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

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September 22, 2005

Lost in the Idiot Box (The 2005 Fall TV Season)
Most of these reviews are based on only seeing a few episodes, so I retain the right to 180 my opinion of any of these shows at any moment.

Arrested Development: This and The Office are the two funniest shows on TV and both desperately need a consistent audience. The sly jokes and puns are fast and furious (during the couple seconds it takes you to process and laugh at one, you've already missed the next two) and the large ensemble cast is the best around. Just go watch it.

Kitchen Confidential: I love Anthony Bourdain, so I knew I'd give this one a shot. Surprisingly fresh and modern, there's a lot of potential here (my girlfriend said it was the best comedy pilot she'd seen in years).

How I Met Your Mother: Yeah, it's your typical "20-somethings looking for love and fun in the big city" show, but the writing is just strong enough to keep me watching for now. It loses points for an annoying main character, but it gains all those points back for Neil Patrick Harris as womanizer Barney in one of the breakout roles of the new season. He carries every scene and is responsible for all the best lines (my favorite so far: "This is totally going on my blog.")

Prison Break: It's no 24 and you REALLY have to suspend your disbelief in some of the massive plot contrivances, but I'm a huge fan of this year's en vogue TV trend, the serial drama, and this is perfectly watchable. It loses some points with me because any show that's set in prison and on network TV can't possibly reach the dizzying heights of HBO's vaunted Oz, but I'm very curious where the story's going to go (especially when they inevitably do escape).

Weeds: One of the more resolutely unique and dirty shows of the new season, Weeds is entertaining simply because you would never, never, never see it on network TV. Mary Louise Parker holds the show together and keeps it from drifting into groundless surrealism.

My Name is Earl: C'mon, Jason Lee in an 80's pornstar mustache? Do you really need another reason to watch this show? It's funny and a good pairing with...

The Office: God, I love this show. And, yes, I do love the British original also and I think it's shortsighted and snobbish to knock the American version just out of a knee-jerk hatred of any remakes. Steve Carrell is brilliant as the wildly-inept Michael Scott because he decidedly does not try to imitate Ricky Gervais's Hall of Fame performance, but instead makes the character his own by filling him with a haughty air of superiority. The secondary characters are all pitch-perfect and the sexual tension between Jim and Pam is priceless. Like Arrested, it makes wonderful use of its documentary style and takes risks that put other conventional sitcoms (Yes, Dear, etc.) to shame. Must-see.

Lost: I'm hopelessly in love with this show. While Desperate Housewives lost some momentum at the end of its first season, Lost only got better every week. Last night's Season Two premiere was amazing (the first three minutes knocked me on my ass). I'm scared to death that the wheels could come off at any moment--it seems almost destined that the show's mythology will not be resolved in any satisfactory way (see: The X-Files), but all we can do for now is enjoy the ride. Even if the show falls apart by the end of this season or next, moments like last night will make it all worth it.

Invasion: Not as good as Threshold, but still promising enough that I'll give it a chance this season, Invasion seems to have more than a little Invasion of the Body Snatchers to it, but hopefully the story will develop into something deeper than that. Since the original Body Snatchers movie was a metaphor for McCarthyism, it will be interesting to see if this show delves into any politically murky waters.

Survivor: My goal this season was not to watch reality shows or anything involving cops, lawyers, or doctors, but of course some exceptions will be made and Survivor is one of them. While I've grown very tired of its competition (Apprentice, The Amazing Race, American Idol, Bachelor--god, there are a lot of these damn things), Survivor has a purity that appeals to me. I can't listen to the people on these other shows whine and bicker endlessly while trying to market candy in Manhattan or fight over plane reservations, but I'll still watch brow-beaten survivors battle exhaustion and the elements while competiting in increasingly Rube Goldberg-ian challenges. And if I needed any incentive to watch this season, bringing back Bobby Jon and Stephenie was all I could ask for.

Everybody Hates Chris: The most critically acclaimed pilot of the season, it lives up to the hype with a winning cast (I love Terry Crews as Chris's intimidating, but lovable, father), a perfectly sardonic narration by Chris Rock, and a fun 80's ambiance that doesn't feel forced (see: Reunion). Despite having a horrific timeslot (battling against NBC Must-See-TV and Survivor), it deserves to be UPN's flagship show for a long time.

Reunion: Sara and I are giving this one a shot because the concept intrigues us, but the dialogue is terrible and the acting not any better. We like a good mystery, so we'll keep going, but if doesn't get any better, this could be the first show we abandon.

Threshold: I loved the two-hour pilot and would highly recommend this one to any X-Files fans out there (it occupies the same dead-zone Friday time slot). I was hooked on all the nerdy scientific analysis (gotta love alien shows that discuss fractal geometry) and the cast (including scene-stealer Peter Dinklage) is great. My only worry, though, is that I have no idea what direction the show's going to go in from here. If it devolves into a weekly chase for someone else who may have been infected by the alien signal, it could get old fast. I'm hoping the mythology will develop in a similar vein to Lost to keep the momentum going. With some good writing, this could easily be the best of the new serial dramas.

Rome: Besides my general interest in Ancient Roman culture, I'll admit that a good bit of the reason I'm watching this is because it looks absolutely gorgeous in HD. Reportedly, HBO and BBC spent $100 million dollars for these 12 episodes and, since there are no A-list stars in the cast, every single cent of that money is on the screen. It's a little dry and, honestly, I don't get near the enjoyment watching this as I do from some other shows, but, hey, I can make it through 12 hours and, really, the production design and copious HBO-level nudity and violence is enough for me.