Thursday, July 03, 2008

Summer TV update

Fear Itself (NBC, Thursdays, 10 p.m.)
Really, there is no reason I should be watching this show. It is totally, completely bad, its best moments barely achieving mediocrity. But I am a sucker for the horror anthology, and I would have watched every episode of this show's predecessor, Masters of Horror, if I had Showtime. (I did sit through the entire Nightmares & Dreamscapes series on TNT, as documented here.) Thus I will probably watch every episode of this lame series, hoping each week that the latest combination of mildly well-known horror writer and director (generally not exactly people you would call "masters") will somehow magically churn out a halfway decent (or even halfway scary) piece of entertainment. I have sort of appreciated the stupidly obvious twist endings of some recent episodes, mainly because of how dumb they are (the one in last week's episode, with the bride who thinks her husband-to-be might be a serial killer, was unbelievably nonsensical). And I suppose the acting isn't bad. But none of the episodes has been even remotely well-written, and they're all padded to reach the hourlong length when The Twilight Zone proved years ago that the best format for stories like these is half that. NBC doesn't help by plastering the "scary" show with gaudy promo graphics on the bottom of the screen. If there end up being one or two genuinely decent episodes in the entire run, then I'll probably consider the effort spent watching it a success, sadly.

The Middleman (ABC Family, Mondays, 10 p.m.)
I was a fan of the Middleman comic book, and the show captures the tone and appeal of it very well (not surprising since the comic's writer, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, is also the creator and executive producer of the show). It's goofy and cheesy and clearly done on a minuscule budget, but there's a genuine cleverness to the writing and a clear sense of not taking anything particularly seriously. Natalie Morales is maybe not quite what I would have imagined for Wendy when I was reading the comic, but she seems to be making the role her own. I'm looking forward to seeing what the producers do once they've exhausted the source material (which seems to be happening pretty quickly). I think this is an idea that could generate tons of fun, silly, over-the-top stories, and clearly the limited budget hasn't stopped them from embracing all the high-concept ideas from the comic. There are enough ongoing elements (the mystery of what happened to Wendy's dad, the potential romance between the Middleman and Wendy's roommate, etc.) to keep viewers coming back week after week, but episodes are self-contained enough that anybody can happen across one and enjoy it. It's not brilliant, and sometimes it seems to be trying too hard, but at the very least it's the best thing I've ever seen on ABC Family.

Swingtown (CBS, Thursdays, 10 p.m.)
I was pretty lukewarm on this show in my initial review (based only on watching the pilot), but it's grown on me a little since then. I don't know if I would have given it as generous a shot were it on during the fall against a whole bunch of other stuff, but during the summer it's worth spending the time to see if it improves and to catch the parts of it that do work. I'm totally sold on Lana Parrilla and Grant Show as the swingin'-est couple of the '70s; Parrilla especially does fantastic work as the sexy and manipulative but entirely lovable Trina. And their conflicted neighbors Bruce and Susan, the show's main characters, have a sort of interesting complexity to them. Since there are really only three couples to follow, the show isn't as soapy as I thought it might be, and seems potentially in danger of running out of steam. And the plots about the kids are never as strong as those about the adults. Still, the producers seem to be willing to follow through on their premise and really examine how sexual experimentation affects different sorts of couples, which is a positive consequence of not being able to show too much skin; denied titillation, they're actually resorting to critical thinking.

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