Just updating the calls I made earlier. Your opinions and special finds should make the Comments far more interesting than the post.
BSG -- Not part of the original post, but Jesus Haploid Christ, that is some damn fine televisioning that deserves remarking upon. Consider it remarked. Watch the box sets, catch the new eps. That's how you go about the business of televising.
UGLY BETTY / STUDIO 60 / 30 ROCK -- In order: good for them, I'm still not watching/ if you think it's gotten better, you're high / Only for Baldwin, but worth it. Now, onto the essay questions.
DEXTER -- the very sales model for doing high-concept in 13 episodes. The sister character shows symptoms of irrational bitchiness usually reserved for network TV women (see JERICHO, below), but not to a fatal effect for the show. The stand-alones were all good, the meta-story is both intriguing and being closed off in a satisfactory way ... not making me giddy like LIFE ON MARS, but hey -- trust the Gene Genie. All told, a good investment of entertainment attention.
HEROES -- somehow got cheesier and better, which is no mean feat. Downside: I can not summon even the slightest interest in evil-stripper mom storyline. And that's saying something, considering anything described by the phrase "evil stripper mom" gets spotted ten yards. Upside: why yes, those are old-school cliffhangers. Why yes, you did manage to advance the meta-story in satisfying ways, consistently giving us answers without jerking us around. Bonus points -- the cheerleader can act, Glasses Guy does good ambivalent villain, Peter turned out to be much more interesting than I anticipated, and ... Hiro's. Fucking. Sword. First storyline closed off, but with some hanging threads, new storyline initiated for the winter return. Tick and tick, HEROES shows mastery of what all television will look like very soon, even if the networks are doing this new scheduling solely by accident.
JERICHO -- a conundrum. On a structural level, another excellent example of the new balance in TV. Are there big mysteries, such as "Who dropped the bomb?", "Who is the Magical Negro working for?", and "Where was Skeet Ulrich for those five years?" -- and no, not where was the actual Skeet Ulrich, I mean his character, but hey, I understand your confusion. Why yes, there are such mysteries. At the same time, each week clocks in with serial perfection. We need medicine/we find medicine. The bad guys come/we send the bad guys away. There's been a murder/we catch the murderer. Worth watching for this mastery. The web supplements are nicely done, too.
Bonus for Brad Beyer, playing Stanley, who now has a job on any show I work on, ever. What a find. They're not using him as much in conjunction with the Ulrich, as Beyer really works the "best friend you wish you had" vibe to its full extent, while Skeet's Jake doesn't seem to really deserve that kind of pal. Yet.
On the other hand, JERICHO's starting to show the seams of being on CBS. The female characters are really, really awful.
I kind of like Pamela Reed as the nosy, judgmental mom, as she's playing precisely the small-town mom who motivates you to move away. She's nails on a chalkboard, and that's a valid choice. But the best example of the sort of standard "moms/girlfriends or dysfunctional crimefighters" vibe all CBS women fall into was the ep where the Blackwater-style mercenaries were coming. While the heroic caucasian menfolk were having a stand-off on the bridge, the girlfolk were getting hammered in the bar, dreaming about one of the girls' missed wedding. Now, that's a valid storyline, but that juxtaposition was miserable. The women even comment that "something's happening". Yeah, there's a squad of heavily armed men who are going to come in here, shoot all of you in the face and take your penicillin. That's a bit distracting from mooning over the hope chest, no?
Not a single woman with a gun? Not a single Hispanic American living in KANSAS for chrissake? Meanwhile, the women have a very thin trigger on the "fly off the handle" setting. Constantly hurt, angry, resentful to well-meaning guys, except for the fun little Science Girl (GO, SCIENCE GIRL!) who suddenly disappeared for three weeks while Ulrich weaved his Skeet-alicious magic over Bad-Extensions Girl. I must give full credit to Mrs. Kung Fu Monkey for calling out this constant bullshit shrill characterization. I am generally clueless about such things, wrapped up in metastory and Beyer-crush as I am. But when you take the time to parse it out, it's a serious and serial problem in television, and a particular weakness of CBS.
Also, the shmaltz is climbing. At first it was reserved to that magnificently awful "feelings" music that kicked in whenever Pamela Reed decided to talk to anyone. But the return in the finale of a missing character, at precisely the moment he did so, was not just deus ex machina, it's like the machina was a frikkin' robot who was in charge of running the universe according to specs designed by an omnisicent parallel universe bastard OCD son of Newton and Copernicus.
It feels like some bit of arc-planning went awry in the middle of those first 11, something went out of balance and certain elements sloshed to one end of the arc. No idea how it happened, but I damn near quit the show right then and there despite my affection for it. Status: on probation.
LOST: ... oy. And I say this with friends on the show. But oy. Unlike many people, I think the flashback structure is still useful. But look at what we got for flashbacks so far:
1.) Jack's marriage fell apart, and he was obsessive. No new information, or even anything different from previous flashbacks. Really nothing to do with the mystery of the island.
2.) Turns out Jin knew a lot more about Sun's infidelities than he let on, some Sun responsibility issues ... pretty good, and new information. Although his mastery of tactics reveals why Sayid was an interrogator and code-breaker in the Iraqi army as opposed to, say, a combat officer.
3.) Locke worked on a commune, accidentally screwed the potgrowers there, and then couldn't kill a day player. Which is not all that surprising. Him not killing people. As he's a good guy.
4.) Sawyer's a con man with a heart of gold. REALLY?!
5.) Eko once broke his vow as a priest and killed some day players. Which is not all that surprising. Him killing people. As he's a killer.
Oh, and then in the episode proper, one of the top three coolest humans on the island dies. And there are other hatches. Which we already know. And more characters are introduced! Yay!
6.) Kate, the emotionally unstable criminal who can't commit to nice guy Jack, couldn't commit to nice-guy sheriff back in the day, either. Now, looking at her pattern with the childhood-boyfriend doc, and the sheriff, I can see the arc there. But .. jeebus.
The weird thing is, all these episodes were very, very well-written. Seriously, LOST has one of the best staffs currently working in television. But the decision to start in the Others' camp (regardless of a very cool reveal vis-a-vis the original crash) is like ... the audience is being told that this goddam story is interesting whether they like it or not, or regardless of whether it's interesting or revelatory or not. You like Hurley, a character we spent two years getting you to invest in? Tough glass titties, prole.* He'll be back in May. Look, more unnecessarily cryptic white folk!
At the moment I found myself thinking "Hey Jack, they want you to do spinal surgery on their evil leader. How about making a deal where they have to explain ONE SINGLE SOLITARY GODDAM THING ABOUT THIS ISLAND, and then you'll do it? Huh? Who on EARTH wouldn't bargain that?" I started to die a little inside. I understand that the castaways are in over their head, but it's like they've developed some sort of bizarre learned helplessness (as have we. Wait a minute, is this all part of the experiment --?).
You can stall on the A-story, or blow a flashback on straight characterization, but both? I have full faith that the back half of the season will set my retinas on fire. But at this point it's straight faith, a situation I'm never comfortable with.
Your kvetches, recommendations, etc. in the Comments. I'm psyched about the return of ROME. I'm already pantless. Err, in a toga. You know what I mean.
* heh. that one's just for me.