimes these shows survive and thrive (think LOST), so jump on the bandwagon now before it gets too far out of sight.

Bionic Woman (9pm NBC) -- A cookie-cutter action rag (its revolving door of show runners and executive producers points to how vanilla and corporate it is), Bionic has all the glitz and gloss its uberbudget can buy, but little personality and soul. All of the hand-wringing over Jaime's sister has grown tiresome already (especially since it's lazily rehashed in every episode) and the writers have flipped Katee Sackhoff's Sarah through so many motivations in just a few episodes that it's hard to care anymore what she's up to. Spend enough money on special effects and marketing, though, and you just may have a hit on your hands...

Kitchen Nightmares (9pm FOX) -- Gordon Ramsay is awesome. It's true. Hell's Kitchen has been one of my favorite summer treats the past two years and Gordon's the reason why. Even though he's portrayed as the ultimate in asskicking bosses, you can see hints of his softer side during parts of Hell (mostly the rewards). He looks like an awesome guy to sit down and have a drink with (How about a drink with him and Anthony Bourdain? Can I bid for that on eBay or something?) In Nightmares (an American remake of a UK show also starring Gordon), he's whipping restaurateurs into shape with his obligatory bellowing and tough love. It's not reinventing the wheel, but it's good enough for me.

Dirty Sexy Money (10pm ABC) -- One of the strangest of the new pilots. Wildly varying in tone and direction, it seemed like it was trying to discover itself as the episode played out. The initial introduction of the motley family was embarrassingly over-the-top, but the show isn't quite funny enough to play as straightforward comedy or satire. The whodunnit murder angle and paternity storylines make an attempt at suspense, but they're too nestled in the background to turn Money into a drama. Over the next few episodes, though, the series basically turns into Desperate Housewives: The Kennedys Edition with a moral center (the always-reliable Peter Krause). It's not great, but it has a tawdry watchability that will keep me going for now to see if it can really find itself.


Survivor (8pm CBS) -- See America's Next Top Model above.

Ugly Betty (8pm ABC) -- I'm never really in the mood to watch Betty, so it ends up collecting on my DVR for a few weeks at a time, but it's a perfect show to watch when I'm in the middle of something else. Fluorescent and dirty in a so-soapy-it's-good way, it's definitely not a boring show. I don't have much else to add, so I'll conclude by cursing the show for making me believe that Santos had survived his cliffhanger gunshot wound only to tear him away from me again at the end of the season premiere. I'm man enough to admit that I was teetering precariously on the verge of tears when I realized (along with Hilda) that he really was gone. Ummm, let's go to the next show...

My Name Is Earl (8pm NBC) -- Considering Earl ran out of storylines around the end of its first season, it's no surprise that the show is grasping at straws already in its third. Because of the desperation move of putting Earl in prison this season, there's been little for the supporting cast to do, requiring the writers to jump through hoops to toss Catalina, Randy, Crabman, et al, into the mix. As a result, we've already had a few gimmick episodes that transparently serve as an excuse to bring the whole gang back together (whether it's the hallucinogenic "creative writing" episode or the numerous flashback episodes). So why am I still watching? It's all about Jason Lee, whose winning charisma is enough to earn the show a spot on my series recording list. For now...

30 Rock (8:30pm NBC) -- A crucial season for 30 Rock. The Outstanding Comedy Emmy has been the kiss of death for other critically-acclaimed shows (RIP Arrested Development), but it's also been a sign of good times ahead for others (The Office). No pressure or anything, Tina Fey. While I'm here, I have some TV nerd nitpicking to do with the "Seinfeld Vision" episode that started the second season. The premise was that studio head Jack decided to steal footage from old episodes of Seinfeld to insert into current shows. Since Seinfeld still holds the title as my favorite TV show of all time, I was pumped to see which old episodes they mined for clips. It just sounded like comedy gold to me. Turns out the producers just filmed new footage with Jerry and threw it into their current shows. Funny, but nowhere near as funny as it could have been. I understand why they did it: they had Jerry there, so they absolutely had to use him and it probably would have been a pain in the ass to dig through all those old Seinfeld episodes for appropriate, usable clips, but it's still a shame.

The Office (9pm NBC) -- Still my favorite show on TV (though it's a lot easier to say that when LOST is hibernating). First of all, the good: I've been squeeing like a teenage girl at the Pam/Jim lovin' (I literally yelled "Oh my God!!" repeatedly during "Fun Run" when the camera crew confronted Pam and Jim with the footage of their clandestine kiss). I never doubted the writers, but they've proven the show will be just fine with the two finally a couple. Now I just hope they don't try to do something insane like artificially break them up (though I'll enjoy some brief cameos from Roy and Karen from time to time). Pam and Jim are together and together they should stay. The bad: I'm almost scared to say it, but I'm starting to get worried about Michael. Last season, there were initial signs of the writers taking Michael too over-the-top (e.g., the problematic "Phyllis's Wedding" episode that featured WAY too much Michael awkwardness) and it's already starting again this season. Michael driving into the lake...kidnapping the pizza boy...running after a train to leave town...and that's just the first few episodes. Perhaps some of it can be blamed on the hour-long episodes. As much as I loved having more Office each week, there did seem to be a bit of filler in each episode and amping up Michael's wackiness is an easy way to burn some time (I maintain that the perfect length for The Office would be 30 minutes with no commercials--just like the UK originals). Michael needs to continue being his silly, awkward self, of course, but taking him too far will ruin the delicate realism the show thrives on. I'm going to assume the writers have everything under control, though. Right now, the show's still going strong despite these few speed bumps (I'm loving the pretentious, Crackberry prick they've turned Ryan into), but I'm going to say a few prayers and offer a few voodoo sacrifices just in case.


Friday Night Lights (9pm NBC) -- Pulled back from the abyss of cancellation after its critically-acclaimed, but ratings-impaired first season, Nights has been a bit erratic so far. After a first season that ended in a go-for-broke finale with the Panthers winning the state championship (giving faithful viewers closure in case the show didn't return), Nights has floated in its second season, almost making football an afterthought. We've had stem cell surgery road trips to Mexico, Julie jumping between Matt and the Swede, and a murder storyline that reeks of "Desperation Hail Mary to win new viewers." No wonder there's barely been any time for football games (though it's been great seeing Matt finally grow a pair in his feud with Smash). It's been exiled in a Friday night timeslot of death, but Nights deserves an audience and some breathing room so it can relax for once. C'mon, help the team out.


Desperate Housewives (9pm ABC) -- It's been a wild ride for Housewives since its train went off the tracks after its first few episodes, but it showed some signs of life last year after a miserable second season. We're off to a good start this year by adding the awesome Nathan Fillion to the cast (playing the same character he did in Waitress), but I'm scared to death of what horrible fate awaits Carlos this season. Since Carlos is one of three characters I actually like on this show (Tom and Mike being the others--no surprise that none of the housewife bitches made the list), I'm already depressed at what may be coming to him. I only hope he fares better than poor Rex...