This is part one of David's brief assessment of the new 2005 fall TV shows. These capsule reviews are based on the first one, two or (in the case of a few shows which started early this season) three episodes. They are definitive and binding -- you have no choice but to agree with them.
(David is a licensed televisionologist, having logged over 500,000 hours of quality, hardcore TV watching in his short lifetime.)
(HBO, historical drama, starring: Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, Ciaran Hinds, Kenneth Graham, Polly Walker & James Purefoy)
It's like the creators of HBO's Rome have a direct wire into my brain. Hmm, let's see -- what does David like? Politics? Check. History? Check. Gratuitous nudity, sex, swearing and random, horrible violence? Check, check and check. Fantastic acting and a slowly unfolding plotline? Check and, yes, check.
The first episode of Rome opens just weeks before the violent confrontation between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus, his one-time friend and political and military rival. As with one of my other favorites (Deadwood), it's a compelling mix of fictionalized historical figures (Caesar, Marc Antony, Brutus, Pompey, Octavius and others) and purely fictional characters, like legionnaire Titus Pullo (a giant, shrewd but dim-witted fucking and fighting machine, who so far is the heart and soul of the show) and his commander and sometimes partner, Lucius Vorenus, all moving through established history, coloring those events we learned about in school with real human emotion and fascinating subplots. I love this concept and am nearly always willing to go out on a limb to support such ambitious undertakings.
So far, Rome has been very good, with flashes of greatness, but has not really found its groove. This may be another similarity to Deadwood, a show which took a half-dozen episodes to really find its zone of comfort, but eventually became a must-see in my book. While, so far, Pullo is no Swearingen, I've enjoyed the first few episodes enough to suspect that, before the season is through, Rome may be among my top 5 or 6 favorite shows. It is definitely worth watching.
(FOX, drama, starring: Will Estes, Mathew St. Patrick, Sean Faris, Dave Annable, Alexa Davalos, Amanda Righetti, & Chyler Leigh)
I had high hopes for Reunion. The premise was intriguing -- a member of a tight group of friends is murdered, and the story unfolds as a series of flashbacks over the twenty years between their high-school graduation and the present day. It seemed to me a sort of cross between The Usual Suspects and Merrily We Roll Along. Plus, it featured Will Estes (American Dreams) and Matthew St. Patrick (Six Feet Under).
Sadly, what Reunion doesn't feature is good writing, intelligent plotting, strong direction, good art direction (critical in a show much of which is set in the 80's -- a time we "target audience" members recall vividly) or interesting characters. Frankly, the premise and those two headline actors are the only good things about the show, and they are not enough to hold it together -- not by a long shot. It was, in fact, so bad, the dialogue so insipid, that after only ten minutes I wanted to remove the season pass from the TiVo. Shannon insisted we leave it there, so that it gets a fair two-episode chance, but that's only because she has a kind heart and a soft spot for Private JJ Pryor.
(CBS, sci-fi, starring: Carla Gugino, Peter Dinklage, Brent Spiner, Charles S. Dutton, Brian Van Holt & Rob Benedict)
While I was somewhat nervous about Threshold (as I am with all pseudo-sci-fi shows -- the genre is dear to me, but few shows are ever any good, especially when compared to the really fantastic ones like X-Files and Millennium -- Chris Carter, where have you gone?), but I went in with good feelings for four main reasons: one was Carla Gugino, who I think is a fantastic and so-far badly underrated actress (I loved her in the short-lived but charming series Cupid, with Jeremy Piven, and in Sin City, which I mostly otherwise hated), second was Peter Dinklage, who, thanks to the absolutely stunning Station Agent, is one of my favorite actors, third was Brent Spiner (okay, I have a soft spot for Data, and I like him very much as a stage actor), and fourth was the fact that the first episode was a two-hour juggernaut. A few series are starting that way this season (Prison Break is another), and I think it is a fantastic idea -- the full two hour format gives a show a lot more time to establish itself, give all of the necessary exposition and provide plenty of character work and action.
Threshold does not disappoint. Judged purely upon the number of times Shannon or I shouted out "holy shit!" or "oh my christ!" or "fuck!" during that first two hours, this may well be my favorite new show of 2005, with potential to move above some of my more established current favorites. On top of the clever plotting and pure sci-fi thrills, the cast is exactly as awesome as I had hoped it would be, and that's saying a lot considering my high expectations. This is just a smart, engaging, well put together sci-fi show, and the first show in a decade which may be able to fill the gaping hole left in my soul when David Duchovny left X-Files. Fingers crossed.
How I Met Your Mother
(CBS, sitcom, starring: Josh Radnor, Jason Segal, Alyson Hannigan & Neil Patrick Harris)
I'm not generally a big sitcom guy. There are a few sitcoms I've loved, and they are the usual suspects: Seinfeld, the first few years of Friends, Sports Night, Cheers, etc. But pretty much since Seinfeld went off the air, the only new sitcom I've cared about has been Scrubs. I'm just not down with the formula, I don't usually like the characters, and I don't love the broad, slapstick acting that so many of them adopt to make up for what is almost universally just shitty, shitty writing. Unless a show seems particularly clever, or sports an actor I really like, I mostly take a pass on sitcoms.
How I Met Your Mother looked pretty dismal to me. The premise seemed pretty generic -- 20-something friends looking for love -- and while it included two actors I really like (Neil Patrick Harris, aka Doogie Howser, MD, and Jason Segal from the fabulous Freaks and Geeks), it also included alarmingly prominent helpings of Alyson Hannigan in its previews, an actress which, despite her great (and, to me, inexplicable) popularity among my peer group, I just don't think is funny.
It turns out that HIMYM, judging by only the first episode, is pretty good. Hannigan's timing is off, as expected, and she flattens out a couple of critical laughs, but the rest of the cast is strong, and it is pretty funny, while maintaining a generally family-friendly tone. Harris is really strong as the misogynistic boy-man, and Bob Saget is a welcome surprise as the main character's future self, and the story's narrator. It's not my favorite show of the season, but I'll likely stick with it, at least for a while.