Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A quick one, while I'm not away

First thing's first: three day's worth of All TV column links. On Monday, I mused about the end of "7th Heaven," a show that, even though I hated it, holds some sentimental value for me as the last surviving new show from my first season as a TV critic. ("EZ Streets" gets 10 hours, and "7th Heaven" gets 10 years? A good system. Definitely.) On Tuesday, Matt interviewed Turner Classic's head of programming, while I wrote about the end of "Alias," the invasion of former "Ed" castmembers in primetime and the unfortunate return of "The Simple Life." And today there's a grab bag of news and reviews, including Matt on "Creature Comforts" (BBC America cartoon from the "Wallace & Grommit" people) and me on tonight's "Veronica Mars."

As I said yesterday, a lot of my Tuesday shows were pre-empted, and I'd already watched the "House" episode, which was good but not as strong as last year's "Three Patients," which it was emulating. (Two key differences: reality didn't get bent enough this time, and Chase is a less interesting character than House.) On the other hand, the twist of making Foreman the boss for a few weeks is vedddy interesting. Foreman's always been the most House-like of the three junior docs, so will being in charge make him even crankier or bring out his warm and fuzzy side? I almost think it would be funnier to put Cameron in charge, because her Let's All Hug approach to medicine would drive House nuts, but this should be pritt-ay, pritt-ay good.

Beyond that? Well, my TiVo grabs "NCIS" whenever "Gilmore Girls" is in rerun. As I've written a bunch of times in the last three years, "NCIS" isn't going to change the world or elevate consciousnesses, but it's well put-together, blending the '80s TV of Don Bellisario's middle age with enough modern touches to not feel too corny. It's the kind of show I can watch while doing three other things and not miss much. Only one complaint about last night's episode: hasn't the "Probie" been a probie for more than two years now? At what point does the hazing end?

With "House," the NBC comedies and "Supernatural" all out of play and "Amazing Race" off my radar until spring, I decided to check out the second Steven Bochco-produced episode of "Commander in Chief." I only got about 15 minutes in before I got caught up in other things, but it sure seemed to me like Bochco came in and decided to fix a whole lot of things that weren't broken: putting the kibosh on the First Gentleman stories and giving Rod a real job in the administration, bringing in Mark-Paul Gosselaar to critique everyone else's jobs, separating Natasha Henstridge from Evil Donald Sutherland, etc., etc., etc. I'm not saying there weren't things that didn't need improvement in the Rod Lurie version -- for starters, Evil Donald Sutherland -- but most of what Bochco's done is just a blatant attempt to make sure viewers know a new team is in charge of the show. As far as I know, the network's only problem with Lurie was his slow production pace, but viewers obviously liked what they were seeing, based on the ratings.

I finished "Sleeper Cell," which sagged in the middle but finishes strongly. Asking viewers to commit 10 hours of their time in a little over two weeks seems like a bit much these days, and the mini could stand to be trimmed by at least two hours. I also watched the first installment's of Sci-Fi's new miniseries "The Triangle." It's not the second coming of "Battlestar Galactica" (or would that be third coming?), but it's a decent B-movie skiffy story, complete with a B-list cast that includes Sam Neill, Bruce Davison and Eric Stoltz.

And speaking of Eric Stoltz, with sweeps slowing down, I've been poking through the "Back to the Future" collected DVD set. They don't show any of the footage of Stoltz as Marty McFly (he played the role for a few weeks until producers decided it wasn't working and started from scratch with Michael J. Fox), but there are a few photo stills of him in the part, and it's bizarre to see him sitting on the bed with Lea Thompson or shooting video with the Doc. Stoltz did okay without that part, but the person I feel really sorry for is Melora Hardin, who was cast as Marty's girlfriend Jennifer, then got fired along with Stoltz because she was too tall to play Mike Fox's love interest. It's hard to say how much the role would have done for her career (Claudia Wells, who replaced her, dropped out of acting for health reasons a few years later), but she got stuck with the TV version of "Dirty Dancing," one of the two Lambada movies of '90, and other jobs of no note before making the awkward transition to middle-aged roles (because we know how much Hollywood loves middle-aged women) like Rachel McAdam's mom in "The Hot Chick" and Steve Carell's boss on "The Office." Would her career have been any different if she'd been short enough to star in one of the biggest, best hits of the '80s? Or would she still have wound up romancing a schoolteacher-by-day, Lambada-instructory-by-night? Unless I can get my hands on a Delorean with a flux capacitor, I guess I'll never know.

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