Wednesday, May 31, 2006

TV season wrap-up, part the first

It's been so long since I've done a TV update that this is going to have to come in two parts, with part two posted later in the week (I hope). I'm not exactly timely on most of these anyway, as some of their seasons ended weeks ago.

Prison Break (Fox)
I didn't even watch the last five or six episodes of the season, since I got so fed up with the endless delaying tactics (although I guess they did finally break out). This is a show that was launched with the promise of a carefully planned arc that would play out in a meticulous fashion, but it became clear to me after the show got picked up for the full 22-episode season that there was some re-jiggering going on to delay the actual prison break until May sweeps. Even so, I might have kept watching if the writers had come up with interesting reasons to keep the characters locked up longer, or if the characters themselves were worth caring about. By the end, they seemed to me just like pieces of a plan that had clearly gone off the rails. This is a show that started with a great concept that it was never able to live up to in its execution, and I only imagine it will deteriorate further as it tries to hold the audience's interest with the characters on the run.

What About Brian (ABC)
When I saw the original pilot for this way back in summer 2005, I was absolutely blown away and couldn't wait to watch the show. By the time it made it to air, the pilot was changed significantly, and my excitement cooled a bit. Still, in my initial review, I wrote very positive things, although I wish ABC had given me more than one episode to go on. If they had, I would have written that this is a flawed show with a lot of promise but a lack of direction and an uncertainty about who its characters are. I really wanted this to be Felicity: The Next Generation (and the original pilot indicated that it could be), but the very short season didn't reach those heights. I probably would have been fine with the show getting cancelled, even though it seemed to be slowly finding its footing, but ABC issued a surprise renewal, so I hope the producers can finally live up to their initial promise with the second season.

Thief (FX)
Now here's a show nobody watched, and that really disappoints me. At only six episodes, this was one of the most engrossing, well-written, well-acted, complex and powerful shows of the entire season. Given FX's track record with dark adult dramas, it's sort of baffling why this show didn't catch on (although its similarity to the vastly inferior Heist, which premiered about a week earlier, might have something to do with it). Andre Braugher was amazing in the lead role as a criminal trying to do right by the daughter of his late wife, and all of the relationships on the show were well-developed and intricate. The use of post-Katrina New Orleans as a backdrop was a fortuitous (if you can call such a disaster fortuitous) coincidence, as the damaged city served as an apt metaphor for the damaged characters. The finale ended on an ambiguous note that worked as a nice end point without wrapping anything up too neatly (or at all). I know the chances are virtually zero, but if FX can rescue It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (and kudos to them for that), maybe they can give this excellent show another chance.

Veronica Mars (UPN)
There's been a lot of bitching among the uber-obsessive online fanbase of this show that this season wasn't nearly as good as the first, and that's probably true. But I think the extreme reaction of some fans, seeing betrayal and disgust in the show's direction this year, is misguided and infantile, which is probably not surprising for anything with such a cult-like following. Given how brilliant the first season was, and how complete its story arc ended up being, anything that Rob Thomas and his staff came up with for this year was bound to be a disappointment on at least some level. That said, I think there was a lot of really brilliant stuff again this year, and I'd still put this among the best two or three shows on TV. The mystery was a little too far-reaching and convoluted to offer the satisfaction of last year's Lilly Kane murder mystery, but I was satisfied with the solution and the motive, even if I thought the finale grossly misused the Beaver character in his final rooftop confrontation with Veronica. When I finally realized that Beaver was the killer (which was later than some, perhaps, because I wasn't reading spoilers), I thought it was a brilliant turn, a fascinating way to avoid repeating the first season's ending with the gleefully repulsive Aaron Echolls as the murderer (who got his comeuppance in a satisfying way, even if I'll miss Harry Hamlin's performance). Aaron was a cold-blooded sociopath, but Beaver was a damaged kid lashing out, and that was something new. But his maniacal stand-off with Veronica killed any lingering sympathy and made his ultimate suicide less moving. I still count this season as a success, though, and I hope Thomas goes into season three focused on character development as much as plot (the rumor that there will be shorter mysteries rather than a season-long arc seems to me a good sign).

Boston Legal (ABC)
In my post about the network upfronts, I neglected to mention that this is one of the returning shows I'm looking forward to watching next season. I think that's because it's not a big cultural phenomenon or an intricate drama that requires lots of attention to follow. It's just a fun show with interesting characters, fairly self-contained episodes and an old-school premise and structure. I was worried at the end of last season and the beginning of this one that the show was descending into Ally McBeal-style shenanigans, but it effectively pulled away from that (for the most part), and I imagine that David E. Kelley backing off writing every single episode had something to do with it. I still find most of the political preaching tiresome, even when I agree with it, but at least it's usually in character for the supremely moral (despite his reputation as a shark) Alan Shore. Mostly, this remains a great show about two things that rarely get explored in mainstream culture: male friendship and getting older. I think that Kelley is out to give work to every underappreciated actor over the age of 50 in Hollywood, and god bless him for it. This is a stealth pleasure, but it's a pleasure nonetheless, and a nice break from having to keep track of dozens of clues and plot threads on shows like Veronica Mars and Lost.

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