I think it might have lost me with “cern the diff”. But that wasn’t until episode two. Episode one was distinguished by not having a single memorable line, whether for good or bad. It was possibly the blandest writing I’ve ever experienced, despite coming from the brain of Joss Whedon. He somehow managed to turn something that appeared to be part wank-fantasy, part adventure-mystery into a mechanical, dull slog through an overly convoluted concept. Exposition was scattered through a series of unanswered questions, dozens of them, thrown at you in what felt a desperate attempt to hook you in on maybe one of them. Perhaps you want to know about Echo, an “Active” whose mind is erased and refilled at the behest of clients, and the past that brought her to the Dollhouse? Perhaps you want to know about the cop investigating, and why his bosses don’t believe it exists, and who is funding his investigation and ensuring it continues? Perhaps you want to know why Amy Acker has scars all over her face? Or why Echo’s handler is reluctant to do his job. Or why Echo had visions from previous minds. Or who funds the Dollhouse. Or how the bloody hell anyone can hire an Active from a company the police with massive resources can’t prove exists.
Another huge chunk of comments and thoughts on TV, as it pours out of the sky. Click more for more.
David Letterman did something decent last night. Just a bit late. He finally apologised for having cut Bill Hicks from his show in 1993, on Hicks’ twelfth appearance. Hicks was furious, and died a year later having never forgiven Letterman. Letterman expressed regret at the time, but never acknowledged that cutting the segment was an act of revolting cowardice, and demonstrative that he had lost any purpose he might have once had.
Fifteen years late, last night Letterman had Mary Hicks, Bill’s mother, on the show, and apologised to her personally. There’s then an over-rehearsed interview with her, but importantly this is an eight minute segment with a complete unknown, and the mother of a man most of the key demographics might never have heard of. And once the rehearsed anecdotes are over, Mary gives him some shit for what he did. Which is fairly fantastic. And then Letterman shows the original tape uncut.
I like that Letterman acted on this. He’s been haunted by it for a long time, and has said as much in the past. He’s done the right thing, and seemingly done it in a way that’s not scoring points, or linked in to something with which he might want to associate himself. It seems to be a genuine act of contrition.
The videos of the segments are below, but CBS in their infinite stupidity will have these removed from YouTube very soon. I’ll try and update them with working versions, and hopefully Worldwide Pants will have the sense to put the clips online in full very soon. Stick with it through the fuckwittery of the audience as they nervously laugh at the beginning – it’s revolting, but it’s not Letterman’s doing.
New year, new shows. Commentary. Click on for more.
No spoilers, promise. Just watched the first episode of the final 10, and it’s important to note, for the record, that Kim and Nick have come up with what must surely be the correct theory that explains the entire show.
Just making the note here now to prove that they’re geniuses later. And to make sure, here’s a cryptic statement – I don’t believe you could possibly take anything from it, but don’t click below if you’re dedicated:
I refuse to describe NBC’s idiotic summer show Wipeout as a “guilty pleasure”. I enjoyed its idiocy boldly and proudly. Assault courses are fun, and watching people on assault courses is fun. The Krypton Factor proved that. When the assault course has 15ft high bouncy balls and a wall that punches you in the face, it’s clearly great. Subsequent rounds include leaping over a sweeping pole on very high narrow platforms, being spun at horrible speeds to get dizzy before crossing smaller courses, and finally an epic course that resembles a real-life platform game on a building-size scale. However, just that would be quickly quite tiresome to watch. What made NBC’s Wipeout so fun was the commentary offered by two extremely cruel men, appointing each contestant a nickname, and delivering biting, scripted remarks in an engaging banter. You’d have to be pretty impressively bad at your job to mess up that format.
Best TV shows of the last six months. I know – who the hell am I, on a personal blog, to be issuing awards? This is the internet, people. This is how it works. (I should add that I’ve yet to see the latest season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, if this list looks a little strange without it.)
Best Sitcom: The Big Bang Theory
Season 1′s shortened run showed a lot of promise, especially from a show that in description sounds anything from derivative to offensive. Two physics geeks live opposite a blonde, unambitious waitress. Oh, the crazy differences between them! But fortunately the show quickly realised that the interplay between them as friends who care about each other was far more interesting than in Penny constantly not understanding what the boys were up to. More often this season Penny has joined in with them, and very frequently at the beginning of an episode – in other words, it’s not a big deal that she’s part of Halo Night now. Even if she did manage to accidentally turn it into America’s Next Top Model Night, with the episode ending with Howard and Rajesh finding the ANTM house.
It’s a Chuck Lorre show, which will put a lot of people off immediately. Currently responsible for this and Two and a Half Men, and in the past much-hated shows like Dharma & Greg, Cybill, Grace Under Fire, many wouldn’t come near this. (They’re obviously stupid, because Grace Under Fire was great, and Dharma & Greg wasn’t nearly as putrid as Family Guy would have you believe.) However, if there’s anyone who knows sitcoms on the scale of James Burrows, it’s this guy. And with TBBT, he’s nailed it. It’s a traditional three-camera sitcom, with a studio audience who oohs and aahs appropriately, and is almost entirely set in one front room. But the performances are fantastic. Kaley Cuoco manages to make Penny interesting, rather than a dull foil for the antics of the four geeks, and Johnny Galecki (David from Roseanne) is great at being the audience’s male ‘in’, the most normal of the four men. Kunal Nayyar and Simon Helberg still have the capacity to kill scenes they’re in, but have been better managed this time out. But the real star is Jim Parsons as Sheldon. His Aspergy, awkward social denial is constantly adorable – he somehow manages to make someone who’s almost sociopathic in his inability to understand people into a very loveable character.
It’s hard to argue for the programme in any sophisticated way. It doesn’t match How I Met Your Mother’s writing or acting, and never goes as deep as that show, but it is unquestionably the sitcom that’s made me laugh the most this year. I really cannot remember laughing as hard at any sitcom than during the final scene of the recent Christmas episode (Saturnalia episode, I should say), with Sheldon’s reaction to Penny’s gift. I cried with laughter until I hurt. And that’s what sitcoms are meant to do.
Runner Up: How I Met Your Mother
I love How I Met Your Mother, but season 4 hasn’t had its Robin Sparkles episode yet. It hasn’t had its Slap Bet. There hasn’t been the hook, and “The incident with the goat” isn’t an intriguing flash-forward at all. A goat in the apartment! How wacky! However, it’s been consistently fun, and often very funny. And in a year where the sitcom is almost gone completely (Scrubs cannot come soon enough – next month), it’s great to still have this show. Neil Patrick Harris is still the star by a stretch, and with this, Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Prop 8: The Musical and his depiction of the Shoe Fairy in Sesame Street, he’s the most loveable man on TV. And brilliantly, he sings in all of them.
Runner Up: Gary Unmarried
Here’s another sitcom that shouldn’t be any good, but is somehow really enjoyable. A divorced couple with two kids, and their need to interact. It could have been a spiteful, bitter show, based on nothing but the snipes and barbs between the separated couple. It kind of is based on the snipes and barbs between the separated couple, but somehow is never spiteful or bitter. In fact, it’s their obvious fondness for each other that allows you to relax and enjoy the show, knowing their smart, likeable kids aren’t being screwed up by them, and that we’re not going to be asked to believe they might fall back in love at any point. In fact, as soon as that story happens, it’ll be the sign the show is over and the writing lost track. She’s already engaged (to their former marriage guidance therapist – the brilliant Ed Begley Jr.) and Gary’s dating. It’s corny as hell, but James Burrows directing every episode so far, and a writing staff that’s included people who’ve worked on Scrubs, Seinfeld, Friends and Californication, is smart production.
The main problem with my life is that I don’t know anyone with whom to share this most exciting news ever.
Worst Week – CBS
Apparently based on a UK show called The Worst Week Of My Life, this is a nice single camera sitcom with a good cast, nice script, but it’s completely unwatchable. It’s Everything-That-Can-Go-Wrong-Will-Go-Wrong comedy, and it doesn’t matter how well that’s put together, it remains unbearable. The pain of inevitability is too much to bear. So while it’s fun for the first half of the first episode, as our anti-hero somehow ends up naked, in another woman’s apartment, while he’s meant to be at his girlfriend’s parents house to announce her pregnancy and their engagement, that’s as much as I could take. When he’d pissed on the basting goose, leading to the father being knocked out, and then rested at a funeral home, causing him to tell the family that he’s dead… I switched off.
The Big Bang Theory – CBS
Being old-fashioned in the world of sitcoms is a rare treat now. TBBT’s multi-camera, live studio audience, front-facing sets are something from the early 90s. It’s comfortable and fun. And thankfully, funny. While a show about two super-geniuses really needs some smarter people on the writing staff (saying “string theory” is often as close as they get to demonstrating their proficiency in physics), and the premise – their living opposite a blonde waitress with no smarts at all, and the comedy japes that ensue – sounds bloody awful, somehow it isn’t. It makes me laugh out loud, and that’s what counts.
How I Met Your Mother – NBC
Season 4 makes no significant changes to the fantastic formula, and it remains just as great. The confusing combination of multi-camera and single-camera sitcom formats, with an audience tacked on later, is still odd. But the cast is bigger and better than all that. And the format for time-muddling flashback/forward stories is still a winner. Episode 2′s search for the perfect burger does this splendidly – nothing to worry about here.
Gary Unmarried – CBS
A new sitcom from CBS, which is a bit sloppy, but kind of sweet. Man is divorced, has two kids, meets divorced woman with one kid, ex-wife still around, people say snappy dialogue. Possibly the stand-out feature was the realistic writing with the son, but there’s not a great deal more to it than that.
Ugly Betty – ABC
Season 3 starts with a bit of a reset on the cliffhanger of season 2, with Betty dumping both men in her life. But a lot else has changed, with Daniel fired from Mode, now working on a dreadful men’s mag, while Wilhelmina Slater is now in charge. Lindsay Lohan makes her fabled appearance, as is fine. But best is the decision to push the fairytale madness a step further. Daniel’s office is now a baby room for Wilhelmina’s surrogate baby, that looks like it was decorated by Tim Burton. The Mode offices are now so cold that everyone shivers, the sets all icy blue, to satisfy Wilhelmina’s whim. And everything good in Betty’s life is destroyed within the first episode, setting things up a new rock bottom to test her zesty steel. Not enough elaborately insane conspiratorial machinations appearing yet – nothing to compete with season 1′s glorious bandaged figure in the mysterious hospital ward (despite slightly bailing on the reveal, as much fun as the result was). Meanwhile, every scene with Amanda and Marc is, as ever, non-stop delightful.
Knight Rider – NBC
It’s hard to imagine how this could be any worse. A blank screen that punches you in the face every fifteen seconds would be preferable. I loved the awfulness of the original, and indeed the matching terribleness of the recent pilot for this new run. But the first episode proper was such ghastly gibberish as to defy belief. Worth watching an episode just to appreciate how terrible TV can be.
(Multiple season 3 spoilers)
Oh good grief. What is wrong with Tim Kring? He appears to believe that saying things to the press magically makes them happen. (He’s the Peter Molyneux of TV). Midway through season 2 he publicly apologised for how atrocious the once-enjoyable show had become. Painfully slow, and a lazy reprise of the previous season’s story, it was an embarrassment. Show runner Kring’s admitting this was a moment of relief. He knew he’d messed up, and he was going to fix it. Then of course the writers’ strike happened, and we never got to see if he’d come through with it. Certainly the few episodes made after his declaration sucked as badly as those before, so it didn’t look good.
Season 3 begins with Kring once again promising that he won’t make the same mistakes again. The show got overly convoluted, too many characters, too much political wittering, not nearly enough of the action that made season 1 a lot of fun. So how does it come back? Painfully slow, over-convoluted, politically tedious tedium. The other major complaint about season 2 was exactly repeating season 1′s story. A vision of the future shows New York being destroyed by mysterious means, and our intrepid band of international heroes must prevent this from happening. This all went especially batshit with Hiro – formerly the show’s star character – exploring ancient Japan and finding an immortal villain, and something something no one cared. The events were predicted through the paintings and comics of Isaacl, who would go into a heroin-induced trance and paint the future.