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August 29, 2007

Filed under: movies»television

Television Week: Well, More Like A Day

When we first moved into our apartment, Belle and I thought carefully about television. With Netflix, we didn't really need movie channels, but I'd gotten used to having an onscreen guide from digital cable. You get that with TiVo, and Belle really wanted one. So we went with regular ol' analog cable and spent the extra money on the TiVo subscription, and everyone was happy. Well, except for Comcast, but I'm not really shedding any tears over that.

There are lots of nice things about TiVo, little advantages that you don't get with the generic DVRs. Like the way that the fast-forward takes your reflexes into account, and rewinds a little bit so you don't overshoot the end of the commercial break. That's very thoughtful. It's also nice that the box will record recommendations if there's space left on the hard drive--most of the time it's stuff we'll never watch, but sometimes there are jewels, or programs that we meant to record but forgot to add to the list.

Turns out there's some really good stuff on basic cable nowadays. Even besides Galactica. I remember a few years ago, the general consensus seemed to be that if you wanted quality TV, you probably needed HBO. That was back when the reality show craze was in full swing, and all the news outlets screamed that we'd be watching nothing but reality TV in just a few years. So much for that.

  • Psych: At some point, USA apparently decided that they were going to be the quirky mystery network, only to be informed that audiences no longer respond overwhelmingly to Murder, She Wrote and Matlock. Not to be deterred, they made their own, starting with Monk, which I never watched but I'm assured is very clever. Psych has a similar gimmick (superobservant, smart-alec investigator who couldn't cut it as a cop starts a fake psychic detective agency with his friend), but suffers no illusions about being fluffy, formulaic fare. The result is an amusing (if not shocking) show that usually has at least one great line per episode.
  • The Closer: TNT is a weird bird. I always thought of them as the network that ran the same movie twice a night, three nights in a row--on-demand for cheapskates. Then they always advertised their home-grown movies, stuff like The Librarian or innumerable westerns starring people like Tom Selleck. But I guess that's really been working out for them. The Closer was one of the TiVo's recommendations, and it turns out that it's actually very, very good--and this coming from someone who normally hates police drama. The cast is talented, the writing is good, and it's usually light on legal wrangling and authoritarian nonsense (the worst part of the Law and Order franchise). They have episodes up on that you can watch for free, which is always a nice bonus for people who don't have DVRs (or cable, for that matter).
  • Doctor Who: Never watched the original show, but this is not bad. A little cheesy at times, but all in all it's clever, progressive entertainment, aimed primarily at younger viewers without talking down to them. Great theme music. I don't think I really have to write much about this one.
  • Top Chef: You know what cracks me up about reality shows? They're only three seasons in, and people are making comments like "well, the most anticipated episode is always such-and-such," or "I always enjoy this challenge." I'm sorry, but when you've only got two finished seasons in your sample, it's a little bit hard to buy any talk about the show's traditions or recurring events. It's not an institution yet, is what I'm saying. Anyway, Top Chef is good, and the cheftestants are less annoying this season.
  • Eureka: Oh, Sci Fi Channel. Talk about a roller coaster ride. Some of the network's original shows have been critical successes, but more often (Flash Gordon, Painkiller Jane, etc.) they're low-budget disasters with bad scripting and worse set dressing. Eureka is one of the few exceptions. It's based on a premise that I'm surprised no-one had yet exploited: a rural city is populated almost entirely by genius scientists working on secret government projects, like a Mayberry Manhattan Project. If Eureka doesn't always reach brilliance, it still nicely twists small-town drama around 1950's-style pulp science.

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