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September 26, 2006 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | September 26, 2006 |

Well, the fall season is in full swing now, what with last week being the official kick-off. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been able to give you my take on a bunch of the new shows, thanks to early pilots, but there are plenty of new shows that went undiscussed at the time. Let’s talk about two of them. One is actually pretty decent, but I’m going to stop watching anyway, and the other has been an utter disappointment, but I’m going to keep watching anyway (for now, at least). A bit backward? You bet. But that’s how the TV Whore rolls.

menInTrees.jpgJust a Small Town Girl — “Men in Trees,” ABC, Friday at 9 p.m.
OK, so “Men in Trees” was a show I totally ignored during the announcement of new pilots last fall, during the announcement of new schedules at the upfronts last May, and during the summer build-up to the new fall season. It just wasn’t on my radar. But right before it premiered a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a couple of relatively positive mentions and decided to give it a shot. Three episodes in, I can tell you that the show is actually pretty decent, especially for a Friday night, but I’ve just deleted my season pass anyway.

Before we get to why the season pass is going kaput, a quick overview. Anne Heche stars as Marin Frist, a successful author of relationship books. On the way to a speaking gig in a small waaaay-off-the-beaten-path Alaska town, Frist learns that her fiancé has been having an affair, and her life takes off in a spin that ends up with her deciding to stay in the kooky and cozy little town. The show obviously invites comparisons to “Northern Exposure,” what with the small Alaska town and its weird residents, but the shows shouldn’t really be compared because they’re birds of a very different feather.

The focus of “Men in Trees” is really romantic relationships, primarily Frist’s attempt to enjoy being single for the first time since she was 14 (although there are several old and new relationships elsewhere in the town that also necessarily get some plot love). And, of course, there’s a guy who she’ll eventually hook up with (she’s already spent $13K to buy him in an auction, although that was to do things like help her move furniture). For a show that I would easily dub a “chick show,” I found it surprisingly enjoyable. Not great, and not really something I would sit down and watch with my undivided attention, but a perfect background TV show while I’m doing things around the house. Anne Heche gets a little grating at times, and there are moments when the show feels a little too much like it’s trying to be the anti-“Sex and the City.” But it has a pretty solid supporting cast — especially John Amos and Abraham Benrubi (who will always be Kubiak, the big oaf from “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose,” to me) — which helps to cover up any of those problems.

Anyway, it’s a very cute show, with a good sense of humor about itself (although it’s not actually terribly funny), a little bit of romance, and even a touch of sarcasm and snark. So, why have I deleted my season pass? Quite frankly, it’s winnowing time already. If this show had been on during the dregs of the summer, I would’ve kept with it. But in the heat of the fall season, there are just too many better shows to focus on — I’m already starting to build a backlog in my TiVos, and the continued introduction of new shows (and return of old faves) coupled with an upcoming trip is going to make things much, much worse. So anywhere I can whittle things down a little, I’m going to do so. And I just don’t feel invested enough in this show to keep up with it. But if you’ve got the time, you could do a lot worse than to check out this show.

jericho.jpgLiving in a Lonely World — “Jericho,” CBS, Wednesday at 8 p.m. What a fucking disappointment. I was really excited about this show, based on the premise: multiple nuclear explosions leave a small Colorado town disconnected and unsure about where things go from here. Great premise. Sure, I was incredibly skeptical of lead actor Skeet Ulrich, but on the other side of the coin, his “Deadwood” run had me very excited about a still-beardy Gerald McRaney. But after watching last week’s premiere, I am now all skepticism and no excitement.

Two main problems I have with the show. The first is Skeet. I’ve never thought he was any good, but I thought he was particularly annoying here. Especially all the goofy faces he was making throughout the hour — it was as if he was forcibly trying to act with his mug, hoping it could make up for the lack of any other actual acting ability. And while we’re talking about his face — did he go to the Mark Hamill School of Aging via Motorcycle Accident? He looks terrible. I mean, I’m no ‘mo, but I used to think he was relatively attractive — sort of a Johnny Depp lite. But now, it’s like Ryan Howard beat him with the ugly stick 58 times. Which just makes the goofy faces even more awkward.

But the bigger problem with the show is its entire execution: poor dialogue and cliché situations, which are especially scary when they’re already being hit up in the first episode. For example, the first nuclear explosion occurs in nearby Denver, and we get to learn of it along with the town residents, and the scene was right out of a bad sci-fi movie. First, radios and televisions and cell phones all start to inexplicably lose their signals. Then, we cut to the cute little kids playing hide and seek. Only one of the kids isn’t hiding but is instead standing on the roof of his house slackjawed. A slow camera reveal up the side of the house lets us discover the big ol’ mushroom cloud he’s staring at. Eh. The last scene of the show is similarly clichéd — there’s this woman who’s been on the road, out of Jericho all day, and she doesn’t know what’s going on. She eventually figures out that something weird is afoot because, as we see with a crane shot pulling away from her, there are dead birds everywhere on the road. “What’s happening?” she asks. We’re being dealt junk, that’s what’s happening. I feel like I’ve seen that scene a million times and, while I’ve realistically only seen or read scenes like it a handful of times, it just feels bland. Then there’s the mysterious black man, made to conspicuously stick out like a sore digit in the hick Colorado town with no color otherwise, who seems to know a little too much about everything. The all-knowing stranger is waaaaay over-fucking-used.

In addition, the whole tone of the show itself is just off. It obviously wants to be this dark and brooding drama, which is supported by the background story of the show, with the multiple nuclear explosions and all that. But at the same time, the way the premiere was stitched together, it was just full of cheese. I usually love the creative intermingling of music in a show, but from the opening use of The Killers’ “All The Things” to the closing use of Snow Patrol’s “Run,” it felt forced and manufactured here. Kind of a “Hey, look at us — we’re using hip current tunes to help tell you what you should be feeling, and we’re cool!”

But as I said up top, I am going to stick with this show for the moment. I’m doing so (a) because it’s still a solid premise rife with potential, (b) I’m enjoying the hell out of Gerald McRaney’s resurgent career, and (c) some shows take a couple of weeks to get their legs. But it’s a short leash — if things haven’t improved by around mid-October, it’s my season pass that will be getting nuked.


Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. He has just moved back to Boston and is currently trying to figure out how to remove the pervasive cat smell left by his apartment’s previous tenant.

Just a Small Town Girl,
Living in a Lonely World

"Men in Trees" and "Jericho" / The TV Whore
September 26, 2006

TV | September 26, 2006 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.



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