Given ABC's recent announcement that this will indeed be the show's last season, I'm inclined to forigve any shortcomings in hopes that the writers will rally for final episodes that bring some sense of continuity and coherence to the show as a whole. Already we've seen Syd's old professor from the first season show up in a cameo, and I know Vaughn's coming back in a dream sequence in a couple of weeks. Although it's too bad when a show wraps up with a season all about new characters (like The X-Files did, for example), I haven't found Rachel or Tom Grace to be especially annoying. They've been integrated fairly well into the cast, and it's understandable that the producers wanted someone to go out and wear skimpy outfits and kick ass while Jennifer Garner was busy being knocked up. But it's also too bad that they couldn't have gotten Mia Maestro to do it, since at least hers is an established character. It's hard to kick ass while in a coma, I guess. It's a shame that the ratings have declined to the point that ABC decided to cancel the show, but it's probably time for it to go. I only hope that J.J. Abrams can be bothered to tear himself away from his big movie career and return to write the final episode, something he didn't do with Felicity (which always bugged me).
Boston Legal (ABC)
Only in its second season, this show is already suffering from the same fate as later seasons of Ally McBeal, with David E. Kelley relying on increasingly stupider and more preposterous legal cases and plot twists to constantly up the stakes. We've also got cast turnover, pointless new characters and annoying quirks all over the place, more elements that led to the swift decline of Ally McBeal. I'm on the edge of giving up on this show, but I still love the interactions between James Spader and William Shatner, plus most of what Candice Bergen does, and I even sort of like the new character played by Julie Bowen. I miss Rhona Mitra, though, and the two new young associates are already adrift in the larger plotlines. The one thing I still love about this show is the way it deals sensitively and seriously with getting older in a medium that is so obsessed with youth. Kelley gets further and further away from that with every ridiculous case, though, and I'm not sure if the show can ever get back on the track it's so violently headed off of.
I still think this is an incredibly fascinating and well-crafted show, even if some people have gotten impatient with the slow pace and the unanswered questions. I like the introduction of the new characters this season, even if Ana-Lucia is sort of irritating, and I like that this is a true ensemble show, that the writers aren't afraid to go a week or two without shoehorning in every single character, including the ostensible leads (Jack, Kate, Locke). In that way it's a lot like a team comic book, which is sort of what Damon Lindelof hinted in this interview about his upcoming Marvel comics work. It's certainly paced like a lot of comics, with the interlocking ongoing stories and sprawling cast. The one thing that has grown a little tiresome for me this season is the flashbacks, which seem largely to have outlived their usefulness. Aside from illustrating how the characters are all connected (which we get already), they aren't doing enough to teach us about who they are as people, and of course they slow down the pace of developments on the island. However, probably one of every two is still relatively interesting, and the rest of the show remains really tight. I think that since the newness of the first season, when nearly every episode delivered some unexpected twist, has worn off, there's less excitement to the show, but underneath all the twists, it's still exceptional drama.
I only watched the first episode this season, since, while I think this is a relatively interesting twist on the procedural genre, I'm just bored with the same formula each week. The math aside, the cases were never more creative than those on any of a dozen other cop shows, and while I like the characters, the little character moments were just a small part of the overall show. I still think this is a decent little program, and it's nice that it's doing well, but I just don't have enough time in my schedule to catch it every week (or any week, apparently).
South Park (Comedy Central)
I don't know why I even bother with this show anymore. I can't remember the last time I found it funny. Since there are only about eight episodes a season and it's only a half hour show, it's not much of a burden to keep watching, but since I started watching Invasion (which is on at the same time), I haven't even really made that much of an effort to catch each episode. This season has been full of the same problems that have been plaguing the show for a while, including heavy-handed statements on current events, unfunny jokes repeated over and over again, and points that get made in the first five minutes and then beaten into the ground over the course of the rest of the episode. Every once in a while, there is a weird episode that's non-political and ends up being sort of funny, but this show is clearly long past its prime.
Here's another show that's past its prime, although there's enough entertainment value to keep watching, for now. The first of last season's two editions was dreadfully boring, but the second managed to spice things up a bit. The current edition falls somewhere in between the two, with some interesting twists (bringing Bobby Jon and Stephenie back from last season turned out to be a good move) and watchable players. But there's no way to shake the sense that the show has no new tricks up its sleeve, that we're just watching the same game play out over and over again with little in the way of innovation. I watch very few reality shows that I don't have to write about, so for me to stick with this show it has to be pretty compelling. Host Jeff Probst is set to leave after the next installment, and that might be time for me to leave as well.
Veronica Mars (UPN)
And here we are saving the best for last as always. Despite the unenviable task of coming up with a new mystery after actually answering important questions in the first season finale, this has remained the most complex, compelling, clever and flat-out best show on TV. They've introduced a new overarching mystery (the school bus crash) and several smaller mysteries, expanded on secondary characters and introduced intriguing new characters without losing sight of the older characters that made the show what it was. I miss Wallace (although his continued presence in the opening credits indicates he'll be returning), but otherwise I'm not sure I can criticize a single thing this show's done this season. Thankfully, the quality has been rewarded with higher ratings, which are still small but enough for the show to be considered a success for UPN. It annoys me that it's on against Lost (a show whose similar serialized structure means a lot of fan overlap), but if the move has worked and will allow the show's continued success, I'm more than happy to keep on taping it.