What I’m watching this fall:
Community: I’ve already talked about how this show roared off the blocks — and as I predicted, the pilot was so good it made itself a tough act to follow. Subsequent episodes haven’t been as crackling, the humor a bit less zippy and incisive. But even when its jokes don’t split my gut, Community is still funnier than most other comedies. It’s swinging for the fences way more than other sitcoms, and my chief concern (that the selfish, narcissistic, con-artist lawyer would earn some redeeming value) is being addressed bit by bit. He’s still a shallow cad, but you can believe he’s looking for ways to be slightly less so. Whenever I think the jokes are flagging, I remember Chevy Chase’s response to getting an F (“Did you say S?”) and I’m all a-giggle again.
FlashForward: It would take a lot to shake me off this show, more even than the ’90s software spelling of the title (two words, two capitals, no space; right outta the Adobe playbook). FlashForward is a killer concept — a mass, worldwide blackout perpetrated by mask-wearing weirdos — and the first episode blitzed my senses with hook after delicious hook. That should be enough to ensure my butt is in my seat for this weekly, and so far my butt is fine with this arrangement. But, like Community, subsequent episodes have bogged down, dragging out the mystery with medical drama and political maneuvering and yawwwn. Sometimes I feel I’m watching a prize fight with a one-armed boxer: Fully conscious “walkies” are caught skulking during the blackout? BAM! Repetetive, boring flashforwards? Whiff. Mysterious towers in Somalia? BOOM! Surprisingly flat dialog? Whoosh. FlashForward yearns to be Lost, and it isn’t there yet. Its mysteries are intriguing; with time, I hope, they’ll become irresistible.
Glee: I can admit it. On the list of Worst Things Ever in the Universe, you will not find Glee. I’m late to the party here, because I refused to give Glee the time of day at first. And why should I? As an adult male, I am duty bound to feel my flesh crawl at the sight of another High School Musical or a DeGrassi High reunion. But Glee took a factory-made formula (ragtag outsiders band together through the miracles of music and infectious enthusiasm) and added self-awareness, wit, ribaldry and mysophobia (fear of germs). It shouldn’t work. But it does. Some of the characters are horrible caricatures: the bitchy head cheerleader, the mohawked bully, the clearly-not-right-for-him wife of the protagonist. But the writing rises above the formula, helped by uncanny casting: Jane Lynch as the hilariously vindictive cheer coach, Chris Colfer as a gay kid’s gay kid, and Matthew Morrison as the cool-teacher Glee Club director. His crucial role could have come across as saccharine and Mousketeery, but Morrison plays it so gamely, he’s just plain genuine. The premise is light: In a school where Glee Club used to be popular, one determined former student plans to Welcome Back, Kotter a new club back to prominence. The actors know the campiness inherent in this but they squeeze that awareness like a Florida orange until something sparkly, biting and sweet (but not too sweet) trickles out. I can’t get over how brilliant something this cheesy can be, and I don’t understand how the creators accomplished it. Glee is a tightrope walker back-flipping along a filament I can’t even see. (Plus, if I had any reservations about watching a quasi-musical, high-school rom-com, Joss Whedon has announced he’ll be directing an episode, so now I know it’s cool.)
Torchwood: Children of the Earth: OK, technically this is not a fall 2009 show; it’s the third season of a BBC show I’m watching via Netflix DVDs. This suggestion came to me from amiga Kathryn Achenbach in an e-mail titled: “Have I got five hours of television for you!” Well, that is a difficult dare to ignore, and I almost didn’t need the prompting of the rest of the e-mail, in which Kathryn called it “AWESOME. Like, no-they-didn’t, rip-out-your-heart awesome.” Strong praise indeed. Torchwood is a spin-off of Doctor Who, and that’s a barrier I’ve never been able to leap. I’ve always found old episodes of DW to be much too hokey to enjoy. Yet Kathryn’s encouragement was too persuasive. I leapt into this 5-episode miniseries with both feet, and here’s my review: Anyone who cares about suspenseful, tight storytelling would be a fool not to tune into this. Aliens bound for earth use the world’s children to broadcast their taunting message: “We are coming … back.” The world freaks out, and Torchwood, Britain’s alien investigation team, finds itself classified a threat rather than an asset. Things get ugly. I’ll admit that, after catching up on the 2005 Doctor Who reboot starring Christopher Eccleston, DW proved to be much better property than I gave it credit for. Very watchable and enjoyable. DW fires a packed blunderbuss of crazy-future sci-fi at the viewer. But where the Doctor reaches for terror and often ends up with a handful of goofy, Torchwood is straight-up Ridley Scott with a Monty Python chaser. Fun, furious, essential viewing, even if you’ve never seen a single episode of either series.
Now I eagerly await the return of V to the airwaves next week. If it doesn’t stink, then life will be complete.