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Archive for the ‘essay’ Category

Mondays:

CBS: How I Met Your Mother (8 pm EST), The Big Bang Theory (9:30 EST)

NBC: Heroes ( 8 pm EST), Chuck ( beginning in March 2010)

Fox: House ( 8 pm EST), Lie To Me ( 9 pm EST)

CW: Gossip Girl ( 9 pm EST)

ABC: Dancing With The Stars ( 8 pm EST), Castle ( 10 pm EST)

Mondays are again cluttered with good TV and fan faves. Expect Castle to see  ratings to increase as NBC replaces scripted TV with Jay Leno, Fox and CW go local,  and CBS airs the aging but still popular CSI: Miami.  Also, Big Bang will likely become the most watched scripted show on a Monday by May. Yes, it will surpass lead in Two and a Half Men. HIMYM  at 8 pm, as well as it’s 100th episode, may seal this sitcom’s fate. I predict that unless there is a serious ratings bump and it does a better anchoring job than in the past, this will be HIMYM final season. Heroesis in turmoil after two seasons of disappointing stories and uneven episodes, and the fans are leaving in droves. Only a section of diehards are here, and we’re holding out hope that Tim Kring turns it around. Introducing a new villain, as much as we all love Sylar, will help. CW still has the corner on the youth buzz market, but One Tree Hill  is past it’s prime, and Gossip Girl  needs less shock value, more actual story telling. All the whispers about the House  season six premiere being amazing leads me to believe House’s break down is going to revive the aging series and give Hugh Laurie something new to do.  Lead out Lie To Me still has two things going for it- an intriguing premise and Tim Roth. The biggest disappointments are the fact none of NBC’s one hour dramas, including Monday night entry Trauma, seem to be worthy of my time, and Chuck  won’t be back until March. Unless, of course, NBC’s entire fall sked falls apart. Which it will.

Tuesdays:

CBS:  NCIS ( 8 pm EST), NCIS: Los Angeles ( 9 pm EST), The Good Wife ( 10 pm EST)

NBC: forget it.

Fox: So You Think You Can Dance ( 8 pm EST), American Idol ( January 2010)

CW: destroying the happy memories of my youth.

ABC: V (November 2009), DWTS Results show ( 9 pm)

Frankly, I’m not a huge NCIS  fan, I refuse to watch the new CW revivals of early 90s Fox shows, so outside of Fox’s dance and singing programs and the very promising looking CBS drama The Good Wife, the only thing I’m waiting for is V. I’m a geek, yes.

Wednesdays:

CBS: Criminal Minds ( 9 pm EST)

NBC: Nope.

Fox: SYTYCD Results Show ( 8 pm EST), Glee ( 9 pm EST), Idol Results Show ( January 2010, well, more like February 2010)

CW: America’s Next Top Model ( 8 pm EST)

ABC: Modern Family ( 9 pm EST)

I have faith that Criminal Mindswill find its way back after an uneven season that has given us a couple of classic episodes and several clunkers, but I’m such a Gleek that for the first time I’m really compelled to watch something besides my favorite BAU gang. Fox has put so much money into the musical dramedy that picking up the back nine is a good bet. NBC has nothing new to offer, really, just SVU and the disappointing looking Mercy. Modern Family  is the most interesting looking sitcom not on NBC Thursdays.

Thursdays:

CBS: The Mentalist ( 10 pm EST)

NBC: Community ( October 2009), Parks and Recreation ( 8:30 pm EST), The Office (9:00 pm EST), 30 Rock ( 9:30 pm EST)

Fox: Bones ( 8 pm EST), Fringe ( 9 pm EST)

CW: neither show is on my radar.

ABC: I’ve stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy.  No George, no me.

It’s either indulge my Comedy geek or indulge my science geek. Right now, I’m leaning to the science geek, as rewatching Fringe over the summer has reminded me that this is a really good show and deserves my patronage. And I’m still a Bones  fan. But giving up NBC’s one solidly good night of TV is a tough one. This may be the night I’m grateful for reruns. At least there is no Sophie’s Choice at 10, where I can watch Simon Baker’s charming performance on The Mentalist  all I want. I’m not into vampire love triangles and I’ve never been an avid Supernatural fan, and ABC’s soapy line up leaves me cold.

Fridays:

CBS:  I don’t watch any of them.

NBC: Or them.

Fox: Dollhouse (9 pm EST)

CW: Never watched Smallville.

ABC: Ugly Betty ( 9 pm EST)

Push comes to shove, it’s Dollhouse. I would follow Joss Whedon to the grave and I refuse to give up on this interesting but not yet great show. If it proves to infuriating, I’ll let the Betty gang continue to crush my heart with it’s continued downward spiral.

Saturdays and Sundays:

CBS: The Amazing Race ( 8 pm EST), Three Rivers ( 9 pm EST) ( both on Sunday)

NBC:  nada

Fox: The Simpsons ( 8 pm EST), the Seth McFarlane 90 minute block ( 8:30 pm EST)

CW: literally nothing. CW has dropped weekend programming.

ABC: can someone tell me why these shows are all still on?

ABC’s very tired line up of warm-hearted sob stories and drippy soapy dramedies has gotten boring. CW has nothing on. NBC has football. There is literally NOTHING on Saturday nights, and only CBS and Fox have anything worth watching on Sundays. Fox’s two hour comedy block is solid entertainment, still amusing, even if The Simpsons, entering it’s trillionth season, is creaking a bit ( it can still knock an episode out of the park once a season though). I’m not the biggest fan of Seth McFarlane’s work, but I certainly don’t begrudge him his phenomenal success. When I do watch The Family Guy I do laugh quite a bit. And The Cleveland Show is rumored to have more heart in the mix. CBS has the always reliable 60 Minutes,  and I love The Amazing Race, but launching Three Riverson Sundays is a bit of a gutsy move. CBS has a lot of faith in this show. I’m an Alex O’Loughlin fan, but I’m a bit worried about it.

Other shows to watch over the season:

HBO: Real Time With Bill Maher ( Fridays), Curb Your Enthusiasm (fall 2009)

ABC: Lost ( presumably Wednesdays, January/February 2010)

AMC: Mad Men ( currently airing on Sundays, with reruns throughout the week), Breaking Bad ( 2010), The Prisoner ( 2009/2010)

FX: Damages, Rescue Me, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

TNT: The Closer

 NBC: The Olympics ( February 2010)

 

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Yes, Chuck fans, today is the season finale.

Now, there are rumors floating about that Chuck has been picked up for thirteen ( no truth to that), Nikki Finke saying that the show is safe ( I have issues with Ms. Finke at times, some things she wrote during the WGAstrike hurt some writer friends deeply, so I take what she says with a grain of salt). Let me be clear- THERE IS NO TRUTH TO ANY OF THESE RENEWAL STORIES. So do not think that we are in the clear ( I suspect Chuck will be renewed, because of the help we fans got from prominent TV critics from the Chicago Tribune, The NJ Star-Ledger, and Ausiello at EW.com, which turned a grassroots movement that would probably been effective to a point into a national story not seen since Jericho was cancelled the first time). If we are lucky to see our favorite Buy More employee and the gang back for season three, we cannot give up the big fight- we have to continue to tout the show at every possible moment and make sure people tune in for season three.

The fact is, rarely do these fan based reactionary movements work. the most famous one is of course the Jericho ” nuts” campaign, which saw Les Moonves’ office filled with peanuts. The most successful one in history was the letter writing campaign that saved 80s cop classic Cagney and Lacey, a show cancelled after it’s first season only to return for another five (it also had Ms. magazine backing it). There is also The Family Guy, cancelled by Fox only to come back years later due to the ratings the show got on Adult Swim. That show is also still on the air after many seasons.

The thing that is different about the Chuck campaing, though, is the fan ingenuity. It was a fan who came up with the Subway campaign. See, Subway is prominent in it’s product placement on the show, including the character of Morgan Grimes ( the invaluable Joshua Gomez) singing the $5 footlong jingle a couple of episodes ago. Fans actually praise the product placement on Chuck- it’s obvious, sure, but it’s done in the most fun loving, goofy way. That is why this idea got legs. We all know product placement is the wave of the advertising future on TV, as the rise of DVRs and TV on DVD attest ( not to mention the continued popularity of torrent files). What could be more effective than showing both the advertiser and the network that the idea actually works? NBC has been the most aggressive network in this arena ( see: entire episodes of 30 Rock based around McFlurries and such). They are dying to prove that product placement works. We are helping them prove a point by showing the advertiser that we are watching and listening. It’s easy to be cynical and jaded about the practice, but damn it, we aren’t idiots. Advertising dollars propel the TV industry- that’s why Neilsens, however ineffective, are still the standard we use to gauge viewership. The assumption is if 1% of the population are recorded as watching a certain television show, the number correlate out by formula, there by 2 1/2 Men scores 17 million viewers in a week ( I really don’t know how accurate that is, honestly. No one I know likes that show, but almost everyone I know watches The Big Bang Theory at some point during the week).

The money train, though, is the most important thing to the networks. And that has been part of Chuck’s problem. See, Heroes ( craptastic as it is right now) is owned outright by NBC/Universal, it gets all the money from DVD and International sales. Chuck is produced out of Warner Brothers studios, which means that NBC has to pay the WB a licensing fee, and they don’t garner a huge chunk of those DVD and International sales.  That is why, despite comparable numbers ( Heroes still draws in a few hundred thousand more, plus a bit more in the oh-so important 18-49 demo), Heroes pulled in an early renewal call and Chuck- well, by all accounts, it’s on the positive side of the bubble, but it’s on the bubble none the less.

All things being considered though, Chuck has everything going for it- it’s like Lost and Heroes in it’s dense mythology, but unlike both of those shows, it’s actually funny, light hearted, positive, and charming on top of smart and thrilling. It’s not weighed down by a ridiculously massive cast that requires maneuvering ridiculous amounts of story lines. It says great things about family and friends. It’s actually quite family friendly ( I know last weeks Chuck-Sarah make out session was a little steamy, but as my preteen daughter pointed out, when was the last time you saw a show that actually encouraged responsible sexual practices and said condoms are important and don’t sex someone up without one. Yeah, but you know, I’m one of those ridiculously open liberal parents that allows my kids to swear because there are worse things in the world they could be doing, like robbing liquor stores). And the cast has shown in the last few weeks that they really appreciate us as the fans.  Few shows have the majority of their cast and crew talk to the hosts of a fan podcast to discuss things the way Chuck’s cast and crew did last week for Chuck vs. The Podcast. Few show runners would engage their fans in interviews, thanking them and encouraging the ” Take It To the Man” attitudes. Few would actually say ” Send Nerds” ( as in the candies) like  Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak did. Fans often feel passionately about their shows, but there often seems like there is a wall between creators and fans, and we never even know if they know how passionate we are about what they do. The Internet has changed this somewhat, and I have seen show runners get majorly involved now in fan communities ( Criminal Minds Fanatic has a notoriously close relationship with Ed Bernaro and the creative crew on that show). Chuck falls on that side of the TV world. A lot of that, I’m convinced of, is Josh Schwartz being so frakkin’ young himself, growing up in the era of video games and the rise of the Internet. Chuck’s NBC page uses integration really well, and Schwartz ( who also produces the CW’s Gossip Girl- talk about a Sophie’s Choice situation in the Schwartz home Mondays at 8 pm) is savvier than most about the ways to use the Internet community. 

Another fan based movement happens on the mother of all Internet driven commercial real estate- ITunes. Chuck is available on ITunes, and  so is the music. Chuck fans have been encouraged to of course purchase episodes off of the music store, but there has also been a push to buy the music featured. The Chuck soundtrack is heavy on two things- indie rock ( Bon Iver, Phantom Planet, Spoon, Flight Of the Conchords) and eighties classics ( Rush, Journey, Twisted Sister, Huey Lewis and The News). I know I have bought songs simply because I heard it on Chuck first. And I have apparently forgotten how much I loved Huey Lewis as a kid. I would like to thank Chuck for reminding me.

And more on that eighties thing- well, it’s less about the eighties per se than the genius way this show pays homage to the popular culture of the people of my age group. Emmett Millbarge- totally Spies Like Us. The Godfather? Well, you know that the Buy More is just a different kind of mafia, right?  Casablanca is probably referenced in this show more than one could possibly realize. There have lines cribbed from everything- James Bond, The Warriors, Quantum Leap, Jerry Maguire… part of the fun is realizing that yes, Nicole Richie and Ben Savage’s characters are, in fact, named Heather Chandler and Mark Ratner ( from the two greatest high school movies ever- Heathers and Fast Times At Ridgemont High).

Then there is that cast. Adam Baldwin as the indomitable Maj. ( now Col.) John Casey- a mix of his characters in My Bodyguard and Firefly ( Jayne Cobb=John Casey on earth and with a badge). The beautiful Yvonne Strahovski ( nicknamed Strahotski by libido charged fanboys) has grown into her difficult role of kick ass chick with a gun and a heart. How can you hate a show with a character nicknamed Captain Awesome, and Ryan McPartlin’s character has developed from one note joke to the person Chuck first tells about his secret. Sarah Lancater’s Ellie Bartowski is a smart woman who loves her brother to the point of almost smothering him, but she genuinely cares about what he is doing with his life. Jeff and Lester provide hilarious comic relief at the Buy More, and let’s face it, Jeffster is the coolest lame ass band in TV history. Morgan Grimes is the devoted best friend, and the Chuck-Morgan bromance is the stuff of legend. Then there is Zachary Levi as Chuck- handsome but not so much so as to be unbelievable as a geek, but not so geeky as to be off putting. He’s charming, affable, and funny, and a really great actor. I’m actually sure of the fact if it wasn’t for the show’s lead, the show would not work. Sometimes character and actor just mesh in a way as to become one. From all accounts, Zac Levi is an awful lot like Chuck in real life- video gamer, sweet, generous, and warm.

There are many reasons why Chuck deserves a third season, most of them listed above. But let me just say one more thing before I go and Twitter some more about the Subway thing and the season finale and just how beloved this show actually has become. I can tell you right now that the first two episodes were fun but didn’t inspire diehard loyalty from me. It wasn’t until the show’s mythology began to develop around the middle of season one I became hooked. What was a funny little spy show became deeper and more involved in “Chuck vs. the Alma Mater”, when you began to get a sense that the reason for Chuck to become the human intersect was bigger than originally thought. This is one show that has gotten better with each episode. Hurt by the ten month layoff the strike caused, being in the most competativetime slot ( Mondays at 8 ET- opposite House, Dancing With the Stars, The CBS comedies The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother, and Gossip Girl on the CW), this show deserves so much better than NBC has given it. And the best thing I think NBC, after handing over five hours of prime time to a comedian ( even money from me Jay’s show fails), being in fourth place, and with little looking all that promising for them, is too reward a loyal, if small, audience.

Here’s hoping for season three of Chuck, with at least thirteen, preferably twenty two, episodes. There are worse things that could happen.

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You know, this one was just to mind blowing to wait till Monday or Tuesday to do. I mean, it’s disco week. The much mocked, undervalued seventies dance music that has enjoyed a recent underground revival ( truthfully, it never really went away). The general consensus is Adam will be the only one to survive this train wreck week in waiting, but that would only be if he doesn’t repeat himself by doing something to close to ” Play That Funky Music” ( please don’t…). When I was researching, I kept looking at songs and seeing Adam do something pretty close to that performance. I want him to do something different. The rest- well, I guess it comes down to what Idol means by disco. Practically every dance groove of the last thirty five years qualifies as disco. But something tells me that Idol producers lack imagination or even a working knowledge of music styles, so I’ve narrowed my list to mid 70s to very early 80s dance pop. It doesn’t mean, though, that the Idols should do it disco style.

Allison- the talented teen with the Joplin rasp seems like a goner if she doesn’t pick just right. Her age may also lead her to an obvious choice- “Lady Marmalade”. The huge cover done by Christina and company, not the LaBelle version ( though they really are too similar for words- louder guitars do not a rock song make). But my advice- ignore the song about New Orleans prostitutes and go instead for the Feist version of the BeeGee’s ” Love You Inside And Out”. It’s quieter, more even, and easier to adapt to Allison’s great but limited voice. Alternate choice- the disco classic ” I Love The Nightlife”, only because it’s the fifth greatest disco song in history. Avoid- Blondie’s ” Heart Of Glass”. If Allison has a falsetto, we haven’t heard it. The verses span an entire octave.

Anoop- he does best on ballads, but I would like to see him try something like Earth Wind and Fire’s ” September” ( fourth greatest disco song of all time). It’s smoother than most disco standards, and I’d like to see if he can match Phillip Bailey’s amazing vocals ( doubt it- no one can, not even Bailey anymore). Alternate choice- ” I Just Wanna Be Your Everything”, Andy Gibbs’ schlockfest love song. Avoid- anything that requires any range, i.e. The BeeGees.

Adam- the funny girl comedian in me could make so many wisecracks… but I won’t. I prefer Adam when he just sings, but if any week requires high camp- it’s this week. I wouldn’t be adverse to a stunning rendition of forgotten ABBA gem ” Voulez Vous”, but I pick instead a- Lou Rawls song. Hear me out, people. ” You’ll Never Find A Love Like Mine” is a great disco song. Lou had one of the great baritones in history. Adam is no baritone, but the song could really allow that clearly amazing tenor voice of his some actual range defying drama. The song would allow for embellishments if needed, but would benefit form a highly controlled vocal. I want him to sing. I want to challenge Adam to use his lower register. See where I’m going. Avoid- camp classics that would remind tween girls everywhere that Adam plays for the other side. Which is 95% of disco music.

Matt- his ass saved by the judges, Matty lovely needs to step it up. And he gets disco week? The kid never had a shot, indeed. Poor Matty. But I’m throwing him a bone and suggesting Bill Wither’s ” Lovely Day”- soulful folk disco pop. Avoid- Everything else.

Danny- I honestly thought it would be hard for me to find DWPing songs in the most gloriously banal, apolitical, sunshiney genre of music in the history of mankind. I was so wrong. He could go with ” Don’t Leave Me this Way”. “Last Dance”. “Tragedy”. ” You’re The First, My Last, My Everything”. ” I Will Survive”. I predict he’ll go with Andy Gibb’s ” An Everlasting Love” and put the go in Gokey. At least, I hope. Avoid- frankly, do whatever the hell you want, Gokey, just do it badly and get out of my life.

Lil- the one who woulda gone home if the world was at all fair. The bet is Donna Summers ( the truly awful, worst song in history ” MacArthur Park” please. Even Carrie Underwood couldn’t make that song good.) But- there are a couple of other options. The obvious ” I Will Survive”, for one. But i keep on hoping for Lil to just dirty it up a bit. I want her to sing ” Don’t Leave Me This Way”. I just keep hoping she can hit something. But if she fails, she’ll fail miserably, and then I never will have to listen to her again.

Kris- oh no. Ummm, I picking blindly out of a hat and going with- Boz Scaggs’ ” Lowdown”. I really have nothing for our sweet Jason Mraz wannabe. Nothing. So I just picked randomly off of Wkipedia’s List of Disco artists. It could have been Boney M.

And I am sorry I couldn’t work Boney M’s legendary ” Rasputin” into this list. Till now. That woulda been frakkin’ awesome, no?

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I spent all this past long weekend hunkered down with every episode of my favorite spy show ever in marathon session ( only breaking to watch Conan O’Brien on ITAS, but that’s a different obsession thread). So I decided to come up with a list of my ten favorite episodes.

10. Chuck vs. the Imported Hard Salami

The kiss. The kiss. The kiss…

9. Chuck vs. Santa Claus

This very important to the mythology episode gave us an insight into Fulcrum- they are catching onto the fact they keep losing agents at the Buy More pretty quick ( it’s actually mentioned in a later episode), so they try to suss out who the CIA is so interested in. Turns out, it’s Chuck, and Sarah’s job description won’t let even an unarmed Fulcrum agent get away.

8. Chuck vs. The Third Dimension

The 3D episode that aired after Superbowl Sunday was a good stand alone episode, not completely drenched in show mythology ( although enough of it to keep regulars interested). Dominic Monaghan’s rock star is one of the most hilarious characters in Chuckiverse. He really seems to like Casey’s tranqs…

7. Chuck vs. The Cougars.

Nicole Richie doesn’t totally suck. Really. And we get some genuine Sarah back story.

6. Chuck vs. The Predator

One of the heaviest episodes in both tone and mythology, the search for Orion and the impact of Chuck’s choices nearly costs everyone. The Buy More subplot was really funny as well. Emmett with a bat, people!

5.Chuck vs. the Alma Mater

The Stanford Episode. This is where the mythology really begins to start up, and we get a lot of Bryce Larkin-Chuck answers we needed.

4. Chuck vs. The DeLorean

You have to love a show so into Nerdvana that the famed Back To The Future car plays a key role in the Morgan world and the Chuck world. The thing makes a terrible getaway car, as it dies if you go over twenty two miles per hour.

3. Chuck vs. The Marlin

The season one finale involves a four foot stuffed Marlin, an engagement ring, the CIA robbing Buy More, mammary cam, Chuck’s cover being blown, and Casey actually being conflicted about his new assignment.

2. Chuck vs. The Suburbs

This excellent episode gives Charah shippers some bliss, but also gives us intrigue, the Intersect, Fulcrum, and some answers and new questions. Plus some of the best music uses in the series. 

1. Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer

The math that forms the basis of video games and music comes into play in this episode, which Missile Command saves the world from WWIII ( and Chuck playing it- Chuck does save the world often with geek stuff). Funny, myth growing ( Fulcrum story was beginning to pick up steam), with awesome music and yes- JEFF has fans.

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In continuing with the web world’s ” Save Chuck” week, I have added yet another article I’ve written about the NBC spy dramedy.

10. Awesome Guest Star

This was confirmed on Monday with Chevy Chase playing a Steve Jobs- type Ted Roark and Scott Bakula playing Stephen Bartowski, Ellie and Chuck’s long absent father. The show has used high profile guest stars in very clever ways. Tony Todd played a CIA operative in season one ( he got blown up in the season two premiere). Jenny McCarthy and Andy Richter showed up in an episode playing Stepford style neighbors when Chuck and Sarah were undercover in suburbia. Melinda Clarke, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jordana Brewster, John Fleck, Iqbal Theba,  James Hong, Kevin Weisman, and Nicole Richie have all shown up to cause some havoc, Tony Hale has recently joined as Chuck’s new Buy More nemesis, and there have been inspired turns by John Laroquette as a Bond-like spy, Gary Cole as Sarah’s con man father, Rachel Bilson as a momentary Chuck distraction with a fondness for sandwiches, and the inspired casting of Bruce Boxleitner and Morgan Fairchild as Captain Awesome’s awesome parents. The show has never gotten it’s guest casting wrong. Ever.

9. Cool Gadgets

Product placement means everyone has a I Phone in Chuck’s world, but whatever. It’s the bugs, the watch, the Nerd Herd mobile in place of an Aston Martin, guitar pins, and of course, the coolest of them all, the intersect in Chuck’s brain. Close second would probably be the Intersect 2.0. It looked awesome.

8. Cool action.

The pilot had Sarah driving the Nerd Herd mobile backwards down a fight of stairs, Sarah nearly getting run over by an SUV, a close call with a bomb that was disarmed by a death knell computer virus named after a Serbian porn star, an awesome foot chase by CIA agents, the original Intersect exploding- in on 42 minute episode. The action hasn’t let up much. So far Chuck has flown a helicopter, disarmed more bombs, been chased through Stanford among other locations, been poisoned, stolen nuclear codes, stolen a diamond, escaped exploding vehicles, turned a Chinese spy to save her brother, lost his sister’s engagement ring, stopped a massive biological warfare tactic, pulled a massive con to obtain terrorist bank account info, saved everyone in Buy More from a hostage situation, partied with a drugged out rock star who is wanted by terrorists, has had three separate intersects downloaded into his brain and is still somehow managing to walk around, escaped a Predator, and we can’t count how many knives and guns have been near this guy without managing to kill him. I sometimes feel like I’m the one running from the bad guys.

7. It’s a Nerd Heaven show.

As it Rush loving, video game worshipping, comic book collecting, vinyl searching Nerd Heaven. It’s referenced almost every major sci-fi film and TV show ( including having Adam Baldwin on the cast- and the sly little Firefly references that brings).  This show is almost like a graphic novel type of story come to life on our TVs every Monday, and it’s clever working in of Nerd knowledge makes geeks everywhere ( like myself) feel all warm and happy inside. Best of all- they had a sandworm from Dune! Who thinks up that shit?

6. Smart and Smartly written.

There does seem to be a new movement among a certain group of TV writers not to dumb down the material, and Chuck never does. It throws around very heavy ideas of national security and the constant danger we are never aware we are. It actually grounds the show, which could easily spin off into wild and wacky, original Casino Royale territory. In the millennium we are now in, where the public knowledge of terrorism is so acute, it could be easy to turn something that is a loving comic homage into an outright spoof, but it never does that.

5. Zac. Adam. Yvonne. Joshua. Sarah. And the rest.

Yes, my simultaneous crushes on Zachary Levi and Adam Baldwin compelled me to watch the show in the first place. But the cast is so winsome, charming, funny, and the chemistry is so great that you just can’t help but love every one of them.

4. It says something about family.

As someone who barely speaks to her father and lost her mother even before I physically lost my mother, the sibling relationship between Levi’s Chuck and Sarah Lancaster’s Ellie speaks to me deeply. I often felt during my teen years while my mom was sick that it was just me and my brothers alone in the world. We are not as crazy close as they are now, but we always fight it out for each other. It’s a realistic relationship between siblings that is warm and nurturing instead of the usual snarking and underhandedness seen in today’s TV families.

3. ” It’s Complicated”

This is the mantra of the show, used to explain almost everything to everyone. There is no easy way out for anybody, not from their emotions, not from their jobs, not from their relationships. There is no real fix. It allows the show to be even that much more clever than the average show.

2. It’s as funny as hell.

It’s smart funny. It doesn’t rely much on dumb laughs ( it has it’s moments, but hey, everyone loves a good “sitting on an exercise ball in an office makes fart noises over your CIA issued listening device” joke, right?), but on worplay, physical comedy, and cultural references that makes almost everyone smile. Levi was on the sitcom Less Than Perfect a few years back ( and was, frankly, the best thing on it). He has amazing comic chops.  And again, let us remind everyone that a show that nicknames a character Captain awesome with no cynicism is truly awesome itself.

1.The mythology is intriguing.

As someone who loves comic books, you would think I would love those mythology heavy serial shows like Lost and Heroes. The truth is- I don’t.  I like Fringe, but I ended up being so exhausted after Buffy and X-Files both ended that I just never tried again. Until Chuck Bartowski opened that email from Bryce Larkin.

The show requires enormous leaps of faith by the audience, since some of the things done in the context of Buymoria is flat out ridiculous. But I never doubt the computer in Chuck’s brain, the sudden rise of Fulcrum, the fact that a Nerd Herder fro the local Buy More may be the most important intelligence asset in the world, and the fact Casey and Sarah can apparently kill everyone and anyone with a wood skewer. I’ve watched every episode multiple times and I learn something new every single time. It’s been a while where I have felt this much passion about a show that requires this much involvement. God, I’ve missed it.

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The recent cancellation of ABC’s great remake of BBC’s ” Life On Mars” annoyed me a great deal. Good shows aren’t given chances anymore ( Seinfeld would be cancelled now if it got the type of ratings the first season got). Bad shows aren’t given chances, either, but beggars, choosers, never the twain shall meet. The following five shows are currently on the air and are on the bubble. Four are shows I enjoy a great deal but could survive without if need be. The fifth is a show I would possibly go postal over if it was cancelled.

5. Mad Men ( AMC)

I am unaware of where the movie channel falls in the realm of American cable channels. But on my Canadian cable service, it’s included in the third tier standard cable pack and in the lower fifty channels. We watch the network a lot in my house ( hey, I got a thing for eighties schlock horror and bad war movies and constant Godfather marathons). But in this sadly lacking movies movie network is a surprisingly smart man who has taken up the mantle of what HBO used to. Bless the exec who grabbed Matthew Weiner’s  sixties era ad drama when HBO turned it away.

The series is pitch perfect in tone- it kinda feels like a sixties era drama in some way. It is deliberately paced, with impossibly beautiful people populating dark smoky rooms in expensive looking clothes. But it is also darkly subversive, hinting at the socio-political changes about to explode while still reacting to the strait-laced ideals of the fifties. It’s not an easy series to watch- it cuts straight to the heart of it’s characters. In fact, it’s not just a historical piece, it’s a pretty affecting psychological drama.

4. How I Met Your Mother (CBS)

I know, it’s been on for four year, and with syndication money coming up, it seems unlikely that the show will be cancelled ( not to mention there is talk of an eight year plan? Really?) But this and it’s preceding program, the much buzzed about “The Big Bang Theory”, are two really great sitcoms that bend the parameters of the classic multi-camera. Of the two, HIMYM is actually more genre bending. Yes, there is a laugh track, but I hardly noticed it for three seasons. They play with flashbacks, flash-forwards, and memory flaws. There are hints, red herrings, and the show has it’s own separate language. Damn it, this show brought the word “awesome” back to awesomeness. Even when the story telling becomes to goofy, to out there, there is something about this show that is surprisingly heart warming and gentle. 

3.  Flashpoint (CTV/CBS)

It’s not just national pride here. Do I like seeing a show about Canada, sounding like Canada, on TV? Of course. But the Canadiana is limited. It’s about the cops, their job, the impact.

The fact is, Flashpoint is a very different kind of cop show. Snipers have always been the cavalry that comes in in SWAT jackets and rifles and save the day. The life and emotions of these people have never really been dealt with on television. It’s a thrilling show to watch- it is a well produced cop show. But the strength actually lies within it’s cast- particularly Hugh Dillon, who has the ability to break hearts without saying a word. A strongly ACTED cop show is a rarity.

2. 30 Rock (NBC)

NBC has been getting a lot of flack. A LOT of flack. A lot of it from me. The former network series champion has suffered from a drastic turn of events the last five years to be fourth place. A lot of this comes from Fox having American Idol, 24, and House, three shows that dominated for a few years. Some of it has to do with CBS being able to re-brand itself with crime dramas and solid comedies. ABC has managed to stay a float with popular reality shows. NBC has been stuck. It hasn’t had a huge hit that doesn’t involve Howie Mandel and a suitcase in FIVE YEARS. Even when they get lucky ( the first season of Heroes), they manage to screw it up somehow. It’s flagship shows, the Law and Order triad, have gotten stale, old, and floundered ( the mothership has gained some strength in the last season due to recasting efforts, but it still comes off as comfort food viewing, and the ratings are way down from the glory years of the mid to late 90s). They even moved Criminal Intent to cable ( where, surprisingly, it thrived. Go figure.)

NBC has tried to keep up with what made it so fabulous in the 80s and 90s- Thursday night comedy. And the comedies are good. The three really good ones are all in the Scrubs vein- single camera oddball shows that have their own language and style. Earl and the Office both had a great hook when they started-  Earl had a new and interesting premise, the Office had a pedigree.

30 Rock has Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, two of the greatest things to happen to American comedy in the last ten years- and so few people are watching it. It boggles my mind. The show has always been hit or miss, but man- when it hits, it really hits. The show is never going to be joke- punchline. It’s smart comedy, subversive, shocking, fearless comedy.

Never mind, I think I just answered my question.

1.Chuck (NBC)

So I believe that NBC should rethink it’s programming  strategy- take the place of Fox as the network unafraid of being the place where shows can be experimental, fearless, and yes, even low rated. Be the new cult show network. Don’t be scared. Yes, ad revenue will be down. But cult TV fans are loyal and spend according to the cult they follow.

Which explains my strong desire, as a Chuck fan, for I Phones, Nerd Herd shirts, and $5 foot longs from Subway. I also want an Intersect. But I digress.

Chuck is probably one of the top three shows on the air right now. It is probably the greatest action comedy show in the history of television ( i am that bold). It’s another fiercely subversive show, a show in which technology, geeks, and science rule the world. Our everyman Chuck is a genius supercomputer with absolutely no implants or anything in his brain. He is just that smart. The show takes swipes at commercial culture as well ( the employees at Buy More are the laziest SOBs in the world). But mostly, it’s a cool show to watch. Zachary Levi is a charming, funny guy who deserves the success this show should bring him. Adam Baldwin is on this show, people, and Browncoats should be there to see his John Casey as one of the greatest creations right now on television 9 what does it tell you that the man has to be shot three times with a tranq gun to bring him down- and that little smile on his face and the little noise he makes when he falls over stoned? Priceless). The show also speaks volume about family and loyalty, which is really rare these days. It’s not a typical family- Chuck lives with his sister, sure, but both their parents took off when they were young, they raised themselves. They are close without coming off as needy and creepy. The family has extended to include Morgan and Devon, Sarah and yes, even John Casey. This is the family of geek culture, my friends.

Plus, how can you not love a spy comedy? The explosions, the gadgets, the constant Star Wars references ( ” Chuck, you’re my only hope” has popped up a few times with precise cadence without being cloying). The fact our hero has a super computer inside his head. The fact he has to live these two very different lives. The fact Devon’s nickname is Captain Awesome ( this is not even a cynical, sarcastic nickname- he really is that awesome). Everything is right about this show. Why aren’t you watching, people?

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As 2008 draws to a close, I am again dealing with a cacophony of voices proclaiming that the sitcom is dead. Now, television is a cyclical business, and this news comes every time a long running show leaves the television landscape and no one steps up the following year with some zeitgeist consuming hit. The last one was Everybody Loves Raymond, which ran for nine seasons and was probably the quietest 90s bred hit sitcom. It never had the buzz of a Seinfeld or a Friends, but it was a good quality, funny traditional three camera sitcom in the vein of a family comedy. I was never the biggest fan of the show, but I know funny and I know quality funny, and it was that. Companion piece King Of Queens ended two years later, another quiet 90s bred hit sitcom that was never an overwhelming success.

The truth is, the last decade or so has been pretty uneven for sitcoms. I get that. The last blow you out of the universe success was Friends, and it debuted in 1994. It’s not that sitcoms haven’t debuted in the last eight ( nine) years that haven’t been successful. According to Jim on ABC is going into a truncated eighth season. No one knows why, as no one I know watches it, or knows anyone who watches it. It’s a bland, often unfunny show, and I have never seen a moment that redeems it in my eyes. But clearly someone is watching it and kept it on the air for eight seasons. But it’s an unmitigated success as it has lasted almost as long as Seinfeld. I wish I was kidding.

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Why the drop? Well, that’s hard to communicate. The 90s had brilliant shows that helped grown the sitcom brand that lasted for nine or ten seasons and that’s hard to over come. Funny hasn’t changed. People still laugh at pratfalls and double entendres. It’s also not cable’s fault. Cable has focused on dramas, not sitcoms, although there are charming funny shows on cable. There is also a lot of crap. But the cable channels are more interested in pushing the drama envelope, as there appears to be more taboos to break in that genre. Funny is funny, but funny also has sketch comedy and stand-up to bust the FCC’s balls with. We can’t blame it on September 11th or the wars or the economy. The golden age of film comedy happened during the Great Depression on through World War Two. Preston Sturges, one of the funniest men who ever worked in Hollywood, wrote an entire film about it called Sullivan’s Travels. Plus, the economy didn’t start tanking till this year, so what excuse does Chuck Lorre have for giving Charlie Sheen a regular gig.

When I posted my top ten television shows/ moments, I made a rule to not be too heavy on one genre. Thank God for that, because it was actually sitcom heavy. The ten shows I watch every week, without fail, are:

The Big Bang Theory

How I Met Your Mother

House

Criminal Minds

Life On Mars

The Office

30 Rock

Project Runway/Top Chef (whatever is currently running)

CSI

The Simpsons ( still a family ritual every Sunday night)

Throw in Mad Men, Damages, Dexter whenever they’re on.

I love funny. Funny makes my day. I’m a sad, angry human being, folks. We dominate comedy. Look at Chuck Lorre, fer chrissakes, the man is an angry genius despite the existence of Two And A Half Men.

I can understand the general appeal of that show, and I bash it perhaps a little unfairly. No, I don’t. I find the men perverted sex crazed lunatics, and the women are crazy or shrewish. These are standard comedy stereotypes, and they annoy me even on shows I love. But I forgive a lot if the jokes are funny, and as much as I adore Chuck Lorre ( and I do), the jokes aren’t there. Not that Charlie Sheen is horrible, and Jon Cryer has saved a few episodes from complete idiocy by being naturally persnickety funny, but overall, the show disappoints simply by refusing to burst through comedy boundaries. It’s a classic sitcom with unfunny jokes.

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Classic sitcoms ( typically, three camera, filmed in front of an audience, laugh track is usual, but not necessarily used anymore) have fallen by the wayside as single camera shows like Scrubs and Arrested Development stole the thunder and are now the gold star comedy standards.  The most successful of these traditional sitcoms on all artistic and comedy levels is Chuck Lorre’s other CBS Monday show, The Big Bang Theory. It is a standard friendship, hot girl next door comedy ( think… well Friends was a version of this, as was Seinfeld, except the latter had no hot girl but wacky neighbor, which is an acceptable alternative to hot girl). But we take a quartet of atypical protagonists and turn the sitcom standards on their ears. How many sitcoms can you name that stars for geeky physicists/engineers ( Wolowitz is still only an M.Eng., after all)? The hot girl, Penny, lives across the hall, and at first I was suspecting she would be a typical dumb blonde ( and was played like that in the pilot, which was why on first view, the pilot was a massive fail for me, despite the appealing comedy stylings of Jim Parsons). It became clear by mid season Penny was not dumb, but normal- she was insecure, struggling, and smart without being- well, the guys she knows. She’s clever enough to play against Sheldon in a game of one upsmanship, but normal enough to be bored at the Physics Bowl. Not only that, she is learning and growing as a human being ( throwing out the Schrodinger cat theory on a date- Sheldon had told her the story two episodes before). She likes her scientist neighbors genuinely, even Sheldon. She’s understanding to their quirks ( even if she desires to challenge them- The Party Pinata episode, anyone?). She is refreshingly normal. She is our every-woman dealing with these hyper-intelligent goofs next door.

The male characters are also twists on standard sitcom characters. Leonard is intelligent geek, but he’s also the romantic lead on the show. It’s his desire to break out from this tiny universe he and his friends have created that begins the series. Howard Wolowitz is as much of a mack daddy as Joey Tribianni- just creepier, as he just doesn’t get the word “no” or ” stalker” or ” gross, I do not want to hear about how you engineered the International Space Station’s Liquid Waste Removal System”. Rajesh is the quiet type- literally, as he is so pathologically shy around women he cannot speak to them. Grasshoppers help with this, but then he turns into an ass.

Then there is Sheldon Cooper. A child prodigy with an IQ not able to be measured by any standard tests, he takes the Felix Unger type and adds in the Ted Baxter blowhole and comes up with magic. He is incapable of seeing the world in any normal way. Social relationships are a burden, but he enjoys the few he does value to an extent.  Jim Parsons, though, imbues this difficult to like character type and imbues him with humanity. Sheldon is desperate for respect from the scientific community, and takes insults to his research seriously ( he would, however, be arrogant enough to deny any of what I just wrote, while plotting to dazzle the world with his next discovery). He is attempting to learn social niceties as he values Leonard’s friendship, and Leonard values Penny ( that Saturnalia hug was priceless).

The show is super smart- the science goes over my head.  but it’s accessible and makes science fun and quasi-cool.  It consistently makes me laugh, particularly as Sheldon tries to deal with the increasing pressure around him to behave like a normal human being. There has been criticism that the show is becoming too Sheldon centric. This is true, but honestly, the worst episodes tend to not focus on Sheldon or waylay him to sidekick status. The shows shining moments, though, are Sheldon-Penny moments, with the pinnacle so far being The Barbarian Sublimation, where Sheldon accidentally gets Penny addicted to Age of Conan and tries to remedy the situation by trying to get her a man. Priceless.

The other high quality traditional sitcom on the air that is consistently funny is The Big Bang Theory‘s lead out, How I Met Your Mother. I keep reading about how this show, which barely made it into it’s fourth season, is slipping. I don’t see it. The first thing I had to do when researching this essay was figure out if the show had a laugh track and/or studio audience ( it has one or the other). I never noticed it. Because I laugh out loud. Still.

A lot of this show’s success is based on the fact the show is a variation on the Friends-Seinfeld paradigm- it’s another buddy comedy. But it’s told in flashback, with the fluidity of memory, that allows for in-jokes and clever wordplay ( pot=sandwiches). It deals with growing older and looking for that perfect adult life without being cloy or predictable. The characters are standard with a twist. Marshall is a lawyer with a heart, ideals, and a naivete I find refreshing in a world populated by cynically men.  Ted is a professional and a dreamer who actually wants to settle down. Robin is a guy’s perfect girl. Too bad that guy appears to be Barney, who is a pig, but is played by Neil Patrick Harris, so he shines and shimmers like a new penny. Even he shows suprising heart and a conscience ( a little late- he already had slept with Ted’s ex, Robin, but he really did feel bad, and ran across Manhattan after Ted was in an accident because bros before hos, dude). Lily is the world’s dirtiest kindergarten teacher- she drinks like a champ and still is unafraid to flash bouncers to get into a bar. They delight in each other, and even Marshall and Lily’s wedding hasn’t slowed down the friends life style.

The show uses a voice over technique to tell the primary story, which actually adds to the comedy ( again, pot=sandwiches. Do you want to tell your kids that you spent your first day of college getting high?). The voice over, smashingly done by the dirtiest man in comedy, Bob Saget, is both a testament to the imperfections of memory and a gift to fans- we obsess over that stupid goat that keeps getting mentioned, but never in the order it’s supposed to be, what the hell BlahBlah’s name is, and the subtle hints of the future. The series is laden with clues- the yellow umbrella, the Stella red herring ( which actually set up a series finale in case it wasn’t renewed), the Barney-Robin connection, Lily drinking water instead of scotch ( although producers insist Lily isn’t pregnant, unlike Alyson Hannigan, who is in real life), Robin’s sudden job loss, Marshall’s ginormous future office at home, which leads me to believe that he never stops working for Goliath National Bank ( there isn’t a tonne of money in environmental law, although in the future, who knows?). All these things are hinted in the voice over as being the beginnings of grand adventures for our favorite five. It’s one of the best uses of a voice over in television.

The other great voice over is on Scrubs. Entering it’s final season ( again), Scrubs is the little sitcom that could. Again, it was never a great commercial success, although we fans are fanatical ( as the six current season DVDs on my self attest to- it’s the only long running series outside of House I own all available seasons for).A mix of heart, funny, and fantasy, Scrubs was a single camera comedy ground breaker. A lot of it’s success rests on the appeal of leading man Zach Braff, who plays John ” J.D.” Dorian as the goofiest, spaciest doctor in the history of television. He’s sensitive, needy, and a bit girly ( to the point Dr. cox, played by the uproarious John C. McGinley, calls him girls names). Entire episodes have taken root in parody and homage ( The Wizard Of Oz episode remains a personal favorite). They did a musical episode ( with smashing tracks like ” Everything Comes Down To Poo” and ” Guy Love”) that was funnier than any musical comedy to come out of Broadway the last five years. In fact, music plays a big role on the show- Eurasure’s ” A Little Respect” played a role in a season one episode, and the season two premiere focused on a Colin Hays song. The show reintroduced the John Cale version of ” Hallelujah” to the world ( and it’s still the best version- Jeff Buckley fans that want to kick my ass can form a line to my left). The humor is biting, but it’s soften by the serious heart of the show. Creator Bill Lawrence isn’t afraid to deal with big issues- returning vets, death, drug addiction have all been dealt with. It’s touching and funny.

The only big time comedy to debut in the last few years outside The Big Bang Theory is the Emmy winning 30 Rock, a single camera comedy that takes a look at the behind the scenes of an SNL type show. The show shines on the performances of Tina Fey as the working single every woman Liz Lemon, who is mean and cynical but in denial about it, and Alec Baldwin as NBC/GE head of Programming ( and Microwaves) Jack Donaghy, who is vicious while speaking softly. And I must say, any show that hires Elaine Stritch to be Jack’s mom is the greatest show on television ( Elaine is a legend and one of the great actresses and why didn’t she become huge outside of theater?) Again, standard sitcom stereotypes apply, from Tracy Morgan’s whacked out comedian to Jane Krakowski’s clueless star Jenna, and then there is Jack McBrayer’s Kenneth the NBC Page, who is naive to the point of absurdity. And it’s the theater of the absurd that makes this show stand out. Most sitcoms these days value the farce, sarcasm, or irony to make us laugh. 30 Rock is a modern day Beckett comedy, and you know if Beckett were alive and working today, he’d be a staff writer on this show.

The other five major comedies on the air- The New Adventures Of Old Christine, Samantha Who?, The Office, My Name Is Earl, and Two And A Half Men– all have their audience. The Office remains beloved by everyone, and manages to hold its core audience well, but with rumors percolating about an imminent Steve Carell departure, I wonder if the shows best days are behind it ( frankly, the jokes have slipped this season, and I’m not feeling as compelled to watch it). My Name Is Earl has always been funny ( it has an original premise- Karma’s a bitch, so let’s make her happy), but it’s also prone to wild swings of quality and taste. Samantha Who? has a dazzling star in Christina Applegate, but I think the material is beneath her. The new Adventures of Old Christine has actually improved since it’s first season, but I’m not as in love with it or Julia Louis Dreyfus as other critics are, and it pains me to say it. And as for the last one, well, I have already declared my issues with it, but I must admit, Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer make the best out of crap material ( that kid, though, has always annoyed me). The few other shows on the air are either in their first season ( and I’m not a big fan of any of them), or are on CW ( and I never watch CW unless Top Model is on- or Gossip Girl, which has also slipped, but that’s a different day), or on Fox ( which hasn’t had a decent sitcom since they stupidly cancelled Arrested Development).

So, is the sitcom really a dying art form? I’d love to say no, but in an ever expanding entertainment universe, I can’t be as sure as I was in the early 90s when  The Cosby Show and Cheers ended and Frasier, Seinfeld, and Friends were just starting out. There will always be sitcoms on TV, there always have been. And eventually,due to the cyclical nature of television, one will be that earth shattering buzz show we wait for every year. But in a day where much of the funniest stuff is coming from the Internet, the age of the sitcom may well be on it’s way out. And I think that’s a shame.

Unless you consider all those MTV “reality” shows sitcoms. Lord knows they are laugh out loud hilarious. Granted, it’s because the level of suck is so high as to be embarrassing, but still- Funny is funny. All I know is that after watching five minutes, I need to go douse my self in bleach to get rid of the skanky feeling I get.

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