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TV notes


People recommend shows to me, and I put them on my to-watch list, and then it usually takes me months or years to get around to looking at them.

But half of my favorite shows are things that friends recommended, so I do try to take a look sooner or later.

This past month has seemed like the right time to try out some new shows, both ones that people have recommended to me and ones that I've heard about in other contexts and that have sounded vaguely interesting. Here are some notes on those shows.

I apparently have a habit of giving up on shows just before they start doing more stuff I would like, so if you think I should give any of these that I'm giving up on another chance, lemme know.

Ben and Kate
Saw episode 11 with Mary Anne, which by coincidence was the first episode under a new showrunner. I enjoyed it quite a bit, much more than I would've expected. And this episode turns out to have been written by someone I knew in college, who was apparently brought in to help fix the show. I later watched a few minutes of an earlier episode (from before the showrunner change and before Gail's involvement) and didn't enjoy it at all. But given the changes, I'll definitely take a look when the next episode airs.
Burn Notice
This has been sounding mildly intriguing for a while; I figured I'd watch an episode, wouldn't enjoy it, and would give up. Instead, I laughed out loud five times in the first ten minutes of the first episode, and decided to pause and watch the rest with Kam. But when we watched the rest of that episode, it quickly became clear that the show has basically the structure of a detective show, not a spy show: each week, someone comes to protag with a problem, he figures out whodunnit and fixes the problem. (Or maybe distressed-person-of-the-week isn't quite the same genre as detective show? I guess this show has elements of both.)
As with a lot of shows, it does have a big-picture ongoing storyline, with a central mystery: Who gave him the burn notice, and why? And why didn't they just kill him? But I suspect that that will usually be heavily backgrounded in favor of the person-in-distress-of-the-week. (Though a couple of people have now told me that there are later episodes with more of a big-picture focus.)
And instead of the locale-of-the-week thing that spy shows do, this show seems to be firmly settling into Miami. (At least they've reduced the number of gratuitous women-in-swimsuits shots after the first episode.) Also, the female lead's Irish accent got turned off in episode 2; the character said she wanted to fit in better by sounding American. Feh. I gather the actor (Gabrielle Anwar) is British. Her American accent is quite good (though it slips slightly now and then), but I liked her Irish accent better.
And although it continues to be funny, the rate of laugh-out-loud moments dropped precipitously after that opening ten minutes; it's now down to a couple of times per episode.
So it's not nearly living up to the promise of the beginning of the series. Kam and I will probably watch a few more episodes, but—well, what it really comes down to for me is that I like spy-show genre conventions better than detective-show genre conventions.
The Good Wife
Bought the first episode on iTunes, then ordered the DVDs from Netflix. I've now watched the first dozen episodes or so. (Alan Cumming's character hasn't appeared yet, but will soon, I think.) So far, it's looking a fair bit like some other legal dramas I've seen, though with intriguing differences. And I love Archie Panjabi, from Bend It Like Beckham, as Kalinda the streetwise investigator; she's the clear standout so far, for me, though I liked her a little more in the pilot than in the subsequent eps I've seen so far. And I like that there are at least three major, and interesting, female characters. And I'm glad to see Matt Czuchry (Logan from Gilmore Girls) again. Anyway, I'm not loving this yet (once again I'm more interested in the big-picture storyline than in the individual episodes, and courtroom drama isn't a genre I'm really into), but I'll probably watch at least a few more episodes.  . . I was startled to see that Ridley Scott and Tony Scott were the executive producers.
I watched about five minutes of the first ep, and had no interest at all in continuing. It turns out that when I went looking for it, the show I was actually thinking of was The Maxx, which is entirely different. (After I realized I was looking at the wrong show, I tried to figure out what the show was that I was thinking of, and I was surprised to learn that there doesn't seem to be an online list of TV shows whose titles end with “xx.”)
The Maxx
Not really my thing, from what I can see based on the first ep, but interestingly unusual.
The Mindy Project
Watched the pilot; I can understand the appeal, but I think it's probably not my thing. But I may watch another episode or two.
New Girl
Watched the recent Xmas episode (from season 2) with Mary Anne. Enjoyed it, but didn't love it; probably won't keep watching.
The New Normal
Mary Anne indicated that she liked this, so I watched the first ep. I can see the appeal, but I think I would find the grandmother's bigotry too annoying to keep watching (even though it's always called out as bigotry), and I suspect I would be as annoyed by Bryan as I used to be by Jack in Will and Grace. (It's not the flaming mannerisms, which I kind of enjoy; it's the shallowness and amorality and self-centeredness.) I do find the little girl charming, though, especially in her willingness to talk back to her great-grandmother. And the stuff about unusual families being the new normal got me kinda misty-eyed, even though I was a little annoyed by some of the execution of that sequence.
Not sure how I happened across this eight-episode British science fiction series, but it sounded intriguing. It's set in a thousand-person (or so) human colony on an alien world; it looks like it has some things in common with Terra Nova (the recent time-travel-to-dinosaur-times show), but I liked the first ep of Outcasts significantly more.
Jamie (Apollo) Bamber is in the first ep, with a lovely accent that may be his real one, though I don't love his character. I do really like two of the lead characters, quasi-police/security officers named Cass (played by Daniel Mays, who I just saw in The Bank Job and have liked in Made in Dagenham and an episode of Dr. Who, and who's also in Atonement, which is on my to-be-watched list) and Fleur (played by Amy Manson, who was in a couple of Torchwood season 2 eps, and in Being Human).
Anyway, I don't love it so far, but I like it (I've now seen two episodes, on Netflix streaming), and it's only eight episodes long. I'm hoping that it came to some kind of conclusion and wasn't just canceled mid-story.
I've heard good things about this, but alas, I think it's not really my cup of tea (I'm generally not into monsters and horrory stuff and supernatural phenomena). So far, after four episodes, there seem to me to be four main reasons to watch: Dean's cheekbones, and Sam's cheekbones. Those were worth a few episodes, and it's been really nice to see Jared Padalecki again. But I think the horror-showness of it is going to lead me to not keep watching.
The Venture Bros.
I keep hearing references to this, so decided to give it a try. Watched the first half-hour episode, but it didn't work for me at all (not even Patrick Warburton as Brock Samson); won't be continuing with this one.

Of this set, the ones I liked best were Ben and Kate and Outcasts.


I didn't realize that Archie Panjabi had also been in Bend it Like Beckham -- neat! So far I have seen one (1) ep of TGW, on an airplane, and so I do not know whether I actually like it at sea level, but I will give it a go!

Julia's Arisia highlights from last year have something silly about Lexx and I laughed aloud at your "ends in xx" directory line!

Also, just because it amuses me, I link to this Key & Peele sketch about not having seen movies.

The first episode of The Venture Bros doesn't give a good indication of the rest of the series. I'd suggest trying a couple more before giving up on it.

Sumana: Hee! I loved "I do not know whether I actually like it at sea level." Now I'm thinking I need to go back and add notes to my notes-on-movies-and-shows indicating what altitude I was at when I saw each of them.

Cute about Lexx costume. And that Key & Peele sketch made me laugh out loud—thanks for the link!

Ted: Someone on Facebook said that they had hated the first ep of Venture Brothers but went on to become a big fan of the series. Between that and your comment, I'll give it another try—thanks! Any suggestions on better starting points for that series?

Okay, I just checked an episode listing. I think it'd be worth picking up with #2, "Careers in Space", but if you're looking for a single episode in the first season that illustrates the series' strengths, I'd recommend #11, "Past Tense." Then go back and watch the others.

While The Venture Bros doesn't do long-arc storytelling of the sort discussed in your previous blog entry, it does feature an astonishing amount of continuity. Instead of being a case-of-the-week show, it has a large cast of recurring characters with evolving relationships. It's almost impossible to appreciate later seasons without watching the previous ones.

I have to second the comment on Venture Brothers. If you ever watched the shows it is parodying then it is amazing. If one lacks that particular collection of pop culture references it is likely a lot less good. But the first episode on the disc is terrible--a highly non-canonical and just plain bad pilot. For me, the episode that made me a committer was "Tag Sale You're It" (I'm thinking it was season 1, episode 9 or 10.)

In general, the show can be a little violent at times, but unlike most US based animated series, I trust the VB producers. Their commentary on both the violence and the unspoken underpinnings of the original series they are manipulating is really good.

Okay, I've now watched “Tag Sale, You're It” and “Past Tense” (and some other first-season episode a few days ago), and I'm sorry to say that none of it so far has really done anything for me. It may be the lack of the pop-culture referents; I'm sort of aware of the existence of Johnny Quest, but never actually saw any incarnation of that show. Wikipedia also notes references and/or homages to the Hardy Boys (which I never read), the Phantom (I saw the relatively recent movie, but other than don't know much about him), Doc Savage (I read part or all of one book), and Dr. Strange (I did get that reference), among others.

Oh, I did also get the fact that Col. Gentleman is supposed to sound like Sean Connery, though I didn't catch that that's because Connery played both Bond and Quatermain. The only thing I actually laughed at in these two episodes was the moment when the camera pulls back from Gentleman (when Dean and Hank call him up to help find their missing father) to show his cabana boy.

I think in addition to not having the right referents, I'm also not finding the characters especially appealing, and—perhaps the biggest issue—I think my sense of humor just doesn't match the show's; most of the jokes leave me cold.

I like the core idea of a boy adventurer growing up to become a disillusioned and fairly inept scientist, and I like the characters having a shared history. But I think the show's general approach and specific details just aren't my thing.

But thanks for the suggestions! I do feel like I now have a better sense of what the show's doing.

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