State of the TV, Part 1

We’re about to get into November Sweeps hardcore in the next couple of days, so you know what that means …

Guest stars! Deaths! Births! Hook-ups! Crazy plot twists that seem so unbelievable you’d think Stephen King had been hired as showrunner!

That’s what sweeps are all about — doing something so outlandishly loud you can’t help but tune in. The November sweeps have belonged to ABC lately thanks to Dancing with the Stars, but that doesn’t mean everyone else just takes the month off.

So with our favorite shows heading in to one of their most important months, it’s time to take a two-part look at how they’ve been doing so far this year to help us decide if they’re ready for sweeps. We’ve got 10 shows today, and 10 more tomorrow or Monday, not sure yet:

THE OFFICE

the next scranton branch boss?

the next scranton branch boss? maybe we should stop guessing.

When Steve Carell announced he was leaving The Office, fans reaction was predictable and understandable — “Oh no, the show is doomed!” Admittedly, it was my reaction. When we all calmed down, the next thing we thought about was who would be replacing him. Next came the realization that Carell would basically be a lame duck in his last season of the show and no one seemed to know how that would go. Well, it’s been good. If nothing else, it’s led to an fascinating dynamic where we as viewers know that somehow, some way, Michael Scott won’t be leading Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch at this time next year — even though he doesn’t. And The Office writers have come up with a very interesting concept for how to handle this dynamic — make us guess. They’re obviously very in tune with their hardcore fans, they know we’re watching every move every character makes to see if we can get a hint of who Dunder Mifflin’s next boss is going to be. The last line of last week’s episode was Darryl possibly jockeying for the boss’s job. If you listened carefully, you could almost hear Craig Robinson, the star-on-the-rise who plays Darryl, saying the line instead of Darryl. It fits his professional situation right now. With a burgeoning film career and a reserved spot in the Judd Apatow Players, he’s probably considered leaving, but Office execs may have promised him a bigger role — maybe as the boss? Then there is the guest-starring addition of Timothy Olyphant the last couple weeks. He’s already got his own show on FX entering its second season in February, but he seems to mix with the Office people pretty well, he’s been established as the best salesman in town so a promotion wouldn’t seem outrageous, he brings an interesting dynamic to the Jim-Pam relationship and he’s got just enough star power for NBC to greenlight it. Plus, I’ve had a slight man-crush on him since Go, so that’s what I’m pulling for. Maybe I’ll see if I can get Stroudsburg grad and Office co-executive producer Danny Chun to spill some beans again in a couple weeks. Oh, right. Almost forgot. The show is still pretty funny. GRADE: B. Ready for sweeps?: Yes, and they should red herring us off the scent with another big-name guest star that could become boss.

OUTSOURCED

You have to feel sorry for Ben Rappaport, the star of Outsourced. The show has come a long way in just six episodes, actually turning into something moderately funny after starting out about as funny as the last 20 minutes of Blair Witch. All of the supporting characters in the show have grown from one-note jokes — “Hey, look, we don’t know anything about the American/Indian culture!” — to entertaining figures who make you laugh. All, except for Rappaport, who’s still being saddled with the same predictable and tired “Whoops, I didn’t know I couldn’t eat a cow!” jokes. Diedrich Bader continues to the funniest thing in the show, the consummate comedy professional who could probably make Two and a Half Men enjoyable. GRADE: C+. Ready for sweeps?: Maybe if Rappaport had some better material. Right now, All I’m hoping for is Park and Rec to come back.

THE EVENT

What does NBC have against sci-fi? It made the biggest mistake of the summer branding season by marketing The Eventas the next Lost, when in reality it’s more X-Files. So by the third episode, the 24 fans looking for a fix were stuck with some kind of alien colonization and a woeful excuse for the next generation of Jack Bauer. And the X-Files sci-fi fans that would have tuned in suddenly started hearing about disappearing planes and whatnot, but realized they were three weeks behind and decided to concentrate on whatever the latest edition of the Stargate franchise is on Syfy. Now the show is stuck with a fan base that shouldn’t have been there in the first place and is ready to check out the next time it hears “Avias,” a different fan base that probably would enjoy it but is too far behind to catch up and a product that just isn’t what was promised. If you watch anything from NBC OnDemand, you’re slammed with promos for this show, including the opening line from one critic who says something like, “If Lost and 24 had a baby, it would be this.” Well, I’ve run out of jokes to say to this. There’s “Yeah, if the baby only had three toes” and “Then the mom dropped it on its head.” Anything else and we’ll be tip-toeing into some pretty nasty sick-baby territory, and this show isn’t worth taking that kind of karma risk. GRADE: D. Ready for sweeps?:No, and this is the show’s most critical point so far.

MODERN FAMILY and COMMUNITY

only very, very slightly less funny than modern family right now

only very, very slightly less funny than modern family right now

I measure TV comedy in BLPE — belly laughs per episode. Right now, Modern Family and Community are running away from the pack with like 10 each. The two are in a dead heat for funniest show on TV right now with two completely different styles and formats, but both are equally effective. Modern Family probably has more staying power because, well, because it obviously will be on the air longer than Community because of the ratings. Modern Family is looking at about a six-or-seven-year run, and Community will be down on its knees, hands raised to the clouds if it gets a third year. But what Modern Family has that Community doesn’t is the ability to make even its weakest episodes funny. Even though Modern Family’s episode last nightwasn’t necessarily hysterical — Do we really want to see mean Jay from work? Or weak Claire when she’s sick? Or Phil concerned about anything more serious than acquiring an iPad? — it still produced around seven belly laughs, much of them on the strength of Phil feeling like a woman. Community’s worst episode this year, the space shuttle thing a couple weeks ago, stood out so sore-thumbly (new word) in a season of very funny episodes that it’s almost impossible to forget how substandard it was. I can’t remember much about the other episodes off the top of my head — but I remember every minute of the KFC-riddled space shuttle episode. These are the kinds of hairs you have to split when you’re trying to decide what the funniest show on TV is. MODERN FAMILY GRADE: A. COMMUNITY GRADE: A-+, whatever that is. For our purposes, it’s a shade below Modern Family. Ready for sweeps?: Resoundingly yes for both.

FRINGE

Welcome to the best show you’re not watching. The show that won’t ever get the respect it deserves has been on fire this year with an effective mix of science fiction, eloquent story telling and even somewhat believable implausibilities, if that makes any sense at all. The bad news is that if you haven’t been watching so far, you’ve got a better chance at picking up conversational Latin in an afternoon than you do at figuring out Fringe’s shape shifters, alternate universes and doppelgangers. Feel free to try though. GRADE: A-. Ready for sweeps?: Yes, and being gone for baseball makes it even more anticipated.

PARENTHOOD

seriously, when was the last time she was bad in anything?

seriously, when was the last time she was bad in anything?

Every year there’s a show I had only slight interest in at the start of a year, but my wife is a fan, which, just like Jules Winfield, makes me a fan. Well, not a fan. But it makes me watch when I wouldn’t have in the first place. Lately that show is Parenthood, taking the mantle from shows like Brothers and Sisters(we’re off that completely, I’m happy to say) and The Good Wife (which I actually want to catch up on, but don’t have time). As far as I can tell, Parenthood isn’t much different from a less dignified version of the Walkers from B&S. But whereas the Walkers act want us to believe they’re undignified — while they’re throwing $1,000-a-plate charity dinners, mind you — these Bravermans have much less couth than the Walkers. But the show makes the same mistake as B&S is trying to go too far down that road. Why does everyone on TV think they have to be average? When you’re a big-wig at a sneaker company like Peter Krause is and married to a former political strategist you’re not average. So stop acting like it, because those of us who are average don’t buy it for a second. It’s a decent time-waster though, mostly because of Lauren Graham, who hasn’t been bad in anything since … has she ever been bad in anything? Like, really stink-worthy bad? GRADE: C+. Ready for sweeps?: Adding a Baldwin other than Alec to any cast is not a sign of great TV.

RAISING HOPE

Comedic television has been around for about 60 years, so when you’re making a sitcom, you can do one of two things. You can either try your own brand of something that’s already been done before, hoping yours is better. That’s the approach Modern Family and The Middle have taken with the standard family sitcom format, much to our viewing pleasures. Or, you can come up with a premise so completely off the wall that no one tried it yet. That’s where Raising Hope fits in, the story of a one-night stand that produced a baby before the serial killer mom was sent to the electric chair. So cliche, right? These people are the anti-Bravermans — they don’t have to act average, because they are average. It’s completely obvious and organic. Would the Bravermans ever be hoarders? The show is genuinely funny even if it’s not very practical. GRADE: B+. Ready for sweeps?: As long as it keeps up what it’s doing, yeah.

ITS ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA

still thumbs up, they're just not as upright

still thumbs up, they're just not as upright

I was perfectly fine without Sunny in my life before last year. To me, it had always been hit-and-miss comedy that was usually good for a laugh or two whenever I got the chance to catch it, which wasn’t very often. Then last year, the show had to go ahead and strike comedy gold, coming up with one of the funniest string of episodes since the hysterical second season of The Office. The World Series Defense is probably in my top 10 TV comedy episodes of all time, rivaling anything Seinfeld ever did, and everything else from last year was a laugh riot. Watching it in reruns and saved DVRs over the summer only made me miss it more, to the point where it was probably the show I was waiting for to come back the most. Maybe it’s heightened expectations, maybe it’s the fact that they’ve already spoofed every politically correct situation already, but this season just seems off. Almost like the guys knew what they did last year was the best they could do, and they’re trying so hard to repeat that success that it’s coming off as … desperate? Maybe that’s too harsh a word, but there is just this unavoidable vibe “Where do we go from here?” that has cut my Sunny BLPE in half this year. It was at about a Seinfeld-like 15 last year, but it’s more like 6 or 7 this year. GRADE: B. Ready for sweeps?: As long as we find out who Dee’s baby daddy is.

SONS OF ANARCHY

something has to happen soon, right? umm, right?

something has to happen soon, right? umm, right?

People who have tried and failed to get into Mad Men usually all say the same thing: “Nothing happens.” I don’t buy it. Just because it doesn’t happen in Mad Men with guns and punching and running, that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. The complete polar opposite this year is Sons of Anarchy. Is anything really happening, other than the set-up of yet another TV accidental incest story? We’re 10 episodes into this season, nothing’s been resolved. Gemma (Katey Segel) was on the run, but came back. She was arrested, but escaped. Every one’s looking for baby Abel, but he’s always just out of reach. Tara and Jax are still fighting. Things got so boring, they even flew to Ireland for nothing to happen there. You can disguise nothing with fights, explosions and guns — and there is no show that does that more effectively than Sons of Anarchy — but sooner or later there has to be some kind of resolution to at least one of the situations that’s been created. Otherwise, we’re just going around in circles. There’s no reason to think SOA won’t get to the point soon enough, the show’s creators have earned our trust. It’s just taking longer than it should. More happens in SOA than, say, V, where complete nothing happens, but still. GRADE: B-. Ready for sweeps?: Get to the point!

Tomorrow (or Monday): 10 more shows, including Glee, 30 Rock, Vampire Diaries and Nikita.

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