Monday, January 09, 2006


january doesn't just bring us a new year; it also brings a new season... television season, that is. january is the start of what has traditionally been called the "mid" season, when networks bring in new shows (and even bring back some old ones) to fill in gaps left by all the horrible new shows that have been cancelled. as cable continues to dominate, this is changing, and more networks try out the method of staggering new shows throughout the year. this is smart: i think 24 works much better when it is aired without 2-to-3-week gaps in between episodes, running straight through january to may, as fox did last year and will repeat this year. but it's still mid-season and lineups are changing, so i thought i'd run through some of my favorite shows, and some not-so-favorites.

arrested development. i can't get over just how incredible this show is. it's possibly the best sitcom ever. it's incredibly layered with a fractal-like intricacy, hiding jokes in the subtlest of offhand comments and cross references. and of course, fox treats the show like shit, this year moving it from a prime sunday slot to monday and cutting back from 22 episodes to a measly 13. and when will we get to see the rest of those 13 episodes? maybe never. fox has not officially canceled it, but the way the network treats the show speaks volumes, and rumors have been circulating for some time about its possible demise (although some other network, like showtime, might pick it up). tonight we should see the last episode for awhile (until fox decides to start airing it again, if that ever happens), but fox has also messed that up, with many people confused about whether it will air tonight or be replaced by a rerun of house. i'd better check my tivo when i get home to make sure it records whatever is on at 8pm: it will probably be arrested, but i'm not sure if my tivo knows that.

i recently picked up the first two seasons on dvd, and virago and i have been watching them almost religiously since then. i had missed most of the first season when it aired, and now that i've seen it, the second season is even funnier! i can't even watch the vast majority of sitcoms these days (and i grew up watching sitcoms), but arrested development is my favorite show on tv these days.

battlestar galactica. battlestar has been on break for a couple months, and returned with the first new episode this weekend. and wow! the tension is remarkable. i wasn't really old enough to know the original version of battlestar galactica from the '70s, so i can't compare the two, but the new version is an outstanding character drama with compelling stories and characters. truly great science fiction transcends the spaceships and gimmicks to tell powerful stories about people who just happen to live in space, and make us think about the issues discussed. and this series ranks with some of the best science fiction i've ever seen. i think this is another one i'll have to get on dvd.

the office (US version). simply hilarious: the cast is fabulous and the scripts are hilarious. dunder-mifflin is perhaps more over-the-top than any office in the real world, but white-collar workers will definitely recognize the world portrayed here. i don't understand the people who still deride this show. while the pilot was indeed a somewhat weak adaptation of the pilot from the UK original (using generally the same script, which i think was a mistake as it invited unfavorable comparisons between the two), i think i actually enjoy the US version better, as almost every episode has been wonderful.

ghost in the shell: stand alone complex, 2nd gig. i've always been fascinated by cyborgs and bionics, and the ghost in the shell franchise is the best cyberpunk i've ever seen. the key question of bionics and cyberization is a question of interface (how would people interact with these technologies), and GitS explores this in a very believable fashion. the GitS movies were great, but they were just too short to really explore the GitS world and how it has been changed by cyberization: this is where the tv series picks up, going into a lot more detail about politics, society, and other themes.

my name is earl. this is a great show: very different from most other comedies out there. i happily and faithfully watch every week. i've always liked jason lee, and he is inspired on this show. it's lots of fun. but frankly, i don't like it nearly as much as arrested development or the office.

the boondocks. while not perfect and not entirely consistent (i didn't care for the episode where the white boys held up the convenienve store... what was the point of that?), this show is edgy, intelligent, and generally quite good. it seems to be the only real contender to fill the gap left by the loss of chapelle's show (though this year we will get to see all those sketches that chappelle had filmed before his apparent breakdown).

fullmetal alchemist. at first glance, this might seem like just another cutesy anime series with lots of action and weird ideas. but in reality, the show is extremely dark, with each new revelation more shocking than the last. and while it's set in an alternate world, where alchemy is the preeminent form of science, fullmetal is surprisingly easy to follow. whenever a new episode shows up on my tivo, this is one of the first shows i want to watch.

samurai champloo. samurai with a hip-hop flavor. this is simply a top-notch action series, with lovable (but badass) antiheroes and tons of cool swordplay.

wonder showzen. wonder showzen is like sesame street on crack. and i don't mean that as a metaphor: the format is like a kid's show, with puppets, animated shorts, and little kids talking about weird stuff. but this show is as edgy as they come, and i wouldn't be surprised to see an elmo-like puppet hitting a crack pipe at any moment. if you liked the sketch on chappelle's show about the kid's show that discussed drugs, sex, and venereal disease, you will love wonder showzen, as the whole series is like that. only a handful of episodes have aired, but more are on the way, probably early this year. it's kind of hard to believe that there's something worth watching on mtv, but there is: wonder showzen.

honorable mentions: the simpsons, family guy, the sopranos, six feet under, 24, the daily show, drawn together.

and now, for a few shows i don't like so much.

12 oz mouse. to me, this show really epitomizes the recent decline of adult swim. things were great in the early days: space ghost: coast to coast was fantastic, as were the early episodes of sealab 2021, aqua teen hunger force, and so on. but out of all the new adult swim comedy shows, the only one i really like is the boondocks. perfect hair forever has its moments, and its insanity (or inanity) is explained by the fact that it's an anime parody... therefore it cannot make sense. but 12 oz mouse strikes me as absurdity for absurdity's sake. the animation is crude, but don hertzfeldt it ain't. drbmd said to me once that this show isn't really any worse than, say, the later episodes of sealab, and perhaps that is true, but unlike sealab it has no glory days for us to remember fondly. it started out crappy. and while sealab had that extra edge of appropriation (you always knew in the back of your mind that the characters were taken from a cheesy '60s show, which made their ridiculous antics funnier), all 12 oz mouse has is intentionally shitty animation. and intentionally shitty animation has been done much better.

the war at home. objectively, this show isn't really that bad. it's just mediocre. it's 100% typical sitcom fare with stereotypical characters that telegraphs its jokes (last night, barry & i both predicted a joke, as if in unison). but fox has sandwiched it between two excellent animated shows: the simpsons and family guy, meaning sometimes i get stuck watching it while i wait for family guy to come on. and i don't like that. worse yet, arrested development used to be on sundays, and was pushed to mondays for this crap. blah.

that '70s show. this is one of virago's favorite shows, and she has me record it each week so she won't miss it while she's in class. and i don't have a problem with recording it or even watching it with her. i know how it goes: you get hooked on the characters and want to see what happens to them. i have the same problem with comics: even when i no longer enjoy them, i'm reluctant to stop reading. i almost feel bad mentioning it here. but let's face it: if this show was ever very good, it's not anymore. nowadays, it's just another mediocre sitcom. and i still don't understand why all those kids continue to hang out at the forman house even after their son eric no longer lives there.

dishonorable mentions: joey, freddy, american idol, just about any network reality show.

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