John Walker's Electronic House

More New TV 09

by on Feb.04, 2009, under Television

Another huge chunk of comments and thoughts on TV, as it pours out of the sky. Click more for more.

Flight of the Conchords – HBO

No help needed here. The universe is united by a common love for this, and well it should be. And the second season means all new material, with all new songs, rather than stories previously aired on Radio 2 and songs performed very many times before. Murray singing opera is enough for the rest of the season to be a test card and still be considered great overall. Episode 3’s dancing is icing on the cake. And hooray for more regular appearances from Arj Barker, and another cameo from Eugene Mirman, the best stand up around.

Trust Me – TNT

Not to be confused with Lie To Me, both shows debuting in the same week. Trust Me is about an advertising agency, specifically following partners Mason and Conner, and how they cope with the death of their boss, and the promotion of Mason over Conner while still trying to work alongside one another. Oddly, for a show about people in advertising, it’s not about a group of hateful cretins, but a rather likeable collection. This may be a suspension of disbelief too far for some, but roll with it and believe in an industry about creativity and smart ideas, and there’s fun to be hand.

The first episode wasn’t brilliant. The performances were, with Eric McCormack (Will off of Will & Grace, de-gayified) as Mason and the completely brilliant Thomas Cavanagh (Eli Stone’s late father, and JD’s loser brother in Scrubs finally getting his own lead as everyone has pointed out, he was of course the lead in Ed, and I’m an idiot) as Conner, bantering brilliantly. The problem was, in a move that makes no sense at all, they decided to have the introductory episode to an already loose and plot-light show be about the two leads falling out. So rather than learning about them and their dynamic, we’re asked to take it in good faith that they’re an amazing partnership because people say so, and then try and care about their division. It doesn’t work at all, and the result is a very confusing 45 minutes. It’s like you’ve arrived mid-season, with no recap at the start, while new characters appear and disappear without their roles being established or explained. Simply having the cast react to the death of their colleague would have been enough to introduce everyone. But instead it’s all over the place.

Episode 2 is pleasingly different. Picking up where the pilot left off, you realise that this isn’t an episodic thing, but rather a serial drama, with all the stories running through multiple episodes. The consequences of the first ep’s awkward conclusion bear out, and things get more involved, and finally we see how the characters work, and why they work. It’s also helpful to be prepared for how loose everything is. The pilot still needed a hell of an edit, but you can see why the relaxed, unrefined script is going to eventually be the programme’s greatest strength. The focus testing montage in the second episode was utterly fantastic, and promises great things.

Lie To Me – FOX

Not to be confused with Trust Me, then. This is so ridiculous that I think I might love it. Crime procedural pitches must be great fun. The Mentalist: “It’s a crime procedural, where there’s a guy who is good at manipulating people with mentalism techniques!” Bones: “It’s a crime procedural, where they solve all the crimes by looking at nicks in the skeleton!” Eleventh Hour: “It’s a crime procedural where there’s this guy who is quite smart and he sort of chats with people and then…” Yeah, I’m still not sure what the hell that show is supposed to be about. Something I have in common with the writing staff on Eleventh Hour, there.

Anyway, Lie To Me is taking this nonsense to the next level. It’s a private firm that assists the police/FBI/CIA, etc, by using their extensive knowledge of how and when people lie. Somehow they got Tim Roth to lead this, playing a man who always knows when people are lying. He sees it in the tiny facial gestures, or body movements, as they speak. And by pointing it out, people crack under the pressure and admit to their crimes. Of course, because this is TV, they’re not tiny gestures at all, but bloody great grimaces or staggering about, so we can spot it too! I’m like the clever man on the telly! I totally saw when that lady screwed her face up into a ball after saying she didn’t stab the other man!

Roth constantly explains his techniques to his colleagues, to be sure that we’re all following his remarkable intuition. (Apparently when someone scratches “I’M LYING” into the table when they’re talking, it’s a sign they’re lying!) Then these are brilliantly underlined by showing us photographs or film of famous people doing the same actions when famously lying. Bill Clinton smirked or something. Nixon stepped backward after telling a whopper. And as ridiculous and out of context as these examples are, it still seems awesome. Hey, they do the stuff he says! It’s all true!

Perhaps I specially love the show because it’s made it blatantly clear that lie detectors don’t work, and are completely unreliable (hence their not being admissible in courts all around the world, despite the rest of TV’s delusion). Roth makes this point brilliantly by proving an ostrich egg is far more reliable with some fun mindgames and tricks based on sexual arousal. Anyway, it’s bullshit of the highest order, with police and lawyers constantly shrieking, “That’s completely non-admissible in court!” throughout, and then the criminals just breaking down and confessing anyway. And afterwards you get to try and spot your friends doing all those lying twitches, for bonus fun.

Chuck – NBC

Special comment here for the belated return of my favourite show before Christmas. NBC have, in their desperation to continue spewing viewers like a drunken, formerly hungry giant, decided to delay all their major shows until February. Just in case that wasn’t enough to help viewers forget what had happened two months ago, for Chuck they decided to award it with a special treatment.

Chuck is now up against House. For the first half of the season it was pitched against Fox’s weakling Sarah Connor Chronicles. Now it’s up against one of TV’s most consistent juggernauts. So what better way to assure that the remaining percentage of the audience who don’t want to watch TV’s third biggest drama can’t tune in? Put it in 3D!

The Superbowl, a festival of commercials occasionally rudely interrupted by some football, was this year enhanced by 3D adverts. This meant that American viewers were encouraged to pick up the required glasses from K-Mart, CVS, Target, etc, and join in the fun. NBC, taking advantage of this, filmed the mid-season opener for Chuck in the same peculiar purple/yellow 3D. Most 3D is red/blue, for which people may have old pairs of glasses lying around from cereal packets, Spy Kids 3D, etc. Purple/yellow, not so much. So that’s a long-delayed show that was already struggling for ratings, put up against one of the biggest shows on TV, and in a format that for the majority of viewers looks like an old VHS tape-to-tape-to-tape recording. YOU GENIUSES! The show’s sure to be the hugest hit ever now!

I’ve not watched it. I don’t want to watch it in blurred purple and yellow. I’m now remarkably put off watching it again, since I’ll have missed an episode’s worth of plot.

Heroes – NBC

Fire. Tim. Kring.

Seriously, at what other job could you be this consistently awful and not get the sack? If Tim Kring were a bus driver, he’d have killed 70% of his passengers, been caught pissing on the corpses, and welcomed back each morning. What does he need to do to make NBC decide he’s maybe not the perfect man for the job? Have each episode take place in three separate, contradictory timelines, with characters switching sides multiple times in single episodes, in multiple times? Oh no wait, that was the first half of season three. The season that was supposed to make up for the atrocious second series – a series so awful Tim Kring, the boss and head writer, publicly apologised for. Season three was promised to fix it all. Instead it appeared to be an exaggerated tribute to everything that was wrong with season 2, seemingly taking exactly the same plot again but this time spreading it over three separate timelines, with two different evil organisations, and a cast that switched sides between hero and villain multiple times in a single episode, sometimes in multiple timelines. It was exhausting to watch. Which became the reason to watch. Just how dreadful could it get? A show that had begun as really good fun was now, with the same characters, a slow-motion bus crash into the puppy orphanage.

More apologies have been issued, with directors announcing it’s because NBC aren’t giving them enough money (presumably this means they can’t afford erasers, and just have to film the first pile of nonsense Kring writes down), and finally Bryan Fuller was put onto the team after Pushing Daisies was cancelled. So now the reason for watching is so you’ll have some idea what’s going on by the time the Fuller episodes start appearing. He’s a wonderful writer, but is he powerful enough to keep this astonishing mess under control? If the completely bonkers nonsense of the first episode of this latest chapter is an indicator, he’s going to have a tough time. I can’t even bring myself to try and write about it.

4 Comments for this entry

  • Ging

    They are airing a non-3D episode of Chuck at some point, to allow for those of us who haven’t saved a pair of 3d glasses from childhood cereal boxes (or haven’t gone to waste money at the cinema to see “My Bloody Valentine”) to catch up on the plot. In theory, it should air before the next episode, but I’m forever confused by the weirdness that is American tv scheduling.

  • Steve W

    For a show that I initially described as, “having the potential to be not just brilliant, but one of the best works of fantasy to grace our television screens since Buffy and Angel were taken off the air,” Heroes has fallen far. I gave it one last chance, the first episode of season three, to redeem itself before abandoning it completely. You’ve certainly got more patience with this drivel than me.

    Now tell us what you thought of the final season of The Shield.

  • Chris

    Yes, do that, because I can’t convince any other basturt to watch it, and need to wallow in the ending digitally, if nothing else.

    Also, have you been watching Leverage?

  • botherer

    The final season of The Shield was magnificent. In the sense of The Shield’s world, where reality has been abandoned in favour of men who crash through walls and flog criminals to death. Although I think the closing scene was a massive puss-out by Ryan, and it doesn’t matter how much, “The viewer can decide” BS gets spouted: how about the writers decide? Also, the final episode got itself caught up in the idea that Mackey is all anyone cared about. There’s an entire cast who didn’t get any closure to seven years of stories at all. Still, enjoyable.

    Leverage is the best thing on TV just now.