Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Same old new season, part 2

Elementary: I am something of a Sherlock Holmes buff, though most real buffs would probably think me a pantywaist. I have not read all, or even most, of the Doyle stories; I enjoy more the homages and pastiches of other authors; my favorite incarnation of the great detective is Basil Rathbone. Yes, I know that Nigel Bruce played Watson as too much of a nincompoop bumbler, and many fans prefer Jeremy Brett in the British TV versions, but for me, Rathbone will always be the #1 Holmes. I don't like the modern updating from the BBC with Benedict Cumberbatch--part of the problem is the BBC series problem that most episodes are 90 minutes or more and feel padded because they should be 60 minutes. This modern version is under an hour and there is promise in the situation, but I don't care for the actors. Jonny Lee Miller is Holmes, a British detective living in the United States, who has just come out of rehab (nice touch). Lucy Liu is Watson, a woman being paid by Holmes' father to be his companion to make sure he stays out of trouble. Aiden Quinn, who looks better now than he did in his heyday, is the police captain with whom Holmes works. I didn't like the pilot, and I haven't seen any more, though I might drop back in on it to see if it finds a groove. But since my problem involves the lackluster performances given by the two stars, that seems doubtful.

666 Park Avenue: As above, there is promise in the set-up: Satan and his lovely minion (Terry O'Quinn and Vanessa Williams, above) own a grand old apartment building in Manhattan, and they make deals with various tenants; the tenants get what they want (talent, fame) but if they don't make good on their end of the deal, they are snatched away into Hell--or at least into the apartment building walls. I was looking for this to be an anthology series of sorts, with a different person dealt with in each episode, but while that may happen, there is a arc story which involves a nice young couple who has been hired to manage the building. My problem with that, as with American Horror Story last year, is this: why would this couple hang around for an entire season when they begin to realize what they've gotten into? A mini-series would seem to be the better outlet for that. The first scene of the pilot was nicely creepy: a musician playing violin on stage in an orchestra suddenly finds his fingers bleeding copiously, realizes that O'Quinn is watching from a box, and races out of the theater to his apartment, where O'Quinn makes him pay the price for his failure to carry out whatever he was supposed to do. But the show got boring pretty quickly after that and I haven't made a return visit.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Same old new season, part 1

I am not the person to make judgments on the new TV season, as TV series today are not made for me. I don't care for hour-long dramas in general (especially crime and medical shows), I never watch reality shows, and even sitcoms have to be just right for me to commit to watching (love Friends and Cheers and Big Bang Theory, don't like Two and a Half Men or Home Improvement). Still, here's my two cents on the few new shows I've sampled.

Go On: This was the most promising fall show for me: it's a sitcom with Matthew Perry, whom I loved on Friends and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I even liked him in the ill-fated Mr. Sunshine--he and Alison Janney were good, the rest of the cast, not so much. Here, he's the host of a radio sports show whose wife has just died in a car accident, and his bosses insist that he join a grief & loss therapy group. The humor comes from his cocky attitude (claiming he doesn't need help) and the interaction of the group members. Some of the set-ups are predictable, such as the potential for attraction between Perry and the therapist (Laura Benati); some are less so, such as the strange bearded guy (Brett Gelman) who spouts inappropriate remarks and non sequiturs with some frequency.

So far, all of the episodes have had at least one serious, sad moment, usually involving a breakthough that Perry has had in his grieving process. Julie White is very good as the lesbian getting over the death of her partner, though John Cho, as Perry's boss, has been mostly wasted so far, but I'll stick with the show for a while. I wonder how they'll keep him in the group for more than one season if he keeps making grief breakthroughs like he has.

The New Normal: A gay couple (Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannels) hires a young single mother (Georgia King) to be a surrogate mother. The three of them (and King's young daughter, Bebe Wood) get along fabulously but King's nasty bigoted grandmother (Ellen Barkin) is a constant thorn in everyone's side. What I like: the relationship between Bartha and Rannels is the closest thing on TV to a real gay relationship I've seen yet. They are affectionate, funny, and when they disagree, they talk things out without raising their voices. Much as I like Cam and Mitchell on Modern Family, they are far more loud and aggressive than most gay couples I know--and I realize that "loud and aggressive" is the default tone for all the couples on that show. Also, Bebe Wood gave an incredible performance in an episode in which she imitated the speech and mannerisms of Little Edie from Grey Gardens for the entire show--don't ask, you have to see it (it's called "Sofa's Choice").

What I don't like: Barkin's character and delivery are too harsh. In small doses, her nasty, fiery attitude is funny, but her role is too big and she unbalances the show. Perhaps to make up for this, the show winds up being too preachy. I want to like this, but if it doesn't strike a different tone soon, I will give it up.  I'll cover a couple more shows in a few days.