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November 21, 2006 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | November 21, 2006 |

So last week, I gave you a detailed breakdown of all the shows I watch. But what about the shows that you watch? What kind of TV Whore Fall Sweepstacular would it be if I neglected the viewing public and just focused on myself, right? So let’s see what you’re watching. And for clarification, I don’t mean you as in “you, the Pajiba readers;” rather, I mean you as in “you, the greater general public.”

For the past month or so, I’ve been tracking the Nielsen ratings in an attempt to figure out what the most popular shows are and to make my best guess about what would end up being the top 20 rated shows last week (from Monday the 13th through Sunday the 19th). I limited myself to broadcast TV because I’m too lazy to also track the cable ratings (plus, the high-rated cable shows tend to include lots of kiddie shows, and I can only take so much torture). And with all this data in hand, I spent the last week watching an absolute fuck-ton of TV. And for every single thing I watched, I tried my best to go into it with an open mind (even for, help me Jebus, “Dancing with the Stars”), trying to put aside any of my preconceived notions. And there actually turned out to be a few surprises in the mix. Although more misses than hits for my taste.

In any event, before we get to the official Nielsen top 20, there are a couple of other shows to discuss. Over these past weeks, there have been some shows regularly in the top 20 that happened to miss the cut this week. One such show is “Lost” (seriously buddy, fuck you), which wasn’t there since it’s on hiatus. Another is “Brothers and Sisters,” which I already covered in What I’m Watching on Sundays and Mondays. There are three additional shows, however, that have regularly been in the top 20 and which I ended up watching last week. Even though they’re not in this week’s top 20, since I went to the effort of sitting through them and writing up my comments, I’m sharing with you anyway. Consider it a bonus:

“ER” (NBC, Thursday at 10 p.m.). Way back in the day, when “ER” was all the rage, I hated it. It was in part because I was a huge “Chicago Hope” fan, and I felt that “Hope” was the infinitely superior show, and it was also in part because I couldn’t stand the over-the-top shit and the sentimental crap that was endlessly piled on by “ER.” So I’m utterly amazed that, over a decade later, this show is still putting up solid ratings. And I’m also utterly amazed that I thought this episode wasn’t half bad. For one thing, it’s got a pretty great cast. Maura Tierney, Mekhi Phifer, Linda Cardellini, Parminder Nagra (from “Bend it Like Beckam”) and Busy Phillips (two “Freaks and Geekers!”). Plus guest stars Fred Ward and Paula Malcomson (Trixie from “Deadwood”). That’s a solid line-up, and we haven’t even gotten to the John Stamos factor yet, which is, of course, absolutely hilarious. Sure, it turns out he’s not that terrible. But more importantly, his presence on the show allowed for a scene in this episode where Uncle Jesse gets absolutely decked by Phifer. Totally worth the price of admission. And beyond this cast, I found the storylines interesting enough, except for Phifer finding out his brother (I think it was his brother) was gay. None of the drama was as blown-over-the-top as the stuff I remember hating back in the day, and it was a rather enjoyable hour. In fact, I dug the show enough that if my Thursdays weren’t already absolutely gashed, I would probably add this to the lineup … of course, commercials for next week talk about a can’t-miss “ER” event, so were I to watch that episode, I might find myself retracting much of what I just said.

“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (ABC, Sunday at 8 p.m.). Wow. My teeth hurt from all the saccharine. Sure, it’s nice and sweet and touching to watch troubled families getting these great home rebuilds, I’m just not so much into the nice and sweet and touching. But I can see why folks watch this little heart-warmer, I guess, if they are into such things. And if they don’t mind the manipulation of it all. And if they don’t mind Ty Pennington, who bugged the shit out of me — he was actually a worse host than Seacrest, in my book, because at least Seacrest comes off relaxed. Pennington, on the other hand, sounds like he’s reading every word that comes out of his mouth, and the melodramatic pauses and attempts to inject heart don’t help him. I’ll stick with Sunday Night Football, thank you very much.

“The New Adventures of Old Christine” (CBS, Monday at 9:30 p.m.). I watched a few episodes of this when it first came on last season, and even though I like Julia Louis-Dreyfus well enough, this show bored the pants off of me. It wasn’t heinous; it just wasn’t hilarious or exciting. A year later, I’ll say that it does seem to have found a bit of a groove, and it’s not half-bad. It’s not great, like a “Scrubs” or “The Office,” but it’s nowhere near the filth of, say, its “Two and a Half Men” lead-in. In fact, when we’re in the full steam of rerun season, I could see myself turning over to CBS to catch reruns of this. I particularly liked whoever the dude is who plays Dreyfus’ ex-husband. He wasn’t particularly great, but there was something very entertaining about him.

And with those three shows out of the way, let’s turn to the main event — the top 20 shows for the last week … except, I’ll only be discussing 19 of them. With all my work and all my watching last week, one show managed to sneak its way into the list, under my radar. That show? “House.” I got slammed in my What I’m Watching on Tuesdays column for not watching “House,” and I know it’s a popular show, so I probably should’ve included it. But it hasn’t been in the top 20 at any time over the last month, so I didn’t expect it to be this week either. Such is life.

1. “Dancing with the Stars Results Show” (ABC, Wednesday at 8 p.m.). I’ll give this results show big props for the fact that it was way less bloated than the “American Idol” two-hour results crapfest. Not just because it was only an hour, but because there was very little fluff. If I were a fan of this show, I’d be much happier with this results show than I ever am with the “AI” final results show. So good on you for that, “Dancing with the Stars.”

2. “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC, Tuesday at 8 p.m.). Of all of the shows that I knew I was going to have to watch, this (and the results show) was the one I was most dreading. And at first, I was appalled that this thing was an hour and a half. But to their credit, like the results show I just discussed, it all felt way less bloated then the last competition episode of “American Idol,” and the whole thing breezed by relatively quickly. And I imagine if you enjoy watching folks dance, you could even call it an entertaining hour and a half. For me, it was just rather dull. But since I still watch “American Idol,” I get the idea behind a phenomenon such as this. I just prefer singing to dancing.

Now, I was originally rooting for Mario Lopez simply as the lesser of two evils. Because, while I respect Emmitt Smith as a footballer, I’m an Eagles fan, which means I have no choice but to utterly loathe him. And then watching the show, my loathing grew when he came out on stage in this sleeveless green silky thing, with matching armbands and shoes. Oh, brother. But my loathing of him turned into rooting for him after the third dance. For this third dance, he and Mario got to do a freestyle bit, and Emmitt chose “Can’t Touch This.” And he busted out the Hammer dance! You cannot go wrong with the Hammer dance.

But the highlight of the show for me was actually a clip from last week. This clip showed the freshly-ousted Joey Lawrence, and it was hilarious, because he had his bald-headed figure stuffed into the terrible little Navy getup. He looked like a gay cancer patient … whoa!

3 (tie). “CBS NFL National Post Game” (CBS, Sunday at 7:17 p.m.). The afternoon game on CBS in most markets was the much-hyped Colts/Cowboys game, and it’s no surprise that the bleed-over into prime time registered this high. It was a big, big game, and viewers wanted to see the Colts get their first loss for the season (much to the heartbreak of Pajiba’s own Dustin — suck it buddy!).

3 (tie). “CSI” (CBS, Thursdays at 9 p.m.). Several years back, I watched one or two episodes of “CSI,” which was all the rage at the time. I found it to be just a lot of style over substance. So it makes perfect sense that the show is set in Vegas, the capital of style over substance. And that’s probably the best thing about this show — that it’s set in Vegas, just ‘cause we get some fun helicopter shots of the Strip, which makes me jones for my upcoming Vegas trip.

Otherwise, this show just didn’t do much for me. The glitzy CGI and special effects thing that they do with some of the forensics evidence is worthless — it’s that style-over-substance stuff, which would be fine if it was anything more than distracting fluff, which of course is all it is. As for the story itself, I didn’t know who the actual bad guy was until towards the end, mainly because they didn’t introduce that character until towards the end. But I did figure out the main gist of the case fairly early on — there were these two dead twins (stop reading now if you don’t want the “spoiler”) and it turns out the first was killed because the murderer thought she was the other one, and so then he of course went and killed the twin he originally meant to kill). Eh.

I also don’t like that they seem to go out of their way to idiot-proof the show. For example, when cigarette butts are found on the ground, it’s obviously because someone had been waiting there for a while. Old hat, we’ve seen it in a million shows. But rather than just making a quick comment to that fact, we get this grainy flashback of the person laying in wait and smoking. I’m all for “showing rather than telling,” but that’s not what this felt like. It felt like, “we have no respect for the viewer, so make sure an idiot can follow along.” Same thing for the actual murders, once everything was laid out at the end — we get more grainy flashbacks showing the whole thing, which just really wasn’t necessary at that point.

I was also fairly unimpressed with the cast. Most came off kind of bland and interchangeable (this is a trend, it would seem, and something I’ll be repeating far too many times throughout the course of this column). The only one who really stood out was that Gil Grissom (William L. Petersen), and his character is this annoyingly pompous wannabe philosopher. He informs us that human nature is that “we continue to perform the routine motions of our life until the moment of our death.” Blech. Oh — and he was friggin’ reading Thoreau’s “Walden” at one point. Please.

Now, all this bitching aside, I’ll say that I don’t actually think it’s a horrible show, and I can sort of see why folks like it. It just doesn’t do anything for me.

5 (tie). “Desperate Housewives” (ABC, Sunday at 9 p.m.). I had heard that this was much improved since last year’s sophomore slump, so I was curious to see what the deal was (after watching all of the first season, I bailed on it about a quarter of the way through last year). And I wasn’t terribly excited by the fact that one of the main storylines had to do with one of the housewives being married to Kyle MacLachlan, while dealing with her annoying mother. Felt a little too “Sex and the City” for me … maybe because that was an exact storyline in “Sex.” Although, to be fair, it looks like they’re going a different way with this by the end of the episode.

Anyway, “Housewives” definitely seemed to be in a better place than this time last season. I have no idea what the big storylines of the season really are, except for the fact that there’s a new mysterious neighbor and that Handyman Mike may have killed someone and now has amnesia, but the smaller stuff was better than last season. The pace was a bit faster, the tone was a bit drier and some of that first-season wit that was lacking last year seemed to return. Overall, actually not too bad. Now mind you, I’m not jumping back into this show, because it still doesn’t live up to the first-season standards, and I only really watched that first season because it was a pop-culture phenomenon more than anything else. But I guess if you’re a chick who’s not into Sunday Night Football, you could do worse than this.

5 (tie). “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC, Thursday at 9 p.m.). I covered this show in What I’m Watching on Thursdays, and last week’s episode didn’t change anything I said before. I still hate Meredith, and I still want more funny.

7. “CSI: Miami” (CBS, Mondays at 10 p.m.). This show is ridiculous. It’s actually way more glitzy and trying-to-be-“hip” than its daddy, the original “CSI,” and I could do without all that crap, as it’s just distracting. Although such distraction is probably a good thing here, because if you start paying attention, you’re doomed. The show is soooooo melodramatic and overbearing, with slow camera sweeps, big building music, etc.; it’s just too fucking much. Actually, it’s not too fucking much. That honorific goes to one of the stars, David Caruso. Man, what an asshat! His line readings are beyond melodrama — it’s like he thinks he’s Orson Welles, Sir Laurence Oliver, and Keanu Reeves all wrapped up in one. I literally started laughing almost every time he opened his mouth. In fact, I actually laughed more during this hour than during a certain CBS “comedy” from earlier in the night.

8. “60 Minutes” (CBS, Sunday at 7 p.m.). Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that “60 Minutes” sometimes shows up in the top-20, right around this same spot, and sometimes it’s nowhere to be found in the top 20. I would think that this would be due to the stories covered during a particular episode, but that doesn’t make sense when you take a look at this past week, where there wasn’t any electrifying or compelling piece that viewers simply had to tune in for. But as we know, its lead-in, the afternoon CBS football game, ran late, and I suspect that these ratings are due, at least in part, to that bleed-over.

Although I suspect it still gets a fair number of viewers in its own right, as well it should. Aside from old coot Andy Rooney, who needs to be taken out to pasture,”60 Minutes” has always been very informative and fairly interesting, and this episode was no different. In fact, I would love to believe that this show is actually in the top-20 because folks were interested in a brainy show that gets them thinking. But looking at the rest of the list, I’m sticking with my football theory.

9. “Deal or No Deal” (Monday airing) (NBC, Monday at 8 p.m.). I’ve watched this show before, although not on purpose — only when stumbling upon it while channel flipping. And I’ll say this about the show — it’s the dumbest game show on the planet, yet it’s also the most brilliant game show on the planet. Dumbest because, well, have you ever watched it? It’s inane. But it’s also fucking brilliant because, even though it’s mindless, involves no skill and offers almost no play-along factor, it’s utterly impossible to turn off once it’s on. It’s like game-show crack. I don’t understand why folks intentionally put this on, but I absolutely understand why folks keep it on. You just can’t help yourself.

The only things I can really say that’s good about this show, in fact, are the suitcase models — there’s nothing wrong them. And actually, Howie Mandel is not nearly as annoying as he probably could be, although I really wish: (a) that the producers would make him permanently wear a surgical glove on his head; and (b) that the contestants would fuck with him and his OCD/fear-of-virus thing more, rubbing his bald head, trying to give him a spit-shake, etc. But the best unintentional thing about this show, by far, is the kind of situation that happened during last Monday’s episode. The numbskull contestant got all psyched when he picked a case showing $0.01. He was jumping around like a moron. The very next case he hit? $1 million, of course. Watching him go from such stupid excitement to such utter deflatement (made up word of the column!) was fantastic. There’s nothing like watching someone’s dreams die right before your very eyes!

10. “Criminal Minds” (CBS, Wednesdays at 9 p.m.). “Entertainment Weekly” just gave this a C- minus in last weekend’s issue. Well fuck “EW.” I stand by what I said in What I’m Watching on Wednesdays.

11. “CSI: NY” (CBS, Wednesday at 10 p.m.). … sigh, another goddamn “CSI” show. I can’t believe I had to sit through three of these motherfuckers. At this point, I really don’t have anything new to add to what I said about the last two. They’re all pretty much the damn same. Although this one is a smidge less glitzy than the others. But it made up for that with the single worst piece of dialogue of any show I watched this week: “The answers are in the evidence, we just have to look closer.” Oh, brother!

12. “Two and a Half Men” (CBS, Monday at 9 p.m.). This was the first time I ever sat down to watch an episode of this show, and it will be the last. I’d rather be pricked with needles for 22 minutes. The jokes were bloody obvious — for half of them, I was saying the “punch line” along with the characters (and I’m no comedy writer, as readers of this column well know!). While I did not laugh, guffaw, or even chuckle once during the show, the jokes aren’t even the worst thing about the show. Instead, the worst thing about this show are the cuts between scenes. Every time there’s a scene change, there’s singsongy little “men” that plays over the change. It’s all drawn out and stupid sounding. Can someone please explain what the fuck that’s all about?

This show also makes me sad, ‘cause I used to like Charlie Sheen well enough, and I used to love Jon Cryer (Hiding Out was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid). Now, I want them both to die slow deaths. That’s a half hour of TV I’d watch.

13. “NCIS” (CBS, Tuesday at 8 p.m.). At first, I thought this might have a different feel or perspective from the other procedurals, since it’s about the Navy. But I was wrong — it’s the same old crap. And it was one of the duller hours of any of the procedurals I watched for this little roundup. Storyline was bland. Actors were bland. Everything was bland. And memo to Mark Harmon — for the love of all that is holy and right in this world, when oh when will you give us the much-anticipated Summer School 2? Seriously, dude, I can only wait so long. Maybe you could have Jon Cryer reprise his Hiding Out character. Raise of hands, Pajiba readers — who wouldn’t go see Summer School 2: Hiding Out?

14 (tie). “Law and Order: SVU” (NBC, Tuesday at 10 p.m.). Already covered this puppy in What I’m Watching on Tuesdays.

14 (tie). “Shark” (CBS, Thursday at 10 p.m.). This is the first episode of “Shark” I’ve seen since the pilot, which I reviewed over the summer. Rereading that review now, my original opinion basically boiled down to thinking that the show felt really contrived. The good news is that it feels much less contrived now, and seems to have kind of found itself. The bad news, however, is that its newly found self is fucking dull. The storyline was dull and run of the mill — a large focus was on racial tension, and they actually had someone say “You’d think we would’ve learned something from Rodney King” (actually, I’m letting “CSI: NY” off the hook — this is the worst line of dialogue of the week). The characters were fairly dull and run-of-the-mill. Jeri Ryan, in particular, serves no purpose other than eye-candy — her character was underused and pointless. I also found myself … uh … zzzzzzzzzzzz.

16 (tie). “NBC Sunday Night Football” (NBC, Sunday at 8:15). This was another big game for the weekend, with the San Diego Chargers heading up to Mile High to play the Denver Broncos. And I always watch the Sunday Night Football, so this wasn’t much of a change-up for me. Except that I was still reeling at the time from the fact that my beloved Eagles have yet again lost Donovan McNabb for the season. Philly sports are cursed like no other city in the country. It’s brutal.

16 (tie). “Without a Trace” (CBS, Sunday at 10 p.m.). Different show, same thing. Instead of murdered people, we’ve got missing people. But it all plays out the same anyway. Another procedural with a bland cast and a bland story. I don’t have anything against this show — it seemed perfectly competent. I just have nothing for it either.

18. “Cold Case” (CBS, Sundays at 9 p.m.). And another damned procedural! Of all of the shows on this list, “Cold Case” was the most perplexing to me, because until I watched this episode I realized that I knew nothing about the show. I mean, I didn’t even originally know what day it aired on. So I was pleased as punch when I started watching it and learned that it takes place in Philly! The Illadelph in the house! Anyway, the premise of the show is rather straightforward — it’s “Law and Order” but with old cases (i.e., they’ve gone cold). And Lord knows there are plenty of murders to solve in Philly — all jokes aside, that city’s in a real pickle right now, and I don’t how it’s gonna fix itself.

Anyways, the storyline of the episode I watched wasn’t half bad. It had Bruno Campos guest starring as a serial killer — I wonder if he’s becoming the go-to guy to play serial killers now? And the stars of the show seem to carry themselves all right, although they’re all kind of bland, like many of the folks in many of the procedurals. I still couldn’t tell you who any of them are, nor could I likely point to any of them in a lineup. Although there’s this one big white dude who was OK, mainly ‘cause he kinda came off like a gruff Philly boy, and I dug that. I will say that, while this has a bit of that same style-over-substance thing that I hate with the “CSI” family of shows (which makes sense since this is also exec-produced by Bruckheimer), I didn’t mind it as much here. The cuts between the past and present generally work and flow fairly well.

In fact, at the end of the day, I don’t actually think this is that bad a show. I don’t think it’s that great either, but there’s this indefinable something about it which made it slightly compelling for me, despite its flaws. Maybe that it was set in Philly? I dunno.

19 (tie). “House” (FOX, Tuesday at 9 p.m.). I know, I know. I should watch this show. It’s so great. Hugh Laurie is great (even though I haven’t seen him here, I will agree that Hugh Laurie is great). Point heard, point taken. But I’m still not watching. Deal with it.

19 (tie). “Survivor: Cook Islands” (CBS, Thursday at 8 p.m.). Once again, I’ll send you off to What I’m Watching on Thursdays.

And there you have it — the shows that you, America, were watching all week. You have no one to blame but yourself. And Jerry Bruckheimer. You can blame him too, since he exec-produces five of the top 20 shows.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my lobotomy appointment.


Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. He’s too busy wiping his fingerprints off of anything he’s ever touched to come up with something pithy to put here.

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Fall Sweepstacular / The TV Whore
November 21, 2006

TV | November 21, 2006 |

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

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