Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wednesday rookie round-up

Spoilers for, in order, "Bionic Woman," "Dirty Sexy Money," "Life" and "Back To You" coming up just as soon as I eat a tangelo...

I made most of my complaints with "Bionic Woman" clear in the column -- Michelle Ryan's bland, the fight scenes aren't that impressive, etc. -- but I had a few other issues. First, while I've enjoyed Jason Smilovic's Mamet-lite dialogue on other shows like "Karen Sisco" and "Kidnapped," there are moments here where it really goes awry, notably the "like a ride at Disneyland" exchange between Sarah Corvus and the German guy. ("Which one?" "I've never been." Then why the bleep did you bring it up? Who talks like that?) Second, there were two scenes that were borrowed pretty liberally from comic book movies: Jamie's sprint past the car from a famous deleted scene from the original "Superman" (where the little girl is revealed to be a young Lois Lane), and Jamie's tentative jump across the roof from the first Sam Raimi "Spider-Man." I've got no problem with homage and even outright theft in some cases -- if I didn't, I couldn't watch "Heroes" -- but both of those scenes in their original form had a sense of joy that's almost entirely lacking from the grim, grim "Bionic Woman." The bleakness of David Eick's work with Ron Moore on "Battlestar Galactica" works because of the premise -- humanity nearly annihilated and on the run from the annihilators isn't exactly a fun sexy time, you know? -- and Jamie's initial freak-out at going bionic mirrors the original character's reaction back in the "Six Million Dollar Man" episodes that introduced her. But I think one of the reasons I and so many other critics responded so strongly to Katee Sackhoff as Sarah -- aside from the massive charisma advantage she has over Ryan -- is that she's the only person in the entire show who seems to be enjoying herself.

I like Smilovic and Eick's other work, and there are enough glimmers of something potentially great -- notably the opening scene with Corvus taking two to the chest and apparently not dying -- that I'm far from giving up on the show, but it's not remotely as good as I was hoping.

When I first watched the "Dirty Sexy Money" pilot back in June, I was engaged but not overly jazzed by it, but when I went back to watch it again last week -- followed by a solid later episode -- I found myself enjoying it significantly more. I'd still put it in about fourth place of the new shows (behind "Reaper," "Chuck" and "Pushing Daisies"), but comfortably ahead of everything else, and much of my previous ambivalence comes from my general lack of interest in traditional soaps. (It's the same reason I've never entirely warmed to "Ugly Betty," even though I recognize all the good stuff on that show.)

Anyway, brief specifics, as I already covered a lot in my review. First, I like Peter Krause a lot more when he's using his tightly-wound powers of self-righteousness in the service of comedy ("Sports Night") rather than drama ("Six Feet Under," where Nate was consistently my least favorite part of the show), and I'm glad that Craig Wright and Berlanti seem to agree with that, as he spends so much of both the pilot and the other episode I saw getting flustered with the petty, entitled, naive Darlings. I'm not entirely sold on Natalie Zea as this legendary seductress -- and given her character's connection to Krause's, she's arguably the most important of the five siblings -- but I was greatly amused by Billy Baldwin and Glenn Fitzgerald as the angry minister, and also by the notion that Samaire Armstrong's character would care about succeeding on her own merits, since that thought has no doubt never entered the real Paris' head. Again, given my personal tastes, I'm not sure this is a show I would watch long-term if I had a different job, but I think Wright and Berlanti are doing a solid job so far.

"Life" in a nutshell: He loves fruit! Is amazed by modern technology! Loves more fruit! Loves his Zen koans! Invades personal space like he's Goren from "Criminal Intent"! Loves even more fruit! Is not attached to that car! Unless there's fruit involved!

I so, so wanted to like this show -- Damian Lewis has vast reservoirs of goodwill stored with me for playing Dick Winters in "Band of Brothers" -- but Charlie Crews annoys the hell out of me (which is hard to do, given the aforementioned goodwill), I have no idea whether Sarah Shahi can act (and was amused to see the writers contrive a shower scene for her in the middle of an arrest), and the case in both this episode and the second one bored me to tears. Out of loyalty to Lewis, I'll give this bad imitation "House" one more shot with the third episode, but barring a miraculous turnaround, I'm out.

Finally, episode two of "Back To You" was like an odd mirror image of the pilot. In the first episode, it felt like Grammer and Heaton got most of the genuine characterization and handful of good lines (mainly Chuck's speech about returning to Pittsburgh, delivered seconds after realizing that he had a daughter) while the supporting characters were the broadest, sitcommiest types available. Here, Chuck and Kelly are in the middle of a dead goldfish plot that should have been banned from all sitcom writing rooms circa 1988, while the subplot about Gary trying to look macho in the face of the taser zap was really funny. It's broad physical humor, sure, but at least it was in service to some vaguely recognizable human behavior, in that local news reporters have to do stupid stunts like that all the time, and here we just followed the premise to its logical conclusion.

Ratings for the premiere were good, not great, and my feelings about the show are a shade below that: mediocre, not good. My wife loves traditional sitcoms, so I suspect I'm not done with "Back To You" just yet.

What did everybody else think?

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

We just saw Life and liked it a lot better than you did. Inarguably it was artfully shot and edited, and when the inevitable pop song came onto the soundtrack, there was no simultaneous dialogue, to my great relief (this was the second last scene, with our hero studying the wall of possible clues to his own framing). We'll see whether later episodes will live up to a pilot this stylish, but I think Life deserves a chance.

anon said...

Alan,

From the pilot, at least, I didn't get that Crews was "brilliant" -- there was nothing particularly brilliant about how the crime story was resolved. I think this matters, because I think Life could be interesting if it is a character based show. Lewis' Crews can barely hold himself together, but that makes him much more comfortable with other people who are falling apart, like his partner Reese (boy did they make Sarah Shahi's character a mess) and Alice Gibney (Cheryl White) in the pilot.

This show would still be derivative -- it'd be L&O:Criminal Intent with a Goren who wasn't brilliant, with all the plot tweaking that would entail -- but I think Lewis could pull it off just as well as D'Onofrio, given the right material. (Hint: That material would stop obsessing about fresh fruit real soon.)

-----

By my count I could handle four of the seven Darlings, but the three siblings I didn't like I really didn't like. If the show settles in and lets Krause play Nick as snide and judgmental (see Krause's other series), and Donald Sutherland continues to play the laid-back grandfatherly evil mastermind, the thing could work.

Anon

Number Five said...

I think Bionic Woman should have been two hours. Going from completely normal person to bionic employee of the Shadowy Government Organization was just too much given that they also shoehorned in Katee Sackhoff's story and tried to have a complete subplot with her sister.

The writing and acting were flat, but what stood out to me was how poorly directed many scenes were and how jumbled it felt overall. The dinner/pregnancy reveal scene was particularly bad, and as you noted, Alan, the fight scenes didn't stand out. I didn't think Sackhoff was that great, but it was good to see her and Aaron Douglas.

I disagree that the tone needs to be much lighter. Maybe a bit of levity here and there, but I don't mind it staying dark like Battlestar Galactica - it just has to be good, which means a lot of improvement after the pilot.

Back to You got funnier after an awful opening act, but it still feels like mostly unconnected one-liners. I also really liked the taser part, especially hearing the other reporter say "Well, I am a Navy Seal" just before getting zapped. I wonder if they'll keep developing the Gracie story or drop it into the background.

Didn't get to Dirty Sexy Money or Life yet but I bet that photo is making David Caruso jealous.

R.A. Porter said...

I'm watching Bionic Woman right now. Michelle Ryan really does have no presence at all. Jamie's little sister the uber-hacker (it's pretty rare for kids to be legally prevented from connecting a computer to the net) ate her up in her first two scenes. More importantly...I'm impressed that Katee was able to climb the right tree (obscure Rambo reference.)

She knew just what cross street to choose, and just when to start her high-speed run at Jamie and the doctor.

Nice pickup on the two ripped off superhero moments, Alan. I'm sure they were intended as homages, but there was no fun in either of them. Plenty of people are going to think the dark tone is great, that it's just like BSG. Those people don't watch the same BSG as me. There we get viper jocks and fat Apollo to counter the dark. There we get Mark Sheppard chewing scenery and having a ball instead of moping and moaning. Here?

The big fight scene...it felt like watching Robby Benson in One on One. Shoot tight enough and you can hide any lack of skill.

Where's the fun? Oh...it's here: The Real Jaime Summers

BigTed said...

The "Bionic Woman" pilot skipped right over what could have been interesting parts of the story: Her emotions about the whole thing, including losing the baby -- if you're going to include real tragedy, at least let her deal with it. Her gradually learning to use her powers, which is the most enjoyable part of any "superhero origin" tale. And her identity crisis over learning she's part machine (something that was done really well in "RoboCop). Instead, they just had her jump right in to fighting the villain and dealing with the amoral organization she's now a part of. The result was a pilot episode that was pretty much a downer, especially when compared to series that did the whole thing better ("Alias," "La Femme Nikita," etc.).

Kristin said...

I liked BW enough to watch more. Pilots sometimes can be a mish-mash...trying to get in characters, back story, etc. I do agree that it would have been better as a 2-hour pilot, but I'm guessing they didn't have that luxury...

What I thought was unnecessary was the baby part. Why did they need that? I would have felt just as badly for her and the boyfriend. He didn't need to propose to her for me to feel sympathetic and understand why he'd want to 'save' her.

I adored Katee Sackhoff. The beginning was fantastic. I want to know why she has no control over being 'bad.' And is the guy she was with bionic as well? He was sewing up his arm with no blood/pain. Who is he?

Michelle Ryan seems very 'sweet,' but I have a feeling she will turn out to be quite different...there was a mention of a sealed court record from her teen days. The sister alluded to something happening in the past. I'm curious to know more. Why would a really smart girl (since she scored high on the intelligence test they gave her) be working as a bartender?

I'm thinking one reason I will continue to watch is nostalgia...big time original BW fan here...so I'm probably giving it a pass more easily than some other shows....

Anonymous said...

I expected to hate BW so was pleasantly surpised that it wasn't awful, just OK. Like Kristin, I too adore watching Katee Sackhoff. My husband doesn't read spoilers or even any TV articles, so when BW started he shouted in glee, "It's Starbuck!"... only to be very disappointed that she was not the lead. We rooted for her, the bad guy, over the heroine, the entire time, mostly because WOW is Michelle Ryan blander than bland. I am stunned that they did not recast her... but I will continue to watch and hope she will improve. I didn't even buy her as a bartender, let alone a strong woman.

But what we really wanted to know is, where's the German Shepherd MAX? Jamie Summers needs to have a doggie!

Alan Sepinwall said...

I disagree that the tone needs to be much lighter. Maybe a bit of levity here and there, but I don't mind it staying dark like Battlestar Galactica - it just has to be good,

I think we're actually on the same page about that. I don't want this show to go all campy and silly, but even Galactica has more light moments than this, and that's a show with a far grimmer premise.

Somebody other than Sarah Corvus needs to crack a smile, and soon. There are definite advantages to being bionic, you know?

Andrew said...

I really wanted to like it, but the Bionic Woman pilot was a mess. Maybe it was because I was so bored by watching it that I started checking email and playing guitar while watching, but-- aside from putting the bionic parts into Jaime-- I never bought into any of the characters reasons for doing just about any of their actions. There were too many plot concepts tossed in that they came together to be less than a coherent whole.

Michelle Ryan isn't great, but she also isn't that bad. Unfortunately, in the pilot, she doesn't seem engaging enough to carry a series through lousy scripts. House manages to do that around Hugh Laurie. Ryan also does a decent American accent, but doesn't have the same level of charisma.

The show can be saved. We have the technology!

Robin said...

Regarding BW...

Does no one else think that waking up and having supernatural strength and agility would be damned cool? Or is that just the ubergeek in me?

Beyond that, I thought Jaime's reactions were way too extreme. How about a smidgeon of gratitude that she's still alive? Or did she want to die in a car crash?

Michelle Ryan was awful, the dialogue was atrocious in sections and yes, the fight scenes sucked. Several action scenes reminded me of Buffy, but Buffy would kick Jaime's ass (and what is it about female action heroes named Sommers?).

There was potential in BW, especially if they can cast KS as a regular character. On the Buffy theme, I discussed this last night with a friend and we saw the potential for a Faith/Buffy type relationship between Sarah Corvus and Jaime. Sarah did not strike me as totally evil, and there were moments when she seemed more interested in helping Jaime than fighting her. But maybe that's just my Starbuck love coming out.

I liked the darkness, but agree with Alan that it needs a little levity. Even Adama cracks a smile once in a while on BSG.

Robin said...

Oh, and one more thing - they should've killed off the boyfriend. Talk about ramping up the motivations.

tahl said...

I think I stopped seeing the glimmers of potential in this show when they directly referenced a scene from Battlestar Galactica - Katee Sackoff's character says, "Tell me that you love me," and then procede to "love each other" against a wall.

That, and spending the entire hour going, "Hey! It's (actor) from (show)!" over and over and over and over...

dez said...

I really wanted to like it, but the Bionic Woman pilot was a mess. Maybe it was because I was so bored by watching it that I started checking email and playing guitar while watching,

I got so bored that halfway through, I started fiddling with my DVR and wound up watching "Metalacolyspe" all the way through instead when I'd only meant to check if it was a new one I'd recorded or if I could dump it. I mean, they're having a quick dinner, and then talking briefly in the car, and the next thing, she's bionic? WTH?

Mike said...

I enjoyed Life. Crews seems like a guy who was profoundly changed by prison and that's interesting. The fruit and the ignorance of modern electronics seems realistic to me for a guy that's been in maximum security for 16 years.

It's got a real darkness to it. In the first episode we find out he can't trust his former partner, his current partner or his boss.

But hey if you hate the fruit eating so much I guess you gotta be you.

Kensington said...

Most of the criticisms of Bionic Woman seem perfectly valid, but I enjoyed watching it more than Reaper. It may be entirely due to Katee Sackhoff, but I don't share the common disdain for Michelle Ryan, either.

Never having seen Alias or La Femme Nikita, it's not clear to me how Bionic Woman suffers in comparison, either, but I think I'm more likely to watch additional episodes of this rather than Reaper, at least as long as Sara Corvus remains involved in the plot.

Is it known how many episodes Katee Sackoff is doing? I assume that she's meant to be the show's Big Bad, at least for the first season. If that means her presence is regular and consistent, that could be great, but if she only pops up occasionally, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to care for very long.

TuckPendleton said...

DSM I found very, very boring. And not that we need a character to "cheer for" necessarily, but Vic Mackey engenders more sympathy/empathy than any of these bozos. It's hard to feel bad for Nick George, since he knows full well what he is getting into, and all the Darlings are some combination of spoiled/bratty/dumb/whiny that makes it hard to cheer for any of them. I don't know what is supposed to bring me (or anyone) back to the show each week.

Andrew said...

Based solely on the pilots that have aired so far, Dirty Sexy Money has been my favorite show so far this season (the new fall season is like my March Madness). Peter Krause is a TV workhorse that can always be relied upon to be at least "pretty good," and it takes a lot to get me to ignore anything with Donald Sutherland (for example: Geena Davis). I thought the casting was spot on for all of the Darlings, even the vamp who is marying the golfer (I'm bad with names). I like that she isn't portrayed so much as the object of all masculine desires, but feels she is entitled to be. It doesn't occur to her that, in Krause's mind, she isn't the love of his life.

"Life" is a desperate attempt to cram a mass of quirks in to overcome for a thuroughly and vigorously mediocre procedural. Sarah Shahi needs to accept the fact that she is top-heavy ex-Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader and stop trying to play cops and teachers. Civil servants don't look like that. Porn stars do. She should stick to doing peyote with Tony Soprano. And are we supposed to care about him trying to solve the case that put him away when they don't tell us anything about it? He was convicted of murder, but that is all we know, so I can't bring myself to care, even if the Lieutenant (and what a waste of Robin "Calamity Jane" Weigert this role is...) is somehow involved. Like Saving Grace, this show would be a lot more interesting if the cases weren't shoved into the forefront.

Bionic Woman needs to cast some people as characters, instead of what a tenth grade English student thinks characters are like (an Asian guy spouting lines like "A wolf is a great pet as long as he thinks he's a dog" and the gruff boss with a heart, no doubt, of gold... How can TV writers be this aggressively bland and still collect paychecks?

And Back to You just needs to stop. I gave it a shot hoping it would improve after the pilot, but this would have been a bad sitcom in the 80's, when network execs never met a premise they didn't like. It is to the workplace sitcom what "The War at Home" was to the family sitcom: All of the standard rythms, nothing new to add to the tune.

Alan, it sounds like you clearly have your top four picked out (Reaper, Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money and Chuck), but are any of them GREAT? Are any going to be remembered for posterity? Are we going to be talking about them in a few years, like with shows like Lost and Arrested Development, or are they simply the best of a below average crop? Are these the shows the equivalent of being the tallest munchkin in Oz, or does this year have its own Friday Night Lights?

Homertojeebus said...

I haven't seen Life yet, but I assume the hero obsesses about fresh fruit because he couldn't get it in prison? If so, I can attest that it might be hard to overstate the effect something like that can have.
When you think you're never, ever going to have something that you really like, or didn't even realize you liked because you took it for granted, it grows in importance. What seems like a contrived overreaction could, in fact, be pretty authentic. I'll have to see it first.

JD said...

I too watched "Life" out of a reservoir of admiration for Damian Lewis' acting ability, also because Robin Wiegert's in it. I've seen Lewis do a similar eccentric in Stephen Poliakoff's "Friends and Crocodiles" to uneven effect, but that could have been the script. I'm giving it a couple more chances.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, it sounds like you clearly have your top four picked out (Reaper, Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money and Chuck), but are any of them GREAT? Are any going to be remembered for posterity? Are we going to be talking about them in a few years, like with shows like Lost and Arrested Development, or are they simply the best of a below average crop? Are these the shows the equivalent of being the tallest munchkin in Oz, or does this year have its own Friday Night Lights?

As of now, I'd say they're the best of a mediocre crop, but who knows how they'll be going forward? Buffy, for instance, was no great shakes in its pilot, but there was obvious potential there and now it's revered by some.

And, as an opposite example, I thought The Nine had the best pilot of any show last year, and that one fizzled almost immediately after.

Anonymous said...

Buffy, revered by SOME, Alan? SOME? It should be revered by ALL! (Just ignore seasons 6 and 7.)

Robin wrote "Does no one else think that waking up and having supernatural strength and agility would be damned cool? Or is that just the ubergeek in me?". And I have to agree. And speaking of Buffy, it should be like that one episode where the whole cast has amnesia and Buffy discovers she can fight and kill vamps. Her face lights up, and she boasts, "I'm like a SUPERHERO or something!" BW needs moments like that.

I really enjoyed DSM too. I've liked Peter Krause since SportsNight and I think the whole cast gels well. That was a highly enjoyable pilot and I hope the show makes it.

Homertojeebus said...

OK, I know this is a digression, but what am I missing about FNL? I tried to watch it a couple of times, but the camera work was super-distracting and didn't seem to serve a purpose. It put me off the whole show, which I really wanted to like.

Jay said...

Hey Alan,
Long time reader, first time commenter. I have to say that I agree with your sentiment behind Bionic Woman, but in my mind, the main problem with the show is that the subject matter — woman is injected with nanotechnology that gives her superpowers and she has to fight crime or whatever — is inherently campy. Part of Joss Whedon's brilliance was that he embraced the natural silliness in his subject matter, and even the lesser seasons of Buffy were at least fun to watch. There's something wrong with a TV world where Now and Again, basically the same show, but the family father dies, is more light-hearted and fun than Bionic Woman. (BTW, I totally forgot about Jamie's pregnancy until I read about it in the comments. So, nice job, writers.)

Matt said...

The ratings last night were genuinely surprising, I thought. "Back To You" dropped off BIG, though may rebound next week without DWTS.

"Private Practice" wins total viewers, "Bionic Woman" wins 18-49, and pretty much neck and neck in both classes.

"Dirty Sexy Money" 3rd among 18-49, with "Life" winning the slot among 18-49. Not great retention for either of them, and "Life" had a 10%+ dropoff at the halfhour.

melissa169a said...

Re: LIFE.....Homertojeebus explained it very well, when you are in prison, you are lucky to see one piece of fruit a year! Very few fresh things are ever served, so I think the writers have gotten it right with Crews, I just don't think they have to have him talking about it so much. Just let him eat away, and not discuss it, that would be my choice.

Jennifer J. said...

I really liked the DSM pilot. I will watch Krause in anything though. I think Donald Sutherland is the real bite to this show. I think if the show makes it, William Baldwin's career will be in second take-off. His character is very interesting. When the youngest son was calling Nick from Ethan hawke's house I could only think of the "Don't Come Around Here No More" video by Tom Petty. Anyone else? ;)