Thursday, May 08, 2008

Post-strike TV round-up, part two

30 Rock (NBC, Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.)
Tonight is already the finale for this show, which after a sort of shaky post-strike premiere is right up at the heights of the beginning of the current second season. I still think the show was a bit funnier in the first season when the jokes came a little faster, but the increased focus on longer storylines and character development has paid off well, and the jokes are as funny as ever, just not as frequent. It's at the point where there are lots of minor characters who can pop up now and then and score laughs, adding something to their personalities and backstories each time. And the way that Tina Fey has developed Liz Lemon into such a pathetic and yet intensely sympathetic character continues to be extremely impressive. I think that more than any other show I watch this is the one I wish would have had the chance to produce a full season this year. At least it's already been renewed for next year.

Brothers & Sisters (ABC, Sundays, 10 p.m.)
This show also signs off this week, and I'm a little ambivalent about the direction it's taken since coming back from the strike. The storyline about Rebecca discovering she's not actually related to the Walkers seems to me extremely ill-advised, as it negates the reason for the character to be on the show in the first place, and just reeks of soapy desperation. B&S has always had plenty of soap-opera elements, but it's generally been more serious and realistic up until this point. I love nighttime soaps, but turning this show into one does not fit with what's come before. It also seems like the creators are writing themselves into a corner, and I wonder if they are trying to get rid of the Rebecca character. The same goes for Ron Rifkin's Saul, who's never had much to do, and now has reached the culmination of his only storyline as he comes out of the closet. Exploring the issues facing a newly outed gay man in his 60s is something no show has done, but I get the feeling that this development is just an excuse to show the character the door, with all his talk of wanting to move on and live his life in peace (i.e., somewhere else). The other storylines have been fine if not spectacular, but I think the struggle with the soapier elements is really what will define the show as it goes forward, and I hope it manages to stick to at least a little bit of emotional realism.

Gossip Girl (The CW, Mondays, 8 p.m.)
And on the other hand here is a show that is extremely soapy and only gets better the soapier it gets. The arrival of the evil Georgina has been very entertaining, and this week's over-the-top revelation from Serena was entirely ridiculous yet completely intriguing. This show has become something of a cultural phenomenon in the way that Josh Schwartz's last teen drama, The O.C., was in its first year as well, and I hope it doesn't go downhill quickly like that show did. The giddy celebration of wealth and bitchiness is hugely entertaining, and the whole cast is strong, pulling off the lurid twists and catty dialogue with great success. I think I've mentioned before how great Leighton Meester is as queen bitch Blair, but Taylor Momsen has also been doing great work as her chief rival, handling the writers' decision to evolve her character into an entitled spoiled brat with uncommon grace. That storyline, which might have bugged me a bit, works thanks to Momsen. I'm still not sold on Michelle Trachtenberg as Georgina; she just doesn't seem menacing enough. But otherwise this show is stellar entertainment that clearly taps into a certain type of youth culture in a very resonant way. It's another new show I'm happy has already been picked up for next season.

Lost (ABC, Thursdays, 10 p.m.)
As has been noted everywhere, this show has been pretty much awesome this season, completely reinvigorated thanks to the announcement of an end date that the creators are able to work toward. And post-strike it's been just as good, with revelations coming in almost every episode, intriguing cliffhangers and even worthwhile character development (although last week did feature a return to the unfortunate focus on Jack whining). Sure, there are occasional dead spots, but the use of the flash-forwards has solved one of the main problems of the last two seasons, which was the redundant and unnecessary flashbacks, and the occasional flashbacks that do occur are much more informative. The mythology may not completely cohere when everything is revealed, but every new development that's come along recently is exciting, and they seem to be fitting the pieces together much better than I would have expected a year ago.

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