Archive for July, 2008

Summer Recap
July 21, 2008

So, I gave myself the summer off.  Yeah, it makes no sense, but I did it.  With the fall TV season ramping up, I thought I’d check in and give you quick hit reviews of new and old shows from this summer.  New show watches to come in a month of so.  Enjoy.

The Middleman

ABC Family, Mondays at 10:00PM

Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy

Conceit: Meet the New Avengers, Funnier Than The Old Avengers

So, this was my first ABC Family Original show (though, honestly, I couldn’t tell you how many original shows they’ve had before), and I’ll tell you, the network is off to a great start in winning me over.  The Middleman follows the exploits of Wendy Watson, a early 20’s Art School graduate who’s wandering through life aimlessly until a temp job puts her in science fictiony danger.  Next thing she know, “Dub-Dub” finds herself being apprentice to The Middleman, a super-secret espionage type who saves the world from natural, supernatural, and just plain odd danger.

Sounds campy?  Sure is.  And that’s one of two reasons this show really works.  Its self-awareness is the basis for 60% of the humor on the show.  Middleman and Dub-Dub find themselves in the most ridiculous situations and acknowledge it with snarky comments galore.

The second reason this show soars is newcomer Natalie Morales, who makes you want to watch her with a quirky sensibility and a Sahara-dry wit.  Her interplay with all the supporting cast, and especially The Middleman, is a pleasure to watch in a Summer of mediocrity.

The two negatives of this show are minor but real.  The first is the fact that this is an ABC Family show.  Even with a TV-14 rating and a fair share of double-entendres that raise eyebrows for a “family” station, The Middleman is on a family network and is limited by it.  This isn’t fatal as the limitations rarely ever come into focus.  But its there.  The second problem is a tendency to suffer from Diablocoditis.  This usually results in 3 too many clever lines strung together, without giving the viewer a chance to breathe; this illness was last seen in the movie “Juno”.

These minor gripes aside, The Middleman is a winner of a summer show.

Final Grade: A-

Watch the forth episode of this season: http://abcfamily.go.com/abcfamily/path/section_Shows+Middleman/page_Video-Middleman_Full_1002

The Secret Life of the American Teenager

ABC Family, Tuesdays at 10:00PM

Genre: Drama

Conceit: Life if Juno Happened In the Town That 7th Heaven Took Place In.

Yeah, I know, two ABC Family shows in a row.  This show is an odd duck.  I am well aware that I am not in the target demographic for this show, which I assume is split between 8-18 year olds and 35-55 year olds, representing contemporaries of the characters as well as their parents.

What drew me in was the notion of a show that has an honest discussion of sex from the prospective of a high school teenager.  You do get that.  Sort of.

The story starts with Amy Juergens finding out that she’s pregnant after having sex for the first time with a random guy at band camp.  The first episode really does this starting point justice as being very believable both in the set up and the reactions.  If this was the main focus of this series, as commercials lead you to believe, this show would be excellent.  Unfortunately, TSLotAT (by the way, a thought provoking, but way-too-long- title) wants to represent all views on sex.

So we meet all the supporting characters, who each represent a different view on sex.  How convenient.  Now I applaud ABC Family’s attempt to show all sides of the discussion.  Unfortunately, everyone is a caricature.  We have the promiscuous girl (who is having sex to fill an empty emotional void); we have the promiscuous boy (who is having sex to mask his hurt from childhood sex abuse); we have the virgin girl (who is not having sex out of respect to her faith and her parents); we have her football boyfriend (who was a virgin for the same reason until he cheated on her with the aforementioned promiscuous girl); we have the virgin boy (who has a mega crush on Amy and has just started dating her, unaware of her maternal ways).  And they’re all connected.  Mix in some awful acting by half of the adults on the show and what could’ve been a very source of dialogue melt into just awful PG-13 rated soap opera.

Final Grade: C

Watch the second episode: http://abcfamily.go.com/abcfamily/path/section_Shows+Secret-Life-Of-The-American-Teenager/page_Video-SecretLifeOfTheAmericanTeenager_Full_1002

My Boys

TBS, Thursdays at 9:30PM

Genre: Sitcom

Conceit: Sex and the City.  Just With More Guys And Less Sex.

The TBS summer-time hit is back for another run.  I always enjoyed the premise of this show: tom-boy’s life.  Very simple.  But here’s the problem: from the very first episode of the series, Jordana Spiro’s PJ has never seemed like an authentic tom boy.  The show gave her a “male” job (sports writer), a bunch of friends who are guys, save one, and a love of poker.  But none of this stuff makes a girl a tom-boy (which, by the way, seems like an antiquated phrase even as I type it).  PJ just always seemed like a bland character who didn’t seem any different from any other female character on TV.  The show used Kellee Stewart’s Stephanie Layne as a foil, showing how un-“girly girl” PJ is. No one buys it.

None of that has changed this season at all.  In fact, we barely see PJ do any sports work or play poker, so the two fake guy things are gone, making PJ even less compelling than before. 

The one thing TBS did right this season was bring more focus onto PJ’s supporting cast.  While Stephanie’s new status as an author is completely random and should be ignored, the male cast really shines in their goofiness.  Its almost as if the best bits of the show are when PJ is merely the hinge by which the guys rotate on.

Final Grade: C+

Watch this season’s episodes: http://www.tbs.com/video/index/#/all-video/shows/my-boys/full-episodes/

In Plain Sight

USA, Sundays at 10:00PM

Genre: Action-Comedy

Conceit: Mary’s Got A Gun

USA Network has really pioneered the Summer Television season movement.  In Plain Sight is their latest entry into the movement.  Honestly, I only turned on this show because it stars Mary McCormack.  I consider The West Wing to be the best television show of my time (thus far) and McCormack became a regular character in the shows lesser, I mean later, years.  So that alone earns at least an hour of my time.

McCormack stars as Mary Shannon, a US Marshal attached to the Witness Protection Program and stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  That’s pretty much all you need to know.  From their, you’re introduced to the classic cast of characters for this type of show: the quirky male sidekick; the uncoordinated boss; the hot but flighty sister; the good-for-nothing but caring mother; and the tense on-again-off-again love interest.  Sprinkle in some random action and McCormack talking about how her life can’t seem to get together and you have any given episode.

Its not that the show is bad.  In fact, its got the feel of what a summer show should be: light and easily accessed.  Unfortunately, it veers to far into that region.  There is really nothing to be gained by watching an episode and nothing to be lost by missing one.  But what it does, it does well.  So basically, if you’ve got nothing else to do, and you have space on your TiVo, its worth an hour of your time.  

Final Grade: B-

Watch this season’s episodes: http://www.usanetwork.com/series/inplainsight/video/fullep/

Psych

USA, Fridays at 10:00PM

Genre: Comedy

Conceit: Lethally Funny Weapon

This summer gem managed to get me excited for its new season with (at least what I thought) a hilarious ad campaign:

For those unaware, Psych stars James Roday as Shawn Spencer, a son of a cop who uses his psychic abilities to solve mysteries.  Wait, before you reach for the remote to change channels, Spencer isn’t really a psychic.  Instead, he uses his hyper-observation skills to make it seem like he has the abilities his clients wish he did.  Spencer is teamed with Dule Hill’s Burton “Gus” Guster, a childhood friend and the straight man in this comedy.  This show had really mastered the light summer feel that USA really wants.  Spencer and Hill’s chemistry sealed the deal and the supporting cast is excellent.

If you think there’s a huge “but” coming, there is.  We’re only one episode into the new season and things are not looking good.  The premiere featured a very disappointing payoff for the mystery of the week.  That would be forgivable, except for the B-story, involving Shawn’s long absent mother.  While the story itself suffers from serve predictability, in general, Shawn is portrayed as extremely…well…serious, throughout it.  And while that makes sense for the story, it doesn’t work for the show.  I’ll reserve judgment until a couple more episode air, but I have to continue with cautious optimism.  Psych, please work your magic.  Soon.

Final Grade: Pending

Watch this season’s episodes: http://www.usanetwork.com/series/psych/video/fullep/

 

 

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