Sunday, October 15, 2006

This season's best TV shows

This season's best TV shows are the same as last year's: Boston Legal and Veronica Mars.

Boston Legal is good because it's funny and because it raises interesting issues. I must be out of step with the American mainstream because most things they call comedies don't seem funny to me. They just seem stupid. Boston Legal really makes me laugh.

Boston Legal is a lawyer show. Most lawyer shows are about crime, but Boston Legal is about issues. For example, can a company fire someone for smoking on their own time? What about firing someone for their religion, if they talk about their non-mainstream religion in front of clients, thus affecting the company's reputation? Can snack food companies be held responsible for obesity? Should HMO's be allowed to require their patients to get their surgery in India, where it is cheaper?

Another thing that is interesting about Boston Legal but is not what makes it good is the abundance of former Star Trek actors. Kirk and Odo are regular characters. Quark, Seven of Nine, Neelix and Nurse Ogawa have made guest appearances. Other actors of interest include regular characters Candice Bergen and James Spader, and guests Tom Selleck, Parker Posey, Katey Sagal, Heather Locklear, Sharon Lawrence, Al Sharpton, Wes Craven, Howard Hesseman, Monica Potter, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Betty White, Shelley Long, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Robert Wagner, Ed Begley, Jr., Peter MacNicol, Leslie Jordan, Adam Arkin, Corbin Bernsen, and Michael J. Fox. Not as well known is another actor I liked since before she appeared on Boston Legal: Constance Zimmer

Veronica Mars is good because the plots are so rich. Some trivial thing that happens turns out later to mean something. Maybe later in the same episode, or maybe not until later in the season. And even if you know this and try to think about all the things that you would normally overlook because they are trivial, you can't because there are just so many things to think about. I also like the way things from one season don't get totally forgotten in the next season. The death of Veronica's friend and the departure of her mother are in the past now and not constantly on her mind, but they are still part of her history.

Comments on other TV shows

  • It's not often that you see married couples on TV who like each other and don't cheat on each other. When you do, it may be as parents, when the interesting stuff is being done by their teenage children. I liked Mad About You and Medium because they were about married people who liked each other and who still had interesting enough lives to be the focus of the show. Firefly and Star Trek did make an effort, but it was more like there was a token married couple as part of the show, not like marital bliss was mainstream.
  • Sometimes it seems like writers are lazy about character and plot, and just throw in romance, sex, mystery, crime, and violence to hold people's attention. That was how I felt about the romance between Troi and Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I didn't see any basis for them to like each other other than the writers wanted to add a romance to make viewers more interested. The impression I get from 24 and Lost is that the writers make everything very intense in order to attract viewers. Similarly, shows like Grey's Anatomy and One Tree Hill have a lot of relationship complications to attract viewers. I've watched the new show The Nine twice, and I think it may fall into that category. The way they hint at things that happened in the bank is meant to use mystery to attract people.
  • I also enjoy some shows which focus on characters and relationships: Gilmore Girls, 7th Heaven, Men in Trees, Six Degrees, and Brothers & Sisters. Gilmore Girls and 7th Heaven have been on for a while. I've never taped every episode like I do with Veronica Mars and Boston Legal, but I've caught episodes here and there. I caught a few recent episodes of 7th Heaven in which Lucy was lashing out at everyone because she was feeling the pain of loss. It could seem like she was being too crazy, but it resonanted with me because I've been in the same sort of mood. Maybe I am feeling the strain that I have to keep on behaving properly even when I feel like lashing out, so I get some gratification in watching someone else lash out. Men in Trees, Six Degrees, and Brothers & Sisters are new and I haven't yet decided how good they are. So far, they do seem to have engaging characters. On Men in Trees, I liked how before Annie and Patrick spent the night together, Annie was afraid to tell him she snores, and Patrick was afraid to tell her he wears a retainer at night. In the end, they were there sleeping side by side, with the retainer and the snoring. They looked like real people in a way I don't often see on TV. People on TV are usually more glamorous.
  • After the first episode of Ugly Betty, I thought it had the potential to be good. The idea of a hero who does not meet standards of beauty is not that earth-shattering, and yet Ugly Betty is refreshing for that reason. I mean, characters on shows such as The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Class, and Friends may feel like they aren't glamorous enough to be attractive, but the reality is that they do look more like movie stars than regular people. Betty doesn't. But it wasn't just that. In the first episode, her boss asked her to do things like take the cabbage out of his coleslaw, and she was compliant. Our culture places so much value on assertiveness. It was refreshing to see being agreeable cast in a positive light. But now that I've seen three episodes, the show seems much too simplistic. It's always Betty making some mistake but triumphing in the end. It's always the glamorous people being self-centered and cruel. The characters are not people, they are caricatures. This is particularly true for the bad people: Wilhemina, Marc, and Amanda. What I liked in Deep Space Nine was that there were many factions with different agendas (Federation, Bajorans, Cardassians, Ferengi, Founders), but you could see how people on each side felt they were fighting for what was right. Wilhemina and Amanda are just cruel. I mean, you understand that they want power for themselves, but you just see them as evil, not as humans.
  • There are many crime dramas. They are kind of all the same, even though each one has a certain angle to make it different. When I want to watch TV because I'm too tired to do anything else, the crime dramas do hold my attention, but they aren't in the same league as the good shows, Veronica Mars and Boston Legal. Crime dramas I enjoy include Standoff, Vanished, and Without a Trace.

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