It's kind of an unusual season: four weeks in, and to the best of my knowledge, nothing's gotten canceled yet. Given the hair-trigger reflexes the networks have had for the last decade, axing any show that doesn't immediately dominate its timeslot, this is noteworthy. Mark Evanier has theorized that the looming threat of a Writer's Guild strike has kept the executive fingers away from the Big Red Button O' Doom: right now, they've got shows in the can and scripts on the table, and it would be foolhardy to toss that away if they won't be able to easily replace them. Nobody wants to see weeks of reruns in the middle of autumn -- or worse, remaking old scripts into new episodes.
As so often happens, the New Fall Season coincided with Quarter-End Close at quelonzia's workplace, which meant late work-hours for a couple of weeks running. As a result, we accumulated a two- or three-week backlog of most everything on our watch list. That's a good benchmark for show quality: can you watch three back-to-back episodes, and still be as engaged in the last one as you were in the first one? If not, it's time to rethink your time investment.
And now, on with the show(s):
8:30 CBS: The Big Bang Theory
Honestly, Quel and I aren't big fans of sitcoms. The last sitcom that we watched semi-regularly was Frasier. We gave The Big Bang Theory a shot, and, well... it was cute, and the Geek/Nerd characters were pretty accurate. I just don't see how much milage they can get out of the premise. I'm not going to try to predict longevity on this one. We dropped it after one episode; it wasn't worth risking DVR conflicts with...
8PM NBC: Chuck
So far, we're enjoying Chuck. It's billed as an action-comedy, and the action sequences are usually exceptional. Like BBT, above, it's another attempt to cash in on "Geek Chic". Chuck's a guy who got a high-speed barrage of top-secret information dumped into his head, and can only access it subliminally.
That's right, it's The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes: The Series.
The data's from a joint project between the NSA and the CIA, and now Our Hero has watchers from both agencies, trying to find ways to get at the data. One's a Beautiful Blonde Bombshell, and the other is Adam "The Man They Call Jayne" Baldwin. They try to keep him out of direct danger, but when a glance at a photograph or seeing the wrong face can trigger a spasm of suddenly-remembered espionage secrets, that's not always possible.
All through this, Our Hero continues at his job with the
Y'see, Chuck's in this dead-end life because he got kicked out of Stanford when his roommate "found" some stolen tests under his mattress. So, gee, Chuck got screwed out of his degree, and all of his classmates got rich in the tech boom while he wound up in Retail Hell.
Never mind the fact that, given Chuck's age, he and his classmates would have graduated just in time for the dot-bomb. Here's the thing: I know people who've worked for the NSA, or have gotten job offers from the NSA. At least one of them dropped out of college. They resemble Chuck far more than they do Adam Baldwin -- they're capable, highly competent Tech Savants who sit in front of computers and do data analysis. I know there's the whole "interagency dispute" subplot, but, shoot, instead of trying to maintain his "ordinary working schlub" life as a cover, why doesn't one agency or the other just offer him a job? Better pay, better health care, and, heck, he's demonstrated that he's sufficiently capable as a computer tech that, even after the data in his head is gone or no longer useful, there's no reason not to keep him on.
Personal Assessment: It's still amusing, so far, and my personal Tacoma Narrows hasn't collapsed yet. We'll keep watching until I give up or the networks do.
Long-Term Prognosis: My money's on a mid-season cancellation. Figure January. It's got a charming cast, terrific action scenes, and Office Space-style surreal workplace humor, but I don't think Jake 2.0 is any more viable in 2007 on NBC than it was in 2004 on CBS.
If it does somehow make it to next season, it can't really go much past that without somehow changing the core premise. Chuck's not getting any new data downloaded into his wetware. The usefulness of what's up there has a half-life. The dynamics of the shadow world of espionage change even faster than the overt political arena -- and we've seen how fast that can change since the turn of the century. Eventually, what's in his skull is not only going to be obsolete, it's going to be dangerously obsolete -- and if the show doesn't deal with that, I think more and more people are going to have their suspension of disbelief fail.
A Brief Aside
I wonder when the networks are going to realize that the shows that successfully tap into "Geek Chic" are the ones that don't make geeks look like losers? CSI has Cute Geek Couple Gil and Sarah, Criminal Minds has Reid and Garcia, and Numb3rs is built around Charlie and his peers. All of these characters are believable Highly Intelligent Social Maladroits, but the shows take them seriously.
On the other claw, Monk is in its sixth season, so I may be way off base there.
9PM NBC: Heroes
Not a new show, so not much to say here. Heroes is still getting its footing after last season's big anticlimax. It's still fun, though a summer of The 4400 has reminded me that, yeah, it really is pretty fluffy. Still, we'll keep watching it; we're sufficiently hooked by the ongoing plot threads. And Nichelle Nichols! Man, even in her 70s, she's still hot!
Long-Term Prognosis: Criswell Predicts that Heroes will see the end of this season, but I figure a 50/50 chance that it won't get renewed for next season. The novelty has worn off, and so far, there haven't been enough "Oooh" moments to make up for the slow bits.
10PM NBC: Journeyman
I'm enjoying Journeyman for the same reason some of my friends aren't: the focus on how getting sucked into the paranormal can screw up your day-to-day life. Dan Vasser travels in time, finding himself following individuals through critical junctures in their lives and helping them through them. Like Sam Beckett (who came from the "near future" of 1995), he doesn't have much control over his "leaps". Unlike Sam, however, he returns to his home time between "jobs" -- and again unlike Sam, he has to deal with the repurcussions that random, poorly-timed disappearances have on his life, his job, and his marriage.
The friends who dislike the show only see a downward spiral. I, on the other claw, see Dan and his wife struggling to understand, and, as the series continues, struggling to cope. By episode 4, Katie Vasser has stopped blaming Dan for the time trips (she's largely convinced of their reality, thanks to a very clever stunt in the first episode). Now, they're dealing with it as a couple, acknowledging that they have to rearrange their lives to take the sudden disapperances into account. (Hint: if Daddy vanishes with little or no warning, do not leave the seven-year-old in his charge in a crowded place.)
It's not about getting dragged down -- it's about keeping your head above water.
Another complaint I've heard is that "it's hard to get excited about traveling back to the '90s." Actually, the show's gone back to the '70s a couple of times; they haven't explained the mechanics of Dan's little problem, but from the evidence seen thus far, it's possible he might share Sam Beckett's "within his own lifetime" limitation.
For me, dropping back to the recent past is part of the fun. It adds an element of "holy crap, we do live in the future" that it shares with Life (a show that'll get covered when I do Wednesdays). Sam had to have Al ask their sentient AI to look up facts about the time he'd leapt to and the people he encountered; Dan pops back to his own time, pulls out his cell phone, and Fake!Googles* it. In one instance, someone talking on a brick-sized cell phone gave Dan's Bluetooth earpiece a puzzled glare; in another, wandering lost in the '70s with no data access, he wondered how people lived like this. He has to dig out his old cell phone, since his new, digital one doesn't work in the '90s; when he finds out that they'd thrown out the charger long ago, he winds up stealing a charger from his past self. There are all kinds of things, little and big, that the show uses to underscore just how much things have changed in so short a time.
...except, that is, for fashion. Yes, if you're going clubbing or hanging out with the in crowd, styles have changed -- but regular casual clothing has been pretty stable for the last 20 years. Dan's usual uniform of jeans, windbreaker, and ill-fitting t-shirt are as fashion-neutral in 1987 as in 2007, and don't stand out that much even in the '70s. Contrast that to, for example, Back to the Future, in which a three-decade differences in fashion makes Marty seem completely out of place until he can get "local" garb. Let's not even start on the music!
In Marty's time, a 30-year jump is the difference between color TV to black and white. In Dan's time, a thirty-year jump is the difference between having access to a global communications netowrk that has a reasonable approximation of the sum of all human knowledge in your pocket... and nothing. Nothing at all.
Next up: Tuesday!
*Thanks to rikoshi for that turn of phrase!