I'm not going to say that Wednesdays are the best night of television this season, but it's running neck-and-neck (and-neck) with Thursday and Sunday. With a few standout series returning and three of the most highly touted new shows of the season joining the lineup, every hour presents a difficult choice, sometimes even one that your two-tuner DiVo can't handle. That's when you have to move on to the cable splitter, with the second VCR ... you know, so you can record two on DiVo, tape a third on the VCR and then watch a fourth on the TV. You all have that set-up just like me, don't you?
No I'm not sick. Much.
|8:00 PM:||Lost||60 Minutes||Hawaii||That '70s Show||Smallville||America's Next Top Model|
|9:00 PM:||The Bachelor||King of Queens||The West Wing||The Bernie Mac Show||The Mountain||Kevin Hill|
|9:30 PM:||Center of the Universe||The Bernie Mac Show / ???Method and Red / TBA|
|10:00 PM:||Wife Swap||CSI: NY||Law & Order||Local Programming|
You know, this is hard. I could write entire posts on each of these shows (at least the ones I've seen so far, which are all of them except Wife Swap and Kevin Hill, both of which premiere tonight). But seeing as how I'd like to set a better example for Senator Kerry, I'm going to try to not ramble on-and-on-and-on (and-on) like I did yesterday.
First of all, I have to wonder: has hell frozen over? Are pigs flying? I know the first two days I shot plenty of criticism at UPN because, well, it's just so easy. They've been a laughing-stock network for so long, and while their attempt at narrowcasting to a very specific demo may make smart business sense, that group of sitcoms is just plain bad. But now they have two of the most highly anticipated and critically praised shows of the new season with Veronica Mars and Kevin Hill. I can't speak to the latter, but I do look forward to seeing it tonight, and I am a Taye Diggs fan.
If Kevin Hill is actually as good as some have written, it would be absolutely fair to say that if you could only set your TV to one channel per evening, you should pick UPN on Wednesdays. No other network has (potentially) such solid and entertaining programming all the way from 8-10. For UPN, that's because they start with what may be the second most-watchable reality show (after The Amazing Race), America's Next Top Model. The name still sucks, but the show never fails to produce everything you want from a reality show: stupid fights between people who never fail to allow the audience to gasp and say, "I would never do that." OK, maybe it's tied with The Apprentice, and Tyra and Janice Dickenson only wish they could be as catty as Trump.
For pure guilty entertainment pleasure, America's Next Top Model is my one don't-miss show of the night. I know for most of you that may be Law & Order, but I've just never been that big an L&O fan. Not missing ANTM is a difficult proposition though, because aside from NBC's terrible Hawaii (which, like LAX, is just another attempt to recreate Las Vegas, except even worse; this is not a programming trend NBC should continue to pursue), the other 8 PM shows are all generally good. 60 Minutes doesn't really need any comment, and while Smallville was uneven last year, its finale was one of the best season-cappers I've seen on any show in a long time. Last week's premiere wasn't an amazing episode, but it did do a good job of picking-up where the finale left off and laying out the beginnings of a story arc that will continue for the rest of the year. Plus, Lois Lane came to town and Clark (or Kal-El … never mind) flew.
Fox brings back That '70s Show which I must admit I don't watch regularly anymore but still usually enjoy it if I do happen to turn it on. At 8:30 PM, however, is the inexplicably renewed Quintuplets. I love Andy Richter, and his previous Fox show Andy Richter Controls the Universe was often very funny. But I guess it was too "out there" for most audiences, so Fox has now stuck Richter in this awful sitcom filled with unfunny jokes and the same tired storyline you've seen on every other parents with multiple kids getting into trouble shows. The only difference between this series and, say, 8 Simple Rules (to just randomly pick one) is that the kids on this show are Quintuplets. Yet they still all fall into the same stereotypes of other sitcom kids: the popular boy jock, the pretty but slightly dumb girl, the less pretty but very smart and sarcastic girl, etc.
The interesting mystery at 8 PM is Lost, a potentially fantastic show on ABC (what's happening with the crappy networks getting good?). I will definitely stick with Lost for several episodes. Last week's premiere was very exciting, but I realized by the end that very little actually has happened so far, and we really don't know that much about the characters yet. However, apparently tonight's second episode is just part two of the pilot, so I have a feeling some things will get much clearer. Additionally, I like the slower pace of giving us information. It's nice for a pilot episode to not throw a hundred bits at us because we have to know everything about these people and this world right away. For Lost, this method is particularly appropriate since virtually none of the characters have relationships with each other, nor do they know the world in which they find themselves – a deserted island with things that go bump in the night … and day. According to the producers, each episode will only cover a couple days, which is a tough thing to do. 24 (which, like Alias, doesn't return until January, but will then air without any rerun weeks) has managed to be relatively successful spreading one day over an entire season, but as someone who has seen every episode of that show, it is still sometimes weird and jarring to remember that things which seem so long ago to us in March, because they aired in November, are barely 12 hours old to the characters. Lost is a show with much risk because of its limitations (there can't be any guest stars and it would be very easy to fall into repetitive storylines, plus you can only do the supernatural thing so much before it gets hokey), but it also presents the potential for great reward.
If Kevin Hill does turn out to be one of the best new shows of the season, it will have the distinction of sharing the 9 PM time slot with one of the worst. While I would definitely choose The Mountain over The Benefactor, I pray to anything that is holy that I never be presented with such a choice. What we're experiencing now is a new cycle of let's-create-a-nighttime-soap-like-(fill in the blank). Back in the days of Beverly Hills, 90210, it was Melrose Place and The Heights and Central Park West and Models Inc. Now, it started with The O.C. and has gone on to One Tree Hill and North Shore and the worst of them so far, The Mountain. This is just a dreary nighttime soap that makes me sad for Barbara Hershey who must need the paycheck or something.
9 PM also includes two declining former favorites of mine. The Bachelor was, admittedly, a guilty pleasure, but it has become a guilty bore. I did watch the 2 hour premiere, and aside from the women choosing from two bachelors thing (ripped-off from this past summer's For Love or Money as far as I can tell), the producers have thrown a few twists into the mix this time around, the most interesting one being that the bachelor will be living with the women this whole time, albeit in the pool house. That does change things because it gives all the women much freer access to interact (and sneak around?) with him. There also are no stupid 21 and 22 year olds who are certain they're ready to settle down in a mature marriage when it's obvious they're not.
Still, if I had to choose between The Bachelor and The West Wing, I'd be more inclined to the fake Oval Office another shot. Last season was very subpar for this usually entertaining but preachy series. My biggest complaint? They would consistently move the season-long story arc forward with a great episode and then the next week virtually drop it completely to focus on an issue- or gimmick-oriented story (such as the fake documentary about a day in the life of CJ). This should be a very interesting season for The West Wing. They're introducing new characters in order to prepare for President Bartlet's completing his second term and leaving office, thereby creating the need for a new president and probably a near-complete overhaul of the cast. I'd love to see the show successfully navigate this transition over the next couple years and reinvent, rather than simply copy, itself. However, if the writing remains more of the same as last season, I'll stop watching it very soon.
CBS and Fox both have sitcoms during the 9 PM hour. The King of Queens is the original Everybody Loves Raymond offspring, and CBS is pairing it with a half-hour comedy filled with one of the best all-around casts since, well, Everybody Loves Raymond. John Goodman, Jean Smart, Ed Asner, Olympia Dukakis and Diedrich Bader star in Center of the Universe. The TV Guide Fall Preview calls it "Relative-ly annoying," and Entertainment Weekly's says, "Hoo boys, is this not funny." We'll have to wait until 10/20 now before we can judge for ourselves.
If you're starved for comedy, though, your other choice for the time being will be repeats of The Bernie Mac Show. Original episodes will air on Fox at 9 PM (and Bernie Mac is a pretty funny sitcom, definitely more interesting with less stereotypical sitcom fodder than The King of Queens), and 9:30 was supposed to be occupied by Method and Red. However, Variety reported last week that Fox had cancelled the Method Man/Redman sitcom and would be airing Bernie Mac instead. (sub. req'd) Personally, I found the show dumb, so this is no big loss. Regardless, as of now, I don't believe Fox has made any other decisions for the time slot
10 PM is the spot for the most widely talked-about time-slot battle on any day this season. Perennial favorite and grandfather to all franchised series Law & Order faces the first real challenge to its ratings dominance with the arrival of the blue CSI, formally called CSI: NY. As I mentioned before, I'm not really a L&O fan. I don't dislike it exactly, but I definitely have no allegiance to it. I've always thought that the writing was too spot on and obvious. I know it's a procedural drama, but I still always thought things could be smoother and the sarcastic cop banter didn't have to announce itself as such. It really has solidified itself as the Dragnet of its time, and it's an easy show to follow because you can miss a week without actually missing anything important other than a potentially good episode.
The CSI shows are the same kind of procedural dramas which is why, aside from their inherent popularity, Wednesday at 10 PM is such an interesting battle. Sure the shows are different from each other, but in they are also very similar. Supposedly, CSI: NY is going to focus more on the individual characterizations of its team more than either previous CSI, and the producers want to make New York a character in itself, incorporating the personality of the city more so than they do in Las Vegas or Miami. After the first episode, it seems like just any other CSI, just with a blue filter over the lens and some 9/11 drama thrown in for kicks. However, since I'm not beholden to L&O anyway, I'll probably give this show a chance simply due to the participation of Gary Sinese. If they really do give him a character and try to add-on to the CSI formula rather than simply duplicate it, CSI: NY could be the best of the bunch
NBC pulled an interesting, but I think bonehead, move in scheduling their premiere night last Wednesday. With CSI: NY premiering at 10 PM, NBC decided to show new L&O episodes at both 9 PM and 10 PM. So what seemingly happened? Common L&O and CSI fans got their fix at 9 PM and then decided to check-out this new CSI at 10 PM. At least that's my theory since CSI: NY beat the 10 PM L&O. This wouldn't be important if not for the PR CBS gets out of being able to claim that it's upstart second spin-off was able to beat NBC's long-time established original.
It sure seems like ABC doesn't have much of a chance at 10 PM, but critics are loving Wife Swap, which premiered Sunday in a special time and airs again tonight. Apparently, Wife Swap doesn't provide any prize-money like its Fox copycat Trading Spouses. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm troubled by the limitations of the premise; but TV Guide calls it one of their favorites of the new season and says it "deserves to be a hit" while EW calls it the "Most promising new reality show." I've heard it described as more documentary than reality-show. I'll give it a shot, but I have a feeling that like most of America, if I'm watching anything on Wednesdays at 10, it will most likely involve New York city and crime.
That's it for Wednesday. Tomorrow we get more battles-royale as NBC and CBS ferociously fight for each hour while always checking over their shoulders at a bunch of teens from The O.C. who have moved into the neighborhood.
Don't miss: America's Next Top Model
Don't miss -- potentially: Lost
Worth watching: 60 Minutes; That '70s Show; Smallville; The Bernie Mac Show; The West Wing; Law & Order
Worth watching -- at least for now: CSI: NY
Tolerable: The Bachelor (barely); King of Queens
Snoozer: Quintuplets; Method and Red (but may already be done); Hawaii
Ouch my eyes! My head! Oh, the pain! Please make it stop!: The Mountain
The verdict is still out (have yet to air/see): Wife Swap(premiered Sunday & tonight); Kevin Hill (premieres tonight); ); Center of the Universe (premieres 10/20)