Sunday, September 25, 2011

New TV Roundup - Person of Interest

The new crime drama from CBS, Person of Interest seems to have more in common with Minority Report than your typical CSI show. It follows presumed dead, ex-CIA operative John Reese as he's recruited by billionaire computer genius, businessman Mr Finch to prevent crimes before they occur. Although without a handy precog its a bit tougher than it may appear. Mr Finch has a computer program that gives him a list of social security numbers associated with people who will be involved in a violent crime in the near future. Unfortunately he doesn't know if the person will be the victim, the perpetrator, or involved in some other way. So its up to Reese to figure out the who, whats, and whys, before whatever crime is about to happen does.

Yes, the show does in fact star Jesus and Ben Linus! Caviezel and Emerson are both great actors, charismatic as hell, familiar with slightly skewed storytelling, and pretty much guaranteed to deliver the goods. Thankfully for the most part the scripting lives up to the actors playing the roles. The story is dense, and there are some great set ups for supporting characters, as well as interesting avenues for plot that will undoubtedly be looked down as the series goes on.

The action is great, well shot and fast paced. It also looks like a show that has a good budget, but doesn't need to blow it on overdoing anything. The action is intense, but human, and grounded. I'd say 8 times out of 10 I'd prefer to see a really well choreographed hand to hand fight scene than some stupid over the top gun battle. The human drama seems to be a real driving force here. But its not all action, there's a solid set up for a weekly mystery here. And being the serialized storytelling junkie that I am, there are also great potentials for ongoing stories. For anyone that gets the reference I'd liken it a lot to the comic book 100 Bullets, which is just about as awesome a story as you could hope for.

The look of the show is very deliberate too. The colors are muted grays, and browns, and greens. The action takes place a lot at night, and the city is dirty and oppressive. As the characters reference in the pilot, this is definitely a post 9-11 world, and the kind of work they're doing is a direct response to events that transpired out of the terror attacks. The show often cuts to security camera footage, complete with CIA-esque real time analysis. While it plays a specific role in the set up of the story, it also keeps us constantly in check. Big Brother is watching all the time. These guys are just acting on that information; hopefully for the betterment of everyone.

I definitely liked this show and hope to catch it again. I'm not sure if its an every week kind of show, but I'll definitely watch more if I can find the time. Person of Interest airs on Tuesdays at 9pm on CBS, but you can watch it on the CBS website too.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

New TV Roundup - Whitney

Whitney is a show that stars comedian Whitney Cummings as a fictionalized version of herself dealing mainly with her relationship to her long term boyfriend. They are a happy couple who love and support one another but don't feel the need to get married. That said, fearing relationship boredom Whitney uses unconventional methods to keep their relationship interesting. This is played out against funny quips from her wacky (to varying degrees) friends and family, and of course a pretty chock full laugh-track.

Ok, so since there doesn't appear to really be any inherent conflict in the set up here, I'm taking it to mean that this show is a character driven story. But before I get into that I just wonder why exactly there isn't anything actually going on in this set up? Is it just me or is it odd that there's no big hook for this show? Unless its just hooked by Whitney's comedy... maybe that's it. It's just odd, because I feel like most sitcoms have some kind of twist, other than the generally neurotic nature of the lead. Feels like something might be missing from the get go.

So ok, its a character driven piece, and Whitney Cummings is an actress and comedian. Apparently she's been a known entity for a while now with roles on Punk'd, Made of Honor, Chelsea Lately, The Tonight Show, a few of the Comedy Central Roasts, and a bunch of more traditional stand up stuff. I however, like a few of you out there I'm sure have only just heard of her now, although I did see Made of Honor, I don't think Whitney had a very big part. Anyhow, I know shes having a great fall with this show, and creating / producing 2 Broke Girls, but I am really just not feeling it. I don't know that I want to go so far as to say that she isn't funny, but everything here is very heavy handed. The jokes may not be telegraphed as much as they are on 2 Broke Girls, but they fall into the same category of slightly played out, obvious, and sitcomey kind of gags. And like with 2 Broke Girls, they're mostly just not that funny.

I'll say that I laughed a little bit more here than I did with 2 Broke Girls, but I liked the characters better with that show than with this and would ultimately be more drawn back to that show over more Whitney. Other than Maulik Pancholy, who gets a pass from me for all his great work on 30 Rock, no one in this cast stands out as particularly funny. Whether its a problem with the delivery, or the writing I'm not 100% sure; I just know I don't really like it. One thing I'm really 100% positive on though is that I hate the friggin laugh track. It's the same issue as with 2 Broke Girls, just tone it down and it might really help.

Ultimately will I be back for more Whitney? No I don't think so. I only have so much time for tv, and this does not seem like something I'll get a lot of laughs from.

Friday, September 23, 2011

New TV Roundup - 2 Broke Girls

Yet another sitcom this time around from CBS, 2 Broke Girls follows two waitresses working at a diner in Brooklyn. The two are definitely an odd couple with Max, played by Kat Dennings, as a working class, sassy, and somewhat bitter girl, played against Caroline, portrayed by Beth Behrs, as a fallen debutante, once rich, fish out of water, Paris Hilton type of character. The two are of course oil and water, but somehow begrudgingly learn to like each other and by the end of the pilot are roommates and working to open a cupcake shop together.

Well if you've watched the trailer above, then you've seen everything in the pilot worth seeing. Strike that, I'm not sure it was worth seeing at all. I just can't get myself too excited about this show. Admittedly Kat Dennings is pretty charming, and really beautiful, but the most important thing about a comedy, it has to make you laugh and this pilot just didn't. I think I smiled at maybe three jokes the entire episode, and that's a very bad ratio of laugh to joke for a show like this. There is also an incessant laugh track reminding you of when you're supposed to think somethings funny; I'm just sorry to say it wasn't.

Maybe the show will get better, maybe the writing will get stronger as it goes on, but I'm not optimistic. I think the ratings we're pretty solid for the pilot so I'd guess it'll be around for a while, and I might give it another chance or two but 2 Broke Girls better get a lot funnier quickly or I'm leaving.

The show airs Mondays at 8:30pm on CBS, but you can catch episodes now on the CBS website.

Monday, September 19, 2011

New TV Roundup - New Girl

The show that is in my estimation the new sitcom to beat this Fall, New Girl, arrives on FOX later this week. But lucky for us, the pilot has landed on Hulu a bit early! The show stars the beautiful Zooey Deschanel as Jess, an awkwardly adorable girl who is trying to get over an unexpected breakup. She moves into a new apartment with three single guys as roomates, and pulls herself back together though one inelegant misstep at a time and some serious help from her friends.

So this show has a lot going for it, and it shows. Pilots are really tricky beasts having to serve many masters: getting a lot of introductory information out there, and then trying to engage an audience, all while telling whats hopefully a reasonably contained story to set up a series, its a daunting task and it often fails. Even great series sometimes have bad pilots, hell greats eries sometimes have bad whole first seasons. Something tells me though that this will not be the case with New Girl. The show is really strong right out of the gate. The writing is sharp, the characters are relatable albeit quirky and I don't think anyone could help but love Zooey Deschanel. Her character Jess plays into exactly the kind of role Zooey plays best, someone unique, free spirited, comfortable being herself, but also nerdy, awkward, and prone to putting her foot in her mouth. A weird and realistically complicated dichotomy that we can all relate to. Zooey Deschanel is a great everywoman, and the character rings true because she follows her heart.

We've all been in situations like Jess is in here, and I think we all wish we could have friends as sweet as the guys on this show prove to be. Jess is clearly the star of the show, but her supporting cast give her the ability to shine.

The show is a very quick watch, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more episodes. There are a lot of possibilities here and I want to see how it fares a few weeks from now once the chaff of a new tv season has been burned off. I sure hope people find New Girl and keep watching, because so far this is my favorite show of the new season.

New TV Roundup - Death Valley

Now here's a series with a concept I can get behind. From MTV comes Death Valley, a new comedy series that plays as a mockumentary of a COPS style reality show. This time though it's about police officers in LA hunting down vampires, werewolves, and zombies.

And with the call "Now lets go out there and kill something", Death Valley just eviscerated its way into my heart. I have to say I was apprehensive of this show when I first heard of it. Sure it covers some ground that I enjoy with monsters galore, but I honestly wasn't sure the comedy would work, especially when paired with some seriously excessive gore. Generally I like my horror to be serious and scary, and its the rare case, like with Shaun of the Dead, when I think adding comedy works. Thankfully this show really does work, and for my money it's the strong writing that does it. The performances are decent, notably the police captain in charge of the UTF (Undead Task Force) played by Bryan Callen has some fantastic delivery. The writing though, is what makes this show really tick. The characters are drawn to extremes but aren't cartoony, they're just eccentric. They're all likable though, which is significant since at least for the first few episodes there isn't too much continuing story to latch onto; and while it looks like perhaps later in the season there will be some ongoing story threads this seems like a character driven show.

It is gory, with a few effects that fall flat (obvious CGI, or obvious makeup) but the tone is so darkly silly, not unbelievable, just extremely silly that it doesn't matter. It's also pretty crude at times, with some raunchy, violent, or just kind of distasteful graphic humor, but in the context of the show I think it works. When one of the cops actually punches through the head of an oncoming zombie you can tell the show has some pretty broad sights for where they're willing to take the comedy, and that's brave. Edgy comedy is always interesting, even if it passes what I would normally like.

The show airs Monday on MTV and the first 3 episodes are up to watch on their website now. This certainly isn't for everyone but if you like twisted, dark, and bloody comedy check it out.

New TV Roundup - Free Agents

NBC is bringing another dysfunctional workplace rom-com to our TVs this Fall with Free Agents. Based on a Britcom of the same name, the show stars the always lovable Hank Azaria as Alex a middle aged guy who is trying to put his life back together after a divorce, by most significantly. getting back into the dating scene. His major complication, other than the fact that he's a complete wreck a lot of the time, an idiot with women, and cries at the drop of a hat, is his co-worker Helen, played by Kathryn Hahn. After a drunken one night stand the two realize that maybe they can't keep it strictly professional anymore as an attraction builds. But Helen is dealing with her own problems as she works through the death of her fiancee a year ago, and tries to put her own life back on track. So the question remains can these two dysfunctional people get over themselves enough, to find each other and make a relationship work?

I have to admit, I really didn't expect to like Free Agents. Something about the trailer seemed predictable to me, and the subject matter isn't especially relatable since I'm happily married, but I have to say I was really pleasantly surprised by the pilot to this show. The writing is clever, the story isn't hackneyed at all, and most importantly the actors and characters are totally sympathetic, even in their personal neurosis. The main actors give really strong performances, never making light of their problems, in the context of the show these characters are acting exactly how they should. Ultimately that means that the laughs that are earned, and amazingly they really are earned, through the characters rather than the plot are totally genuine.

Additionally I have to mention the wonderful supporting cast here, Anthony Stewart Head plays the absent minded, and somewhat lurid boss of the PR firm where the characters work, in a role that he actually originated in the original British version of the show. And comedians Mo Mandel and Al Magrigal play Alex's co-workers trying to help him get back on the dating horse. There is a lot of comedic chemistry on screen and I think its due to these actors being real pros, and of course some really strong writing.

I'm interested to see where the story goes from here, and intend to watch more. I'd recommend you check it out too. The pilot for Free Agents is on Hulu now, and the show will run on Wednesdays alongside Up All Night.

New TV Roundup - Up All Night

One of the most buzzed new sitcoms this Fall has to be Up All Night, starring the talents of Christina Applegate, and Will Arnett. The show follows new parents as they struggle to balance raising their daughter, working, and their changing lives.

The show absolutely sounds promising, with charming and charismatic stars (alongside the incredible Maya Rudolph who co-stars as Applegate's celebrity diva boss) you'd think this would definitely be one to watch. However, while I think it could turn into an interesting show, based on the pilot alone, it's simply not all its cracked up to be.

The actors are great, Applegate and Arnett really are extremely likable as their characters try to find a balance between their old lives and a new one, but they're written so conventionally. Yes, they used to be party animals, and are working to give up the swearing in front of their daughter, but why is that so unique? Most of the parents I know have similar stories, that's just how it is, everyone knows your life changes when you have kids. So what makes these two stand out? So far I'm not at all sure. If they're not saying something new with the comedy, then they should at least have a new take on the situation.

Speaking of which, the circumstances of the situation they're placed in isn't very groundbreaking either. Applegate is heading back to work after having the baby, and Arnett is staying at home, theoretically giving us some decent gender reversal comedy opportunities. But that's nothing new, that's been mined well since at least Mr Mom. And Applegate's work life at a daytime talk show, dealing with Maya Rudolph should be funny, but its really off tone with the rest of the story. Maybe the problem is that Up All Night hasn't defined how realistic it is or isn't yet, and whenever Rudolph is on screen it becomes a lot less realistic and much more silly.

On the plus side the show is shot really nicely, and I liked the art direction a lot. Its' got a very modern look, and feels... I think fashionable is the word I'm looking for.

That said, I wonder exactly who NBC thinks this show is for? Young parents? Singles? People in relationships? As a relatively young parent myself, the whole thing strikes me a bit off and I think the problem is the timing. Our lead characters ultimately play good parents, or at least relatively good parents, which is nice; but they act like they are struggling because this is their first day on the job. Their daughter looks to be at least 3-4 months old, and of course they also had 9 months of pregnancy to mentally and practically prepare to be parents, the fact that the characters act like they are only just dealing with being parents for the very first time now is totally unrealistic, and for me that throws the entire show off.

So the bottom line is that even with a very charismatic cast Up All Night fails to break, or really even bend, any comedy molds. I might give it another shot or two since I like these actors so much, but it'll have to step up, since the pilot just wasn't that funny, and the characters weren't very believable.

The pilot for Up All Night is on Hulu now, and the series starts airing regularly on NBC this Wednesday the 21st.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Podcasting Gold

As some of you may know I hosted a podcast for a few years starting back in 2005. The show was called the On Hold podcast and was a topical, entertainment, and humor show that involved lots of drinking, a little drugs, some far too personal stories, and entertainment news of the day. Really it was a lot of fun and I miss it. However in 2008 I got a new job that kept me far too busy to podcast regularly, and I got married, had kids, etc etc... And it all just kind of slipped away.

But I've always been an avid fan of podcasting, and to this day spend much of my travel time listening to my favorite shows. Over the years the landscape has changed a lot, and I think my tastes have changed a bit too. While it used to be a online wild west audio free-for-all it seems like now the podcasting world is taming into something more polished and respectable. Not to lessen anything they've done for the medium but the days of Adam Curry and Dawn and Drew are past; for my money there are so many wonderful and truly professional podcasts out there now the stakes are raised to a whole new level. Sure there's still room for the little guy, sure there's still room for niche markets (that's the beauty of this kind of narrow-casting), and the medium is legitimately still evolving, but I think the big players are pretty much all on the field now. We'll just have to see where it goes from here.

I mention the changing landscape, and my history with podcasting because I've got a few recommendations that I wanted to throw out here and it might help to have some context. Over the past two years or so, a ton of professional comedians have gravitated into the podcasting world, and it seems like a natural fit. Frankly I'm surprised its taken so long, but as listeners we're really lucky to get access like never before to some great comedians. So here are some of my favorite comedy podcasts out there that I'd recommend to anyone.

Doug Loves Movies - Recorded live (usually at the UCB theater in LA), the show has a great hook in one of the most entertaining movie trivia games ever, and stoner comedian Doug Benson always has great comedy guests. This is my favorite podcast right now.

Comedy Bang Bang - Scott Aukerman hosts this great podcast with more of a radio show interview style. He brings on comedian guests to chat, and always keeps it funny, with good questions and fun games. Guests often come, and stay in character the entire episode. Very funny.

WTF - Despite some serious neurosis from comedian host Marc Maron, his comic interview show is so damn entertaining you can't help but listen. His guests include big name comedians and his interviews are simply put fantastic. He's a natural interviewer and manages to almost casually get great insights from some of the biggest comics of all time.

Hollywood Babble-On - Director Kevin Smith is no stranger to podcasting. I've been listening to his Smodcast for 5+ years now. But this, one of his newest podcasts (he has an entire network of them) is really the perfect one for me. Great comedy moments between Kevin and co-host Ralph Garman, generally covering geeky and fun entertainment news of the week, the show is constantly moving and always interesting.

There are so many more shows that I like but I find I just don't have time for them all. What's really nice though as a trend is that people who are professionally funny are finally picking up the podcasting microphone, producing some great content. There is treasure trove of information and comedy being chronicled right now in podcasting and its really very cool. I've discovered lots of comics that I might not have heard of before, especially since I have two young kids and can't get out that much. So now I know about people like Andy Daly, Jessica St Clair, and Paul F Tompkins and can look for them in the future.

So its not really about the technology or novelty of podcasting itself anymore, now its really about the content, and that's why I love it. I'd really recommend you check out any of the podcasts I mentioned above and let me know what you think.