24 (Fox, Mondays, 9 p.m.)
I was so optimistic when this new season started in November, and gave the show a positive write-up in Las Vegas Weekly. But they've really squandered much of the potential of the supposed clean slate (no regular characters except Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer returing) and fallen back on many of the devices that have already been used in previous seasons. My biggest problem with the show remains that they never seem to plan out the season's arc in advance, which is really important with a show that's structured like 24. It seems like in every other episode they've written themselves into a corner and have to force the plot to take an inane turn to keep things going. The other major problem is that they got rid of most of the main characters only to replace them with characters who do the exact same things. There's no sense of new life being infused into the show with all the new characters, and honestly the most enjoyment I've gotten out of this season has been from returning characters Chloe (who I really miss now that she's gone) and Tony. This show probably should have only run one season, since there are only so many ways to tell this kind of story and make it exciting and interesting. It still has plenty of good elements, but it's a shadow of the great show it used to be.
Alias (ABC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m.)
Another show that underwent some drastic changes this season and is showing mixed results. I like the idea of doing more self-contained episodes, but at times it seems awkward for a show that was always built on long, involved arcs. Creator J.J. Abrams has done best when working on serialized stories (Felicity, Lost), and too often the self-contained stories on here feel inconsequential. Not all shows can pull off this sort of thing; The X-Files did it brilliantly but too often lately Alias episodes feel like second-rate X-Files episodes without the supernatural elements. There is still clearly a long-term arc building in the background, though, and I believe the next two episodes are a two-parter with some ramifications, so I have hope that a bigger picture will eventually become apparent.
Desperate Housewives (ABC, Sundays, 9 p.m.)
I know everyone loves this show, and I love it too, but as far as new shows go this season, it's still nowhere near as good as Lost or Veronica Mars. I like most of the characters, and for the most part the dialogue is still sharp and funny, but the plotting is sloppy, the mysteries are dragged on way too long and have way too many holes, and as time goes on more and more flaws are becoming apparent. I can't stand Lynette (Felicity Huffman); she's self-important and shrill, and, furthermore, she feels like she's on a completely different show from the rest of the characters. They're all dealing with murders, prison, divorce, infidelity, cover-ups and so on, and Lynette's big problems generally involve her inability to find a good nanny. The show could drop her entirely and not lose anything. I think as long as I keep my expectations relatively low, I'm always entertained by this show. But it's not quite great television, as it's been made out to be.
Numbers (CBS, Fridays, 10 p.m.)
I generally don't like procedurals, but this show and NBC's Medium (which I watch on and off) have managed to get me interested by putting a twist on the formula. It's not so much the obvious twist (adding math on this show, or visions on Medium), but the way the shows focus more on characterization and personal matters than on crime-solving. Sure, the crimes are okay, but what I like about this show are the relationships, between math geek Charlie and his FBI agent brother, the two of them with their father, the agent with his female partner, Charlie with his mentor. It helps that the cast is great, with David Krumholtz, Pete MacNicol and Sabrina Lloyd all excellent players I've liked on other shows, and the brilliant veteran Judd Hirsch as the dad. Even though Rob Morrow is kind of bland as the FBI agent, he balances out the quirks of the other characters. Not the kind of show I ever thought I'd like, but one I find myself looking forward to watching.
The O.C. (Fox, Thursdays, 8 p.m.)
I have been trying valiantly to defend this show this season, since a few of my friends think it just sucks hardcore now. I maintain that it's still better than the Oliver episodes from last season, and moreover that saying it sucks now really gives it too much credit for being good in the past. Like Desperate Housewives, I like most of the characters and the dialogue is usually sharp and funny. But the plotting is almost always predictable and obvious, and of course Mischa Barton is the worst actress on TV. I admit that this season has been less strong, as the writers seem unsure of where to take the characters, but, again like Desperate Housewives, if I don't expect too much I'm usually entertained.
The Surreal Life (VH1, Sundays, 9 p.m.)
I will be the first to decry the sad downfall of VH1, with its endless talking-head shows and countdown specials, most of which are mind-numbingly awful. But this goofy reality show, with washed-up celebrities living together in a house, is pure entertainment gold. I kind of lost interest about halfway through the last season, despite the weird dynamic between Flavor Flav and Brigitte Nielsen. Now that those two have overexposed themselves to death and worn out their welcome with their own show, I'm enjoying the much more normal romance of America's Next Top Model winner Adrianne Curry and former Brady Christopher Knight. This show manages to find the perfect balance of mockery and sincerity, and always find participants who will be entertaining. Almost every season, I hear about someone they've got to be on the show and wonder, "Who wants to watch that person?" and I'm almost always wrong. I can't wait for the next installment.