The 2011-2012 network TV season kicked off last week, which means its time to fire up the "Last Week in TV" posts. For new readers, this is a weekly post I write looking back on the previous week in TV. It should appear every Monday (morning-ish) and discusses whatever shows I've watched that warrant discussion (the list of shows can change from week to week, depending on how timely I watch things and how motivated I am to write about a particular show in a given week; but if there's a show we both watch that you'd like me to write about consistently, let me know in the comments).
Anyways, I still haven't settled on a single format I like best, so expect the usual hodgepodge of quick thoughts and humorous quotes alongside longer, rambling analyses. And I promise it will probably never be as long as this one (this was a big week of TV, and there's still stuff I haven't watched yet, like all of SNL and Pan Am).
This season, there's a bunch of new new sitcoms I'm trying out until they either get canceled or turn out to be stinkers. I probably won't write about all of these all the time, but they're worth a few initial words.
Up All Night: Pilot (series premiere)/Cool Neighbors
I liked the second episode more than the first, which is always a good sign for a new show. Clearly, the show's strengths lie in the scenes at home between Chris and Reagan, while the writers haven't quite figured out what to do with Maya Rudolph's Ava yet. As much as I enjoy Rudolph in general and anything that mocks Oprah in particular, all of the energy seems to leave the show whenever Rudolph shows up. Definitely a show that hasn't elicited tons of laughs from me, but the ones it gets are big (in the first episode, I loved Chris' frantic search for the "regular cheese" and his horror towards the old lady (I have a pet peeve about people thinking babies are an open invitation to talk to the parents and touch the baby, and I don't even have a kid) and in the second episode, though horribly contrived, the payoff of Chris' cell phone playing "Soul Sister" as the cops called him back was a hilarious payoff to several setups throughout the episode).
Free Agents: Pilot (season premiere)/What I Did For Work
Like Up All Night, I liked the second episode better than the first, where the leads seemed less pathetic and their relationship more interesting and which made better use of the supporting cast (primarily the ball-busting secretary). But honestly, any show with a filthy Giles talking about "flying Dutchman" gets my seal of approval. I could do without the (so far) stock Douchey Guy and Unhip Nerd characters, but there's a lot to like here, and Azaria and Hahn are strong leads. Unfortunately, it sounds like this show is an early contender to be the first show to get canceled, as it debuted to weak numbers and then lost even more the second time around, with poor ratings in the demo (Up All Night, conversely, is turning in slightly better numbers, but is attracting the 18-49 demo much better).
2 Broke Girls: Pilot (series premiere)
It's not a perfect episode, but this was probably my favorite pilot of the bunch, and despite it's faults (it skewed a bit broad at times, and seemed obsessed with trying to appear hip), it's the one with the most potential. I'll freely admit that Kat Dennings in a miniskirt and knee high boats goes a long way, but I liked this. There's something classically sitcom-y about a show set in a diner with a sassy waitress I find appealing, and the interplay between the two central characters was strong.
The New Girl: Pilot (series premiere)
But I did have to wonder, through all the scenes of Jess crying whilst watching Dirty Dancing, why the guys didn't just put the TV in her room...
Whitney: Pilot (series premiere)
Mrs. Teebore was more interested in watching this one than I was (I probably would have skipped it entirely). It was...not terribly good. It is (cheekily) filmed before a live studio audience, and it's been so long since I watched a show like that it took some getting used to, and the kind of broad jokes shows like that requires to titillate the live audience mostly fell flat for me (if 2 Broke Girls is stand-up comedienne and would-be It Girl Whitney Cummings' callback to classic diner/sassy waitress sitcoms, this one is a throwback to the era when stand-ups transitioned their acts into sitcom persona's; in this case, I much prefer the former). The supporting cast was pretty one-note and forgettable (Whitney's friends are, at this point, just "Not Kristen Johnson" and "Not Kathy Griffin", and this is yet another sitcom to feature a douchey guy in the supporting cast) though I was intrigued by Jane Kaczmarek as her mom, and her boyfriend has a laid back charm that made him the most amusing character of the episode. If Mrs. Teebore said, "enough of this" I wouldn't object, but I'll give it my standard three-episode look before telling her she's flying solo on this one.
The Simpsons: The Falcon and the D'OHman
A weak Simpsons episode kicks off a disappoint Sunday night animation block. More than anything, this episode felt lazy. The whole "Nedna" thing (remember that? Me neither.) was causally dismissed with a hand wave and a wink, we got another "Homer is desperate to befriend someone who doesn't like him" plot, the guy he's befriending is a parody of Jack Bauer (because he's voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) years after 24 went off the air (and years after The Simpsons already parodied the show, complete with Kiefer Sutherland, in an episode that was actually pretty clever and funny), and the whole Top Chef reference/Tom Colicchio guest appearance amounted to a random 30 second plot for Marge. All of which would have been okay if the episode was funnier than it was, but aside from a few random bits (the Taiwanese animation, mashed potatoes coming out of their ears), it really wasn't.
The Cleveland Show: BFFs
A poorer-than-average episode, meaning it had even fewer random laughs amongst the boring, meandering plot, and I blame the near-absence of Cleveland Jr. The two lines that made me chuckle (both involving a character from another show, and there's probably something worth discussing there, but Cleveland Show isn't really worth the time) were Cleveland referring to Peter as "Animation Domination's Peter Griffin" and this:
Cleveland: How did you know we were here?
Peter: Well, I felt bad after you left Quahog, so I called your house. Your wife said you were doing a friendship thing in the woods, and I immediately thought, well, "this is gonna end in hillybill rape", so I tracked you down.
Family Guy: Lottery Fever
In a recurring theme, another pretty lazy episode, featuring a standard sitcom plot/morality tale (getting money makes things worse!) that Family Guy has already tackled (when they moved into Lois' aunt's mansion) without enough solid gags to shore up the weak plot (which is usually how Family Guy gets by). Not surprisingly, the biggest laugh of the night came from the DuckTales cutaway with Peter diving into his gold only to discover its not like a liquid at all. I also enjoyed "ungroomed Brian", though nails that are so long they get curly freak me the hell out.
American Dad: Hot Water
Usually American Dad is the saving grace of an otherwise weak Sunday night lineup, and it managed it again this week (though just barely) with an episode that was more bizarre than funny. I mean, I get that it was a loose parody of Little Shop of Horrors, but the best humor was in the margins of that parody (though I did like that Stan died just as he found the can of Spa Down that was obviously setup as the tool for defeating the hot tub earlier in the episode), and it suffered from an absence of the supporting cast (Steve and Roger were barely in it (and their 90s-style music video was probably the episode's highlight), while Haley was missing entirely).
Maybe I'm just not enough of a Cee-Lo Green fan?
Francine: You think that every single day of my life I don't want to do coke? But I can't! I have PTA tomorrow!
How I Met Your Mother: The Best Man/The Naked Truth
The first episode was primarily concerned with setting up the main plots of the season: Marshall and Lily's pregnancy, the Robin/Barney/Nora triangle, and Ted's decision to get back on the "looking for a wife" horse. As a result, the genuine laugh-out-loud moments were fewer (though there were still a few). The second episode was much funnier, thanks in large part to Beercules, though Ted's nerdy enthusiasm, both for the Architects' Ball and his pro/con list, was also funny.
Though love triangles tend to bug the piss out of me, but I've always liked the idea of Robin and Barney (and the actors have great chemistry together) and felt the writers botched it the first time around. So I'm in favor of giving it another go, so long as they handle it better this time.
It would have been nice to see more of Punchy's terrible wedding, instead of just hearing about all the crazy stuff that happened after Marshall kicked off the fight.
That green screening behind Martin Short was awful. Like, when the-effect-when-the-Arcadian-blew-up-last-season awful.
Hey, Victoria's back! That's kinda cool. It'll be interesting to see where things go with her, especially since she's was one of the few non-Mother relationships of Ted's (other than Robin) that was fun enough to watch that it didn't matter that she wasn't the Mother.
In "The Best Man", Ted mentions to Barney at his wedding that the "tie" Barney picked was better than the Duckie tie, and in "The Naked Truth" after another of Marshall's sweeping declarations, there's a flashforward to Marshall and Barney in Atlantic City. In that scene, Barney is wearing a duckie tie, something I completely missed (but which Donna Bowman of the Onion AV Club did not).
Glee: The Purple Piano Project (season premiere)
After a relatively strong finish to a wildly uneven second season, and a tumultuous offseason ("There's going to be a spinoff!"/"No, there's not!" "Finn, Rachel and Kurt are leaving the show!"/"No, they're not!" "Sam is leaving the show!"/"Uh, yes, he is...") Glee is back with a season premiere that, while not awful, is pretty ho-hum. The seniors are thinking about life after high school, New Directions' colossal failure at Nationals has them at the bottom of the pecking order once again, they need new members, and Will is shacking up with Emma. Oh, and Sue really is running for Congress, on an anti-arts funding platform.
While I still don't understand the show's need to cast Sue as an antagonist (instead of someone who doesn't like but reluctantly tolerates the glee club, which is where the show maneuvers her once or twice a season before reverting her to mustache-twirling super-villain), at least her run for Congress is a different way for her to be anti-glee club, without making it entirely personal (Macaroni Hair hate aside). And I live in a state where someone as batshit insane as Sue isn't just a congresswoman, but a presidential candidate, so I can buy that she would indeed appeal to the great unwashed masses, and that the kind of anti-funding platform she's using could elevate her in the polls beyond "that rapist running from prison", and "'I don't care. Please don't call me during dinner'". But I still have to wonder why she's back to coaching the Cheerios (is "tried to kill a student" an offense that gets wiped clean with the start of a new school year?).
Of the new balls the premiere put into the air, the one I like best is Rachel and Kurt's newfound/rebuilt friendship. Glee works best when it lives in that intersection between childhood dreams and adult reality, and their realization that being big fish in a small pond isn't enough to carry them to superstardom was the best scene of the night, and their struggle with that realization and their reaction to it is something that I hope continues to be a thread running throughout the season.
I'm also intrigued by Quinn's newfound rebellion and pink hair (we know she'll be back, but I'm curious to find out why), I hope Lauren isn't gone for good, and I still could care less about Will (why, oh why, did he start talking about his sex life in front of Sue and Figgins whilst trying to argue in favor of arts funding?!?).
Coach Bieste continues to rock. That is all.
So in the old handbooks to the Marvel Universe, in the section where characters' powers get explained, the go-to pseudo-scientific explanation for stuff like "where does Giant-Man's extra mass come from when he grows?" or "why doesn't Cyclops blow off his head everytime he shoots something with his optic blast?" always involved mass or energy coming from or going to an unknown extradimensional location. I have decided that in the world of Glee, the various band members that pop up out of nowhere to accompany the singers whenever a big musical number starts up come and go from that same dimension.
Favorite Song: Probably the "Anything Goes/Anything You Can Do" mash-up, which was wildly energetic, or "It's Not Unusual", just because I've had a soft spot for Tom Jones ever since Mr. Burns kidnapped him.
Emma: Kent State has a wonderful musical theater program and a macabre backstory!
Sue: Oh, Becky. Your twisted genius excites me.
Brittany: Wait, are you working on a time machine too?
Community: Biology 101 (season premiere)
A surprisingly plot heavy episode that did a lot to set the table (see what I did there?) for season 3 (biology is the new group class, Greendale is in the midst of a financial crisis, the Vice Dean will be exerting his influence, Chang is now a security guard) while still managing to pack in plenty of laughs, including a musical number, the hilariously-British Cougarton Abbey (the British inspiration for Cougartown) and the ensuing commentary on the nature of American TV production vs. British TV production, a monkey gas attack, and a 2001: Space Odyssey homage with the study group's table standing in for the monolith. Not too shabby for a 22 minute episode.
Abed: We're registered at Linens N' Things
Troy: We have plenty of linens. We mainly want the things
Troy: I named him Annie’s Boobs. After Annie’s boobs.
Troy (about Britta): You are human tennis elbow. You are a pizza burn on the roof of the world's mouth. You are the opposite of Batman.
Dean Pelton: I just came by to tell everyone this year isn’t gonna be that different, with the notable exception we won’t really have any money.
Parks and Recreation: "I'm Leslie Knope" (season premiere)
Last season ended with Leslie poised to run for office, and the cliffhanger of how that would affect her relationship with Ben. This season picks up within minutes of the last, and while Leslie's decision to end her relationship with Ben so she can run without a scandal looming over head wasn't surprising at all, the speed with which the cliffhanger was resolved was (I figured it would get dragged out a few more episodes). Instead, we got the touching scene where Ben, fully aware of Leslie's intentions ("there was a man in your Woman's Yacht Club meeting"), ends the relationship for her, fully supporting her decision. The twist, of course, being that it just goes to show how right the two are for each other (and the fact their month or so of dating while he was her boss still has the potential to turn into a scandal).
Love the idea of Andy as Leslie's new assistant, and the mingled look of excitement and awe he gave April when he realized her vow to find him a new job within a year was completed in less than a day. Also loved April slowly assuming Ron's authority and mannerisms in his absence.
But the comedic highlight had to be Ron's frantic race through the hallways in the cold open, efficiently retrieving an emergency back hidden in the vents and telling Leslie he's using his accrued 228 personal days to hide from his first ex-wife (and later in the episode, when Leslie tracks him down roughly a day later, and he has already regrown a magnificent beard).
Perd Hapley: There you have it…where it is the thing Leslie Knope just said…about this situation.
Joe from Sewage: There's an old saying in our department: 'If you have a nice drain pipe, you sure as hell better show it off.
Person of Interest: Pilot (series premiere)
At least at the outset, Person of Interest is clearly more akin to the police procedurals polluting CBS' airwaves than JJ Abrams last dense, mythology-driven show (or any of the wannabes that sprang up in its wake), but maybe that's a good thing. For one, it'll probably help keep the show on the air longer, an for another, well, we all know how that other show ended, and how all of its clones disappointingly petered out.
Then again, there is enough little tidbits of backstory and a larger mythology in the pilot to suggest there may be a little more depth and backstory to the show than the average CSI, with both Jesus and Michael Emerson's characters alluding to past events that, I assume, will be fleshed out in due time (Jesus' dissatisfaction with his government work, the presumed death of his girlfriend, Emerson's "the world thinks I'm dead" comment and what made him start looking at the irrelevant list, etc.). Critics have taken issue with Jesus' performance ("sleepwalking" is the word I've heard used the most) but I thought he was fine (for a pilot; if his character remains this coolly detached indefinitely, it might get grating). Michael Emerson could read the phone book and make it sound ominous and important, so no complaints there.
The main conceit of the premise, that Michael Emerson built a super computer that can predict crime and he's using a backdoor into it to help the people slipping through the cracks is, like radioactive spider bites (and, in many ways, this feels like a superhero show without the costumes), the kind of setup that requires an initial suspension of disbelief but, once you've gotten past that, isn't too problematic (the key will be not focusing too much on how exactly it works). The success of this show will depend on how well that setup pays off in terms of individual, crime-of-the-week stories, as well as how well the show handles deepening its mythology along the way (it could, continuing the superhero parallel, really use a recurring villain of some kind; perhaps William Sadler's, an actor bigger than his thirty second scene in the pilot). So far, there is potential, and while this episode wasn't terrific, it wasn't awful either. That (and Michael Emerson) is enough to keep me around for awhile.