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July 10, 2007 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | July 10, 2007 |

I recently realized that, weekly trade round-ups aside, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything new here. It only took about two seconds after coming to that realization, however, to figure out why — it’s because this year, more so than most, summer TV is leaving me feeling flat and underwhelmed. There really isn’t anything so good that it compels a raving write-up and, similarly, there’s little which is so bad (at least, out of what I’m actually watching) that it mandates a written evisceration. There’s just not much worth writing home about.

In fact, instead of having new shows streaming in the background all day while I do “real work,” I’ve had to resort to other forms of worktime entertainment — trying to put a dent in my 400+ Netflix queue, catching up on my backlog of audiobooks, watching some of the DVDs I’ve purchased over the years yet never actually watched, and catching up on lots of summer CDs (the new discs from the Beastie Boys, Queens of the Stone Age and Velvet Revolver have all been rather disappointing, but Sara Bareilles’ debut Little Voices is a surprisingly good love child of Tori Amos, Fionna Apple and Ben Folds, and Mark Ronson’s Version, which while not great, makes for decent-enough background music, if for no other reason than to hear the late ODB spitting lyrics on top of a Britney cover). That’s all been fun, for a spell, but I’m becoming increasingly melancholy — I misses my hour-upon-hour of love-it-or-hate-it TV, damn it! And I suppose that’ll come soon enough, with the impending fall season. But in the meantime, I’m still stuck in these summer swamps.

So for what it’s worth, I thought I’d revisit my earlier column about what I was going to watch this summer by sharing my thoughts on the summer “season” so far. And again, I know there’s stuff I’m not watching (like “The Closer” and “Eureka”) which would probably help this valley I’m in, but I have my reasons (primarily that I haven’t been watching from the beginning, and I hate jumping into shows mid-stream). In any event, here be some rambling thoughts about the junk I’m watching.

“John from Cincinnati” (HBO, Sundays, 9 pm). I just can’t make heads or tails of this show. After the first episode, I thought it could go either way, towards being junk or towards being something good, and I don’t really feel any different about the show now, halfway through the first (and quite possibly, only) season. I do know that “John” is most assuredly not a worthy successor to our beloved “Deadwood.” But there are glimpses of quality that have kept me tuning in so far. The appearance of “Deadwood” regulars Dayton Callie (Charlie Utter on “Deadwood”) and Garrett Dillahunt (both Jack McCall and Francis Wolcott on “Deadwood”) have been welcome additions, particularly Callie who, as the Hawaiin drug dealer Freddie, is delivering a knock-out performance. And the monologues delivered by Ed O’Neill’s Bill to his bird Skippy, while not as rich or vibrant, are surely the kid brother to Swearengen’s “chats” with the Indian Chief. I’m still curious as to where the whole religious thing is going (and there can be little doubt that we are talking some heavy religious mojo here, as opposed to aliens or whatever else). But at the same time, some of the other performances on this show are distractingly appalling. I applaud Milch, I guess, for casting non-actor/surfer-types in the roles of Shaun Yost and Kai, but it’s painfully obvious that neither has any acting chops. Of course, I would take either one of them over Rebecca De Mornay’s histrionics. Her performance as Cissy Yost is like a bad Acting 101 class: “Let me see anger, levels 8 through 10, with more aggression and crazy eyes, please.” And one of this week’s ongoing Cissy tantrums, wherein she yelled through and beat against Kai’s trailer? It was the most godawful performance I’ve seen in a long time. I’m talking terrible to the point that I stopped caring about this week’s episode almost entirely. And I don’t think that’s exactly what Milch is shooting for.

“Entourage” (HBO, Sundays, 10 pm).” I’ve been a huge fan of “Entourage” from its very beginning. And while I’m still watching it and enjoying it well enough, I’m not really excited about it anymore. It’s no longer a must-watch-on-Sunday-night show, and I find that I’m often not getting around to the newest episode until Monday or Tuesday. Now I don’t mind that they experimented last season with more Ari-without-the-gang storylines, nor do I mind the continued focus on Drama and Turtle storylines that have nothing to do with Vince (both of these have been major criticisms of other detractors). What I do have a problem with, however, is that I’m just not laughing as much anymore. I get a couple of good chuckles an episode, and maybe one or two laugh-out-loud bits, but that pales with how I reacted to the first and, especially, second seasons. Now I wouldn’t say that the third season or this current season are necessarily bad, mind you, I just think don’t think they’re as funny as they should be. And for a comedy, well, that’s definitely an issue. So bring the funny, that’s what I’m saying.

“Flight of the Conchords” (HBO, Sundays, 10:30 pm). I know a lot of you like this show, and love the Conchords as performers and to you, I’ll again say, “to each his own.” Personally, I find this show mind-numbingly bland, unfunny, impersonal and unfunny. Despite slamming the first episode, I stuck with it for another episode and a half, just because I wanted to give it a fair shake. But it just left me cold. Yes, the “binary solo” was amusing, and the name “Hiphopopotamus” is clever (and the Hiphopopotamus’ first line in that song is probably the only laugh-out-loud moment I had while watching), but the forced wackiness of this show just felt like a continual hammer bearing down on my cerebral cortex. Halfway through the third episode I literally said, out loud, “fuck this shit,” and promptly deleted the episode and removed my Season Pass. Not my cup of tea.

“Meadowlands” (Showtime, Sundays, 10 pm). When I reviewed the first episode, I gave it a relatively more positive spin than most other critics. While I haven’t come around to their point of view completely, I am backing off my early strong feelings. I’m still watching the show, about a family that’s been witness-relocated to a community full of other bizarre witness-relocatees, but I’m not as intrigued or excited by it all anymore. I think that Felicity Jones (Zoe) remains my summer TV crush, and I’m really enjoying David Morrissey’s performance as patriarch Danny. But I’m not particularly interested in what happens — I’m just sort of along for the ride. And that’s fine when the ride is awesome. But when it’s just so-so, well, I suspect I would’ve bailed in the thick of fall TV. But for mid-week summer viewing, this dull remains adequate enough. But a note to future writers and showrunners — don’t kill off your most interesting character/actor in the second or third episode. That’s not really the best way to keep things fresh.

“Big Love” (HBO, Mondays, 9 pm). I still love me this show, no bones about it, and I’m enjoying this season as much as I enjoyed the first. And yet, I’m still having the same problem I had with the first season — I just can’t get that about it. I’ll rant and rave about “The Wire” and “Deadwood” until the cows come home and, while I don’t think “Big Love” is on the same level as either of these shows, it may only be one step down. Despite this high quality, I find myself rarely talking about the show or thinking about it in the week between episodes — it just doesn’t tickle that part of my noggin that’s begging for good shows to dig in and take root. The performances are all pretty rock-solid and the storylines are relatively attention-holding (although I could still do with a lot less of the Juniper Creek conflict). Yet, here I am with pretty much nothing to say about the show. I don’t get it, I honestly don’t.

“On the Lot” (Fox, usually on Tuesdays, 8 pm). Well, talk about a complete disappointment and failure — a reality show from Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg where filmmakers compete for a development deal should’ve been a sure thing, no? No, apparently not. This show is bleeding viewers like a hemophiliac who, uhrm, is bleeding viewers. And for good reason — it’s fucking terrible. The host, Adrianna Costa, is gratingly annoying (and not really any improvement over Chelsea Handler, who unceremoniously vanished after hosting the show’s first episode). The two regular judges, Garry Marshall and Carrie Fisher are terrible — Marshall seems to be a doting fool who’s also a bit of a racist and a misogynist, and Fisher, who typically comes off as smart, acerbic and funny, comes off like a fucking puppet. And then there’s the guest judges, who are just laughable. I mean, listening to Brett Ratner and Eli Roth criticize films for doing the exact same shit they do, or for not doing the exact same shit they do, well, it doesn’t exactly lend the show any meaningful credibility. And then there are the films. It’s one thing for an “American Idol” contestant to put together a performance of one, two or three songs in the course of a week. But it’s quite another for folks to put a film together in a week or two, and it shows. The best of the short films are decent, and the worst are, well, just awful. I sat through bad student film marathons in college and, frankly, I’m not sure why I feel the need to repeat that same thing now, which is what watching an hour of “On the Lot” amounts to. Again, because it’s summer and there’s not enough else pulling my attention, I’ll likely stick with it until the end (if, that is, Fox bothers to stick with it), but I really couldn’t care less who actually wins the bloody competition.

“Last Comic Standing” (NBC, usually on Wednesdays, 9 pm). This show is still in the early audition stage, although I believe tomorrow night’s episode is the last of the audition shows, at which point we’ll jump to the head-to-head performance episodes (and I’m pretty sure there is no house, so those episodes should just be stand-up performances, without the silly “contests” of the first couple seasons). And so far, it’s one of the few summer programs that I’m enjoying well-enough. Of course, I’m a sucker for decent stand-up comedy and each episode has managed to show at least a few decent comedians, and one or two who look like they could be quite good. Not to mention, despite my desire to hate him, I have to confess to kinda digging Mel Silverback (he’s a yutz in a gorilla costume). So I’m totally on board for now, although I would like to ask the producers to change one thing, effective immediately — get rid of Ant. Aside from when he’s doing stand-up particularly directed towards his homosexual lifestyle, he is pretty much as funny as an actual ant. And as a “judge,” he’s not only unfunny, but downright annoying. Please, producers, spare us all.

“Rescue Me” (FX, Wednesdays, 10 pm). When the first two seasons of “Rescue Me” were airing, they were one of the things I was most excited about watching week-in and week-out. Last season was still better than average, although I found my interest in the show waning ever-so-slightly. And this season, I’m in exactly the same place I was last season — it hasn’t gotten worse, and my interest hasn’t lessened from last season, but my excitement definitely isn’t at 11 anymore. I recently read another critic talking about this show (and I’d give credit and linkage, but I don’t remember who or where it was, although I’m pretty sure it was Alan Sepinwall), and I think he nailed it — the show continues to fire on all cylinders on the comedy side of things, but is severely wanting on the drama side. For example, one storyline has Jennifer Esposito’s character chasing Dennis Leary’s Tommy, who wants nothing to do with her. I guess this is because he feels slightly emasculated that a chick saved him from the fire, but it doesn’t really make sense. Esposito is banging hot, and Tommy has always been a dog — why wouldn’t he take this opportunity and run with it? And from the other side of things, I can’t really find a plausible rationale for why her character continues to chase Tommy, who really isn’t a catch in any way (unless she’s into the “bad boy,” thing but if that’s the case, surely she could find bad boys with far less effort). In fact, more and more when watching this show, it gets me thinking that I need to go buy the DVDs for “The Job,” which was basically the funny half of “Rescue Me” without all the heavy drama. But none of this is to say that I’ve truly soured on “Rescue Me” or am about to give up on the show — far from it. The fine polish has simply worn off, and the dirty underside has turned it into “just another show.” Another show that’s better than most, granted, just not the truly special show that the first two seasons suggested was the direction “Rescue Me” was headed.

“Traveler” (ABC, Wednesdays, 10 pm). I was surprisingly unharsh and optimistic about this show when I reviewed the premiere episode. And actually, my opinion of the show has changed very little. As I said in that review:

Well “Traveler” isn’t a great show. No bones about that. However, it’s also not a terrible show. If it were airing in the fall, among a throng of old standbys and some new shows full of potential — (mother fucking) “Cavemen” is of course not in that category — “Traveler” would be a one-and-done for me. But because it’s airing in the dregs of the summer, I’m actually going to stick with it for now since, upon first blush, it appears to be a perfectly adequate summer diversion.

It remains a not-great show, but it also remains a perfectly adequate summer diversion. Plus, it’s nice to know that this is one of the few serials of the year which will actually get to air an ending. I don’t much care what that ending will be, but it will be refreshing to actually see such an ending, after so many serials simply vanished during the regular season.

“Top Chef” (Bravo, Wednesdays, 10 pm). I love me some “Top Chef” and that hasn’t changed. I will say that, at this point, there’s not a contestant that I’m particularly rooting for or against, so I feel slightly less of a personal investment than with the first two seasons but, beyond that, this show is still a winner for me. And if it weren’t for a dark horse that I’m getting to, it would probably be my most enjoyed show of the summer, to date.

“Pirate Master” (CBS, Thursdays, 8 pm). I love pirates. Pirates versus ninjas? Pirates, any day of the mother fucking week. And yet, god damn it! This show is preposterously bad. Everyone takes it all so damn seriously, from the host to most of the ridiculous contestants. Burnett has crashed and burned twice this summer, and this one is the far more disappointing burnout. With “On the Lot,” he tried to move his reality empire into a new niche (filmmaking) and simply failed. Fair enough. But here, he’s not really trying to do anything new, instead choosing to just put some “twists” and “spins” on the “Survivor” formula, while moving everything from islands to a pirate ship. It’s a lazy and stupid way to go about things so it’s unsurprising that the resultant show is also lazy and stupid. I barely pay attention to the first half of the show, where the contestants divide up into two teams and seek out “buried treasure,” and only pay slightly more attention to the second half, where the crew deals with treasure sharing and black spots and pirates’ court. Feh. As with “On the Lot,” I have no rooting interest in any of the contestants, and I’m really just watching for the sake of watching, waiting until the final episode airs and CBS sets this turd adrift.

“Man vs. Wild” (Discovery, Fridays, 9 pm). This would be the dark horse I mentioned during my quick discussion of “Top Chef.” This show was never on my radar and, in fact, it’s the only show I’m currently watching which I didn’t even mention in my pre-summer write-up. I only learned about “Man vs. Wild” a few weeks ago, while staying at a friend’s house during my back surgery recovery weekend. And at first, I was resisting liking the show because it sounded an awful lot like “Survivorman” - that is, it’s about a dude who gets planted down in ridiculously tough and dangerous terrain, and shows the viewers how to survive. Of course, that’s pretty much exactly what “Survivorman” is, with the main difference being that “Survivorman’s” Les Stroud does all the camerawork himself, while “Man vs. Wild’s” Bear Grylls has a small camera crew in-tow. The other difference is that while I found Stroud relatively annoying, I think I’ve got a bit of a man-crush on Grylls, a former member of British Special Forces who has climbed Everest and done all other sorts of manly man things. Grylls is just awesome. From glaciers in Iceland to African deserts, he puts himself into these seemingly unbearable situations and manages to do things which I’m not sure I’d ever be able to pull off, no matter how strong my will to survive. I mean, I know dehydration is bad for you and all, but drinking water squeezed directly from elephant dung? Eating the raw flesh right off a recently felled zebra? Relatively nonchalantly sliding down a glacier? My balls just aren’t that big. But Grylls’ balls apparently are, which is why this show is, for lack of a better word, just awesome. The Discovery Channel recently re-aired the whole first season, so I’m quite excited to have a bunch of “Man vs. Wild” episodes waiting for me on my TiVo, as this has totally become my summer show of choice. And here’s a glimpse of just one of the crazy things that Grylls does throughout this series (hat tip to Kissing Suzy Kolber for spotting this clip):

So that’s literally every Season Pass I have running at the moment. It’s quite depressing, actually. But next week offers a glimmer of hope, as VH1 premieres reality shows featuring Brett Michaels and Scott Baio (Bob Loblaw!), which certainly have unintentional comedy potential through the roof. And August gives us “Weeds” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (we think/hope), plus David Duchovney’s “Californication” which will hopefully be better than its relatively shitty title. So there may be hope for this summer yet.

In the meantime, I’m going to go watch Bear Grylls survive in the European Alps, if anyone needs me.

Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television editor. He will neither confirm nor deny that he also, once, drank his own piss, although he will admit that if he did so, it had nothing to do with dehydration or survival.

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TV | July 10, 2007 |

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

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