Critic's Notebook: Olympics Are Over, Back to TV
Elisabeth Moss in Mad Men courtesy AMC
Anyone else going through Olympics withdrawal? Mine started around the time the Olympic flame was extinguished during Sunday night's broadcast of the closing ceremonies. I felt a sense of deflation as I watched replays of many of the games' most thrilling moments. Also a sense of loss, even as I was being dazzled one more time by the pyrotechnics (presumably real) of the final spectacular, with a return of the drummers and gravity-defying performers amid a reprise, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale, of the human light show from the opening ceremonies, with shimmering movement and color holding us spellbound. (At least until the British showed up, with their tacky-by-comparison half-time-lite show. It's going to be hard for anyone to measure up to China's showmanship.)
How am I going to fill my days and especially my nights now that I no longer have Bob Costas as my professional escort? What a great job he did as host and interviewer, always keeping his cool, even when accompanied by explosive personalities like gymnastics cheerleader Bela Karolyi. Funny how quickly you can become accustomed to a new viewing pattern, devoting night after night- and the occasional afternoon and late night- to watching the stories of the games unfold in all of their suspenseful drama. We can nitpick about the time devoted to a single sport like beach volleyball, which had the advantage of being played live in prime time (as was swimming and the first week of gymnastics), but all in all, I was more than satisfied. I was hooked.
But now we return to the business of TV, which a week from now will be in full pre-fall overdrive. Forget Labor Day being a vacation. Fox and the CW and various cable networks will keep us plenty busy until the official premiere week later in September. Next Monday, at least four major series are premiering: on the CW, new seasons of
One Tree Hill
; on Fox, a two-hour
opener (still ludicrous, but already a marked improvement on last season in the Panamanian sweatbox); and on TNT, the premiere of Steven Bochco's
Raising the Bar
, a generic legal drama which I only wish lived up to its title.
Next Tuesday, while the CW's
(which isn't being pre-screened) opens with a two-hour splash, FX begins the final season of its landmark crime drama
, and it is riveting- especially when the Strike Team is the focus of the often convoluted plotting. Wednesday is just as busy, with a delightful two-hour
season opener set in London (with plenty of broad humor as David Boreanaz's Booth struggles with city traffic while flaunting his cowboy attitude), and a two-hour
America's Next Top Model
opener introducing one of its more controversial contestants ever. On cable, FX launches
Sons of Anarchy
, a grim and violent saga about a motorcycle gang that the network hopes will attract the hefty male viewership that is attached to
. I'm not convinced. There is some good acting (especially by Katey Sagal as the ferocious matriarch of the gang's founding family), but this one reminds me of my initial ambivalence to
(still not officially canceled yet) in that it introduces me to a world and characters I don't particularly care to return to each week, with not enough dramatic spark in the narrative to keep me glued.
More odds and ends as I shift my focus from Beijing's "Bird's Nest" to the nearby U.S. Open (on USA Network weekdays and CBS on the weekends):
The first official new network show of the fall season arrives tonight, with the early premiere of NBC's
America's Toughest Jobs
(airing on Mondays for several weeks before moving to Fridays), from the producer of such cable hits as
The Deadliest Catch
Ice Road Truckers
. Yes, it's another reality competition, but before you sigh too heavily, this one at least brings some new energy to the genre by infusing it with adventure, supplying the sorts of thrills and spills of that cable genre that takes armchair voyeurs inside dangerous occupations. Each week (I've seen the first two), contestants learn the ropes on the job of grueling professions like crab fishing in the frigid Bering Sea and driving an 18-wheeler on rural roads above the Arctic Circle, trying to control "80,000 pounds of rolling steel" under treacherous conditions. I'd like to see the insurance premium on this show. While I could debate the appropriateness of letting rank amateurs risk injury and property by playing this game, there is some undeniable entertainment value here. It's no
, but I'd watch this over
Deal or No Deal
any night of the week.
A few thoughts on the new
Dancing With the Stars
cast. (Looks like another fun season.) Kudos to reaching across the network aisle to pluck
So You Think You Can Dance
veteran Lacey Schwimmer as one of the new "professional" dancers. She'll be teamed with Lance Bass, who has been rumored for quite a while to be one of the contestants this season. Poor Edyta Sliwinska, though. The only pro to appear in all seven seasons, she has been teamed with insult comic Jeffrey Ross, who unless he has had a major charisma makeover since last time I saw him on Comedy Central, is almost certainly going to be one of the first ones out. But who am I rooting against from the start? Kim Kardashian, one of those celebreality "stars" who's only famous for having a famous step-parent. Maybe she'll surprise me. Maybe I'll even know who she is when she dances. Most offbeat contestant? Cloris Leachman to be sure. In her 80s, if my research is correct, and still funny as all get-out. (Check out her recent show-stopping shtick on the Comedy Central roast of Bob Saget if you doubt me. Favorite line: "For the love of God, will someone please punch me in the face so I can see some stars?") I'm betting she'll put on a show each time she goes on. Her partner: defending champ Mark Ballas's father, Corky.
And finally, a nod to Sunday night's shocking and pivotal episode of
. (So much for those who think nothing's happening this season.) Don is in a car accident with Bobbi, and who does he call to rescue him and look after his bruised extramarital bedmate? Peggy, of all people, who takes the brash woman into her apartment, prompting the question: "Why are you doing this?" The answer plays out in a stunning flashback to when Peggy is in the mental hospital after her surprise childbirth and Don visits her, giving her a lecture about moving forward and reinventing oneself, subjects on which he's an expert. "Do whatever they say. Get out of here and move forward," he says, insisting, "This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened." So Peggy owed him one, and now both knows each other's secrets. Peggy isn't using this knowledge as leverage for promotion, but she does take Bobbi's advice about insisting she be treated as an equal. (Quoting Bobbi: "You can't be a man. Don't even try. Be a woman. It's powerful business when done correctly.") When Peggy called Don by his first name, I literally gasped. More to come next week on the education of Peggy Olson, as she continues to butt heads against the agency's institutional sexism. What an incredible show this is.