Thanks to the last few months of under-employment (which ends tomorrow), my TV-watching has almost gotten back up to the levels before I worked for EA and before I discovered RSS feeds. I still haven’t suddenly regained consciousness sitting on the couch 35 minutes into a History Channel documentary about classified Nazi cheese experiments, but I have spent 3 straight hours watching back-to-back episodes of “Mythbusters.”
And I still won’t watch whatever’s on, just for the sake of watching TV. Which means that the list of shows I watch with any regularity is also the list of
Best Series Currently In Production
1. “The Venture Brothers”
This could’ve been just an obvious parody of “Jonny Quest,” ‘cept it’s all edgy, and the pilot was pretty much exactly that. But Jackson Public and Doc Hammer just get it, more than the creators of any other series except maybe “Arrested Development.” One episode of “The Venture Brothers” has a dozen throwaway gags that lesser writers would try to form entire TV series or Lorne Michaels-produced movies from. Just the details are hilarious: like when Hank & Dean make the Go Team Venture! sign and you can see the light from it reflected on their dates. And also, Patrick Warburton as Brock is the best animated character ever. Next to maybe Dr. Girlfriend.
2. “Battlestar Galactica”
I admit I didn’t watch it at the start. It was too depressing, and I didn’t cotton to the idea of a female Starbuck. I still don’t like her very much, and I still hate Apollo, but the series is just every bit as good as people are saying it is. And huge stuff happens, all the time. Whenever I see the count of survivors at the beginning of an episode, I remember being a kid on the way home from elementary school (okay, maybe it was middle school) and screaming at the bus driver to go faster so I’d get home in time for “Starblazers.”
3. “30 Rock”
I’m still baffled as to how a show that started out so shaky turned into one of the best comedy series ever. Everybody goes on about how great Alec Baldwin is, and he is, but he’s not even carrying the show anymore. Most series would’ve been content just to have Paul Reubens as inbred Austrian royalty (with only one real limb, which was genius), but they threw in a catfight between Isabella Rosselini and Tina Fey, as if they had a direct line to my subconscious. I still say it’s a shame they don’t use Rachel Dratch more often.
4. “How I Met Your Mother”
I started watching this one just because Willow was on it. And I figured it’s pleasant enough, so I’ll watch it if it’s on and I’ve got nothing better to do. Somewhere along the line it became one of my favorite series. Just recently, they had three or four episodes back to back that were just hilarious, and now that they’ve hit their stride, they’re consistently funny. And they have the most appealing cast on TV right now. I think the best thing they did was changing the big question from when is Ted going to meet “your mother,” to when the remaining slap-bet slaps are going to happen.
This week’s episode was pretty strong, and it was a good sign that they’re slowly getting back on track. The sad fact is that even if the executive producers of the show really are as smarmy as they come across in interviews, and even if they have no idea where they’re going, and even if they’re unable to get themselves out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into, this still has some of the best performances, set design, and just overall production quality of any series on TV. (Even “Galactica.”)
I’d speculate the reason this series is underrated is because it’s so formulaic. That’s actually kind of why I like it. It’s got so many formulas and cliches weighing it down, and still manages to be great TV. Every episode has to have the hour-long crime drama format, plus the unassuming “Colombo”-style detective with issues, plus the comedy scene showing Monk freaking out because he’s completely out of his element, plus the black-and-white recap at the end, plus all the formulaic bits from a Sherlock Holmes story, plus the therapy session, plus the character development. As if that weren’t stifling enough, they’ve by now established their own formula, of making every episode somehow “bittersweet.” Still, instead of being hobbled by it, they come up with some great mysteries and characters that for the most part (except for Disher) feel real. I’m just really impressed with how solid the show is, going into its fourth season, dabbling a little bit in an overarching storyline (Trudy’s death) but not really needing it.
I’ve got to say I was completely wrong about Sharona’s leaving. The character of Natalie is my favorite one in the series now; she’s not abrasive or annoying, but not saintly, either. And the actress playing her (Traylor Howard, from the pizza place) does a great job. Her delivery is perfect, always, and she just makes you glad she’s there even during the frequent times her character’s given nothing to do. There’s a lot to be said just for being appealing, and she, and the series itself, always manages to do that.
Yeah, the writing is still weak, and there are plot holes you could pilot the X-Men’s jet through, and the marketing hype blitz around it is annoying. Yeah, I’m still completely hooked on it. I don’t want to talk about it.
They know what the people want, and they deliver it. Even if it is 10% science and 90% explosions, it’s not like they ever claim otherwise; they’re proud of it. I don’t recommend anybody watch three hours back-to-back of it, though: the gang gets pretty annoying after a while.