Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On the Tube

So what's on TV these days?
It's been awhile since I commented on television, and I thought I'd take a break from commentary on current events (pretty boring, huh? ;-)), partly because there hasn't been that much to talk about for so long. But a few new shows in the 2009-10 season and of a couple of veteran ones are worth noting. Or not.
First, CBS's "How I met Your Mother." I've always liked this show, particularly because its characters are so likable - even Neil Patrick Harris's Barney - and they've had several unorthodox ideas and plot twists. But none of their far-out storylines have reached the improbable idea of Barney and Robin (Cobie Smulders) getting together. Gee whizbangers, this is more fun than the time Hawkeye and Hot Lips shacked up in a two-part "M*A*S*H" episode.
We still don't know who becomes the "mother" - the lady love of Ted (Josh Radnor) yet, but who cares? I'm having too much fun watching how everything else plays out. And Cobie Smulders remains the most beautiful brunette on American television. (Not bad for a Canadian.)
The most beautiful blonde on American television, Julie Bowen, landed a plum role on "Modern Family," an ABC sitcom about an extended family comprised of three separate units. Bowen plays Claire, the mother in a traditional nuclear family with a homosexual brother in his own relationship and their father married to a Hispanic trophy wife with her own son. This is probably the best new sitcom to appear in four years, and the intricate plot lines tying the three situations together offer plenty of enjoyable moments. Ed O'Neill, as the patriarch, is funnier than playing Al Bundy on "Married . . . With Children" ever allowed him to be. The pseudo-documentary format modeled after "The Office" (more of which later) adds to "Modern Family"'s freshness.
"Community," on NBC, is another keeper, starring Joel McHale as a conceited lawyer who's learned that his bachelor's degree is illegitimate and has to go to community college, where he thinks he's superior to his fellow students. He finds himself in a study group full of eccentrics, including one character played by Chevy Chase. Chase, as an entrepreneurial type with crazy ideas, performs with understatement but remains as funny as ever. This is a big comeback for Chase, whose movie career has long since stalled - although I'll go to my grave insisting that Foul Play is one of the greatest screwball comedies of all time, or at least the seventies. He's ready to take a chance again.
Sadly, NBC can't do much better. Still in fourth place, the network once known for groundbreaking dramas has moved their veteran drama series to the 9 PM ET hour, where they have to compete with lighter fare in the same time slot. Jay Leno owns every weekday 10 PM ET slot, hampering NBC's ability to produce new drama shows and shore up old ones. Well, what old ones they still have - they lost "Medium" to CBS. Leno himself has proven himself unable to compete with the traditional ten o'clock programming on ABC or CBS. Fox, as always, continues to eschew the 10 PM ET time slot, preferring to let its affiliates air local newscasts in that slot.
Speaking of local news, NBC's affiliates, whose own local newscasts are between Leno and Conan O'Brien, are losing viewers even as O'Brien struggles in vain to go up against David Letterman, a man O'Brien reveres and chooses not to lampoon for his sex scandal blackmail issues. O'Brien has been unable to adapt his after-midnight style of smart-aleck humor to "The Tonight Show" the way Letterman did when he began doing late-night talk an hour earlier.
Who would have thought that Jimmy Fallon, the insufferable nimrod who took over for O'Brien at "Late Night" and has enjoyed good ratings, would be the one NBC late-night comedian smelling like a rose?
Meanwhile, "The Office" is beginning to stink. Yeah, I saw the one-hour episode of Jim and Pam's wedding, but the humor was so lame and in some cases rather sick - Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) hurting his scrotum on his car keys while dancing - I have a feeling that, if it hasn't jumped the shark, it's swimming close to it. The British sitcom of the same name that it was based on didn't run as long, as Ricky Gervais (who played the boss) and his castmates knew when to quit.
This is NBC at the end of the two thousand zeroes, folks. Devoid of any coherent programming plan, unable to pull out of fourth place after half a decade, it's in such dire straits it may qualify for a taxpayer-supported federal bailout. Well, that's one way to get a BBC-style national television network; heck, it already has the proper name (NBC stands for National Broadcasting Company). It's easily the weakest link in the NBC/Universal media empire, its sister cable networks MSNBC and CNBC probably drawing more viewers. But gee whiz, look at its great successes of the past - "Ed," Friends," Frasier." As of today, Julie Bowen, Courteney Cox (star of the new series "Cougar Town," a sitcom I don't get) and Kelsey Grammer, who respectively starred in those shows, have all gone to ABC and Patricia Arquette took her entire show to CBS with her.
One thing about Kelsey Grammer's new ABC series, "Hank." Grammer has said that he would reprise his most famous character, Dr. Frasier Crane, in a new sitcom if he thought it was good enough. He apparently thought a show like "Hank," about a humbled man returning to his hometown to take a dead-end job, wasn't good enough to bring Frasier back in - his character is, after all, named Hank - and neither do critics and viewers. It's only one midseason replacement away from cancellation, and Grammer's chances of pulling off the impossible - enjoying three hit sitcoms in a single career - seem to have evaporated. NBC is probably glad it did not at least get stuck with this one.

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