October 11, 2006

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The grad school schedule is pretty hectic this semester, so I figured I'd share a couple of shows I'm actually making time for.

Studio 60: It's a pretty difficult thing, to come into a brand new series with the kind of expectations that this one did. Think about it: what show in the last few years has seen the kind of pre-hype that S60 has gotten? Usually the great shows sneak up on you after a year or two of warming up (how many people really watched the first seasons of Seinfeld, Raymond, etc.?). Hell, it took Conan a good two years or so to figure out his show, and he has a whole team writing just for him. Anyway, after a few-year break from The West Wing, Sorkin is back on television, and with a great show. Granted, I was very much into both The West Wing and SportsNight when they were on, so I'm a little biased. But I also think that Sorkin's writing on S60 is his best so far.

I am a huge fan of well-written dialogue, and if you're like that as well, there are few better scratches to that itch than a Sorkin script. Fast-paced, intelligent, alternately damn funny and affecting, watching one of his shows is like watching uber-intellectual semantic ping-pong. My problem with WW, though, was that I felt like a lot of the dialogue was interchangeable: any of the lines could have been given to any of the characters, and you wouldn't have noticed much of a difference. Of course, all of the characters were highly educated intellectual types, but I often felt a little let down by the lack of specificity in it. After watching the first few episodes, I can honestly say I think he's fixed that problem, and fixed it good. The group of characters is both broader and deeper, with a more varied cross-section of attitudes and perspectives to work with. And they've done a very good job of casting, pulling in some excellent talent. They've even managed to get Matthew Perry to not play Chandler (well, for the most part, anyway). Brad Whitford is still being Josh, but they've managed to write him a spine, so that's a big improvement.

Oh yeah, and it's also damn funny. If you can, try to find the pilot episode, if for no other reason than for the musical number towards the end. I especially like the fact that it's not all behind-the-scenes; we do get to see some sketches played out as well.

There are still some question marks about how it's all going to play out, but I think it's been a promising first three episodes. And I, for one, will be parked on the couch Monday nights to see how it goes.

The Wire: With apologies to those of you without HBO, this may be the best show on television right now, and it's not especially close. Rave all you want about Lost or Grey's or whatever, but I'll take this show every time over most others. For my money, it's better than The Sopranos ever was, and manages to do what that show never really did: make me care about what's going on week-to-week. I went to viewing parties for Sopranos and everything, but I didn't really take the time out to watch it otherwise. But I make sure to tune in to this one.

The Wire is a serial, so it's tough to drop into (much like Lost or 24), but it's totally worth renting the previous seasons on DVD to catch up (well, I can't really speak for Season 2, but 1 and 3 were great). We're three or four weeks into this season, but the On Demand crowd can catch up relatively easily.

The show is dark, and tragic, and disturbing, but it's Just. So. Good. It's set in Baltimore, but I don't think I've seen a shot of the Inner Harbor used for anything other than an interstitial; the whole show takes place in the parts of the city you never want to be caught in. On one hand, it's about bad people doing bad things, the good people trying to stop them, and the people who get caught in the middle. On the other hand, nothing about the show is that simple; nothing is quite that clearly defined, and that's part of what makes the whole thing so compelling. Sympathetic "villains," "heroes" you want to spit at, and everything in between. And it's all completely believable. The show is run by a former Balt Sun reporter and a former Balt homicide detective, and they succeed in showing the city a fair amount of respect while letting the light in on some of its worst aspects. Perhaps most importantly, they get a lot of support from the city itself, which is a strong endorsement in my eyes. It's not easy to watch at first, but the discomfort passes as you figure out just how good it is.

I watch other stuff as well, but nothing all that regularly. I would probably watch even more if I still had my DVR (which didn't come with me when I moved), but the fact that I don't is probably better for my grades. I pick a couple of shows in a given semester to plan around, and these days it's Studio 60 and The Wire.

What are you watching?


Namaste said...

I wish I had time for TV! Good for you!

V said...

If you haven't, yet, check out David Simon, creator of The Wire and a million other things, who is so interesting to learn about. He was a journalist turn novelist turned TV writer. makes the series all that much more worth watching :)

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