Thursday, January 20, 2011

American Idol

The rebooted American Idol is just fine so far, thank you.  I had thought that Simon Cowell’s absence would be felt more powerfully but, in fact, the new panel of judges acquitted themselves well on the season premiere of the 10th round of the Idol merry-go-round and Cowell’s absence barely caused a ripple.

I had wondered how the new judges…Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez…would fare in the Idol fishbowl but they both brought welcome new energy to the proceedings.  Tyler was animated, funny, bawdy, tough but compassionate…he seemed to be having fun (as opposed to Cowell who seemed to be bored and going through his “Mr. Nasty” routine by rote over the past couple of seasons.)  Lopez seemed to wrestle with dashing the hopes of some the clueless non-talents the producers let get to the panel but she rallied and she turned out to be a charming and encouraging judge…often looking for something positive to send rejected contestants away with.

And, perhaps dazzled by the star power of J-Lo and Aerosmith’s legendary lead singer, the rejected ones (at least the ones they decided to showcase) went away with less tears and fewer profane tirades than in previous seasons.

Randy Jackson was still Randy Jackson but he, to his credit, tamped down some of the played out hipster routine, seeming to embrace the mantle of the veteran judge on the panel.  And even Ryan Seacrest was not as intrusive as he might have been previously (the “playful” banter between Cowell and Seacrest, which was increasingly annoying with each passing season, will not be missed at all.)

And, most importantly perhaps, there was a nice rapport between the judges (as opposed to the rapport-free interactions of last year’s panel of Jackson, Cowell, Kara DioGuardi, and Ellen Degeneres) and they managed to display personality while still ceding the spotlight to the people trying out for the show.  A delightful and welcome change that.

The success or failure of any given Idol season always comes down to which of the tens of thousands of hopefuls make the cut.  After a few seasons of (mostly) low wattage competitors, season 10 needs to rally and recapture the charm of the early seasons.  None of the 51 people who picked up golden tickets to Hollywood during the New Jersey auditions seemed penciled in for the finale yet (and, frankly, some of them probably wouldn’t have gotten past Cowell to the next round) but it’s still early, of course.

The addition of legendary producer (and Interscope Records honcho) Jimmy Iovine as the ongoing mentor looks to be a huge plus…as does the apparently scraping of Disco night and other changes the producers have used to tweak the Idol formula…and it could add up to a great Idol season.  Maybe...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No Ordinary Family

There's a gentle charm to ABC's new drama, No Ordinary Family.  The show is at heart a family drama despite the fact that the titular quartet all mysteriously gain super-powers during the first episode. 

The dad, played with relish and winking fun by Michael Chiklis, a mopey police artist finds new purpose as he experiments with his new powers (he basically has the original powers that Superman had in his debut issue:  he is super-strong, partially invulnerable, and he can leap about a quarter of a mile) with the help of his best friend. 

(Mom (Julie Benz), a workaholic with not enough hours in the day, gets super-speed.  The daughter, a high school student with boy issues, gains the power to read minds.  And the son, an underachieving student, becomes able to sort out complex problems.)

There is a conspiracy (of course) and much family angst (of course) and they even playfully name-check one of the X-Men at one point.  It's fun and breezy and the connections of family and friendship are kept in the forefront and, given time,  it could grow into something really engaging.

But it probably won't get the chance.  It will probably be swamped in the ratings by Glee and The Biggest Loser and (if it manages to hang on that long) by American Idol in January but I'm glad that the network took the chance anyway.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Community/30Rock/The Office/Outsourced

NBC's Thursday night comedies...three veteran shows and one much publicized newcomer...came back with amusing but uneven results.

Community went "meta"...becoming self-reverential almost to the point of distraction...but the able cast was able to keep it on track for the most part.  The guest appearance by the ubiquitous Betty White had its chuckles but wasn't really essential to the proceedings.

30 Rock came back with its trademarked blend of absurdity, sharp dialogue, and fast pace.  Matt Damon's guest turn as the love interest of Tina Fey's Liz Lemon had its comic charms.

The Office opened its final season with star Steve Carell with a "wacky" musical number featuring the entire cast that may have gone on just a bit too long (my favorite bit was Jim and Pam dancing like characters from the old Charlie Brown cartoons used to dance.)  Laughs were fairly consistent throughout the episode.  (I enjoy this show but I'm of the mind that if it ended this season with the departure of Carell's indelible Michael Scott that would be fine.  Seven years is a good run for a sitcom...but, of course, that's not the way things work on network television where they most prefer to keep going until people are more than ready for you to go already.)

And then there's Outsourced (see cast above).  The fish out of water comedy...American guy sent over to manage a ragtag office full of workers in a call center in India...did not really get off to a good start.  There seems to be potential...the cast is game and the premise, while creaky and fraught with cultural traps, could be mined for some good comedy...but the first episode was tepid at best (the best bits had already been played...over and over and over...during the summer-long run-up to the premiere.)  To the good is the fact that Parks & Recreation, the show displaced from Thursdays by Outsourced, started off slowly as well but found its footing and became a sharp comedy.  Hopefully Outsourced will follow a similar trajectory.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Detroit 1-8-7/Glee/Raising Hope/Running Wilde

Detroit 1-8-7 echoes, in a positive way, the grittiness and quirkiness of the seminal 80's cop show Hill Street Blues. The pilot presented a similar cross section of interesting characters in unique partnerships handling murders on the mean streets of the titular city. Michael Imperioli leads a uniformly engaging cast with the first episode sketching out character tics and partnership vibes (some in sync, others definitely not) and, like Hill Street's first episode, the pilot even ends with a poignant and shocking tragedy that will undoubtedly color the proceedings going forward.

If the various threads of the pilot dovetailed together a bit too glibly...and they did...Detroit 1-8-7 is still a drama that bears watching as it unfolds. It has the potential to become a great cop show.

On the other end of the entertainment spectrum, the season premiere of Glee was full of the same soapy, entertaining mix of music, pathos, absurdity, and angst (both teenage and adult) that made the first season such a breakout treat. The formula still works wonderfully (and next week, the much-hyped Britney Spears episode will put that formula to the test) and if the focus remains on the Glee Club (and on the undeniable force of acerbic nature that is Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester) they seem primed to have a successful sophomore season.

Fox's two new Tuesday night comedies...Raising Hope (which seems to be trying, a bit too self-consciously, to tap into the Malcolm in the Middle vibe) and Running Wilde (feeling like they're going for the audience who adored the critically acclaimed, but ratings challenged, Arrested Development) got off to rocky starts with just enough laughs to (partially) overcome some awkward setups and make them both perhaps worth at least another look (but only just barely to be honest) to see if they can find surer footing moving on down the line. We shall see.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Event/Hawaii 5-0

What is The Event? Heck if I know (actually I have some notions but I'm the first to admit that I am probably wrong.) The first episode was full of portent and mysterious asides and a host of characters doing and saying things that don't yet make sense and multiple time periods doubling back on themselves. It's all very disorienting...all very SPOOKY...and, yes, it's all kind of intriguing.

I am reluctant to buy into this series...despite the stellar cast and the potentially engaging premise...because the networks don't have a good track record with actually finishing these kinds of serialized dramas. For every Lost that actually gets to tell its story (whether you liked the story or not...I didn't stay for the whole ride... at least they got to tell it) there are many, many more that start and then just leave us hanging when the network pulls the plug (Heroes, FlashForward, Surface, Threshold , etc., etc.)

That said, I am probably going to stick around for a while...the ending of the first episode was pretty certainly made me want to see what happens next...and see what happens next.

Also caught the debut of the new Hawaii 5-0. It basically uses the names and locations from its cheesy 70's predecessor and not really much else. That was a good choice (hey, I watched the old show when I was a kid but it...didn't age well...:-) The new show is glib, action-packed, and not really very deep...but there's nothing wrong with any of that. The cast is likable and the scenery is gorgeous and it zips right along. Nothing here is especially new but it will hold one's attention if you happen upon it.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sons of Anarchy

Gemma's on the run after being framed for murder at the end of last season...Jax is wallowing in grief and self-pity over the fact that his infant son has been kidnapped (eventually ending up in Ireland) in retaliation for the aforementioned murder...and Clay and the other gentlemen bikers of SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original Chapter) are prowling for clues as to the whereabouts of baby Abel. Much mayhem, pathos, tension, and intrigue ensued.

Sons of Anarchy is back...and off to a dramatic, portentous start.

Hal Holbrook joins the cast as Gemma's addled father (he has memory lapses and he doesn't seem to know that his wife...Gemma's dead) for what could be an interesting look into the psyche of the hard-as-nails Gemma (who manages to stab a guy in the crotch because the guy had the temerity to object to her trying to steal his car)...not that last season, when she got gang-raped by neo-Nazis trying to send a message to the biker club, wasn't an interesting exploration of her hard-bitten view of the world...

With the plot threads being thrown out in the first episode of the third season it looks like Sons will be ranging near (their home base of Charming, California) and far (presumably across the water to the Emerald Isle)...count me in for the ride.