Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday rookie round-up

I reviewed all three of "Chuck," "Big Bang Theory" and "Journeyman" in today's columns, but I'll have some brief additional thoughts on each coming up just as soon as I price out nail guns at the Large Mart...

Like I said in the column, of the three "Chuck" episodes I've seen, the third is the strongest (the second is the weakest). This one obviously spends a whole lot of time setting up the premise, introducing the three worlds in which Chuck will move (home with his sister, at work with the Nerd Herd, and saving the world with Adam Baldwin and Olivia Wilde lookalike Yvonne Strahovski). I like Chuck the character a lot already, thanks to Zachary Levi (who doesn't play it exactly the same way Adam Brody would have, even though they also look alike) and his chemistry with Joshua Gomez as Morgan the sidekick, and I love the little deadpan comedy moments, like Chuck being menaced at the Large Mart by the bomb maker, Chuck's "Any Way You Want It" ringtone going off in the middle of a crisis and, of course, the porn star computer virus saving the day.

One thing I didn't get around to mentioning in my "Big Bang Theory" review is how much obvious contempt the writers have for all three of the main characters. I'm not saying you can't have a comedy where the characters aren't very likeable for the audience, but the writers have to like them on some level for it to work. It was obvious that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant had great affection for David Brent on "The Office" even as they made him behave like an absolute git, or that the "Taxi" writers probably would have preferred hoisting a beer with Louie DePalma more than any other character on that show. I don't get that at all between these writers and these characters, who just come across like the stereotypical two dweebs and an airhead that the premise suggests. Jim Parsons made me laugh a few times with the way he delivered his lines, but beyond that, bleah.

Where some of my optimism about "Chuck" comes from having seen further down the road, the lame second "Journeyman" only makes me less enthusiastic about a show I was already agressively meh about. As a literary-type drama, it's not going to hold a candle to a book like "The Time Traveler's Wife," and the creators aren't interested enough in the sci-fi trappings to have any fun with the rules of time travel. There was one scene in the original pilot that I really liked, the bit where Dan unearths the toolbox with the engagement ring to prove to his wife that he'd traveled to the past, but I realized in watching the final version that most of my affection for it came from the U2 song being used; The Fray doesn't carry it nearly as well.

What did everybody else think?

40 comments:

chris w said...

I liked Chuck a lot more than I was anticipated I was going to. The comedy was pretty good and the action was fun without being overly serious.
Also, how about those cheesecake shots of the blonde CIA agent (I forget her character's name already) twice in the show. Va-va-voom!

Two complaints:
1)I really hope they don't go through all that rigmarole everytime Chuck gets visions from the secrets. That will get annoying if every 10 minutes a plot point comes up and we see random flashes that don't really mean anything to us, the viewer, other than an obvious signaler that Chuck is remembering something.
2)I hope that placing random indie bands in the show won't be a constant thing. It felt too much like how I heard the OC was with bands. Just random excuses to have "hip" bands show up for no good reason. I'll give it a pass in the pilot of Chuck because going to a show on a date is a decent natural thing. But if they go there every episode, that'll get annoying.

Alan Sepinwall said...

As to your specific complaints:

1)The flashes are a regular thing, but they become more coherent (i.e., you understand what information Chuck is getting) moving forward.

2)There are no indie rock concerts in episodes two or three.

Eric said...

I like Chuck, but I'm not sold on the buddy yet. Reaper's bearded buddy is much funnier and more likable so far.
Another thumbs up on the cheesecake shots, even if they felt lifted from "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."
And I can only hope that the repeated shot of the pie in Chuck's blipverts is a subliminal message to watch Pushing Daisies.

I've got the first Journeyman saved for some slow night, but if I never get to it, I won't be heartbroken, much as I like McKidd. Hopefully the series will last exactly two or three seasons and end at the perfect time for him to take over as The Doctor.

Number Five said...

I really enjoyed Chuck. The comedy was funny, the action was (for a TV show) exciting and there was some dramatic weight to Chuck feeling like a loser. My favorite bit was definitely at the end, with the Ennio Morricone-esque music and the revelation that Adam Baldwin will be posing as an employee. The subliminal flashes in general, and the apple pie in particular, felt like a reference to the brainwash sequence from The Parallax View more than anything else. My only concern is that they balance the tone and avoid getting too light or too dark. Oh and did Captain Awesome remind anyone of HIMYM, especially Marshall's law school buddy?

Journeyman was weaker but hooked me as soon as Dan ran into the other Livia who seemed to know something about what was going on. They'll have to be careful with clarity; I got most of Day Break and I still had some trouble figuring out the details of what was going on. I don't know what it is about people (or more specifically, obvious dummies) getting thwacked by buses that appeals to writers but it has to stop! And of course internal inconsistency could sink the show very quickly. But I want to see where it goes for the next few episodes.

Oh, and who would have thought the NBC show tonight with the smallest amount of underdressed women would be Heroes?

wryanh said...

I think I like Chuck a lot. It's weird, though, that they went to the trouble of getting the video game stuff so right (with the exception that "made our own version" doesn't really sound like anything, unless maybe that's how he translates "port" to normal people) just to lead into "this information gets downloaded to his brain for some reason".

Actually I think more annoying than the Brain Download is the idea that this massive database of information is "encoded in pictures", which has never meant anything ever.

I mean it's not really what the show's about, and I imagine it won't be a long term sticking point, just that they focused so much on premise in the pilot that I felt perpetually irritated.

Who knows, maybe some day we will learn that Chuck's parents had some sort of cybernetic modifications installed in him when he was born. It doesn't seem likely though.

But besides that nerd babble I agree that Chuck the character was nice, and as of one episode even the most one-dimensional character (Captain Awesome) doesn't grate. I will watch for awhile.

BigTed said...

Three things struck me as completely unrealistic in "Chuck." The first is that an employee of what's obviously the Geek Squad at Best Buy would fix something right away, rather than telling the customer it isn't under warranty, then taking it into the back for three months and finally losing it.

The second was a virtually empty Costco, without long lines or huge shopping carts playing bumper-car with each other.

The third was that the cool club with the great band had no cover charge or line to get in. I guess that's one of the perks of living in a hip section of L.A. on $11 per hour. (I assume his sister and her doctor girlfriend are subsidizing the rent.)

As for the wirelessly downloading a million images to someone's brain, that I can believe.

BigTed said...

Um, "boyfriend," I meant to say.

Anon said...

Zachary Levi comes off much more as a young Peter Gallagher/Sandy Cohen as opposed to an older Adam Brody/Seth Cohen. Levi's charming but just mildly damaged, and nowhere near as aggressively nerdy as Brody. It's easy to root for the guy to pull his life together.

That said, I only thought there were two really funny moments, both wordless: Adam Baldwin in his Buy More "uniform," and Joshua Gomez pulling a John Carlos when Chuck heads to the boss' office. And I'm on the side of spending more time in the work and family environments, where there's more potential for comedy -- let's call it the Large Mart/Captain Awesome universe. If I want endless shootouts and random stuff blowing up I can just watch K-Ville. (For now.)

As for the premise, watching _Chuck_ made me want to rewatch _Heat Vision and Jack_, an unaired pilot involving Jack Black, the voice of Owen Wilson, and Ron Silver as himself/an evil NASA agent. That show really committed to its similarly absurdist premise _and_ had a great catchphrase ("I know everything!"). I didn't get that same sense of fun from the action side of _Chuck_.

Anon

J said...

I'm okay with Chuck. All those shots of pie! I wouldn't go out of my way to catch it, and it's probably best not to think at all -- hey, that intelligence in his head, it's not going to be ridiculously obsolete by next week, is it? -- but at one point I thought maybe they were posing underachiever guy as the good-natured solution to our paranoid internal national conflicts, or something. But then: Pie!

Everyone loves pie.

Anyway, I'd like to do my impersonation of McG directing Joshua Gomez:

"I really like what you're doing, Josh. But in this take, I'd like you to think, 'What would Seth Green do?'"
"That was good. But Josh. Not a little more Seth Green on this one: A lot more. I want Josh Gomez, but I want him at his Seth Greeniest."
"Seriously, Gomez, we just couldn't get Seth Green. You're hanging by a thread, here."

Scott Tobias said...

The one thing that intrigues me about Journeyman is it potential as serialized drama, not so much as episodic drama. If all the show involved was McKidd getting tossed back and forth in time on celestially sponsored do-gooder missions, I'd get bored fast. (The line at the end of Episode Two about the specific way his intervention had benefited humanity had my wife and I doing simultaneous spittakes.) But considering the knotty relationship between the four principles—McKidd's wife being his brother's ex; his former flame turning up in the past, etc.—there's some pretty sticky situations that arise in the first two episodes; for example, this idea of cheating on your wife before you technically were a couple, for example. Or McKidd having run-ins with himself, which had me flashing back to PRIMER's metaphysical conundrum. I'm worried that the show will go the easy route and just hit the reset button most weeks, but there's potential there, I think.

As for The Big Bang Theory, I'm still baffled. Had someone not mentioned they had a blog, I could have been convinced this show was made 20 years ago. Oh, if only they had shown our two geeky heroes getting de-pantsed. Maybe on the DVD...

dez said...

I haven't had a chance to check out "Chuck" yet, nor "Journeyman" since I decided to watch my tape of HIMYM first and then as I started posting here about that, I let "Big Bang" run in the background. Wow, it sucks. Too bad because I really like Johnny Galecki.

Bruce Reid said...

The action and comedy in Chuck certainly grabbed me, but I decided to stay around for the season when it became clear how much his sister and friend were rooting for Chuck to succeed at the everydays, like work and getting a girl. I enjoy Buffy-angst as much as the next fellow, but not for every show. Sometimes you want to see a family just get along and support each other no matter what--that's the only reason I still tune in to Numb3rs occasionally--and I hope the congenial dynamic lasts.

I had a special interest in The Big Bang Theory that unfortunately was unfulfilled--I've a perverse pleasure in utterly unfunny, irredeemably mean-spirited sitcoms that just thrust their weary jokes and horrible acting at you with an aggressive laugh track blaring away. There's something about sitting through a Yes, Dear or War at Home, not cracking a smile while the plot mechanics grind away in predictably inane fashion to reach the punchline you saw coming up the expressway for five minutes, that I just wierdly enjoy.

Alas, while the writing was every bit as awful and cruel as you say, I felt both Parsons and Kaley Cuoco managed to deliver their garbage dialogue with zest and some fresh spin. And the game's just not any fun if a talented actor or two are visibly struggling to wrestle something funny out of the script. So, ridiculous as it may seem, the show's not bad enough for me to keep watching.

Ah well, 'tis the season of Cavemen, after all.

Bruce Reid said...

Oh, and I'm utterly torn between wanting some ironically sinister payoff to the pie thing or having it just remain this unexplained non sequitur.

jim treacher said...

Ah, Heat Vision and Jack... "I was told to be quiet."

So, if you went back in time 10 years, do you think your girlfriend would notice you looked way older? Guess not!

Anonymous said...

Regarding Big Bang Theory, I don't see any evidence for the writers having contempt for the dweebs-- sure they get depantsed, but speaking as a research scientist who works at Caltech, things like that do occasionally happen, you know. But what else was so bad? Leonard comes across as sweet, Sheldon is hilarious (the only funnier new character this fall is Ray Wise's Devil), and the scientific content is surprisingly well-informed.

Granted, Penny does not come across very well, but I think part of that is due to Sheldon's contempt for her, not necessarily the writers'. Guess we'll have to wait to see if her personality becomes as three-dimensional as her figure.

Oz

Chris Littmann said...

There's been all this talk about how easy it will be to watch shows online for free, etc. I know, I know Chuck was available before the fact online in a lot of places, but now it doesn't appear to be...

Am I missing one of the sites like Yahoo TV or NBC itself (or NBC Direct) where I can catch it for free on a regular weekly basis? I only ask because my DVR can't handle three shows at once.

Christy said...

I did my happy dance when I saw Baldwin. But he was the only part of Chuck I particularly liked. Strikes me that Levi modeled his character after J.D. on Scrubs. Just doesn't feel special to me.

I, a big fan of The Time Traveler's Wife, want to like Journeyman. The save of the week was a bit weak imho, and I hope that is just because they had to spend so much time on the set-up. I've had a crush on Reed Diamond since his Homicide days and the preview looks like he might not be entirely a good guy in this. I like the complicated relationships. Truly, from the pilots, Journeyman feels more like a its going to last longer than Chuck.

J said...

I'm utterly torn between wanting some ironically sinister payoff to the pie thing or having it just remain this unexplained non sequitur

Oooo, they'd better not try to explain the pie. Best not to even mention it.

Pie!

Ted F. said...

The pie is just an image that has information encoded in it, no? (Of course, if information can be so easily encoded into images, why aren't we all learning through blipverts instead of schools?)

Lots to complain about on the suspension of disbelief front for Chuck, so Slim is quitting it immediately: why are the NSA and CIA fighting each other? why doesn't the government back up its hard drive like they did in Die Hard 4? why isn't Sarah in the dataset such that Chuck recognizes her? why doesn't sarah retrieve the hard-drive after the computer breaks? why aren't any of the dancers recognizing the mayhem around them? why is a laptop bomb connected to the internet?

For some reason, the humor in the rest of the show entertained me enough, that I was willing to forgive these deficits, like I did in Die Hard 4. Which is funny, because with Buffy, my reaction was that everything was contrived, while Slim watched every episode. I can see this becoming contrived pretty quickly--how often is a Serbian agent just going to happen to be shopping in the LargeMart next door? But, per Alan, I'll give it to Episode 3.

Kristin said...

Twelve minutes into "Chuck," I turned it off. I'll probably finish watching, but it just was so disjointed and confusing and didn't grab my attention.

The comedy in the beginning was very forced and just didn't seem timed very well.

When I turned it off, I was thinking, "Now what is this show about?" That's not what an audience's reaction to a pilot should be.

J said...

The pie is just an image that has information encoded in it, no?

Nonononono. It is pie. Delicious, flaky, American pie.

Do not try to explain the pie. Just enjoy the pie.

Maura said...

I love spy stories. I love nerds. I love action adventure/superhero stories. And my Adam Baldwin love knows no bounds. But I only made it through 20 minutes of Chuck before I turned it off. I wasn't even confused, and I didn't feel like I was being beaten over the head with its cleverness. I just thought it was really messy and uninteresting. McG can do better.

Journeyman grabbed me immediately. It's not great television by any means. McKidd has a problem keeping his accent in check. I'm hoping not to be subjected to the dreaded love triangle. Maybe they're piling too much on Dan - he appears to have a gambling problem and a history of substance abuse, *and* he stole his brother's girlfriend. But still, it was fun. I liked that Livia is actually another time traveler. I too thought about the moral implications of having sex with your former fiancee in the past when you're married to someone else in the present. I'm reading The Time Traveler's Wife at the moment, so I'll be interested to see if he does interact with himself.

I was kind of hoping he'd be tracking Neal's life through several episodes, but I suppose this is going to be "the save of the week". So, yeah, it's not a show that's going to go down in television history as one of the greats. But it's entertaining enough, so I'm giving it a chance.

davesboa said...

The Big Bang Theory was just...bad. Why, oh why, can't they find something decent to follow the brazilliantness that is HIMYM?

TuckPendleton said...

Yeah, didn't love Chuck. First, this guy is supposed to be a helpless nerd? Even for a TV nerd, he's far too good looking and far too quick with witty repartee for us to worry that much about him. The whole thing also feels very, very warmed over, starting with the parkour/Bryce Larkin opening sequence. (Not to mention the specific run up the wall and jump through the small window over the door manuever, which I first saw in B13 - the original parkour movie - and then again the opening chase sequence in Casino Royale). Shades of Alias, shades of the OC, shades of Scrubs...YAWN. Sure you can have a genre mashup, but it takes someone more talented than McG -- and I suspect, Schwartz -- to make it all hang together. Even Alias hit the skids after a couple of seasons. It also bugs me that the pop culture references this characters continually make are way too old for them -- they clearly coming from writers in their mid-30s or older. Zork first came out in 1980 -- I just don't buy that he and Larkin would be writing their own version in 2002. Wouldn't they me making their own xbox game?

Anyway, the show has (had?) potential, but unfortunately it's buried way too deep in TV contrivances and too-clever banter to ever amount to anything.

Why can't we just have a show with Adam Baldwin working undercover in a Best Buy?

Anonymous said...

Mmmmm, cute geeky Jewish boy. And pie.

Dark Tyler said...

Why the hell did Big Bang do 2 million more that HIMYM, which incidentally lost 2 million from last year's premiere? Ugh, the season just started and I'm already angry!

anon said...

treacher:

So, if you went back in time 10 years, do you think your girlfriend would notice you looked way older? Guess not!

I thought it was fair for the writers to throw that in right in the pilot so viewers can decide if they're willing to accept it. It's completely silly, but the alternative -- having different actors for young time traveler, young wife, young girlfriend, etc. would be really tiring. You're either willing to go with it or you aren't.

In the end I'd prefer to see him jump back into the recent past with the same cast hanging around the edges rather than a conveniently kitchy era for a rescue of the week -- like the 70's era airline plot that seems to be up for episode two.

scott tobias:

Yeah, I'd watch the show you describe, too. I wouldn't give you good odds on it emerging, though.

Anon

Matt said...

Aside from Big Bang's inexplicable success (ARRRGHH!!!!), the two other things of note are disappointments for week two of "K-Ville" (4.1/6), which looks like it shed about 50% of last week's audience, and for the "Journeyman" pilot (5.9/10).

For comparison, the "Studio 60" pilot did a 8.6/14 in the same slot, and ultimately leveled off around a 5.0. If Journeyman holds or builds its audience next week, it could stick around, but it it drops more than about 10%, I think we're likely to see something else there fairly quickly (Bionic Woman being a likely suspect).

Alan Sepinwall said...

Matt, I don't expect Journeyman to uptick, as it not only dropped a good chunk of the Heroes audience, but then lost more viewers at the 10:30 mark, which was the same thing that happened to Studio 60 -- albeit, as you point out, from a higher starting point.

A.H. said...

I wasn't initially going to watch "Chuck" because I have no interest in spy shows (although I did surprise myself by really getting into "Burn Notice" this summer.)

That said, I suppose it's no surprise that I found the spy stuff to be the least successful, and least interesting part of the show. The bomb-defusing scene was beyond lame! So unconvincing and really deflated any interest I was building in the show.

It did look expensive though (I like that), some of the scenes were nicely shot, the lead is likeable, and I have great stores of Adam Baldwin loyalty, so I might give it a few more episodes.

Matt said...

I hadn't seen the half-hour drop numbers, but that doesn't surprise me. So, how long till it's pulled, and what goes in there? Studio 60 lasted a while because of the money demographic and started better.

Do they bump up Law and Order or Medium from midseason to fill the gap, or flip around elsewhere? Bionic Woman, especially if it gets a little lost in the Wednesday trainwreck, could be a contender.

Alan Sepinwall said...

So, how long till it's pulled,

At least until late October when sweeps are looming.

and what goes in there?

My guess would be Bionic, especially since I expect it to lose to Private Practice and Criminal Minds tomorrow night. Keep in mind again that I'm a lousy prognosticator, but NBC poured a ton of money into promoting last night's lineup, and what they got out of it was a decent at best launch for "Chuck" and a big thud for "Journeyman." Bionic is more of a name brand, I suppose, but it also won't have a Heroes lead-in.

On the other hand, Bionic is by all accounts a trainwreck on its own behind the scenes, so who knows?

J said...

It did look expensive though (I like that)

From what I understand, the pastry budget was sizable.

Dani in NC said...

A few commenters said they turned Chuck off because they were confused. Huh? Between Chuck and Journeyman, the latter was definitely more confusing. Journeyman felt like being dropped into the middle of a theatre after the movie was halfway over. Perhaps I'm too old school, but give me a little Quantum Leap-style exposition :-).

I think that Chuck shouldn't be viewed seriously. It goes in the same box as Get Smart. It's light, check-your-brain-at-the-door entertainment. However, I do want Adam Baldwin's character to drop Chuck's buddy Morgan into a dumpster. People keep comparing him to Seth Green, but I think Seth Green is appealing. This guy is just annoying.

Anonymous said...

I am in the beginning of The Big Bang Theory. I just saw the producer credit.

I stopped. I thought.

I ff'd to the end and looked for it.

There it was. The Chuck Lorre vanity card

#182

if you haven't delete your copy yet - perhaps you can edit, like we can, with our fancy non Tivo DVR. Get rid of the show, and just keep the card.

and now I have to go watch the rest of this and just hope CBS will put me out of its misery soon.

-Pam

dez said...

On the other hand, Bionic is by all accounts a trainwreck on its own behind the scenes, so who knows?

What's going on behind the scenes? I've seen allusions to it here, but haven't heard any stories.

Is Chuck Lorre the same guy who does the vanity card on "Two and Half Men"? Because some of those (such as "Paulie and the Cat") are hilarious.

Anonymous said...

from Wikipedia:

Chuck Lorre (also known as Chuck Levine), born 18 October 1952, is a writer, director, producer and composer who has worked on many American sitcoms, including Roseanne, Dharma & Greg and Two and a Half Men. At the end of each episode of the latter two shows, Lorre features a vanity card consisting of a message that is usually an editorial. Since the card is shown only for a couple of seconds, the viewer who wants to read it likely would have to do so via playback and pause.

It looks like you can find all of them at
http://www.chucklorre.com/

Enjoy!
-Pam

Toby said...

Probably I'm way too late in the game and nobody's coming back here anymore to check out comments, but I do have a question about the season premiere of "Journeyman".....

When he first "leaped" into the past and entered Cafe Luna, what football game was playing on the TV. I'm assuming it was a 49ers game, but it seemed to have enough significance without being a Super Bowl to be remembered by Dan as having been played eight years before..... Thanks!

dez said...

Thanks, Pam!

Anonymous said...

DESPITE THE NAME, THE ACTOR, ZACHARY LEVI IS NOT JEWISH. HIS LAST NAME IS WELSH & HIS AGENT SAID THAT HE SHOULD CHANGE IT TO "LEVI".
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
""Anonymous said...
Mmmmm, cute geeky Jewish boy. And pie.""