Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Premiere Week Part 1

With SOOOO many shows premiering this week, both new and returning, it's going to be awhile until I get to everything I'd like to. Possibly weeks. So in order to leave myself time to actually watch some of these shows, I'm just going to do a whole bunch of quick takes on everything I've seen so far all at once.

Glee was probably the returning show I was most looking forward to, and the premiere reminded me how much fun this show is, if also why it's often called out as problematic. Beginning with a list of all the criticisms people have made about the show, the premiere went on to exemplify one of the bigger ones: fitting 5 episodes' worth of plot into a single hour. Which is why I wouldn't say the episode itself ranks among Glee's best.

But as far as setting up the new season goes, it definitely did the job. Coach Bieste throws a whole new twist into the Schue/Sue relationship, and fun to see them working together for a change. Just about every major kid character had some kind of change: Finn getting kicked off the football team, Artie losing Tina, Rachel having to compete with newcomers, Quinn back as captain of the Cheerios, etc. New characters (Sunshine, Sam, and the new Vocal Adrenaline coach) were introduced in such a way that you got a good sense of them without them taking away from the leads. And great musical numbers combined with good Sue Sylvester lines made for a very enjoyable hour of TV.

Going right to the theme episodes next week with a Brittany Spears homage may be a bit too soon, but hey, we knew this wasn't Mad Men. Glee doesn't take its time. The important thing is that all of the fun, energy, and humor of the first season is still very much intact here in year two, and this will continue to be the show I actually watch the night it airs.

I've got a lot of pilots I still need to get to, but the one new show I know I'll be sticking with is Boardwalk Empire. Between Martin Scorsese directing and Sopranos alums running the show, the pilot had a lot to live up to. And as far as I'm concerned, it succeeded. Personally, I'm getting a little of sick of shows on HBO, AMC, and FX that take their sweet time getting to the point, making you sit through a few dreary hours before getting amazing by the fifth episode. Boardwalk Empire is not like that. There's so much action, character, and, yes, actual humor in the opener alone that this isn't just a prestige show; it's actually entertaining.

Beginning right at the beginning of Prohibition, the show centers on Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a city councilman in Atlantic City, New Jersey who puts together a bootletting operation to keep his city wet. He plays the politician by telling the temperance ladies he's one of them, then makes deals with New York (in the form of Michael Stuhlbarg's Arnold Rothstein) and Chicago (meet young Lucky Luciano and Al Capone). But just as central is Nucky's driver Jimmy (Michael Pitt), a young guy who turned down Princeton to fight in WWI, who plays the Christopher to Nucky's Tony. And at the same time, the Feds are trying to close the operation down, specifically Michael Shannon's Van Alden.

I've heard some criticism of Steve Buscemi as the leading man, and I will say I'm reserving judgement on that front. He definitely plays the part well, but as an excellent character actor he doesn't quite have the gravitas of, say, a James Gandolfini. But with so many great supporting players that may not make a difference. Michael Pitt's character is already emerging as just as much of a protagonist. And while much of the cast can be hard to distinguish as "white guys who look alike," enough stand out right away that everything should fall into place a lot earlier than in other HBO historical series like, say, Rome.

Obviously the production values of the $18 million pilot are extraordinary, and that's a reason to check it out alone. The show brings old Atlantic City to life in a big way, and the visuals are amazing to watch. You can tell the pilot was directed by Scorsese since it has the feel of his movies, which may have a lot to do with why it's so watchable. This is no dry history lesson, but a show that brings its era to life in much the same way Mad Men does, except with a lot more violence.

Given that the showrunners previously worked there, the show feels a LOT like The Sopranos, but in a good way. If you've been looking for something to fill that void, this is definitely it. And if you haven't, it's still a different enough show you might find something to like. With no other new shows breaking out as big hits the way Glee and Modern Family did last year, this seems to be it. HBO certainly thinks so, having already renewed it for a second season. If the rest of the season lives up to the promise of the pilot, we'll be seeing Boardwalk give Mad Men a scare at the Emmys next year.

How I Met Your Mother had what was pretty widely considered a weak fifth year. The showrunners are the first ones to admit that, so they wanted to step it up big time for season six. And in a lot of ways, this week's premiere showed the benefits of listening to your fans. It was a very back-to-basics episode, taking place almost entirely within the bar on a single night. Ted got to be the focus again (but not in an obnoxious way), and every character generally acted like themselves.

But while the rest of the episode was perfectly solid and enjoyable, it's the ending that makes this a great premiere and one that should re-hook any questioning fans. The show may be more of a "Friends for the 21st century" than an actual story about Ted meeting his wife, but this week brought the mother story a big step forward by revealing they meet at a wedding. The bigger surprise: Ted is the best man at the wedding! Ted doesn't know that many people. Marshall and Lily are already married. So the two most obvious guesses would be Barney or Robin. Though maybe it's Rachel Bilson marrying her new girlfriend. Why she'd chose some guy she dated for all of a minute as her best man I don't know, but she does at least she would presumably invite the mother-to-be.

Ah well, plenty of time to keep speculating. I'm certainly intrigued to find out.

Ok, catching up with some stuff from last week, Top Chef: Just Desserts premiered last Wednesday and while it's certainly not up to original flavor standards, I'd rank it above Masters. Like in the original, Desserts has contestants who really care about winning, so it's not all a good-natured lark like for the pros. The personalities are even bigger than on the regular version, so it almost feels more like Project Runway (not saying that's a good thing, just observing). But most importantly of all, there are so many delicious looking desserts that I will immediately need to run out to Crumbs after every episode. Total food porn.

If that weren't enough, everyone's favorite TC judge Gail Simmons is hosting, and Hubert Keller is supposed to show up somewhere down the line. It's hardly appointment TV, so too bad it's on during the busy fall instead of, say, the summer, where it would be exactly the right type of fluffy fun I'm looking for. But as a placeholder for real Top Chef, it works.

Finally (and STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE TOP CHEF FINALE YET), I finally saw the Top Chef finale tonight, and somehow stayed spoiler-free beforehand. Which made me all the more shocked by the result. It was clear from the episode that Kevin's was the meal they liked best, so in that sense he deserved to win. But it wouldn't have been clear that he would be Top Chef from any other given episode this season. He always seemed like one of the chefs that was good enough to stay in but not good enough to win too much. Then again, Ed sealed his fate when he decided to delegate the entire dessert course, and Angelo was working with a pretty severe disadvantage. Kevin did seem REALLY happy about it, so it's hard to hold it against him. But he seems more like another Hosea than one of the more obvious winners.

1 comment:

Kara said...

great comments as always Zander!!! I totally agreed with you about the Glee premiere, though I'd love to hear what you thought about the past two eps because once again my attention and patience are waning. And I'm just so sick of Rachel and she looks gross and anorexic now. barf.