Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New shows: The War, Chuck, Big Bang Theory, Journeyman

So we have a new TV season under way. In a previous life I used to review television shows for The Express. I was hoping to one day convince some of the higher ups to send me to LA for the big previews showings they do each year, but alas, time ran out on that. Not that it was likely to ever happen, given how cheap they are, but one can always dream.

Still, each year I try and watch as many of the new shows as I can manage and do a little write up on them. Writing reviews of pilots are always a tricky bit of business. There are few cases where the pilot actually resemblance what the show will look like if it last more than a dozen episodes. In most cases either the producers tossed a ton of money at the pilot meaning that it looks so good that future episodes pale in comparison or they didn't have a clue what they were doing and figured it out after a few episodes and made a ton of changes.

Anyway, here are a few shows that I've seen so far. I'll update as I watch more shows.

1. The War - Ken Burns latest documentary, this time focusing on World War 2. The day before I watched the first episode of The War I caught the last part of Burns most famous documentary, The Civil War. I'm still blown away by the depth and power of that series. It really is a perfect historical documentary. It's almost easy to forget how groundbreaking it was when it first came out, with its use of voice actors reading letters, the photos and images selected and the ease in which Burns makes something so complicated not only easy to understand, but riveting.

The problem has been Burns has had problems recapturing that magic. I never really cared much for his docs on baseball or jazz music. And sadly the first part of this was a bit...dry. The format is similar to what Burns did with The Civil War, except this time he has video footage and people who actually lived through WW2 to interview.

But it doesn't quite work for me. And you would think it ought to, what with Burns ability to do these docs on the big, grand experience of dramatic events that impacted Americans. I think the problem is two-fold. First, he's following a style already well used in his previous docs. And after the third or fourth time around it's lost its impact.

The second reason is that WW2 has been covered from just about every angle imaginable. I'm not sure how much new ground there is to plow here. The first episode didn't show me anything I didn't know already. I only caught pieces of the second part, but it seemed to follow the same pattern as the first.

I might try and catch more later the week, but I'm certainly not rushing to see more.

2. Chuck - The premise sounds like a reject from the Space channel. An underachieving computer geek who works at a thinly-veiled version of Best Buy accidentally gets zapped with the collective databases of the NSA and CIA. Now while he's trying to figure out all of this, he's being watched by both agencies. One of the agents is a hot blonde ninja babe. The other is every bullying jock asshole you ever dealt with in high school (which is why Adam Baldwin is perfect for the role. He was Jane in Firefly for those of you who might have forgotten). They both need what's in his head to help safeguard America.

It should be lame. Mercifully, it doesn't take itself too seriously. Zach Levi, who plays Chuck, is a loveable goofball. The supporting cast works well and the banter between all the characters feels natural. And like I said, it's fun. Anytime you save the day by downloading a virus from a porn site to defuse a bomb, you're going to get a laugh from me. As long as they can keep it light and slightly off-the-wall, it should work just fine. I'll be tuning in again next week.

3. The Big Bang Theory - Two nerds (and they are nerds. They're well beyond geeks) can yammer on about anything nerd-like you can handle. But when a hot blonde ditz moves in next door, wacky hijinks ensue.


You know, there's a difference between writing about characters who happen to be smart and actually writing smart characters. The jokes were telegraphed from a mile away, the humour made me cringe more than once and it became annoying to watch for more than a few minutes at a time. Chuck has a silly premise just like this show. Chuck just also happens to be about 10 times more amusing.

4. Journeyman - A journalist living in San Francisco suddenly discovers he can travel back in time. Once there, the choices he makes impact the future. He's also seeing the ex love of his life, who died in a plane crash. Meanwhile, in the present his family, friends and co-workers have problems with him disappearing for days at a time.

I oddly have this thing about time travel shows. Probably lingering burnout from how badly Star trek abused the premise over the years. And the start of the show didn't do much for me. I mean, I like looking at San Francisco, but I did get bored with a bit quickly. I was prepared to write it off, but a surprising thing happened - the show managed to pull it out in the last 10 minutes. I don't know if it will become a regular fixture for me on Monday nights, but I'll give it a whirl. There's some potential with the show if they play it out right. And a few ethical issues. For example, is it ok to sleep with your ex if you travel back to a time when you were going out with her even though you're now married in the present? (Cathy's behind me and giving a resounding "no.")

Besides, I need to find out how a newspaper reporter can afford a house like that in San Francisco.

If I have a choice between Journeyman or Caruso's "Shades of Justice" or The Bachelor, well, I think I'll chose Journeyman. Or bed. We'll see.

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