Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Year in TV

My track record of finding great new TV shows to watch is spotty, at best. I always seem to pick the ones that get canceled within or after one season. Here's a rundown of what I've been watching this year, and my take on each.

The Event
Harry's Law
The Chicago Code
The Good Wife
Modern Family
Better With You
Mr. Sunshine
Big Bang Theory

Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, and to a lesser extent, The Good Wife are examples of the rare times that I get hooked on shows that actually become bona fide hits. It happens occasionally, as with Lost, 24, and a few others over the years, but as with most things, my tastes usually run against the grain. MF and BBT are both hilarious returning sitcoms that should be around for several more seasons. The Good Wife was a breakout hit drama from the 2009-10 season, but has seen a small dropoff in viewership this year. Juliana Marguilies is basically the reason to watch this show. They featured some interesting rivalries this year, but the plots have kind of been all over the place. Whereas, she is probably one of the most likable actors on TV, and is what keeps people coming back.

Fringe has been hanging on for a few seasons, despite middling ratings, and I'm not really sure what to make of it. I don't love it. But, I guess it's been interesting and creative enough to have held my attention span this long. It's at the point where you just have to hold on to find out where it's all leading.

The other returning show on this list is the reboot of the 80's sci-fi mini-series, and then short-lived recurring series, V. When it debuted in 2009, I thought the first few episodes stunk. They were sloppily written, I didn't care about the characters too much, and I just didn't see what was going to suck me in. However, something happened after that, and the character development, dramatic tension, and acting, all made leaps and bounds. It was renewed for a 2nd season despite not exactly enjoying a ratings bonanza, and once again, it's on the ropes after having just ended a 10-episode "mini-season." TV networks don't typically cut the episode order to 10 as a vote of confidence, and the short time frame definitely detracted from the horrific season finale. The writers/producers were obviously attempting to wrap things up hastily, and the result was an unmitigated mess of cliched writing, implausible plot elements, and character deaths meant for shock value, but which will substantially suck the life from the various interactions/rivalries on the show, if it's somehow brought back for Season 3.

The Event is another one of those sci-fi "what the hell is going on" thrillers that sprung up in the wake of Lost. The TV networks never know how to position these series, as was seen with the brief, one season-life of Flash Forward and many before it. Plots that no one can follow, more questions than answers, answers that end up being cop outs, and those long hiatuses between "Part 1" of the season and "Part II." When is someone in the industry going to figure out that the viewers do not return after 8 weeks of no new episodes? The Event is OK, but I'm sad to say, I'm not sure if I will even miss it if it gets canned, which it likely will be.

Two freshman comedies, Better With You and Mr. Sunshine, are both likely on shaky ground for renewals. "Sunshine" probably has a better shot due to the star power of Matthew Perry, and to a lesser extent, Allison Janney. I was one of maybe five people who loved Perry's last attempt at a post-Friends series - the grossly underrated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which suffered from debuting around the same time as the similarly themed 30 Rock, and not starring the inexplicably idolized Tina Fey. This time, Perry is a sarcastic (no, really?), seemingly self-absorbed manager of a sports arena, who has trouble relating to his underlings. Some bizarre characters on this one, but Perry's delivery really holds it all together. All his characters might be, in some way, retreads of Chandler, but if it ain't broke....

Better With You suffers from lack of network promotion and lack of star power. That 70's Show's Debra Jo Rupp is the most well-known, with Joanna Garcia (otherwise known as wife of New York Yankees outfielder, Nick Swisher) pulling up the rear. The show illustrates the parallels between Mia's (Garcia) relationship with her new husband, the relationship between Mia's sister, Maddie, and the guy she's been with for several years without marrying, and that of Mia and Maddie's parents. The writing is at times goofy, but mostly funny and observant. Unfortunately, this one probably has run its course.

The last two are Monday mid-season replacements, The Chicago Code and Harry's Law. "Code" was pretty much dead on arrival, so no sense in getting into too much detail. There are cops and politicians. Some are corrupt. Some aren't. Crimes happen and get solved. It takes place in Chicago. The one amazing thing about this show is how stunning Jennifer Beals still looks at 48, a full 28 years after she burst on the scene in Flashdance. Wowzer!

Happily, there is one bona fide dramatic hit this season, and it's David E. Kelley's Harry's Law. The rare show driven by a 63-year-old lead actress (Kathy Bates), it's practically a lock to return for a full Season 2, and deservedly so. It started out tenuously, with Kelley's trademark quirkiness threatening to get in the way of his otherwise solid writing. But the "loopy" factor has since been tamped down a bit, in lieu of continued witty scripting and solid, unusual but believable and sympathetic character relationships, and standout acting performances all around - particularly by Bates, and co-star Christopher McDonald, also up there in the age department. Bates plays a former patent lawyer who now takes criminal cases in watching out for the residents of a ghetto-esque Cincinnati neighborhood. But this is anything but a typical courtroom procedural. It's about the people, not the trials. If Kelley doesn't go off the deep end, as he did with Boston Legal, then I hope this one will be around for a while.

Here's hoping there are some new gems to watch, come September.