Sunday, June 04, 2006

TV season wrap-up, part the second

Alias (ABC)
It's a testament to how far my interest in this show dropped that I had the final episode on tape for almost a week before I got around to watching it. This is another case (like Felicity) of J.J. Abrams leaving a show he created in the hands of others while he moves on to something else, and not even returning to wrap things up. The finale was fine, I guess, and I like that they had a sort of hit parade of past important characters in the last six or seven episodes. But it answered exactly zero questions about the show's ridiculous mythology (not that I ever expected there were any real answers anyway), and ultimately came off as rather perfunctory. This last season had its moments, but it was plagued by the emphasis on useless new characters, the long hiatus, and the lack of Abrams. And, really, nothing since has compared to the second season finale that found Syd waking up with two years of her life missing. That's the kind of mind-blowing twist that the show was once capable of, but it got diluted over years of implausible and gratuitous twists that piled on top of each other to the point that they ultimately became meaningless.

Lost (ABC)
There were a lot of frustrating things on this show this season, including the often pointless flashbacks that seem to serve only as filler to avoid having too many plot developments in each episode. I'm also a little wary of all the connections between characters that now show up in the flashbacks, connections that I worry will turn out to have little if any significance. That said, this was still overall a fantastic show this season, with some outstanding episodes, and the writers answered a lot of the criticisms in the excellent finale, which provided concrete information about many of the show's biggest mysteries, set up different mysteries for the future and, most importantly, was full of actual important things happening to the characters. Episodes like that give me faith that there really is a carefully crafted master plan, even if I sometimes wonder. I don't know how long they can keep piling on mysteries before everything falls apart, but for now it's still holding together for me.

Invasion (ABC)
I really mourn the loss of this show, as I've mentioned before. A lot of people were frustrated with the slow pace in the first third or so of the season, but I thought the deliberate development of plot and story was incredibly well-executed, and I liked how well we got to know the characters and understand their relationships so that we could care about the ways that the titular invasion disrupted their lives. As I said earlier in the season, this show ended up being a rich allegory for the disintegration of the modern family, and a metaphor for how we relate to our loved ones after they've changed in a way that makes us uncomfortable. Those thematic elements sort of took a backseat to the increasingly urgent alien invasion elements in the second half of this season, which made a lot of people happy but had me longing a bit for the relaxed pace of the early episodes. Nevertheless, the show remained fascinating up until its last moments, in a finale that was satisfying enough as an ending but ambiguous enough to suggest possibilities for a second season that will never happen. Between this show and American Gothic, Shaun Cassidy has crafted two of the most intriguing, layered looks at the supernatural in small towns, both of which were rewarded by being cancelled after one season. I hope he gets a chance to do it again.

Survivor (CBS)
It occurred to me a couple of episodes into this season that I had no idea why I was still watching this show. I don't watch much reality TV, except when I have to write about it, but I've been watching this since it started airing six years ago. Reality TV gets blanket condemnation from a lot of people, but there is a right way to do it to make for entertaining and often fascinating viewing, and this show did that a lot of the time. But after 12 seasons, all it's doing is repeating itself. They've made valiant efforts to tweak the formula and offer something new, but they can't make changes too drastic without risking losing the show's core appeal. So what we get are mostly superficial changes that don't do enough to shake the show out of its doldrums. It's not only the structure of the game that's repetitive, though: They end up in locations that are all very similar, and with types of people who repeat each season as well. Even when there's the occasional strong personality or interesting conflict, it's just not enough to shake off the feeling that we've seen it all before, and I haven't really cared about who won for a few seasons now. So I think it's time to say goodbye to Survivor for me, although it does remain one of the higher-quality reality shows on TV, for whatever that's worth.

My Name is Earl (NBC)
This show started out so well that I suppose it was bound to drop off a little in quality over the course of the season. I laughed out loud several times during most episodes in the first half of the season, even when I was watching alone. But after the brilliant episode with Joy and Crabman's wedding, the quality got a lot more uneven, and there were a few episodes that were complete duds. Part of it was the show settling into a formula, although they continually find ways to tweak that formula, and part of it I'm sure was that I was now expecting something brilliant each week, so the bar was raised. I may not have laughed out loud as often in the second half of the season, but I still regularly chuckled, and got to appreciate the broad, Simpsons-like supporting cast that Greg Garcia and the writers built up over 24 episodes. Even if the laughs have diminished a little, the storytelling has gotten richer, and I have confidence they can keep up the quality in the second season.

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