At times, watching our favorite shows sign off for the summer seemed a lot like a wake. So much death and trauma. (Yes, I wept over Mrs. Landingham on The West Wing.)
At least Fox's underrated Titus had the audacity to mix two of TV's most familiar season-ending gimmicks a wedding and a killing into its startling finale, with Titus's deranged mother intruding on the ceremony and climactically shooting her latest husband, an abusive therapist.
Yikes? Exactly. And it still somehow delivered more laughter than NBC's Friends could muster for its overlong, mostly silly wedding of Chandler and Monica (notwithstanding Rachel's surprise pregnancy twist).
HBO's The Sopranos wrapped an astounding third season on an unexpectedly muted note, as the family uneasily gathered to mourn that dunce Jackie Jr. Compare his murder
As I look over the new fall lineup, the one renewal that baffles me most more even than NBC's yucky Three Sisters and Fox's tacky decision to continue leading off Wednesdays with comedy repeats is CBS's devotion to Family Law, a thuddingly mediocre and ham-fisted legal drama that failed to catch fire its first two seasons. Worse than its arguable lack of distinction is CBS's squandering of a crucial time period (Mondays, 10 pm/ET) that caps the network's sole successful (though uneven) comedy night. This hour once showcased the likes of Lou Grant, Cagney & Lacey and Northern Exposure. Need we say more?
Well, it turns out lightning didn't strike twice.
Whereas the final night of the first Survivor series was the most electrifying TV event of last year, the contemplative conclusion of the Australian sequel was a self-indulgent snoozer enlivened only by Colby Donaldson's unexpected choice to let Tina Wesson sit beside him for the final vote, setting up his defeat.
And we're all over that by now, aren't we?
If only they'd let us get over it. The ceaseless commercial exploitation of the unexceptional second cast grinds on and grinds us down: on CBS's desperate The Early Show; in an egregious primetime special showing the "stars" mulling over their post-show options; and most recently, for a full week of Hollywood Squares, that elephant's burial ground for disposable celebrity. They sat like caged animals in the garish circus of fleeting fame, performing skits and answering questions that played off of their TV personas: Jerr
What a delight to learn that ABC's Once and Again (which TV Guide recently christened "The Best Show You're Not Watching") is returning next season. Moving to Fridays (10 pm/ET) is a mixed blessing, however. Ratings expectations are lower on that night think of Homicide: Life on the Street's healthy run in the time period on NBC which is a bonus for this challenging drama. But unseating 20/20 and incurring Barbara Walters's wrath puts an unfair burden on the series. What should be a badge of pride for the network now becomes a lightning rod for news vs. entertainment speculation. And that's not healthy.
Don't hold Kristin against Kristin as in Kristin Chenoweth, the poorly used star of a terrible comedy NBC is burning off (Tuesdays, 9:30 pm/ET). Anyone who has seen this Tony-winning musical-comedy spark plug (perhaps as a slinky schemer in ABC's Annie) will be chagrined that NBC couldn't find a better vehicle than this creaky setup about a perky Oklahoma hick working in Manhattan for a Trump-like womanizer (Jon Tenney). She would have been perfect as Nellie Forbush in ABC's South Pacific remake, but you'd never know it from Kristin. Maybe she'll have better luck in Seven Roses, a CBS ensemble comedy in the works.
With Six Feet Under, the peculiar saga of a deeply unhappy family that operates and lives in a funeral home, HBO once again takes us where network TV would never venture, into a world of sex, drugs and "Rock of Ages."
The offbeat insights into the "death-care industry" are intriguing, but the show itself is frequently irritating, overstuffed with fantastical whimsy visions, dreams, stylized musical sequences as it hammers home its themes of life among death. From Oscar-winning screenwriter and TV sitcom refugee Alan Ball (American Beauty, Cybill), the underwhelming Six Feet (Sundays, 10 pm/ET) reminds us that just being different isn't always better.
"Your father is dead, and my pot roast is ruined," says dour matriarch Ruth Fisher (the excellent Frances Conroy) in a typical moment of self-conscious irony during the opening episode. Her
What a difference a well-written, well-fitting role makes. Consider the reemergence of Oliver Platt, as The West Wing's blunt and confrontational White House counsel ("In my entire life, I've never found anything charming"). Platt, a gifted character actor, has rebounded nicely from a potential career killer last fall. If you're lucky, you never saw him in NBC's mercifully short-lived Deadline, as a flamboyant and boorish newspaper columnist who solves crimes. As Oliver Babish, Platt has a role suitable to his talent, a character whose arrogance is tempered by the high stakes of his office.
Like two spaceships passing in the night, the earnest explorers of UPN's Star Trek: Voyager and the spaced-out visitors from NBC's 3rd Rock From the Sun finally saw an end to their long missions this month. (They'll orbit in syndication for years.)
While their fondly produced farewell episodes were fairly satisfying, saying goodbye after seven (Voyager) and six (3rd Rock) seasons wasn't too difficult. For many of us, these going-away parties were muted by the realization that we'd let these shows go long ago.
Voyager in particular never achieved the buzz or creative and adventurous heights of its Trek predecessors. For what seemed an eternity, it loped along in a too-familiar humanistic trajectory, some characters catching occasional fire (Jeri Ryan's curvaceous Seven of Nine, most notably) but many of the crew seeming as bland as replicated mush. Recently, the series has been outpaced by Sci Fi's more robust, irreverent
Surely, any respectable movie about Anne Frank will be a moving and wrenching experience and ABC's four-hour Anne Frank (May 20 and 21, 9 pm/ET, see "Beyond the Diary," page 36) is more than respectable. It's remarkable. By the end, with an extended and graphic sequence in the death camps, it's also almost unbearably sad. (Consider this a parental advisory.) Hannah Taylor Gordon is a radiant marvel in the title role, and the film's portrayal of her deep love for her father, Otto (Ben Kingsley), adds an extra layer of poignancy to the tragedy of her abbreviated but unforgettable life.
She says, "Goodbye." I say, "Hel-loooo!" As in "Wake up, America! Are we going to fall for another half-baked, overhyped transplant from across the Atlantic?"
Apparently so. Weakest Link, that nasty cousin to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, appears to be an instant hit. Give credit to NBC's relentless and intrusive marketing the one thing that we all agree is even more annoying and tiresome than Anne Robinson, Link's snippy and mannered host.
Reminiscent of a severe Bond villainess who never gets her comeuppance, Robinson is something rare among quiz-show barkers: a woman, and one with real bite in her bark.
Still, she seems rather a one-note study in rehearsed dourness, as she incessantly spits out the title phrase, then humiliates the players after each round with scripted quips. One night, her gems included "Who's several shrimps short of a barbie?" and &