Autumn 2010. Vibrant colors explode through the leaves in profusion as the northern hemisphere begins its annual descent into the grave. But what's really important here is that there's new things to watch on that crazy static-laden moving picture box that humans can't get enough of.
Sure, some of us set foot in that strange place some call 'the great outdoors' - or, 'the wilderness' for short - every once in a while. Most of us don't stray from the asphalt. But even now, we have little pocket screens so we can watch our TVs everywhere we go. We're no longer alone anywhere, anytime.
TV is always there for us.
Anyway, it's time for my annual post where I ramble about what's in the new season and what's coming up in the midseason that I personally deem worth noting or watching. Valuable advice that you all undoubtedly take to heart. Because without TV, what heart have you? Lives are terrifying things.
Chuck - Mondays @ 8 PM - It's hard to believe it, but we're already up to the fourth season of Chuck. Season one was disrupted back in fall '07 by the WGA strike that I blogged about so much back then. (It all seems very far away now. This blog's turning into a webcodger. Try not to think about that too hard.) We got a second full season following that from fall '08 through spring '09, and after lots of fan campaigning to save the show from cancellation - and more in-show Subway advertisements - a thirteen-episode third season was picked up for the midseason and aired beginning back in January this year, eventually getting an additional six-episode extension. We're somewhere between seasons two and three in terms of what we got for season four - NBC made the right call in dropping Heroes (Which was technically watchable in its fourth season, probably the best season since the first, but still had no plot and didn't deserve to stick around.) and hanging onto Chuck, but they only picked up a thirteen-episode fourth season. Unless it gets an extension similar to season three, this season will be over as soon as early to mid December. And we don't know if this will be the last season or not - it's something Chuck fans have had to ask themselves with every season so far, its future perpetually up in the air due to a consistent lack of impressive ratings. Chuck's a rare case of a quality show that barely anyone's watching actually hanging in there thanks to a devoted cult following. I'm not sure if they have enough plot to keep the show going for a sixth or seventh season - and I doubt it'll make it that far - but if a fifth season happens, I could see that perhaps being the place to wrap up. After thwarting The Ring, facing personal loss, and triumphing at last in love in season three, Chuck's now facing all kinds of relationship issues while searching for his mother - whose abandonment of Chuck and his sister in their childhood just so happened to be due to her being a spy as well, like increasingly most of the show's cast - and confronting the menace of the international arms dealer, Volkoff.
Community - Thursdays @ 8 PM - I have to open by saying that Community was my favorite new show of last season. Sorry, Gleeks - singing teens may be fun, but Community's far better. In many ways, I think of Community as being sort of the spiritual successor to Scrubs in taking over its old time slot and possessing the same kind of energy and predilection for joyfully absurd, smartly written humor that revels in its self-aware silliness. Everybody should be watching this show. Unfortunately, it's currently suffering the old Thursday night NBC "Must See TV" curse where the lead-in opening show on the block gets the least viewers. Scrubs suffered the same thing for a number of years but still managed to hang in there, but even now Community's on the bubble too. Here's hoping they can pull through and get at least a third season - I can't recommend Community enough. It's still as much of a goofy comedy about a community college study group as ever, but it's hard to describe the show in terms that really capture what makes it brilliant - it's a show that has to be experienced. The characters, the cast, the odd and brilliant plots from episode to episode, and the meta humor all make it very unlike any other sitcom on TV right now. The ensemble cast, outside of the more visible Chevy Chase and Ken Jeong, has some of the best comic actors most people probably haven't heard of working today in it.
The Office - Thursdays @ 9 PM - Season seven, Steve Carell's final season. And yes, they are planning on continuing the show without him. Considering the story arcs this season so far and comments by Paul Lieberstein, it looks like Ed Helms's character, Andy Bernard, is going to be shifted further into the spotlight as the effective replacement for Michael Scott as the series' lead. Hard to say whether this means he'll get the managerial job in Scranton or if they'll bring in a new boss character and make the boss less of the show's central focus. Either way, like every other sitcom that's lost its lead, I don't really expect the show to last beyond its eighth season into 2012. This season really should be the final season by all good writing sense, but I suspect it was an NBC decision to keep going without Carell. In the least, an eighth season should be more watchable than most shows' awkward final seasons with the original lead gone, considering that they'll still have Lieberstein, Mindy Kaling, and B.J. Novak around, and they still put out good episodes. So far, season seven's off to a solid start, too. We may be long past the shows' peak in seasons two and three, but it's still very funny and well worth watching. Changes made in the past season, including the Dunder-Mifflin buyout by Saber (Headed by Kathy Bates), the addition of Ellie Kemper to the main cast as the new receptionist, Erin, and bringing Daryl (Craig Robinson) up into the main office from the warehouse have been welcome, as well. There's still freshness left to enjoy, even if some of the older storylines - like Jim and Pam - have pretty much run their course and have nowhere left to go.
Parks and Recreation - Thursdays in January - It's not back on the air yet, obviously. I suspect it'll go back to its previous 8:30 time slot when it returns, bumping 30 Rock back up to the 9:30 slot currently occupied by Outsourced. On Outsourced: I've seen the original movie the show's based on, and it was a pretty cute little indie film that did a good job jabbing at American struggles to adapt to other cultures, while also getting a few lighthearted laughs out of how strange Indian culture can seem to Americans. It's a pretty minor feelgood film that's worth a viewing, but this new sitcom based on it doesn't really live up to what the film accomplished. The writing often feels stunted, like too much or too little from the film is jammed into each episode, while ultimately trying to come off as sort of a much less clever Indian-based take on a The Office-like series. (Yes, it's also appropriate to wince at how nearly half the cast in the opening is white. And the show isn't filmed in India either, naturally.) There is some legitimate talent in the cast - many of the actors in the Indian cast show plenty of good comic timing and a knack for delivery, but you have to feel sorry for them because the material just isn't particularly strong or consistently funny, and all of it is a little too rooted in stereotypes without the balance in character development that made the show work. It's pretty much a doomed venture from the start: white America won't watch a show where most of the cast is Indian, most Americans won't watch a show about outsourcing (While oddly we don't see enough rage at the private sector over outsourcing compared to the irrational anger we constantly see thrown at the government for trying to fix the Bush administration's mess, when if anything, the Obama administration's biggest error is in trying too hard to appease and work with the Republicans.) considering the current job market climate, and most of the time the jokes aren't much more than: "Oh those crazy Indians!" The cast can do better, and hopefully most of them will in time. Anyway, back to Parks and Rec - that'll be back in January after Outsourced inevitably gets the axe, and considering how excellent the second season was, I'm anticipating the third being just as fun. Hopefully it'll do well enough in the ratings to keep off the bubble.
Glee - Tuesdays @ 8 PM - New day, new time slot. The first half of the first season was a little inconsistent but still largely sharp and entertaining. The second half of the season was fairly so-so, in many ways turning into the very sort of show the first half of the season had been satirizing without a shred of irony. The sharper humor's back, thankfully, in season two so far. But it's not as fresh or good as the first half of season one, and the writing and characters are still as inconsistent as ever. It's already been renewed for a third season - that was picked up with the second - but it's hard to say if Glee will remain worth watching for its entire run. For what it is, it always had promise and it's still pretty entertaining overall, but it doesn't quite live up to the kind of hype it gets and its inconsistency is a definite weakness. Inconsistency and lack of real direction was more or less what killed Heroes - it didn't have much of a core, and while Glee hasn't sunk quite that low, it has some of the same sorts of flaws.
That's just about it for Fox shows for me this season. I'm pretty much done with Seth MacFarlane's shows, and I haven't really been able to bring myself to care about them anymore. Family Guy really started losing the last of what made it funny to me before this past season, and from what I've caught of the current season, I don't feel bad about moving on. American Dad seems to have similarly peaked, and The Cleveland Show felt kind of unnecessary and redundant after everything else. A lot of what they do feels recycled to me now.
Bob's Burgers - Sundays midseason - The one other Fox show I will be checking out this season. Following the brilliant Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, hilarious Home Movies, and the short-lived Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil, Loren Bouchard's finally back with a new show, which is intended to in part replace the now-absent King of the Hill. Soup2Nuts isn't involved, so there won't be a return to the "squigglevision" animation style of his earlier two shows, sadly, but the animation style still looks closer to that overall than Lucy, which was a little jarring in its awkward CGI. I had a difficult time getting into that one, personally. At any rate, it's got an excellent voice cast, including the always-present H. Jon Benjamin - you haven't have a Loren Bouchard show without him - Flight of the Conchords and the Daily Show's Kristen Schaal, and Delocated and fellow Flight of the Conchords cast member Eugene Mirman. Lots of great talent is coming together, which can only mean one thing: the show will get one season and then get axed because it's not another Seth MacFarlane show. Sad. Hopefully it'll live up to the quality of Bouchard's earlier shows - the sort of improvised conversational style of dialogue on those shows made for something truly unique and very funny.
Fringe - Thursdays @ 9 PM - Edited this one into the post late. Completely forgot to mention it before. Started watching the show with family on DVD at the beginning of the year. In the latter half of season 2 now, and at this rate, we'll be caught up to where the show is in season 3 now by sometime in perhaps January. Strong J.J. Abrams show, very much the sort of postmodern successor to The X-Files. Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson are strong leads, and John Noble pretty much steals the show as the mad doctor Walter Bishop. Good supporting cast, too. Show's currently on the bubble ratings-wise, apparently, but hopefully they'll at least manage a fourth season too. After the first season and a half had largely been a fairly self-contained episodic sci-fi crime scene procedural series - which spent a lot of time building up to something very different - the show's now getting into a huge, focused central story arc, moving away from its older narrative approach. I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - Thursdays @ 10 PM - Sunny's kinda hurt so far this season. The season opener two-parter had some great ideas, but many of them fizzled and the episodes weren't nearly as funny as they could have been. Nowhere near what you'd expect of the show. Different writers and directors than usual, too, apparently. Third episode was better though it still felt a little phoned in. Fourth was my favorite of the season so far. Fifth wasn't quite as good, but was still enjoyable overall. Last week's sixth was solid. Charlie's creepy Uncle Jack - who really hadn't gotten much dialogue before - and Mac's indestructible ancient childhood dog, Poppins, have had some of the best comedy moments of the season so far, too. Overall, I'm getting the sense that this sixth season is pretty much where Sunny enters its decline, sadly. It's been nowhere near as funny or consistent as previous seasons. It's still funny, and it's still enjoyable, but markedly less than what it used to be. Seasons four and five were mixed but still stronger than this - season three may have been the peak, in retrospect, and while the show's still enjoyable, it still hurts that six feels like as much of a drop off as it does. I'm still going to stick with it, though - it'd have to get far worse than this (And basically stop being funny altogether) to get me to stop watching.
Archer - Thursdays Midseason (I believe) - Caught the first season of Archer on Netflix streaming on my Wii over the summer after a friend had recommended it to me. I caught the original "secret" pilot premiere last fall after an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and was amused, but its time slot conflicted with other shows I watched when the first season fully began back in January. The show's very dark, but it's a riotously funny parody of spy shows and movies - sort of like Chuck, but with less missions and more sort of office and family dysfunctionality-based humor. It's often very dark, but it's one of the funniest shows on TV right now too - currently airing reruns late at night - and season two begins in January. Now that I've got DVR access, I'll be able to catch that as it airs. Stellar voice cast, too, led by the likes of H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, and Judy Greer.
Louie - Tuesdays Midseason - Watched the first season over the summer. One of the biggest downer sketch comedy shows ever, but Louis C.K.'s edgy as ever in the show. I'm honestly surprised it got picked up for another season, but I'm really glad it did. I'll definitely be watching it when it returns in April 2011, and I recommend checking out late night reruns. FX has it in a block with Archer and - terribly - Two and a Half Men. (Token jab at Charlie Sheen for being worthless. And also at CBS sitcoms in general. All of them.)
Bored to Death - Sundays - We switched over to a new cable and internet service over the summer, which - as previously mentioned - entailed some fantastically convenient DVR access, and we ultimately ended up becoming HBO subscribers, too. We're not letting our first real premium cable channel subscription go to waste, and over the late summer I caught up on reruns of the first season of Bored to Death. And I have to say, Jonathan Ames's show starring Jason Schwartzman as a struggling novelist turned amateur Craigslist detective named after himself sounds like something I'd come up with. (Though maybe with a slightly different form of humorous narcissism than naming the protagonist after myself.) And between Schwartzman, an amusingly low-key Zach Galifianakis (Who I'm glad to see has really blown up in recent years - now Maria Bamford's genius just needs to get proper recognition for all four of the Comedians of Comedy to finally be comparatively mainstream, Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn having been well known for some time now.), and a nonchalantly hedonistic Ted Danson, you get a very smart, literate, neurotic comedy series that I can't help but love. Lots of great people in the supporting cast, too, with Juno's Olivia Thirlby, Oliver Platt, Patton Oswalt, and John Hodgman as at least semi-reoccurring faces. Season two's a little over half over now and still going strong. This is a series I'll definitely be adding to my DVD collection.
Eastbound & Down - Sundays - Observe & Report director Jody Hill regularly collaborates with Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green for this, probably HBO's crudest, darkest comedy. I caught up on the first season over the summer, and season two has followed protagonist white trash disgraced former baseball star Kenny fuckin' Powers (Danny McBride) into Mexico after he fled Wilmington, North Carolina (Where the first season took place, and where the show was in fact shot on location, as a friend from there has confirmed.) following learning that a planned comeback in the major leagues had been a lie. Of all the rest of the season one cast, only true gangsta Stevie Janowski has followed him down there, the others now replaced by a new cast of unfortunate people whose lives Kenny naturally does his part to ruin. There's a constant, fantastically dark undercurrent of constant failure and underlying depression in every bit of the humor as usual as Kenny's massive ego wreaks havoc on everyone's lives. Napoleon Dynamite's Efren Ramirez is in the cast this season too, as Kenny's neighbor and friend Catuey. It's nice to see him still getting work in something worth watching, though apparently there's a Napoleon Dynamite animated series - with the original movie's main cast returning to voice their characters - planned for 2011 now. It'll be interesting to see whether or not that ends up being a good idea. At any rate, there's only one episode left of season two, which will air on Halloween. Another definite recommendation.
Boardwalk Empire - Sundays - I haven't watched any of this yet, but I've heard great things. All the episodes so far are sitting on the DVR just waiting for me to set a little time aside for them. Think The Sopranos in prohibition era Atlantic City, with Steve Buscemi as the ultimate gangster. Good premise, lots of acclaim.
Real Time with Bill Maher - Fridays - I've gotten hooked on this as a solid weekly complement to The Daily Show and Colbert Report since its latest season began a few weeks back. People's mileage tends to vary in how well they can stand Maher's personality and mannerisms - there's a bit of a smugness to him, admittedly, that I can understand people having trouble with - but he brings a strong sense of humor to discussions of the latest news stories that's less silly than Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's. At times, he can be an even stronger and tougher interviewer than Jon Stewart too - as Stewart these days has at times attempted to depressingly try to appeal a bit more to the right by making some "See? They do it too!" false equivalencies about the left these days that don't quite work, and at other times he lets some fairly crazy guests get away with more than he should - in being completely unafraid to call out any extreme-right guests in his discussion panel when they're wrong. Worthwhile, intelligent television, and you can generally count on Maher to be rational and right on pretty much every issue - like you generally can Stewart and Colbert.
In Reruns? I caught up on the third season of True Blood not all that long ago. The writing on that show's increasingly cheesy soap opera/near-Heroes-level bad, but I'll probably still stick with it for a while yet. It still does have some entertainment value, and I am among the few who stuck with Heroes to the bitter end. I caught up on Hung season two not too long ago as well - the show sort of reminds me of Showtime's Weeds (Gotta wait for the season of that which is currently airing to hit DVD next spring), but less funny, more depressing, and focused on male prostitution instead of pot. (Though granted, Weeds kind of shifted away from pot to Mexican gangsters in more recent seasons without losing the flow or humor that made previous seasons wonderful.) It's a hard to describe its overall appeal, as I wasn't even completely into it at first, but it's a show that's definitely grown on me. Thomas Jane's a compelling lead (And his cameo in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was wonderful), Jane Adams is so pitiful that you can't help but feel sorry for her, and I've developed a lot of sympathy for Anne Heche's character in the most recent season, too. That's probably the root of my growing enjoyment of it - everyone's in such a pitiful state so much of the time, you can't help but want to see them pull through and get their lives together. It's not for everybody, but I'm looking forward to a third season. If it ends there, I could see three seasons being enough. Otherwise, I'm interested in checking out Summer Heights High, as I've heard interesting things about that short Australian series, as well as The Ricky Gervais Show whenever they start rerunning it, since Ricky Gervais is always hilarious. Flight of the Conchords reruns are always recommended, and we're DVRing the new season of In Treatment now, so I may give that a shot.
Caprica - Tuesdays @ 10 PM - Moved from the old Battlestar Galactica Friday at 10 PM timeslot to a comparatively more competitive one. Still, the ratings aren't strong and there's a lot of talk that it might not get a second season. That makes me very sad, and I'm really hoping Sci-Fi will give it a real shot and fans can get the numbers up. It's an excellent, fresh prequel to Ronald Moore and David Eick's BSG reimagining, with a strong cast and consistently intriguing, compelling writing. It has the same kind of magic that BSG did, and made the gutsy move of being a rare science fiction TV series set on its planets' surfaces rather than being another of the usual space operas with battles with aliens and so forth. The story that's here is very well conceived and executed - in many ways even sharper than BSG was at times in its later seasons - but people just aren't watching. And there's already talk and rumors of a separate BSG series - which may not involve Moore, Eick, or their reimagined timeline - following William Adama's time as a fighter pilot in the first Cylon war. That's even more discouraging to hear - they could easily tell that story in a third or fourth season of Caprica, considering that Caprica is essentially the story of the Graystone family - responsible for Cylon development - their tumultuous history with the Adamas, and the development of the Cylon humanoid robot from its earliest prototype to their eventually gaining full awareness and turning on humanity. Caprica is exactly how this prequel story should be told - the last thing we need is to lose this and see a third Galactica continuity created after Moore and Eick did such a stellar job with BSG and Caprica. The show still has my favorite opening of any show on TV right now, too. This is the kind of science fiction television people should be watching.
Adult Swim (Cartoon Network)
Robot Chicken - Sundays - The fifth season premieres on Halloween. I'm not sure how this gets Emmy nominations and The Boondocks somehow doesn't (It's pretty much criminal that South Park won as many as it did and The Boondocks has yet to pick up one.), but it's still a guilty pleasure for me. Pure goofy nerd humor with stop motion action figures. I've been watching since day one back in 2005, and half a decade later, it still amuses me, though I'm not a big fan of the lazy extreme violence jokes here and there. The '70s and '80s nostalgia is appealing and you never know what you're going to get in each episode's grab-bag of sketches. (You can't hate last season's The Dark Crystal embarrassing modern rap parody, Batman/Two-Face hot chocolate sketch, and the nerd's trip to Oz, where he joined up with Liono, Optimus Prime, and The Crow.) A new Star Wars special is coming in December, too.
Delocated - Sundays - Former Late Night with Conan O'Brien writer and performer Jon Glaser was great in the first season of this, his first original TV series. He's been hitting season two out of the park, though. The season'll be over already in about a week and a half or so, sadly, but it's well worth watching. This high concept absurdist witness protection program reality TV parody comedy is one of Adult Swim's best shows, and tons of very funny people are on it basically all the time. One of Adult Swim's few live action shows.
The Venture Bros. - Sundays - The show's a legend unto itself. Basically a sort of adult comedy based in a world like that of the old Jonny Quest cartoons and similar '60s and '70s Hanna-Barbera adventure shows - the creators even call it an homage to Jonny Quest at heart. That right there says why you should be watching. And like Eastbound & Down, the central theme of the writing and humor is failure. Nonstop failure. At all times. One of the best comedy themes. Fantastic voice cast, too. Watch it.
In Reruns? As mentioned before, The Boondocks. Season three aired over the summer and it was the show's strongest, funniest season yet, opening with a satire on Obama's election and inauguration and public reaction, and closing with a parody of 24.
Ugly Americans - Wednesdays @ 10:30 PM - The latter half of the first season, which premiered back in the spring, is airing now. I still need to catch up on the DVR. Comedy Central's best animated series since Drawn Together, which was an all-around guilty pleasure. South Park hasn't been funny in a very, very long time. Or had anything worth saying to say, either. It's got a strong voice cast and former Simpsons talent behind its conception. A unique, sort of retro comic book feel to its animation style too, worked on by Augenblick Studios, which also works on Adult Swim's Superjail! and animated the "Lying Rhino" segement in The State's The Ten.
Conan - Mondays-Thursdays @ 11 PM - In less than two weeks, Conan returns! After spending over 13 hours on the 24 hour Live Coco Cam (#LiveCocoCam forever! Token nods to the interns, PAs, writers, LaBamba, Bley, and other assorted staff who made the livecam so fun and addictive to watch.), I'm ready for some Conan goodness. Both Conan and Andy appeared on last week's Night of Too Many Stars autism education benefit on Comedy Central, and Conan auctioned off an opportunity for someone to be the Masturbating Bear, which makes me wonder if he managed to wrest the character from NBC's grasp to bring with him to TBS. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog showed up, too, and I have a feeling that Robert Smigel holds any copyright over NBC, so we'll likely see Triumph back on TBS too. Notably, Joel Godard did the opening announcing for the Night of Too Many Stars benefit, too. While I don't mind Andy announcing, being a longtime Andy Richter fan, I do have to admit I miss Joel and the great, creepy comedy bits they always did with him. Losing both him and Max is a shame, though hopefully we'll see more of the band in sketches to make up for that now.
During the Live Coco Cam, the first week's guests were announced, as well through a pair of puppets during a live puppet show. (Highlights from the Live Coco Cam are up on YouTube.)
Monday 11/8 - Poll Winner, Seth Rogen (The Green Hornet), musical guest Jack White
Tuesday - Tom Hanks (First guest on the second Tonight Show as well, and the originator of Conan's "Coco" nickname), Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), Soundgarden
Wednesday - Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Charlyne Yi, Fistful of Mercy
Thursday - Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World DVD hits that week), Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Canadian comedian Jon Dore
Not a bad lineup at all. There won't be any more Friday shows, so Conan's show schedule will be like Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's - he's up against both of them directly at 11 PM now - as TBS gets gangbusters ratings for their Friday night dinner and a movie feature. So altogether, one less Conan per week, directly up against Jon and Stephen, on basic cable, minus Max now too, but a return to classic style Late Night comedy with Andy in tow and so much more freedom with lots of great people working hard on the new show. I can't wait.
No Ordinary Family - I've heard promising things about this one and it's been sitting on the DVR, but I haven't watched any of it. Take my recommendation with a grain of salt since I can't say firsthand whether I'm into it or not yet.
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations - Mondays @ 10 PM and various other times - Tony Bourdain's adventures are always fun to watch. This year's season's already over, but there's always reruns!
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret - Fridays - I haven't started this yet, but I've been DVRing it. Downer comedy starring David Cross in the UK - sort of a 6-episode British-style sitcom format - and also featuring Will Arnett. (This looks better than Arnett's Running Wilde.) Going to give it a shot soon, as the season's already over half over now too, I believe. David Cross usually isn't someone you can go wrong with.
That's pretty much that. Lots of TV shows worth watching and further rotting or otherwise entertaining your lumps of gray matter with. All things considered, everyone needs an escape these days, and the entertainment biz is certainly producing no lack of legitimately worthwhile programming. I'm such a pop culture nerd, I should probably be much more deeply ashamed than I am.