John Walker's Electronic House

Television Round-Up Part 2: F-H

by on Feb.23, 2010, under The Rest

I missed out so many the last time I did this, and with The Amazing Race having started, I feel like I should start from A again. But really this is F-H, with a few extras beforehand. I’ve decided to implement a code. If there’s spoilers in the piece I’ll have * at the start of stuff you shouldn’t read. Assume that it will spoil anything that’s happened in that show up to the current (US) episode. There are also some bad swears in there, delicate-eared readers. Oh, and let me know if I’ve missed anything. I know there’s still stuff from A-E that I’ve forgotten a second time.

The Amazing Race – CBS

Well, what’s to say. Eleven teams of two in a race around the world. It’s such a huge idea, and it’s still working sixteen seasons in. Perhaps what I like best about the global scale racing nonsense is that the best teams tend to win. Stupid people go out first, unpleasant people then follow, and generally it’s the nice lot left to win at the end. And if you don’t love Phil, there’s something wrong with your DNA.

Burn Notice – USA

Season one of this programme was confused. After a horrible pilot it quickly ditched a few ideas, found a groove, but didn’t really know whether to take itself seriously. By season three it really knows what it wants to be. Light-hearted, while dealing with life or death situations. The gimmick – that burned spy Michael Weston narrates giving advice to the audience for how to be a spy in various situations – still works. And it seems to trust Bruce Campbell to be Bruce Campbell a lot more. The most recent episode featured Campbell doing the most fantastic spoof of CSI, openly playing for laughs, as is more frequently the case. The theme now is for Weston to have a long-running nemesis whom he must work for/against in the hope it will get him closer to learning who burned him, while taking on weekly cases for the seemingly infinite number of friends of friends in trouble. This means we get to see him trying juggle both situations, and inevitably his chain smoking mother, while teaching us how to bug a car or break into a guarded office. It’s so silly, and thankfully it now knows it.

Caprica – Syfy

I’m still not sure what I think of this four episodes in. Boy, they weren’t kidding when they said Dynasty with robots, were they? It doesn’t make a lot of sense bearing in mind the channel it’s on. Were this on ABC, I could see the sense in trying to establish soap opera plots between warring families and so on. But it’s on the Sci Fi channel (no matter how idiotically they choose to spell that), and I’m not convinced that your average drama viewer really wants there to be an eight foot robot with the soul of a teenage girl trapped inside it. In fact, I feel like I’ve just talked myself out of watching it.

Dexter – Showtime

How could I have forgotten Dexter? Well, mostly because its run had finished by the time I wrote the last post. After a disappointing third season, season 4 really brought it home. Season 3 couldn’t figure out what to do with Dexter, and ended up meandering wildly while really only repeating patterns. The arrival of John Lithgow changed everything. Dexter had someone to look up to. A serial killer who’d been working for decades, and one who managed to maintain a family – Dexter’s dream. With Rita having had their baby, and her previous two kids now thinking of Dexter as their father, he struggles to calculate how to maintain this and allow his dark passenger time to hunt and kill.

* And then of course he learns the truth. The moment Lithgow erupts at his wife, roaring at her that she’s a “CUNT!”, is astonishing. It’s like a rock being thrown at a stained glass window, shattering and falling to the ground, the bare reality of the horror revealed. Dexter’s moment of realisation, that this man is no one to look up to but in fact his next worthy victim, is extraordinary. And then it becomes a fantastic cat-and-mouse chase, Dexter racing not only to kill his new enemy, but also to beat his sister before she solves the crimes. It still has some absolutely terrible dialogue – for such an original show the writers really do love to lapse into the most ghastly cliché. And the final twist, which I can’t bring myself to spoil (or believe really happened, for that matter – can’t it just be a dream?) means season 5 is going to be… it’s going to be traumatic.

Family Guy – FOX

I think I said most of what I have to say about this the other day. But I also think people are talking nonsense with the constant cries of Not As Good As It Used To Be! I remember people saying this after season 1, then it was season 3 when its quality fell, and now it’s maintained that it was great up until season 5. It’s still great. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s pretty average. As has always been the case.

Glee – FOX / E4

Wow, I was watching this, then got a few episodes behind, and suddenly it’s an international phenomenon with multiple songs in the charts and everyone’s discussing it everywhere non-stop. Which is odd, since I was convinced it wouldn’t find an audience. My reasoning being, it was too dark, too clever, and too mean-spirited. The pilot was on TV before the Summer, which was another strange moment. And then POW! Biggest thing ever. So it shows how much I know. Although since I gave up around episode four or five, I think it was declining pretty fast. What I liked about it was that it seemed to be mocking the High School Musical movement. It seems to have become the High School Musical movement. If it’s managed to do this while remaining as cruel and cynical, then I’m delighted. But I’m not sure I’ve the energy to find out.

House – FOX/C5

* I’ve heard people argue House is nicer this season. I dispute this. After the end of season 5, with his complete nervous breakdown, the writers had multiple directions to head in. I rather dreaded they’d pick the easiest – reset status quo. House gets out of the psychiatric ward, gets hold of pills, everything’s back the way it was and we carry on. It would have been fine, since the way it was was bloody excellent. But it would be a lame decision. Another terrible idea would have been a redemption pathway for House. They didn’t do that either. Instead they picked the best route of all.

House clean from opoids is still a dick. He’s also a far more interesting dick. He’s gained dimensions. He very occasionally feels guilt. He understands that doing something will upset someone else unfairly. He does it anyway. So people are suggesting this means he’s now a nicer person. No he’s not! Now he’s doing the unbelievably cruel things to his friends and colleagues while able to empathise with the pain it’s causing.

More than ever the patients are purely background detail for the real focus of an episode. The only equivalent I can think of is Homicide: Life On The Streets, where the murders were not the episode’s arcing theme, but rather the excuse to see the cast interacting. And thank goodness. I don’t know whether it’s an in-joke on the show to have House discover the real cure for a patient at 38 minutes into an episode, but I don’t think there’s been an episode in two seasons where it hasn’t happened in that minute. Even in the most recent episode – the Cuddy special that didn’t feature an on-screen patient of any sort – still managed to have the resolving discovery happen minute 38. Because this is a programme about how House treats his staff and friends, and it’s utterly excellent. If it became about anything else it would fall to pieces, and the team behind it seem very wise to this.

How I Met Your Mother – CBS

This hasn’t been a good season for HIMYM. It’s fantastic that it’s reached a fifth year, despite never receiving the confidence boost from the network of being recommissioned before the end of its current run. But this season has lacked for the rich ideas that made it stand out previously. In fact, it’s only been able to refer back to previous running gags (goat, slap bet, etc) rather than start any of its own. It’s still charming, often funny, but the spark is missing.

It came back in force for the glorious 100th episode, which not only had Tim Gunn appear as Barney’s personal tailor, but also the spectacular Suit Song, along with its gigantic choreography. It was a wonderful episode, and one that seems to have pointed things back in the right direction since. Which is very promising. But I think time is running out for revealing the titular Mother. We’ve been to her apartment, met her housemate, seen her umbrella, and we know she was in the lecture hall Ted wasn’t supposed to be in. But guys, you’re incredibly lucky to get five seasons, and you simply aren’t going to get ten. Reveal the mother now.

Human Target – FOX

I’ve only seen the first three so far, but this is gloriously silly fun. Appearing to compete with 24 for overblown situations, it’s about a private-for-hire bodyguard who protects people in the most dangerous situations. A 300mph train, an on-fire 747, and, er, a party. The star, Mark Valley, looks as though he were carved by the same sculptor as Steve McQueen, and does a fine job of looking confident and sturdy.

Thankfully it’s very aware of its silly high concept, boosted by Chi McBride (Pushing Daisies) and Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach in the Watchmen movie) both in comic roles. If they can keep the budget to maintain the scale, this will hopefully remain a fun action-movie-as-television series.


19 Comments for this entry

  • LewieP

    I’ve not watched house in quite a while, despite liking it. I think I caught most of series 3, but nothing past that.

    Should I catch up from Series 4?

  • Nick Mailer

    LewieP: yes. House is always engaging, always entertaining. A real treat.

  • John Walker

    I concur with Nick. House has barely a duff episode, and it would be too terrible for you not to watch the path he takes through seasons 4 and 5 to reach season 6.

  • Pace

    Isn’t there any British TV to be rounding up? Surely there’s more to it than Doctor Who?

    I think you just talked me out of Caprica as well, I was on the fence. I liked that Greystone guy fairly well, and his wife was quite the hotty, but yeah, that’ll probably be all.

  • David Scully

    Oh, but Lithgow doesn’t roar that line. He delivers it completely flat, and it’s so chilling it couldn’t have had more impact if he had roared it. Brilliant TV.

    Anyway, I do enjoy these round-ups, and I’ve started watching quite a few shows on your recommendation. So thanks!

  • Jambe

    You watch an awful lot of television. The only thing on your list I catch is House, and then only by recording. Hugh Laurie is not to be ignored. In the studio I often put something mindless on if I’m not in the mood for music, like How It’s Made.

    Wait, no, I also catch NCIS. It’s silly, I know, but I’ve grown too attached to the characters to give it up. Interestingly, NCIS’s American viewership has steadily increased in each of its seven seasons:

    That’s pretty rare, all things considered. Series will usually have peaked by now, but it just keeps rolling right along. Of course, the accuracy of the ratings is debatable and they may well mean nothing at all.

  • Yann Best

    I’m genuinely surprised that you like Human Target as much as you do, as it struck me as being little more than Burn Notice without the soul (and with added budget).

    That being said, I did only watch the first episode before judging it… and was not put into a mindset conducive to enjoying the series thanks to being swiftly horribly offended by its gross case of license abuse. I just don’t understand why a studio would go out of their way to acquire the license and name of a(n occasionally, when penned by Milligan) fantastic comic book and then doing literally nothing with it. To give it a rough equivalent, it was rather like watching someone get the license to the Batman comics, then churning out a series about a vigilante /who hits people with a bat/.

  • Blackberries

    What did you think of the opening episode to series six of House? I began watching it not realising it would be an hour and a half long, nor having any inkling they’d break the formula – but I bloody loved it. Didn’t feel gimmicky, or like they were wavering with the direction for the programme, as could well’ve been the case.

  • John Walker

    Blackberries – I liked it a lot more than some, but I thought the ending was *abysmal*. It turned it into a fairytale, and while I love fairytales, House shouldn’t have room for that sort of sentimental sanctimonious nonsense.

  • shai

    Wait, what? No love for Being Human? I quite enjoy that british show.

    Currently in it’s second season with a 3rd one commissioned.

  • Pseudonym

    Good list John.

    The only shows I would put on my list (F-H) that you didn’t put on yours are Fringe and Friday Night Lights.

  • Pseudonym

    Oh, and The Good Wife (I suppose it goes here rather that at T).

    I’m really surprised at how much I like it.

  • John Walker

    The first episode of Fringe was so beyond all realms of possibility awful that I could never consider watching another second of it. And yes, I really ought to watch FNL. I’ve never heard of The Good Wife, what’s that?

  • Pseudonym

    The Good Wife is a legal drama starring Julianna Margulis (from er) as the wife of a disgraced politician (sex scandal and corruption) who has to resume her law career after he is sent to jail. I have to admit, when I first heard the description I was not impresses but it is really good, and it has a great cast.
    Chris Noth from Law and Order as the husband.
    Josh Charles from SportsNight and In Treatment as her boss/friend at the law firm.
    Christine Baranski as the other senior partner at the firm.
    Archie Panjabi from a lot of British shows I haven’t seen, and she is really good.

    Give it a shot.

  • jsutcliffe

    Fringe is actually really entertaining so long as you ignore the parts where they make the insane genius character overly wacky. It’s a shame because John Noble is clearly a good actor, who when given scenes with emotional heft pulls them off beautifully.

  • shai

    Sorry John, hadn’t noticed that entry..Now i feel stupid :(

  • cmichaelcooper

    I did a search for Psych and didn’t find anything, so I hope I’m not embarrassing myself, but I would be curious to know what you think about “Psych” on the USA network.

    I subscribe to it on Hulu, rarely ever give it an active thought, and yet every episode keeps me laughing with the nonsensical, yet somehow relevant inside dialogue between the main characters.

  • John Walker

    There you go!

    And I’ll be writing more about it when I finally get to P.