Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fall TV Preview

I was having a sluggish afternoon while waiting in vain to hear that they had a tire for me, so since the brain wasn't working, I checked out a couple of NBC pilot episodes. Yesterday's viewing while not working included The Bionic Woman and Chuck. Strangely, they managed to be both wildly different yet very similar. Both of them are what I might call "unlikely hero" stories, in which something happens to the main characters -- against their will or choice -- to put them into a situation where they have to rise to the occasion and be heroes.

I wasn't a huge fan of the original Bionic Woman series in the 70s. I saw only a few episodes and have no emotional attachment to it, but I was still a little concerned when I heard that the concept for the remake had Jaime Summers as some ordinary woman who had all the bionic stuff done to her instead of her already being kind of extraordinary. As much as I love unlikely hero stories, there's also the recent example of the Sci Fi Channel's attempt at Flash Gordon, where they made it too mundane to be interesting anymore. There's a fine line between ordinary person forced to be a hero by extraordinary circumstances and ordinary person being dull, no matter how strange the circumstances. It's a bit too early to tell after just the pilot whether this will work, but it wasn't quite as random as I thought it would be. They don't just pull in some random ordinary chick and rebuild her, and it's not even a random accident that sets things in motion. There's a real coherence to the plot, as in everything ties together and there seems to be a reason for what happens. The series premise includes enough intrigue and villains that they don't necessarily have to do the villain/mission/case of the week. I may watch a few episodes to see how the series format ends up shaking out before I give it a yay or nay. It is fun counting all the cast members who've also appeared on Battlestar Galactica. The danger could be that the bad bionic woman is a lot more interesting than the good one. I don't like pulling for the villain, but the heroine kind of needs a good slap or two in the pilot. She has plenty to be upset and angry about later, but she's a bit over the top when they're still at the "we managed to save your life and give you superpowers" stage.

Then we have Chuck, which is a much lighter take on the unlikely hero story. The premise is that a computer nerd ends up with all kinds of classified info in his head after his college roommate (now a spy gone rogue) e-mails him a file he stole. The CIA and NSA need this info, but with his hard drive trashed, the version in his head is all they have. No, it doesn't all make sense, but it is a ton of fun. Chuck is a very likable hero, and the supporting characters are a lot of fun. We even get Adam Baldwin being menacing (and there's something with him at the end that had me laughing out loud for more than a minute -- it's a way I never expected to see Adam Baldwin). My one complaint is that the main female character -- a sort of super spy -- spends way too much time onscreen in her skimpy underwear, to the point it felt gratuitous and kind of cheesy. It made sense when we saw her gearing up and hiding all her weapons as she dressed, but when she's sitting around reading her e-mail in her underwear, I was rolling my eyes. The men may disagree with me, but I really detest blatant pandering like that. She's pretty, smart and totally kicks ass. She doesn't have to moonlight as a Victoria's Secret model. Still, I think this is a show I'll be watching because it's quirky and kind of sweet.

Then later in the evening when I'd given up on procrastinating and was just relaxing (procrastination implies that work might get done eventually), I watched Life. I love Damian Lewis, and the premise sounds interesting -- cop is sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn't commit, then after twelve years is exonerated, given a huge settlement for wrongful imprisonment, and then goes back to work as a police detective. But in execution, it comes across as "House as a cop." We've got the guy who's a bit of a jerk, who says what he thinks and doesn't care what others think and who seems to have a skewed way of looking at things that gives him special insight for solving problems. Plus, in spite of his antisocial tendencies, his focus on truth and on being able to read people allows him to occasionally connect with people, especially children. Not to mention the fact that we've got British actors playing Americans, but that's practically a requirement in every show this season.

It became a bit of a game to spot the House parallels:
Some of House's grumpiness is explained by the misdiagnosed infarction in his leg that left him in pain.
Some of this guy's grumpiness is explained by the miscarriage of justice that sent him to prison.
House can get away with just about anything because he's so brilliant, and also because there's a bit of a sense of guilt on the part of the hospital for what happened to him.
This guy can get away with just about anything because he's a millionaire and doesn't need the job, but also because of a lingering sense of guilt by the police administration. His brilliance remains to be seen.
House has an odd-couple friendship with a guy who sometimes has to move in with him and sleep on his couch.
This guy has an odd-couple friendship with a white-collar criminal he met in prison who lives in his garage apartment.
House is a drug addict.
Here, they split out the drug addiction to the partner, who's a recovering addict.
House has a sexual-tension-laden relationship with his female boss.
This guy has a sexual-tension-laden relationship with the female attorney who got him out of prison.
House has an odd, non-linear way of looking at things that enables him to have brilliant insights.
It remains to be seen, but I get the feeling this guy will have all kinds of brilliant insights because his time in prison taught him to understand the criminal brain.

This show also strikes me as what I call "kitchen sink" writing, in which, in an effort to try to make a story stronger, the writer just throws lots of stuff (including the kitchen sink) in instead of strengthening the central conflicts. "Wrongfully imprisoned cop goes back on the force and tries to find out who set him up" seems like a pretty strong central conflict to work with, and there are some quirks that come naturally from that, like being a bit culturally and technologically out of touch. But they keep layering on more and more until it's all kind of diluted -- he's also trying to be Zen but struggling because of his quite understandable hostility, he has this weird thing for fruit, he's got a recovering addict partner who may be spying on him, he's got that quirky ex-con friend, etc., etc., etc. It's generally best to pick one or two things and really develop them than to go nuts like that. Still, I think I'll give it a couple more episodes because I love Damian Lewis and because I'm curious to see how the House parallels hold up or develop.

And now, since I still have no tire and no copy edits, I may have to make some phone calls.

No comments: