My one TV-related Oscar thought this year is to thank ABC for rejecting nominated director David Lynch's Mulholland Drive as a series, thereby allowing the muddled pilot to be reshaped into one of the year's more intriguing, if wildly overpraised movies. As a series, it would have failed spectacularly, just what that struggling network doesn't need. As a movie, it's like the entire Twin Peaks experience boiled down to a few hours: a tantalizing and mesmerizing start leading to a preposterous, self-indulgent and unsatisfying finish. Go, Robert Altman. (His Gosford Park would be my personal choice for best picture.)
What to do when your precinct's best cop is also its dirtiest lethal weapon?
This dramatically tantalizing, morally perilous conundrum propels The Shield immediately into the top ranks of TV's crime dramas. This graphic and uncompromising cable series on FX (Tuesdays, 10 pm/ET), in commercially supported TV's best-yet imitation of HBO's boldness is often so raw and sordid that it could make NYPD Blue blush. It's also so unpredictable and challenging in its ethical ambiguities that it evokes fond memories of NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street.
As Det. Vic Mackey, the sort of guy you'd want to watch your back provided he doesn't stab you in it, Michael Chiklis (The Commish) confidently radiates arrogant menace in this career-defining role. He leads an elite but corrupt strike team that gets the job done as long as no one sweats pesky details lik
Leave it to HBO to take material as shatteringly familiar as the murder in a quiet Wyoming college town of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard and find a way to elevate it to a higher crossroads of journalism and theatricality.
And leave it to NBC to take the same subject and reduce it to a Lifetime weeper. (Little wonder that NBC has mostly abandoned making TV-movies.)
HBO's The Laramie Project (March 9, 8 pm/ET), screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival, was supposed to air a week later, until NBC scheduled its premiere for the same night. Only NBC would think The Matthew Shepard Story (March 16, 9 pm/ET) is in the same league. While not without merit, especially as it fills in the background of the victim (played by Shane Meier), NBC's movie is completely without distinction except for the grotesque decision to open with a depiction of his fatal gay-bashing.
Laramie is as original as NBC's version is generic. Based o
For those who think friends are priceless, consider this: NBC is paying all six of its irreplaceable Friends $1 million an episode for a ninth and presumably final season. Who's complaining? Good for them, better for us. The show has rarely been so enjoyable, fueled by the poignant undercurrents of the Rachel-Joey-Ross triangle. And while we all want the show to go out on a high, and some of us fear the addition of a baby, they all deserve another year to wind things up. We'll be there for them.
Some shows can't catch a break. Others, meanwhile, seem to have all the luck.
Such is the case as two fascinating family sagas return with new episodes. On Mondays (10 pm/ET), ABC's severely underappreciated Once and Again emerges from a dismal Friday timeslot with a reduced episode order often a warning sign of cancellation after a hiatus was imposed just as the series hit a shatteringly emotional peak. On Sundays (9 pm/ET), HBO's overrated though undeniably original Six Feet Under launches a second season on a wave of adoring buzz, showered with awards and nominations.
Both feature superior acting ensembles who burrow with unusual depth into their characters' complicated inner lives. But the similarity ends there. To me, these series illustrate the wide gulf between the profoundly artful (Again) and the pretentiously arty (Six Feet).
"This is just a disaster!" cries Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the lounge-singing star of Watching Ellie (NBC, Tuesdays, 8:30 pm/ET). She's not invoking the "Seinfeld curse" but surveying a slapstick scene involving a naked neighbor, a bleeding plumber and an overflowing toilet, distracting her from getting to a club date on time. A slice-of-life comedy with a clock ticking from 22 minutes to zero in a pointless gimmick, Ellie is less than satisfying, but it's a cut way above the debacles that ensnared former co-stars Michael Richards and Jason Alexander. Unlike them, she has the star presence to carry a show and to merit further watching. For now.
With his rumpled, bashful handsomeness and refusal to succumb to fast-lane living he's ticketed for driving 15 miles under the speed limit Chris Isaak is a rhinestone-studded anomaly in the world of pay cable, where you usually have to make a loud, rude or violent noise to get noticed.
Though overshadowed by the return of those urban nymphs on HBO's Sex and the City and the promiscuous Peter Pans on Showtime's increasingly crude and self-righteous Queer as Folk, the charming troubadour of Showtime's The Chris Isaak Show (Sundays, 10:45 pm/ET) deserves your attention, even if he'd probably never ask for it.
Perhaps the last man in America who's unafraid to tell a woman to "keep your hands off my Dippity-Do," Isaak insists, "I'm not that famous. I'm more like local-TV-weatherman kind of fame." His rock-journa
First Monday is what The West Wing would look like on CBS, which has a way of reducing weekly drama to a homogeneous bland pudding CSI and Tyne Daly's portions of Judging Amy being exceptions. Mediocre in execution though clearly well-intentioned, the too-simplistic Monday (CBS, Fridays, 9 pm/ET) presents Supreme Court justices and their eager clerks as walking, talking position papers. Still, the show does strive for balance in confronting major issues, and it's interesting to watch these jurists struggle with morals and ethics amid political pressures. Imagine what an inspired dramatist could do here.
They sound like death sentences The Chair, The Chamber and sure enough, watching these latest prime-time bastardizations of the game-show genre is a truly deadening experience.
Remember when this sort of thing was meant to be fun, for participant and for viewer? What a quaint notion, obviously.
This grisly new gaggle of gag-inducing spectacles only reconfirms what we've known for years: Some people will endure anything to be on TV.
The weekly rite of degradation known as NBC's Fear Factor which at least boasts a reckless daredevil spirit has spawned these pathetic wannabes. Each fitfully tries to pump an artificial sense of gladiatorial excitement into what really is a passive exercise in ritualized abuse.
The good news is that Fox has pulled The Chamber, easily the more disgusting show, from the schedule after it tanked when moved to a regular Friday timeslot. The bad news is that it may yet ret
The truth was out there all along: Nothing on TV lasts forever, not even a landmark like Fox's marvelously inventive The X-Files, with its dense and dark explorations of paranoia, government conspiracy and otherworldly menace and the resilient humanity of its charismatic leads, agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson).
Yes, I will miss the show when it signs off in May after nine seasons, a wise but overdue decision. The sorry fact is that I've been missing the series at least as it was in its prime for some time. The decline dates back to the fatal decision last season to continue without Duchovny's full-time services (he has been completely absent so far this year), a move that coincided with the unsatisfying announcement of Scully's miracle pregnancy: two "jump the shark" moments for the price of one.
The X-Files is nothing without Mulder