Thursday, December 02, 2004

I Heart Serialized Television

I'm sad. I'm a sucker for a good serialized drama. My favorite show of all time is Buffy, followed closely by Angel and the short run of Firefly. I love The Wire and Deadwood and The Shield and Alias.

There's just something about the character development, the season long arcs, the continuity that allows you to come back to a serial and feel like you're picking up a book -- you know all the characters, you understand their motivations, you feel for them in a way that you don't with a sitcom (well, with most sitcoms).

Now we're about halfway into the new season, and there are two absolute standout new shows this year, and a third show that I wouldn't have expected to be as good as it has been. It's only fair that I share these shows with you, my adoring audience.

Lost
Was it that obvious? Everyone loves this show, even people who normally watch shite like Who Wants to Fornicate with Goat? and My New Mommy Likes Satan (both real Fox shows). I think it's the cavalcade of familiar faces (hey, it's the guy from Party of Five ... and he's on the island with Augustus from Oz. And oh my god, it's Kendall from Alias .... he's got to be up to no good). It makes the show more accessible and palatable to those who's attention spans usually limit them to watching the multitude of crappy sitcoms on TV (ooh, honey, look it's that bald guy from the show with that Seinfeld guy .. and he's grumpy!).

Then, you add a nice dose of Evangeline Lilly, and boom, you've got yourself a hit.

For me, it's the writing. I love shows that walk that line between drama and humor, never afraid to poke fun at themselves, while never doing a disservice to the characters. It's what helps to uphold my suspension of disbelief when there's giant monsters or vampires -- as long as it serves the show. Lost has done that well. The normal story construct (based around telling the backstory of a particular survivor) helps to balance the limited action on the island by revealing bits and pieces of each character. It's just a fun, interesting, and engaging show.

Veronica Mars
What, you were expecting Desperate Housewives? Housewives is good, but it's not nearly as good as VM. Starring Kristen Bell as the titular charcter (heh .. titular), it's like crossing Buffy with Nancy Drew. It's funny, it's got pop culture references out the wazoo, and it's got the weekly "daaaammmmnnn" plot twist to make you look at everything else you've learned about the characters in a new light.

Really, it's good. Watch it. There's the occasional groaner line or moment when you wonder what kind of high school gives it's students the freedom the students at Neptune High get. (It must be California high schools -- the only other schools I can think of that gives its students this kind of latitude are West Bevery and Bayside.) But for 42 minutes a week, you get something that feels like an episode of Buffy. And in today's television landscape, that's well worth the investment.

American Dreams
Yep. That cloying, trite show about the 60s done grown up and become a damn good show. It's possible that it's just the current story arc about the eldest son in Vietnam that's been so engaging, but I don't think so. I tried to watch this show during the initial season because I love period shows and shows that mix in music and it looked good. It was just so saccharine and preachy that it felt like a slightly less annoying 7th Heaven without anyone nearly as hot as Jessica Biel.

Plus, it was on opposite The Simpsons. So there wasn't a chance in hell I'd see it unless Homer and Bart's escapades were previously aired.

But, I started watching it when The Simpsons was a rerun (during AD's second season) ... and it grew on me. I could tell it wanted to be more than just a fluff show. And then they had some brutally honest shows towards the end of the second season and I was hooked. The timeline had hit Vietnam and riots and situations that couldn't get wrapped up with a knowing glance and laugh between two characters.

This season has been consistently good, and the last couple of episodes have given me any number of goosebump moments. The show's a button pusher; there's no doubt about that. But it pushes the right buttons, and it pushes them at the right time.



Now, obviously, there's other great dramas this year. The Wire has been phenomenal for the third straight season, at a level of greatness Tony Soprano only wishes he could touch. My two favorite Lorelai's in Stars Hollow have regained their footing after an uneven freshman year at Yale. The denizens of the Bartlett White House have also rebounded strong in their second post-Sorkin year to move back to the list of shows that legitimately should be considered for an Emmy (unlike last year's travesty). The aforementioned Desperate Hosebea ... Housewives has been guilty fun.

But the above three shows have been surprises, and aside from Lost, have quite possibly been overlooked in your rush to make sure you see this week's very special One Tree Hill.

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