Television

THE FALL INVASION

The new TV season is overloaded with evil aliens, but the sitcom has returned

SHANDA DEZIEL August 29 2005
Television

THE FALL INVASION

The new TV season is overloaded with evil aliens, but the sitcom has returned

SHANDA DEZIEL August 29 2005

THE FALL INVASION

Television

The new TV season is overloaded with evil aliens, but the sitcom has returned

SHANDA DEZIEL

IN SEARCHING FOR the next Lost, the networks have become just that—directionless, blindly moving forward with any TV series that has a hint of the supernatural. And they’ve almost completely ruined this year’s new season with all the ghosts, aliens, sea monsters and paranormal activity. Thankfully, there are prisons, kitchens, pot and Chris Rock to save us from all that unexplained evil. Here’s what awaits us this fall.

THE BEST SHOW SO FAR When comparing the pilot episodes of all the new series, Prison Break comes out on topthanks, in part, to what it borrows from Lost. Instead of copying the supernatural elements, Prison Break stole the basic premise: a group of mysterious strangers are stuck in one place and are trying to escape. This time around it’s a maximum security jail rather than a tropical haunted island—but the intrigue is just as high. Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) gets himself sent to a state penitentiary so he can bust out his sentenced-to-life brother. Michael, an architect, has done the research on the prison and its inmates and has it all planned out. Not that he’s telling. We’re left grasping for the clues and connections that trickle in so slowly. After years of storylines being

neatly wrapped up at the end of each episode, shows like Lost and Prison Break are playing hard to get—and it’s working.

THE SLEEP-INDUCING SUPERNATURALS Each of the five new sci-fi series has one unique selling point. Invasion has a great hurricane sequence; Threshold has a stellar cast of nerds led by a really hot, smart chick; Surface has a cool storyline where a kid fishes a slimy alien larva out of the ocean and puts it in his family’s aquarium; Supernatural has fast cars and good music; and Night Stalker has attractive reporters with giant egos. But eventually they all start to blend together—there’s lots of water, metallic noises, military men trying to cover things up and strappingly handsome citizens figuring things out. Blond women don’t fare

well and kids and conspiracy theorists are too curious for their own good. While it’s tempting to ignore the whole lot, if you’re inclined Invasion and Threshold hold the most potential.

THE WE-ARE-WOMEN MOVEMENT There’s only so many shows we can have about women proving themselves in a man’s world before it all seems a bit condescending. In Close to Home, Canadian Jennifer Finnigan plays a new mom back to work at a law firm. Kyra Sedgwick is a Southern detective brought in to head up a mostly male L.A. squad in The Closer. And Geena Davis plays a vice-president thrust into the role of Commander in Chief. On their own, these are all strong shows with appealing stars, especially The Closer. But taken together, the formula gets nauseating: woman is thrown into new job, clashes with male colleagues, clashes with female colleagues, lets personal life suffer, neglects kids (if there are any), then rises to the challenge (wins the case/finds the bad guy/saves the free

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world) while all the men in the room nod their heads in disbelief and approval. How did she do that?

THE PROCEDURAL DRAMAS For every one woman in charge there are a multitude of helpless female victims this season. Whether paralyzed by spiders and raped, stripped and shot in the face, confined to a cage or, in one woman’s case, locked in her own house for three years, the women in the new crop of crime dramas suffer unending brutality. And on two shows in particular, Killer Instinct and Criminal Minds, things get pretty graphic. The prevailing wisdom is that in this already overpopulated genre, crimes have to be extra sick and twisted. Even the best detective pilot this year, Bones, has a female victim. But this show eschews gory for musty, centring on a team of anthropolgists, led by Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel). These scientists, who help out an FBI agent (Angel’s David Boreanaz), have the coolest tools and technology in CS7-land—including a wicked hologram machine that can put a face to a skull.

THE GLARING OMISSIONS While the Lost imitations are nothing special, it’s sad that no one even tried to bring forward any Desperate Housewives clones. There’s a serious lack of new soap operas. Sex, Love & Secrets and Reunion are sexy twentysomething dramas about incestuous friends with something to hide. But nothing in either of these comes close to the delicious melodrama of The OC or the quirky suburban antics of Housewives. In fact, the show that is most reminiscent of life on Wisteria Lane is the half-hour dramedy, Weeds (airing on cable in the U.S. and on Showcase here), starring Mary-Louise Parker as a suburban single mother of two boys, who also happens to be one of the neighbourhood pot dealers. In the pilot, she squares off against the competition, a teenage boy with a much younger clientele. There are soccer games, PTA meetings and dime bags passed along in decorating magazines. The show doesn’t glamorize marijuana, teenage sex or suburban ennui, but it certainly portrays it more realistically than any other show has.

THE NEXT CORNER GAS?

Canada produces very few homegrown shows and our broadcasters rarely bring

them out at the beginning of the fall season —letting the U.S. shows battle it out. But we’re promised Canadian-set soaps about pretty young things in resort towns, Falcon Beach and Whistler, in the new year. Until then we’re stuck with the same old one-offs about important Canadians: Trudeau, Pierre Elliott (a prequel to the 2002 miniseries) and Shania: A Life in Eight Albums from CBC, and CTV’s Terry, about the story behind the Marathon of Hope. Global’s the only major station premiering a Canadian series this fall—ReGenesis (which already ran on The Movie Network) follows the workers of NorBAC, an organization formed to investigate questionable advances in biotech-

nology. Not for the faint of heart or lax of mind, this one’s brimming with bioterrorism, clones and mind-numbing scientific jargon. But thanks to Peter Outerbridge’s portrayal of the curmudgeonly and arrogant Dr. Sandström, it’s as watchable as the breakout U.S. hit medical drama House. Those looking for something light and fun and distinctly Canadian will have to wait until the new year when CBC launches Mary Walsh’s Hatching, Matching & Dispatching and Colin Mochrie’s Getting Along Famously.

THE SHOWS THAT ARE ACTUALLY FUNNY Last year there wasn’t one belly laugh in all of the new comedies (the pilot of Joey of-

fered a giggle at best). In comparison, this season has an embarrassment of riches— with four shows worthy of joining Arrested Development as must-see TV. In How I Met Your Mother—starring familiar teen TV faces Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Jason Segel (Freaks and Geeks) and Neil Patrick Harris (.DoogieHowser.; M.D.)—one guy searches for love as his friends egg him on. With relatable characters that do dorky things, show genuine emotion and have both smart and inane things to say to each other, it’s the closest thing we’ve had to Friends since Friends.

Chris Rock narrates Everybody Hates Chris, a show about growing up in Brooklyn in

1982. Chris’s parents are loud, they load him with responsibility, and his father’s so cheap he puts a price on wasted food: “That’s 49 cents of spilled milk dripping all over my table”—which sounds like a line straight from Rock’s stand-up act. Like Malcolm in the Middle, this series has the right combination of chaos, caring and cute kids.

Kitchen Confidential, on the other hand, is raunchy, loose and fast-paced—inspired by the memoirs of bad-boy New York chef Anthony Bourdain. Here, the character’s name is Jack Bourdain, played with caddish charm by Bradley Cooper (Jack & Bobby). In the pilot, trouble-magnet Jack gets a chance to run the show at a trendy restaurant. He intimidates the staff by speaking loudly and waving a big fish, ruins the dinner service when a fingertip is lost in the food, and is caught with his pants around his ankles—and that’s just opening night.

My Name Is Earl is even crasser, but star Jason Lee (Mallrats) is impossible not to like. Each week, former petty criminal and recent lottery winner Earl will work on his karma, a word he learned from Carson Daly’s late-night TV show, by righting the wrongs he’s done to others in the past—although none of those people ever want to see him again. Earl, his friends, his wife and kids are trailer-park types, lacking in social niceties but perfect company for a lazy night of TV.

THE ONES THAT ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO WATCH Of course, there are as many bad sitcoms this year as good. And there’s nothing more difficult to watch than ridiculous characters in forced scenarios telling offensive and/or lame jokes, accompanied by an extra loud laugh track. That’s the case with Hot Properties, a show that seems to be about women who sell real estate, but spend more time talking about fake breasts and their gaydar, or lack thereof. The War at Home is worse. This family comedy has a slutty older daughter, a bratty young son and an androgynous middle child—a formula that was created, perfected and eventually ran its course on Roseanne. But The War at Home persists— subsisting mainly on gay jokes, which sadly is still an acceptable way of insulting someone on prime-time TV. But even the producers realized they went too far and cut out this line about the middle son: “He’s not gay, he’s just a fag.” Right, and this show’s not bad, it’s just awful. M