While there are some shows I watch because they make me “think” or entertain me on some intellectual level, TV is really at its best when it simply helps me achieve my lifelong goal: vegetate on the couch until I am as vacuous as a Hilton sister on the Sunset Strip at two in the morning (yes, they’re always vacuous, but they’re especially vacuous come bar time).
But with the start of this new television season, I’m finding that the networks are making me actually contemplate … deliberate … fucking think in order to prepare myself for watching TV. Even with two TiVos, there are a couple of conflicts where three or more good shows (or shows that right now appear to be good, but may ultimately sink quicker than a Courtney Love heroin stockpile) are on at the same time. So let’s look at these conflicts, keeping in mind that: (i) If you don’t agree with what I’ve deemed a good show, and you think I’ve ignored the best show you’ve ever seen and simply can’t believe what a raging dick I am, well then, welcome to America buddy; and (ii) I’m only looking at the networks, since most of the cable stuff (e.g., HBO and F/X shows) gets shown more often than Tara Reid’s nipples and, thus, poses no TiVo difficulties.
Starting with Sunday, we find are ourselves quickly moving to Monday, since Sunday is really just football, “The Simpsons,” and HBO (including a 1-2 knockout punch of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Extras,” starting September 25th!).
Then again, Monday is really just football too. But putting football aside (I can’t believe I just typed those words), Monday does appear to have some conflict in the 8:30 to 9:00 slot, which is when Fox airs the new “Kitchen Confidential,” a one-camera sitcom that’s been getting some solid reviews and features Bradley Cooper following his break-out performance in Wedding Crashers; it has excellent source material (one of the funniest books I’ve read in recent memory). If that’s not enough going for it, “Kitchen Confidential” also has the ratings-challenged “Arrested Development,” which is, without a doubt, the best sitcom on the Big Six right now (I would argue that “Scrubs” was a solid contender but for the fact that those mongoloids at NBC kept it off of their fall schedule so that there would be room for “Law & Order: STD”). Meanwhile, at the same time, “How I Met Your Mother” starts over on CBS, a show that features post-Harold and Kumar Dr. Neil Patrick Howser and some other guys no one cares about, and which has also gotten some pretty decent reviews. And, really, who can refuse the opportunity to watch the grown-up Doogie stumble into bars and drunkenly hit on chicks?
This time slot also features the second half of two hour-long dramas: First is NBC’s riding-that-other-network’s-“Lost”-pony-as-far-as-that-little-bastard-will-take-us show, “Surface,” which is about big sea critters, I think. But this doesn’t really cause a conflict in my mind, because it sounds about as entertaining as a 7 a.m. beer shit (and I have a sneaking suspicion it may not survive its first season anyway). Second is the WB’s “7th Heaven,” a show I only even bother to mention because I assume it must be watched and enjoyed by someone since it’s actually been on the air for a decade now; still, I don’t know a single person who has actually ever seen an episode (hell, I even know some new staff writers for “7th Heaven,” who — before getting hired — had never even seen it). So that’s out too.
Long story short (I know…too late), there really isn’t a conflict on Monday — set your TiVos for “Kitchen Confidential” and “How I Met Your Mother,” and watch them both after the goodness that is Monday Night Football (unless you’re an East Coaster, in which case you can watch one of these before the weekly Michaels/Madden babble-fest).
Now Tuesday provides a legitimate conflict at the 9:00 to 10:00 slot. First off, there’s ABC’s “Commander in Chief” (the POTUS is a chick), CBS’ “The Amazing Race” (the families are racing), NBC’s sitcom tag team of “My Name is Earl” (the Jason Lee is atoning) and “The Office” (the hilarity ensues in the workspace) and even Fox’s “House” (the dude is a crusty doctor). There’s no question that “Amazing Race” should be what you’re watching live, because: (i) It’s one of the best, if not the best, competitive reality show on TV; (ii) once a reality show airs, word of what transpired spreads quicker than genital herpes at a Mexican porno shoot (an upcoming plot of “Law & Order: STD!”); and (iii) the networks don’t rerun the reality shows.
If you have one TiVo/DVR, set it to NBC. “The Office” isn’t quite as brilliant as the Ricky Gervais BBC version, but it’s funny enough, and “My Name is Earl” certainly appears promising if you’re not put off by Jason Lee’s snark. A second TiVo should probably give ABC and the Geena-Davis-was-the-Vice-President-but-now-holy-shit-she’s-the-President show a shot — the talk is good enough to give it a chance, particularly with Donald Sutherland playing a politico bad guy. What about “House”? I never loved it, and it’s not really a show about episode-to-episode continuity, so my advice is to catch it on reruns.
Up next - for those of you who are behind on your “Sesame Street” - is Wednesday, which provides a three-series conflict. There’s the obvious ratings champ “Lost” over there at ABC from 9:00 to 10:00; lots of folks will be tuning in to find out what’s in the hatch, what happened on the raft, and whether ABC will do some stunt casting and bring back Mathew Fox’s former “Party of Five” costar Jennifer Love Hewitt to save the island with her, uhm, rather large flotation devices (of course, this guest starring role would have to wait about two weeks until her new CBS clunker “Ghost Whisperer” goes the way of the dodo). I shouldn’t have to tell you that “Lost” is what I’ll be watching live each week.
Meanwhile, set your TiVo over to the UPN (look it up in your program guide — it actually is a channel you receive, trust me) to catch “Veronica Mars.” Why? Because Kristen Bell is hot! But also because the writing is extremely witty, the plots are engrossing and dark (I mean, last year’s season revolved around Veronica’s rape and her best friend’s murder, and word on the street is that this season’s overarching mystery is even better) and because Kristen Bell is hot. Besides, any show that provides throw away bits, like when Veronica referred to a high school narc as “Jump Street,” is aces up in my book.
Finally, this time slot also features CBS’ latest criminal procedural, “Criminal Minds.” I’m not much into these shows these days, truth be told (the various “CSI” shows can kiss my bleached cornhole) but I’ll give this show a shot for one reason: Mandy Patinkin. Inigo freaking Montoya! Here is an actor who has always been great to watch on the TV, from his “Chicago Hope” days (where he worked with “Criminal Minds” costar Thomas “I can’t believe I was on “Dharma and Greg” and I really can’t believe that it’s what I’m best known for” Gibson) to the too-shortly lived Showtime black comedy “Dead Like Me.” “Criminal Minds” may shrivel into nothingness quicker than my erection after accidentally flipping channels to “The View,” but it’s probably worth investing a couple of weeks — assuming you have that second TiVo — to see how it goes.
If you’re still with me, we’ve got to tackle the mother lode of television jams, Thursday at 8:00.
We’ve got “Survivor.”
And “The O.C.”
And “Everybody Hates Chris.”
I mean, are the networks trying to give me a stroke? Only NBC has bothered to spare my sanity, with its hellacious “Joey” and whatever is following “Joey,” which aren’t even worth the brain cells I drowned last night in a warm, warm pool of tequila. As for the rest of these shows, where do we even begin?
With the father of the reality TV craze, of course: “Survivor.” The trouble with “Survivor” is that I never know, season to season, whether the show is going to be duller than my 10th-grade history class (this may not be a strong point of reference for you, but trust me, that shit was dull as all can-do) or wickedly entertaining. This season, the current round of outwitters, outplayers, and outlasters are in Guatamala. Don’t know which way the season is going to go but, yet again, every time I think I’m done, they pull me back me in! So, for the 11th season, I’ll be watching. And the stuff I said back in Part One about “The Amazing Race” applies equally here, with one crucial exception. The full hour of “The Amazing Race” kicks ass; but the first half-hour of “Survivor,” while entertaining enough, is not really Must-See TV (speaking of which, given the deluge of good programming on Thursday nights everywhere but on NBC, I think they really need to return that slogan and get their money back).
Why does this matter? Because during that first half-hour, you can flip over to UPN (remember what I told you last time; this channel does actually exist) and catch “Everybody Hates Chris.” This show is supposed to provide some stiff competition to “My Name is Earl” for the title of Best New Sitcom (although I don’t know why folks are counting out Freddie Prinze Jr.’s curiously named new sitcom “Freddie”). Developed by Chris Rock, who also lends his first name to the show’s title and provides the “Wonder Years”-like voiceover, this show promises to be as funny as Chris Rock can be during family hour. So my plan is to watch me some “Chris,” and then flip over to CBS for the important second half of “Survivor” where I can learn what the tribe has spoken (although, truth be told, after the first week or two of “Chris,” if I find that it’s making the bittorrent rounds, which is likely, I’ll probably end up watching all of “Survivor” live, and just downloading “Everybody Hates Chris” for weekend viewing).
OK, so two shows are taken care of, and I haven’t even touched my TiVo yet. But two TiVos plus three remaining shows … even Tommy Lee can do the math here (if you missed “Tommy Lee Goes to College,” I recommend trying to catch the VH1 reruns — it was a surprisingly entertaining show, and it’ll be even funnier in retrospect after the inevitable sex tapes of Tommy and countless Nebraska co-eds show up on the internets), and one of the shows has got to give. So let’s see what we’ve got left.
There’s “The O.C.” which, as I discussed last week, is still waffling in mediocrity right now, living off its past laurels and faithful fans. But, I’m still hooked on the damn thing, and it has a permanent Season Pass on one of my TiVos.
Oh, and speaking of living off past laurels and faithful fans, there’s also “Alias,” which has been on a bit of a downward spiral since season two. I mean, seriously, last year’s season finale had Mia Maestro turning into a zombie? A zombie! Couldn’t they at least have had a werewolf? Or better yet, Teen Wolf! Sydney Bristow facing off against a palsied and wolfed-out Michael J. Fox? Would’ve been the best season finale ever. But no, we got friggin’ zombies.
Anyway, the point is that “Alias” has been in a hurting way, and the presumed arrival sometime this season of Secret Agent Baby definitely bodes poorly. But despite all of this, “Alias” will be taking up my second TiVo spot for one simple reason; to quote Homer, “the two greatest words in the English language — ‘default.’” The other option, “Smallville,” is simply a show that I’ve never really gotten into. Like “Alias,” it has an ongoing mythology (although not quite as complicated as Rambaldi and his however many ridiculous inventions and prophecies) which seems to require steady week-to-week viewing. Since I’ve given that devotion to “Alias,” but not to “Smallville,” I simply ain’t changing tracks now. But if you prefer “Smallville,” by all means, let “Alias” die in peace and watch your Superman (rumor has it that — minor spoiler — this season will have the Fortress of Solitude show up, and that alone kicks ass). Besides, I suspect that yet another time slot move, coupled with the brutality of this specific time slot, may have us watching the final season of “Alias” (which would mean that Jennifer Garner is several months away from going back into obscurity and the hell that is receiving Ben Affleck’s manhood on a nightly basis).
Of course, what they should do is combine “Alias” and “Smallville.” Think about it: Superboy can go work for the CIA, where he’s partnered up with our lovely Jennifer Garner (this is a debate I’ve had with more than one person and for the record, yes, I think she’s very hot, and for those that think she looks like a horse, well … she’s a damn hot horse). Arvin Sloan will, of course, turn out to be a bad guy again and will team up with Lex Luthor in a plan to take over the world and cure male-pattern baldness. They’ll get held up on the whole world domination plan, but will succeed in battling baldness, ultimately turning Lex Luthor into … wait for it … Teen Wolf! How hasn’t Hollywood scooped me up yet, I ask you?
Anyway, it looks like everything is worked out on Thursdays, right? Watch “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Survivor,” use TiVo numero uno for “The O.C.” and use TiVo numero dos for your choice of “Alias” or “Smallville.” Great, let’s move on.
… Uhm, yeah, but there’s another little wrinkle, just to keep this shit interesting. In October, Fox has baseball playoffs. For those of us left that still even care about baseball, this is a major predicament. For obvious reasons, the games have to get live priority, which leaves “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Survivor” in a bad spot. One of these shows can be TiVo’d in place of the hiatused “The O.C.,” but we’re still one show over. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Teen Wolf plot ideas notwithstanding, I’m not all that smart. So the best I’ve got is this: TiVo “Survivor,” which you can watch immediately following the game, watch the baseball, and from 8:00 to 8:30, move the baseball into picture-in-picture (surely if you have two TiVo’s you have PIP), and watch “Everybody Hates Chris.”
And that, friend/reader/viewer, is Thursday. Feel like you need a drink? Well Friday affords you the perfect opportunity. After the bastard that is Thursday night, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about on Friday. Hell, the only shows even worth watching are probably the returning “Numb3rs,” which is on CBS at 10:00, and its lead-in, the new Threshold (Carla Gugino, Peter Dinklage and aliens? Count me in!). You can easily TiVo both of these even with only one box, allowing you an opportunity to go drink away the shakes you have from Thursday night TV.
Which, at long last, brings us to Saturday. Uhm … yeah. This is the worst night of them all. As bad as Thursday is with its 8:00 gang-bang, at least them’s some shows worth watching. Saturday is actually the one day a week where there is not a single show I TiVo. Fuck Saturday!
In conclusion, how much TV could a woodchuck TiVo if a woodchuck could TiVo TV? Apparently, the answer is “a fuck-ton.” I can already feel the cold sores forming on my ass from all the couch sitting I’m going to have to do this fall.
Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. He lives in Washington, D.C., and couldn’t be happier that summer “intern season” is finally here.
TV Reviews | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()