Sunday, April 10, 2005

Some Random TV Thoughts

-Has any tv show ever peaked at such a high level, then declined to a nearly unwatchable level, only to nearly regain the heights of the original peak? That's what The West Wing has done over the past 6 years. The first 4 Sorkin-written, mushroom-fueled seasons were probably some of the best written/acted/directed television in history. Then Sorkin left, John "ER" Wells took over, and drove the show into the suck. Something happened between seasons 5 and 6, as this season has had some great episodes, great storylines, and writing that, while not Sorkin-level, at least aped the style of Sorkin that is so recognizable. I'm really looking forward to Season 7.

-Has any tv show ever peaked at such a high level, then declined to a nearly unwatchable level, add in a bunch of fantastic writing talent, only to reach mediocre levels? That's what Alias has done over the past 4 seasons. The first two seasons were great. The over-the-top missions and pseudo-science, the great great characters, and the wonderfully plotted twists. The end of season 2 left Sydney two years in the future in one of the great cliffhangers.

Then J.J. Abrams abandoned the show to work on some new stuff (like Lost) and the show just drastically changed. Gone was any of the lightness and enjoyable subplots surrounding Sydney's homelife and her friends. Replacing them was the absolutely cringe inducing, interminable relationship between Sydney and Vaughn. Season 3 wasn't bad bad--it was still at least worth watching, but it wasn't really good. J.J. Abrams preached a return to the early style. The writing staff added ex-Angel and Buffy writers Jeffrey Bell (responsible for the best episode of TV last season, the series finale of Angel) and Drew Goddard (who also wrote some fantastic Whedonverse episodes). Their work in season 4 has been good. The rest of the staff? Not so much. The success of Lost has left Alias in the lurch, though it has started getting better recently when they finally decided to introduce a multi-episode story arc. We'll see how they finish out the season. Oh, and can we please ditch the new title sequence? It blows.

-The American version of The Office has been better than I expected. I didn't really like the pilot, which was pretty much a shot-for-shot, line-for-line remake of the original British pilot. The humor was all wrong; the timing just seemed off. But the second and third mostly original episodes branched out from the British series enough to set their own tone and pace. I like it. It's not as good as the original, but that would be hard to do. But they've nailed the key to the show--those long, awkward pauses after someone says something uncomforable. The Scrubs/The Office pairing is a fantatic hour of TV.

-The only problem with the Scrubs/The Office hour is that it airs opposite Veronica Mars which is probably just below Lost as this year's best new show. Witty, well-written, well-acted, and well-plotted, UPN actually gained my respect by already renewing it for next season.

-A show that probably shouldn't be renewed for next season, at least not without a new writing staff, is Saturday Night Live. I really have loved the Tina Fey era, for the most part, but the writing simply hasn't been able to overcome the losses of folks like Molly Shannon and Will Ferrell, or even Jimmy Fallon who was extremely versatile (if incredibly smug). There just hasn't been a really stellar episode this season, or even any sketches that really stick out as extremely funny. Even the normally reliable Weekend Update has been very hit or miss. Surprisingly, Kenan Thompson (yes, of Kenan and Kel fame) has been the moderate breakout star and has been somewhat amusing. Seth Meyers, Chris Parnell and Will Forte are both very strong (ok - the real gems this season have all been Forte playing Zell Miller, which is the greatest thing since Ferrell impersonating Harry Caray).

But the writing has been just awful. I mean, really awful. It used to be that I could count on SNL for at least one really funny sketch a week, with a handful of good ones, and then one or two bad ones. Now if I get one decent sketch a week, I start to consider it the best show of the season.

There are so many good comedy writers out there. Look at the stuff getting churned out by the folks at The Daily Show with less than 24 hours notice. Look at the stuff Conan's crew churns out. I'm not an expert, but I have to imagine that there are writers who could come in and give the show something fresh.

-Speaking of Kenan Thompson, his former cohort Kel Mitchell is the co-host of Dance 360, which is now the greatest show of all time.

Head-to-head! Head-to-head! Head-to-head! Tag-your-man! Tag-your-man! Tag-your-man!


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