Monday, April 21, 2008

Post-strike TV round-up, part one

Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi, Fridays, 10 p.m.)
This is actually pre-strike TV, since Sci Fi held off the season premiere long enough to not have the strike interrupt the flow of episodes (of course, that meant a ridiculously long wait between seasons, but I guess they felt it was worth it). This is the show's final season, although it will be broken up into two parts, so there's a clear sense of an endgame being set in motion. After some meandering last season and a few terrible one-off episodes, as well as the disappointing two-hour special Razor, BSG seems to be back on track, and as with Lost, having a clear end point in sight and goals to reach has probably energized the writers. Certainly there are a lot of loose ends hanging that won't get tied up, since this show is not planned in advance nearly as tightly as, say, Lost, but a lot more of what has been promised for a long time is playing out here. There's the great mystery of who the final Cylon model is, the intriguing chaos of the Cylon civil war, Starbuck's insane Col. Kurtz-like quest for Earth, and real stakes established this week with the death of Cally, a character that many, many online fans hate with a passion that I've never quite understood. James Callis has been hilarious and fascinating as Baltar, whose messianic insanity has taken another new weird twist, and Katee Sackhoff is doing great work making Starbuck seem entirely off the deep end yet also probably entirely right. There's plenty of time still for ill-advised digressions, but I think the big-picture direction of the show is right on target.

My Name is Earl (NBC, Thursdays, 8 p.m.)
I've actually got the most recent episode of this sitting on my DVR, unwatched, and I don't know if I'll ever get to it. This show has really gone downhill since it began, and this season especially has been a massive disappointment. The writers have gotten so far away from the core concept of the show that it is almost unrecognizable at times. What was really a simple and direct idea has gotten all convoluted, and there are almost no standalone episodes anymore, in which Earl simply rights a wrong on his list. The first half of this season was spent with Earl in prison, and the final pre-strike episode had him out of prison but rejecting his list, which was okay for one installment, and ended with his getting hit by a car again, presumably to restore his dedication to karma. Fair enough. But instead of getting back on the right path, Earl has now been in a coma for four episodes, while the supporting cast works on his list and he shows up in unfunny fantasy sequences about his relationship with Alyssa Milano's Billie. The misguided plotting might be forgivable if the jokes were still funny, but they almost never are, and the writers are now relying on familiar catch phrases more than anything. I had planned to at least stick around until the end of the season, but it's become so tedious to watch that I'm not sure it's worth the effort.

The Riches (FX, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.)
More pre-strike TV, just airing now, although thanks to the strike there are only two more episodes left of the shortened season. It's not a good sign that FX didn't bother ordering the full season's worth of episodes once the strike was over, and I don't really expect this show to be back for a third season (I don't know how the ratings have been, but they were already shaky in season one). I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, either, since this has always been a show with an interesting premise that can't quite figure out what to do with it, and this season has been full of missteps and lost potential. There were two episodes spent just undoing last year's finale, and then a strained setup for why the Malloys wanted to get back to pretending to be a suburban family, way too much with annoying, over-the-top villain Dale, and lately an extremely pointless and nonsensical plot about Dahlia deciding to report for parole. The suspension of disbelief, always extremely high, has just about cracked, and even Minnie Driver's usually excellent performance can't make up for the dumb things they're having her character do. I still think there's a good show in here about con artists trying to pretend to be suburbanites without losing their souls, but it only very rarely shows itself anymore.

Samantha Who? (ABC, Mondays, 9:30 p.m.)
This is a genial sitcom that's usually not hilarious but has at least one or two genuinely funny moments in each episode, and is pleasant to watch thanks to the performances and likable characters. It remains nothing spectacular, but I enjoy it every week, and Christina Applegate does great comic work as well as providing some nice emotional moments. It's entirely possible that this show will go the way of My Name Is Earl and lose sight of the concept that made it funny in the first place, but for now it's a successful little gem.

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