Friday, June 02, 2006

Coming not so soon

I've been perusing the new fall shows the last couple of days and wanted to pass on a few thoughts.

First, NBC

"Studio 60" is the one the network is pinning its hopes on. It's another Aaron Sorkin drama. And, if you can imagine "The West Wing" transposed onto a late-night comedy sketch show, you'll pretty much have the idea. It's impressive just how Sorkin this thing manages to be: moralistic, speechy, self-referential, self important, somewhat humorless, and, naturally, very, very well written. It's hard to imagine a show about a comedy show that manages to squeeze so few laughs in, but the performances are great, particularly Matthew Perry and one-time "The Full Nine Yards" co-star Amanda Peet (although Peet wears the same expression through the entire pilot... very odd).

"30 Rock" is NBC's other show about what happens behind the scenes at a late night comedy sketch show. Bizarre? It's TV. This one is by and stars Tina Fey, along with a passel of her former "Saturday Night Live" co-stars. Can't say they don't know the parts, I guess. "30 Rock" is wildly uneven, but has some very funny bits, particularly from Alec Baldwin, who plays Fey's network boss. Baldwin doesn't so much chew scenery as explode it, landing in front of the camera like a bunker buster. He gets all the great lines: "I like you. You have the boldness of a much younger woman." The real drawback here is Fey herself, who seems uncomfortable acting out her own life and only occasionally manages to kick loose and have as much fun as everyone else seems to be.

"20 Good Years" is a total disaster despite some major league talent. Do you remember when John Lithgow was a dramatic actor? I enjoyed "Third Rock from the Sun," but ever since that show, Lithgow has been playing the same over-the-top madcap goofball. It can be enjoyable, but doesn't show much range. What prompted Jeffrey Tambor to follow up his own madcap genius in "Arrested Development" by playing a mousy judge here is a bigger mystery. Together, they're "Grumpy Old Men" with a laugh track. Who needs to see that?

Let's jump over to CBS for a couple of its hopefuls:

"The Class" is already getting critically lambasted. Let me go against the grain and say, I liked it. The show stars a raft of unknowns as one-time third-grade classmates who are brought back together for a party that immediately goes awry. The acting is spotty and the script could use fewer cliches and more panache, but the characters are amporphous enough to grow into something a little "Friends"-like. It will be canceled long before that happens, but I think in an alternate universe, it could grow into something worthwhile.

"Jericho," on the other hand, is already garnering some positive notices. I cannot imagine why. This post-nuclear thriller, starring the immortal pairing of Skeet Ulrich and Gerald McRaney, is like a WB show gone horribly wrong. The writing and acting are uniformly terrible, the direction leaves long, uncomfortable pauses between what passes for drama, and the plot points will make anyone old enough to remember "The Day After" wince. Are we so far past the Cold War that we'll tune in to see mushroom clouds used as a lame plot point?
One development some Colorado Springs viewers will get a chuckle out of: The first city to be nuked is none other than Denver, Colo. Other than that, the whole mess is borderline offensive.

That's what I've seen so far. I'll post more when I have time to dig in.


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