Last week was filled with milestones: my birthday (and Alfonso Ribeiro's!), Jen Daily Refill's birthday, Yom Kippur, the last day of summer, the first day of fall, the effin 49ers being shut-out for the first time in 27 years (at least I had plenty to drink). Arriving with the first day of fall also comes the first official week of the new TV season, and as usual, all the networks started rolling out their season and series premieres.
Well, not all the networks. Fox with its new (and not-quite-working) calendar-correct seasonal roll-out doesn't start most of its series until November, after the baseball playoffs. And NBC started some shows a bit early in an attempt to capitalize on promotion during the Olympics. And the other networks are starting one show here, another one there, giving this one a special time slot tryout thereby postponing that one.
Regardless, a new TV season is always difficult to navigate, I know. And as I expressed last week, I'm becoming far less tolerant of many shows, new and old. Still, I have this sense of duty to myself and the two or three of you who visit me here once or twice a month to help you; to peek through those "most shocking twist ever" and "most watched network" and "the critics agree" and "best drama since Oedipus" promos to find what's really good and worth wasting time over.
Every day this week, I'll address that day's new primetime schedule. I have watched every show that has already premiered on all the broadcast networks' schedules at least once. In some cases, I'll have to withhold judgment and get back to you after the show has aired and I've actually seen it. But for the time being, here's Monday:
And you know what? Monday turns out to be not so bad a night to keep the TV off unless you're a rabid football fan. Mondays are definitely the night with the greatest amount of utterly mediocre to just plain awful programming with one exception: The WB series Everwood. But more on that in a sec. Meanwhile, please excuse my rudimentary html table capabilities:
|8:00 PM:||The Benefactor (post-football on West Coast)||Still Standing||Fear Factor||North Shore||7th Heaven||One on One|
|8:30 PM:||Listen Up||Half & Half|
|9:00 PM:||Monday Night Football||Everybody Loves Raymond||Las Vegas||Renovate My Family/The Swan||Everwood||Girlfriends|
|9:30 PM:||Two and a Half Men||Second Time Around|
|10:00 PM:||CSI: Miami||LAX||Local Programming|
ABC hasn't had a hit to lead-in to Monday Night Football since MacGyver, and they've been desperately searching for such a companion series ever since. In theory, their Mark Cuban rip-off of The Apprentice could be just such a show, but as I described a couple weeks ago, The Benefactor is just about the worst reality show EVER, which makes it no better than a dead heat for worst television show in history. Seriously, I think I'd prefer to watch The New Monkees over another second of The Benefactor. Small Wonder is a toss-up. I'm guessing ABC has a deal with Cuban to air the entire series of 8 or 13 episodes, so we may be stuck with it. But damn is it bad.
And there's no way it's going to topple it's main football lead-in competition, NBC's Fear Factor. The one thing the networks have given us on Mondays at 8 is a clear choice. No two shows (with the exception of Fear Factor and The Benefactor) really go after the same audience. Of course, none of them are that good either. The two 8 PM CBS sitcoms -- Still Standing and Jason Alexander's latest post-Seinfeld attempt at headlining a series Listen Up -- are standard laugh-track not-that-funny family series. They're the bread and butter of the CBS Monday lineup for the last several years, but they're also quite unexceptional. Sure, they're safe to watch with your kids, but I seriously think over the long term they may cause aneurisms. They're just not funny.
The same could be said for the entire UPN lineup. Now I know that my 33-year-old, Jewish white ass is not the target demo for UPN's Monday night "urban" audience, but I've seen all these shows including newcomer Second Time Around, and they're not bad because I don't understand the "cultural" humor; I didn't see any "culture"-specific humor. At least none that I didn't "get." What I did see were several standard dumb situations placed in a look-at-how-funny-this-is context with big pauses for fake laughs. Yeah, a chuckle here and there, but overall, just plain dull, ridiculous and mostly stupid. In fact, I know many of the creative minds behind these shows are prolific African-American television writers/producers with numerous successful, and sometimes even good, credits to their names, but I wonder if the white executives at UPN simply pay no attention to whether or not something is funny since they seem to be getting consistent audiences in their desired demos regardless. It's just a shame, because none of these series are necessarily bad ideas on the conceptual level. In fact, I'm surprised I haven't seen the newest, Second Time Around, in some form or another: a couple who got married too young and then split-up now get remarried and try to make it work. But the show is so damn obvious, and the jokes seem to simply repeat, I Know What You Did While We Were Split, over-and-over, back-and-forth. How many skeletons does each character have in his/her closet? Looks like about 23 a year. Besides, wasn't all this already played out with Ross and Rachel and "We were on a break!"
CBS doesn't have the same completely unfunny problem with it's 9 PM hour, even though neither program is my cup-of-tea. I don't really enjoy Everybody Loves Raymond or Two and a Half Men, and for some reason it actually bothers me that Jon Cryer is finally on a hit show; it was so much more fun to bet on how quickly his series would be cancelled, regardless of its quality. Everybody Loves Raymond is the queen bee of all these new family sitcoms, and amazingly, going into its ninth and final season, the writing is still fresher than any of its (rip-)offspring. I never actually watch it, but whenever I turn it on, I can at least appreciate it and see why it has this enormous legion of fans. I've also seen a few episodes of Two and a Half Men, and it’s a great 9:30 lead-out of Raymond. Yes, it falls into plenty of sitcom clichés, but at least now and then it's funny, and that puts it head-and-shoulders above nearly every other sitcom on the air these days, particularly on Monday nights.
9 PM Mondays, however, actually gives you an alternative, albeit one that consistently looks as if it's going to start sucking any day now. The WB's Everwood is a perfect companion show for it's lead-in 7th Heaven because it's everything that corny, sappy, schmaltzy, unrealistic and ultra-annoying family drama isn't. I know 7th Heaven is one of The WB's all-time most-successful shows, and even during the heydey of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 7th Heaven was usually the network's highest rated series. But it's utter crap, regardless of what all the conservative family groups say. Have there been many shows, at least in the last 10 years, more pretentious, preachy and condescending? Most importantly though, it's just dumb. There's not one character on 7th Heaven that acts like a real person.
Everwood, on the other hand, sometimes overdramatizes its storylines as well, but it's a show where it's characters are constantly making mistakes and learning from them without making the audience feel like its receiving a morality lesson every hour. This isn't a hip show, and it's not even really a teen-angst show in the tradition of 90210 or Dawson's Creek like The O.C. It's definitely a family show, but it works for a similar reason as The O.C.: somewhat realistic portrayals between adults and kids that anyone can identify with even if they've never lived in the mountains of Colorado. Ephram's and Amy's various rebellions and their super-puppy-love infatuations sometimes push the boundaries of tolerance, and I'm a bit concerned about Scott Wolf joining the cast – I'm not sure there is any good story reason for adding this character, and it hasn't appeared two episodes in other than providing a new foil for Dr. Abbott now that he and Dr. Brown are partners, but I suppose we'll see – but it's still a well-written and sufficiently entertaining show that doesn't make you want to gouge your eyes out.
Which is exactly what North Shore did to me when I watched the first three or four episodes this summer. This Fox show wants to be The O.C. in Hawaii so badly, but instead, it's just bad. In fact, it's so waful that even the news of Shannen Doherty obviously ruffing some poor producer and getting him to agree to hire her couldn't convince me to watch. Every situation and line of dialogue on North Shore made my stomach churn and my brain scream. The fact that it has seen any level of success is really just a testament to poor competition and low standards by audiences. Plus, of course, bikinis. The addition of Doherty is obviously an attempt at using the Fox-patented Melrose Place-defense, but they'll all soon learn that Shannen Doherty is no Heather Locklear.
Of course, is Heather Locklear still Heather Locklear? At least, NBC is hoping so with her new show LAX. LAX isn't as bad as its lead-in Las Vegas. Like any warm-blooded heterosexual male who has some degree of tolerance for bad TV, Vanessa Marcil, Nikki Cox and Molly Sims were enough to suck me into the show; the music montages which seemed lifted from Baywatch episodes were just gravy. And then there's James Caan. The great James Caan. I'll give Caan a chance in anything. And a chance is just what I gave Las Vegas. Several chances actually. But not long after TWoP realized the show didn't even have proper kitsch-factor to create a so-good-it's-bad following, I gave up on it too.
In fact, I gave Las Vegas more chances than I'm giving LAX. Really, the two look like the same show, except LAX has fewer bikinis and gambling, for obvious reasons. I only watched the first episode for LAX, and it wasn't horrible, but that's about the best thing I can say about it. First of all, it reminded me too much of The Terminal because, like that waste-of-so-much-talent movie, the show's characters are spread amongst all the different working populations of the airport in order to fill all those stereotypes/archetypes. (Choice of words depends upon degree of cynicism. For me, "stereotype" comes first.) Like Las Vegas, LAX loves the music-montage-action sequence. But also like Las Vegas, the sequence looks like its instilled as an easy way to wrap-up the plotlines without thinking of an interesting way to do so. Kind of like if the show just randomly inserted many shots of the underbelly of 747s landing or taking off. Oh wait … it does that too. We call that filler. Personally, I like story more.
LAX has a tough job on its hands, though, as it has to go head-to-head with CSI: Miami. I'm actually a big fan of the original CSI, although I don't watch it religiously. This first spin-off? Not-so-much. I think it's mostly because David Caruso now annoys me to no end. I liked his little head-cocked and whispering acting style when he played Det. John Kelly on the original season of NYPD Blue. But it's boring now. His Lt. Horatio Caine on CSI: Miami is a totally different guy as Kelly with the exact same mannerisms. The rest of the show is just like the Vegas CSI except for some reason far less interesting. Maybe it's the red filter stuck over every camera lens to remind us how hot Miami is. I even tried to watch the season premiere to see Rory Cochrane bite it, but after about 10 minutes, I found myself paying little-to-no-attention to my TV because reading the same iWon headlines I had looked at an hour earlier proved more compelling. Still, between LAX and CSI: Miami, I guess the flat plastic beach town beats the mountainous plastic beach town most nights.
The only hour I haven't really mentioned here is Fox's 9 PM. That's because it doesn't deserve mention. But for the sake of being thorough, until the playoffs start, this time slot is inhabited by Renovate My Family, a makeover show for both house and person hosted by Dr. Phil's son Jay. Why does Dr. Phil's son get to host a bad makeover show? Your guess is as good as mine. But of course, I don't understand the appeal of the father either. Hell, I can come yell at you about how stupid you are and why some common sense changes might improve your happiness, and I'll charge you a lot less. You know how Fox keeps getting accused of stealing other networks' programming. Well, take ABC's Extreme Makeover and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and now you know how Fox came up with this show. Oh … and it sucks.
But does it suck as much as The Swan? A second edition of The Swan will start after the World Series. Setting aside the horrific statement this series makes about our society, and also forgetting that last year's eventual winner had so much work done her before-and-after pictures literally bore no resemblance to each other whatsoever (which I suppose is the point of the show), the program itself is just plain dull. I've watched Extreme Makeover, and none of these shows are really to my taste, but the only one more boring than The Swan is Renovate My Family, even though the former is far more evil.
Tomorrow night, there's more hope on the horizon, but plenty of snores to be seen as well.
Don't miss: none
Worth watching: Everwood
Tolerable: Fear Factor; Everybody Loves Raymond; Two and a Half Men; CSI: Miami; LAX (pending further review)
Snoozer: 7th Heaven; Still Standing; Listen Up; One on One; Half & Half; Girlfriends; Second Time Around
Ouch my eyes! My head! Oh, the pain! Please make it stop!: North Shore; Renovate My Family
Shown on a loop in the 7th Circle of Hell: The Benefactor; The Swan