A new season begins - finally

The 2003/2004 season has truly started now that FOX has finished with baseball. Most new and returning shows have aired at least a couple of episodes. Which means it's time for quick judgements. Here are mine.

Angel: The show looks to be getting lighter, the Halloween episode was basically just a prolonged joke. I felt the loss of Cordelia and Connor was just getting the cast down to a manageable level. But it looks like Eve, Knox, Harmony, and Spike will have significant roles in the coming season. I just don't think they can balance all those characters. Of course, Whedon shows have a history of appearing to move in one direction, then making abrupt turns which surprise and even scare you. So I'm not writing Angel off. And I do like the addition of Spike just because I like Spike. But I think it would be easy for Angel to jump the shark this season. I'm in watchful waiting mode here.

Coupling: I don't watch many sitcoms and the ones I do all seem in their final season. So I was hoping Coupling would be funny. Or at least sexy. Or ideally, funny and sexy. It isn't either. It's dumb and sometimes crude. I'm not sure if this is a matter of culture shift (the show is a big hit in the UK and I'm told the scripts are pretty much the same) or of a US network running scared and softening an edgy UK show just enough to make it unfunny. Maybe a combination of both. But it isn't working for me. In the first episode, the big scene was a woman exposing her breast in a restaurant to appease a group of her friends. In the second, we had a guy forced to go to the bathroom to check out the size of another guy's penis. Now, I've been to a lot of restaurants and, not coincidentally, I've been to a lot of men's rooms. Public nudity is generally frowned upon in restaurants. It gets you thrown out. And staring at another guy's penis in the men's room is also frowned upon, it can also get you thrown out or beat up. But it's just not funny. It's sophomoric and drunken frat boys or sorority sisters might giggle stupidly at it. I can see it in a girl's gone wild video and it would be the highlight of a Blind Date episode, but it's not prime time comedy. It sure isn't the kind of stuff which works on Friends or worked on Seinfeld or any other long running sitcom. And these aren't unusual moments on Coupling. The show is about 6 mental deficients who spend their days thinking about sex but don't even have a clear thought about it. One of them can't even manage an intelligent phone conversation (the guy's in his thirties and can't ask a girl on a date), another has an endless stream of dumb theories about women and sex (and this is the guy who comes closest to being funny), a third thinks a car show is a hot date, the supposedly intelligent woman keeps insisting that inviting a guy to her place for dinner isn't an invitation to sex then ends up having him see her vibrator, tells him about the size of her ex boyfriend's penis (it was big) and promises him that after dinner he's getting lucky, the bisexual woman is convinced that means gay men are interested in her, and the last and least interesting woman is ready to have sex with a man she hates if only his penis is big enough. But the most irritating part of this show is the laugh track. It keeps reminding you that nobody is laughing. And since NBC has just announced the show is cancelled, I guess everyone agrees with me.

Enterprise: More action and more sex mark the third season of this 5th incarnation of Trek. Plus, they've added Star Trek to the title to avoid any confusion. Which tells you exactly how dumb they think Star Trek fans are. Anyway, I like sex and action but I still don't think this is a good series. The captain continues to act like an idiot, endangering himself and his crew constantly. The plot is so complicated and so inane I don't even think the writers get it. The Xindi don't make a lot of sense to me. They seem to have superior technology, yet they seem terrified of Earth and humans. They could easily capture Enterprise, take its crew prisoner, and find out everything they need to know about humans. Instead, they continue to let Enterprise fly around their space. I also don't like spatial anomalies which break the laws of physics. That's Q type magic, inserted into the show just to create some false tension. As with pretty well every Trek series since the original went off the air decades ago, this one suffers from lazy writers who think SF is about gimmicks you use as plot devices and not about ideas.

Everwood: When a show outperforms expectations in its first season, you have to expect a let down in the second. A few rare shows beat that sophomore jinx, Everwood doesn't look like it will be one of them. Not that the second season looks all that bad. I still like the characters and I'm liking Bright more and more all the time. But the story lines are getting a little weak. We're seeing too many issues of the week (plastic surgery on underage girls and tweens having sex were the major stories of the second and third episodes). I also find it a little annoying that Dr. Brown can be so incredibly dumb at times. He's lived in this town for almost a year, hasn't he learnt anything about how things work there. And Madison, well for me that was hate at first sight. And Linda is just plain annoying. She keeps criticizing others because of their egos, but hers is the hugest in town. And her 'secret' looks to be really mundane. But I still like the show. While the first few episodes haven't been as gripping as the first episodes of season one, I think they are good enough to get new fans to watch. I'm certainly not bored.

Friends: It's fashionable to slam this show. It has, after all, gone on longer than it really should have. It isn't as funny as it once was. But it's still consistently funny. I really laugh at Friends. The way I laugh at Seinfeld. It has avoided the disaster that was the final season of Roseanne or Mad About You. No, it isn't the great show it once was. But it's still a solid sitcom that delivers laughs. It didn't go the easy route, drawing out the farce of the Joey/Rachel Ross/Charlie relationships. It had the characters confront this and the humour came from their natural responses, not from something the writers forced on them. Yes Monica is more frenetic than she used to be and I find it hard to believe Rachel really cares for Joey. But for the most part, these people are the people we've known for a decade. And the second episode subplot of Phoebe and her brother Frank was great. Funny and touching. I'm glad this is the last season. I think the show has gone on too long and is running out of steam. But it's still worth watching and I can't say that about Frasier or Will and Grace or pretty well any other comedy new or old.

The Handler: Like many people, I tuned in to this show because I wanted to see Joe Pantoliano, an incredibly underrated actor who deserves a lead role in a series. He's not bad, but the underlying storyline seems very weak. He plays an FBI agent who handles undercover agents. He trains them, sets up their identities, and monitors them. This could be interesting, but by the second episode they seemed to have run out of ideas. I just couldn't buy them sending a man undercover to bust some bank robbers. These robbers had illegal drugs and guns in their home. Once they found the home, and they get there pretty early, all the police have to do is raid the place, charge them all with possession of narcotics and illegal firearms (and probably a dozen other smaller charges) and work them until one of the gang agrees to testify against the others on the armed robbery charges. And they almost certainly would get some evidence to link them to the robberies (like dna or photos from the bank security cameras or fingerprints). An undercover agent just seems overkill for such a case. To be honest, that wasn't nearly as bad as the other storyline, where Joe has to retire an agent who has been exposed and determines to get revenge on the crooked judge who exposed him. That's dumb enough, but Joe really likes the exposed agent, seems to have been friends with him, cares enough that he goes out of his way to take down the judge, but was completely unaware that the exposed agent had recently divorced. It's something he learns from another contact. How clueless can he be? This especially irks because in the first episode he's quite involved in the private life of an agent. To me this spells bad writing and that usually spells cancellation. CBS seems dedicated to the show and as the season has progressed longer story arcs have evolved. I'm not sure if that's a good idea, since ratings seem to be declining.

Jake 2.0: They cancelled Buffy and Firefly. I can't stomach Andromeda or Mutant X any more. So I really wanted some new sf this season. Jake 2.0 looked so good. It had a star I liked In Odyssey 5. It had a premise which combined sf elements with espionage and that generally works well. I watched the premiere, then stopped. Why? Well, I find it hard to believe even a really badly run espionage agency could be as badly run as this one is supposed to be. I find it hard to believe that a guy as young as Jake (he seems too young to even have graduated) would have the security clearance to be doing the job he was supposed to be doing and that he would be allowed such free access to agency offices. This show lacks any kind of writing depth. It's all surface, all mediocre fx and potential stars. Some of these people may be stars yet, but I don't think it will happen because of this show.

Joan of Arcadia: This was a show I intended to pass on. The idea of a teenage girl who talks to God struck me as either dumb or sickeningly sweet in a Touched By An Angel way. It's neither. Amazingly, this is a well executed show which does not brow beat the audience with religion and yet still manages to discuss some pretty heavy theological issues. Like why does God let bad things happen and why won't he perform miracles to help people? The answers aren't profound, but how many even quasi entertaining shows take religion this seriously? The last one I can remember was Brimstone. Of course, it only lasted half a season. But Joan seems to be reasonably popular. It's a lot lighter than Brimstone and doesn't push the theology quite so much. But it takes it seriously, this isn't a joke about a nutty girl who imagines things. I can't stand the so called family values shows like 7th Heaven. But I love shows like this which take the existence of God and the belief in religion seriously but deal with it in a real world context. I'll keep watching.

Monk: The defective detective is the triumph of acting over everything. Shalhoub is great as Adrian Monk, a man so hampered by his personal problems you wonder how he gets out of bed in the morning yet he still manages to outwit the cleverest of criminals. I like this character and I like the way he faces off against the arrogant criminals who think they've outwitted him. I like the way his failings are the very things which make him so valuable. But I hate the thin plots which a baby could see through. The show seems to have more money this season, they relocated from Toronto to shoot on location. It would have been better to spend that money on writers.

Scrubs: I will admit the story lines are starting to get tired. And some people don't think this show is funny at all. But I'm still laughing. What other show would have a dolphin following the NFL (just guess what his favourite team is). I still laugh at this show and that's really all you can ask of a comedy. Maybe it's not as funny as it was, maybe some of the shtick is growing old. But it's still funny enough to merit being on prime time.

Sex and the City: I've pretty much stopped following this series. I think it played out season before last. Now it has become a parody of itself. Carrie keeps finding ways to make herself unhappy. Miranda can never be sure what she wants. Charlotte is still crazy to get married. And Samantha continues her self denial about her essential unhappiness with her lifestyle. These characters are looking old enough that I just want them to grow up and get on with it.

Starhunter: I couldn't stand watching the first season of this series, now I wouldn't miss it. The radical retooling, only Percy remains from season one, really worked for me. While the story lines are often confusing and I'm not sure how the crew make any money given that they never seem to collect bounties, I still find this the best sf currently on the air. Which is a pretty sad statement. But when the competition is Andromeda or Jake 2.0, it doesn't take much.

Tru Calling: Let me start by saying that fans who complain about Dushku taking this almost definite to be cancelled series over a Faith the Vampire Slayer spinoff should remember that job was never offered her. Nobody greenlighted the vampire series, although Whedon was clearly interested. And actors cannot stand around passing up jobs hoping one will show up. A lead role on a network series is an opportunity that doesn't come around all that often. Dushku did the right thing. The writers of Tru Calling may have made a mistake. But this show isn't that bad. It is in the death slot, against Survivor and Friends. While both those shows are past their prime, they still dominate the time period. I've only seen the first episode and I found it watchable but not great. The writing is mediocre and while I like her brother and the morgue attendant, I don't much care for her sister, her friends, or her boyfriend (the last of which I understand is disappearing anyway). I'd say watch this one while you can, it can't possibly last but it isn't nearly as bad as it will be made out to be.

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