Wednesday, June 14, 2006

TV: Season Wrap-Up

At last, the follow-up to my look back at this past TV season (begun with my top ten list).

This was the TV season that will go down in history as the one that finally overloaded Tom on television. Hard to believe, but true.

Since about the beginning of this year, I've been finding it harder and harder to keep up with all the shows I want to watch, which has resulted in a strain on my TiVo's capacity, as more and more episodes get backlogged. Also, I've been finding it harder and harder to motivate myself to watch those shows, so they sit around taking up space on the TiVo even longer than they normally would've.

One of those shows, Alias, I only got caught up on a week ago. I mentioned briefly my mini-marathon of the five episodes I had stored, and, while I was pleased with them overall (despite, as Tom Galloway pointed out in the comments, the underwhelming resolution to the whole Prophet Five storyline), and satisfied by the final fates of all the characters (and happy to see old faces turn up again, like Francie and Weiss -- Grunberg rules!), I'm also kind of relieved this show won't be coming back next year. One less program to keep track of!

Two of these shows, I have yet to catch up on: 24 and Prison Break. I've still got several episodes of each recorded on TiVo, and I'm still waiting for the lazy afternoon when I'll say to myself, "You know what would hit the spot? Four hours of Prison Break." I enjoyed both of those shows this year, as frustratingly logic-defying as both could be at times, but when confronted with a chunk of episodes, it feels more like a homework assignment than entertainment. Aw, do I really have to watch six episodes of 24? I wanna solve math problems instead! So, I wind up with two shows that I haven't given up on, and whose season finales I'm curious to see, but that I also don't feel like making time for.

It's a fine line: if I'm not watching these shows, why don't I just admit I don't care about them that much, and delete them? 24 and Prison Break reside just to this side of that fine line; this year, Gilmore Girls and Smallville crossed over it.

With both of them, it was more an accident than anything else. When the TiVo memory gets overloaded, it starts threatening to delete some old programs to make room for the new ones scheduled to be recorded. You can go in manually and prevent certain recordings from being deleted too soon, which is what I did with 24 and Prison Break. But when push came to shove, I couldn't justify wasting the space with Gilmore Girls and Smallville. I didn't make the effort to save them, so TiVo deleted them. Bye bye, Stars Hollow. So long, Metropolis. Too bad, so sad, glad I ain't your dad.

It happened probably about midway through the season for both of them. There was Christmas vacation, and New Year's, and I had so much else to do that TV became the least of my priorities (shocking!). Suddenly, I found myself missing episodes of shows I'd never missed before. It was just one or two episodes each, but I was still upset. Until I realized that the world didn't actually end, that life remained worth living, that the spring remained in my step, and that really, I didn't miss either show. At all.

Gilmore Girls, I've said here before, has been on a downswing for a while now. The Luke and Lorelai romance fizzled due to a terminal lack of chemistry, the rift between Rory and Lorelai went on forever, Logan continued to be an insufferable ass, and that dog -- damn that stupid dog!! Plus, the obstacles thrown in the way of Luke and Lorelai were absurd. All of a sudden, Luke's got a daughter? Give me a break. What is this, Ally McBeal? And even that could've worked if handled well, but while I was still watching, the plotline just limped along, with the characters doing the dumbest things possible, even if it went completely against their nature, until I ceased to care. About Luke's daughter, about anything. I'm unsure whether or not I'll check back in with the show next season; now that it'll be paired with one of my favorites, Veronica Mars, when The CW network debuts, I might get lured back in.

Same thing with Smallville. Even with the introduction of Brainiac, I found very little reason to care about the show this year. All the stupid, stupid, stupid things the characters traditionally have done -- or have had done to them (who gets a concussion this week?) -- to avoid Clark's secret being discovered seemed especially grating and clumsy to me. Even more so in the "special episode" in which Clark finally revealed his secret to Lana, and she promptly went out and got herself run over by a school bus. Oh, come on! I guess this was supposed to be the grand design of Clark's Kryptonian father, who warned from beyond the grave that Clark revealing his secret would lead to tragedy, but for me it was just pushing things too far into the absurd.

And that was one of the better episodes this year. That one with the female superhero -- the Angel of Vengeance, or whatever -- has to have been the worst episode of the entire series. No, wait, maybe it was the one where Lois becomes a stripper. No, wait! It was the one with the sorority house of vampire lesbians! No, wait! ...Et cetera. It was a horrible year. I did watch the season finale, to see if the show might have redeemed itself after I stopped watching. And... eh. It was mediocre. Will I watch again next year? Possibly, just out of habit. We'll see.

A quick word on two long-running sitcoms that signed off this May. Will & Grace I gave up on a long time ago. For the past few years, I would tune in every once in a long while, and though it wasn't awful, it wasn't funny enough to keep me coming back. This final season, I don't think I saw a single episode, including the grand finale. I understand they did a whole bunch of goofy crap in it, including fast-forwarding through time. Gimmick finales like that tend to leave me cold; I preferred, for example, the way Everybody Loves Raymond simply faded out a year ago on the family having dinner together, leaving us with the comforting suggestion that things would go on as they always have in the Barrone household. It was long past time for Will & Grace to go, and I won't be missing it.

That '70s Show has long been an underrated TV gem. No, I'm not kidding. The young cast was hilarious, with Ashton Kutcher's wildly over-the-top Kelso and Topher Grace's smartly underplayed Eric being the vital bookends to an ensemble that gelled perfectly together pretty much from day one. This show also went past its expiration date, but unlike Will & Grace, it was only by one year. Grace and Kutcher were both gone for most or all of this season, which was the primary indicator that this would be a worthless season. And overall, it was. The actors meant to fill the holes left by Kutcher and Grace's absences were wretched in the extreme. When the funniest part of each episode was the opening credits (Kurtwood Smith staring humorlessly into the camera, refusing to sing along with the theme song like everyone else, cracked me up every single time), you knew you were looking at a sinking ship. Ending the show was a mercy. At least they did it right, by bringing Kutcher back for the full final half hour, and by holding back surprise guest Grace until the very last minutes, reuniting Eric with long-time love Donna, as was only appropriate. The only question remaining is: if the show's first episode was set in 1976, and the show ran for 8 years, how did it end on New Year's Eve, 1979? Man, those kids were more stoned than I thought! They lost four whole years in there somewhere!

That should about cover it, I think. That should more than cover it, probably. Coming soon, a look at my summer viewing. Which will be mostly HBO. Plus the first sitcom ever to make it to a second season on FX!

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