Thursday, October 04, 2007

How twee it is

Sometimes, I try to have a common theme when I do multiple shows in one post. Today's theme is a simple one: Stuff I Either Watched In Advance Or Got Through Before Falling Asleep On Wednesday Night, Plus "Cavemen." (Got all that?) Unconnected spoilers of varying lengths for, in order, "Pushing Daisies," "Cavemen," "Life," "Private Practice," "America's Next Top Model" and the "Top Chef" finale coming up just as soon as I try to figure out when I'll have time on Thursday to watch all the other stuff that was on...

The "Pushing Daisies" column review presented most of my thoughts on the show. Loved the look, love Jim Dale (even though his narration is the twee-est thing about the whole thing), liked Lee Pace and Anna Friel's chemistry, like the cynical note provided by Chi McBride (whose
"Bitch, I was in the proximity" compensated for at least 20 minutes worth of twee)... I just want to see a second episode until I make up my mind. (Technically, I want to see a third episode, as I believe Sonnenfeld directed the second one before the studio banned him for going over budget.) I just worry that a little of this level of concentrated preciousness goes a very long way.

Because (some of) you demanded it, I should say a few words about "Cavemen." A lot of other critics have already beaten me to the one-word review joke ("Ugh"), but my buddy Fienberg summed it up best in an e-mail shortly after it aired: "They made Cavemen less offensive... And somehow less funny... How is this possible?" The version I saw in June -- the one that led to one of the more savage press conferences I've ever attended -- was far more overt with the racial allegory stuff. I think we scared the creators away from that angle, so all that's left is a lame buddy comedy that could very well have been someone's unused script for a late '90s NBC sitcom, modified slightly to fit the cavemen in. Flat, smug and just not good. My kingdom for "I'm a Mac. And I'm a PC: The Series!"

I saw the second episode of "Life" a few weeks back, and while I was glad they dialed down the "Crews is amazed by modern technology!" gags (which, for the most part, called to mind Phil Hartman's Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, each sketch of which was a thousand times funnier than "Cavemen"), but the fruit and zen aspects of the character still feel like the writers are trying too hard. And Crews is far too pleased with himself at all times, which is an attitude I'll accept from House because House is funny, where Crews is just an oddball who sometimes has good hunches. The case was boring again (and one of those Law of Economy of Casting things where the most recognizable guest star was the perp), but at least there were some interesting things going on with Crews' ex-partner and the start of his search for the real killers. Gets another week or two out of Damian Lewis loyalty, I guess.

This episode of "Private Practice" was supposed to be the fourth one, but it got pushed up because ABC thought the baby swap storyline would really resonate with viewers. I don't know that it's a good sign that a new show that's so much about showing developing relationships can shift episodes around without it even being noticeable, though. Shouldn't Addison's bond with each of her new co-workers be different in episode four than it's going to seem in episode two? Then again, Addison was largely a spectator this week, as the focus shifted to Sam, Naomi, Violet and, to a lesser extent, Cooper. The house calls idea, while I'm sure it seems cute and another obvious way to show how Oceanside Wellness does things differently (from both Seattle Grace and standard medical shows), didn't really work here, because what little we've seen of the clinic suggests it's a boutique for very rich people, and Sam's drunk patient was very blue collar. I'll give Shonda and company that the scene where the two moms shared the kind of details only those babies' mothers would know (though why can't the women be in each other's lives for a while? what would be wrong with that?), but most of the hour was forgettable.

I've watched previous "America's Next Top Model" seasons sporadically, but even I know that Tyra wouldn't get rid of a vintage bitch like Bianca this early in the competition, especially since she and Heather have gotten by far the most screen time thus far. (And, interestingly, Bianca seems okay with Heather. Her comment about having to get rid of her before she becomes too hard to beat was a kind of bizarre triumph of equal opportunity for people with disabilities, wasn't it?) Kimberly was, I believe, the one who gave that vile talking head last week about how "people like (Heather) cling" to you if you're nice, so she was already dead to me. Good riddance. Makeovers come next week, and that's usually when the real fun begins. Anyone want to predict which girl Tyra gives the semi-annual, tear-inducing short haircut to? I had figured it would be Kimberly, actually, and now she's gone.

Finally, the "Top Chef" finale threw in a wrinkle of sorts. After spending weeks of the show establishing the Hung vs. Casey/technical brilliance vs. "soul" dynamic, Casey performed terribly -- falling prey, oddly, to Dale's usual trap of making things up on the fly and not having a backup plan in place for when things went awry -- and the actual decision came down to Hung vs. Dale. Based on consistency throughout the season, Hung was the obvious choice. Based solely on the final meal, it gets more interesting. I'm waffling on whether I'm with Colicchio (that Dale shouldn't win because he made the worst meal of the night) or Gail (that Dale should be forgiven, because he was more ambitious, whereas Hung played it ultra-conservative with his chocolate cake). In the end, though, I think they made the right choice. Admittedly, I'm a newcomer to the Magical Elves family of shows, but it's been a while since I watched a reality competition series where the right guy won.

I'm sleepy now. What did everybody else think about any or all of the above?


Anonymous said...

I loved Pushing Daisies- maybe more than any pilot ever. I was hooked within seconds. Everything about it was perfect. You were right about the chemistry of the stars and how McBride completes it. But it felt like a movie-- which leads to the concern of what happens with a cut budget and where can they go from here. I can't see the network protecting it so there seems like a short shelf life but I am plan enjoying it while it lasts.

Anonymous said...

Anna Friel looks scarily like Jean Smart.

I liked it, but it should come with an injection of insulin.

Alanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alanna said...

When I watched Daisies over the summer, I found the tweeness incredibly tiresome, and I'd been frustrated by the near-universal praise. I went into tonight's broadcast expecting to feel the same, but I found myself enjoying it much more. No idea why, since it's still too self-consciously clever and precious, but I suppose this time I was willing to look beyond that.

While most pilots bear the burden of holding up to early promise (or lack thereof), this one is complicated because so much of the premise is predicated upon the whimsical visual and narrative style. Maintaining that will be incredibly difficult, partly due to budget but also because they can only take those quirks so far before they become self-parody. The basic concept has promise -- and I liked that although it seems so sunny, there's some great moral murkiness in them bringing people back to life so the characters can cash in -- but I do wonder how similar, say, episode 10 will be to the pilot. Unlike before, though, I'm more willing now to watch it grow.

dark tyler said...

I think Alan nailed it in his review, noticing that the overall tone (the narration, the colors) sets the story apart from our own world, and right into a clearly fairy-tale-ish one. By the way, that's why people who were complaining about the lack of realism in "Amelie" were way off base.

Anyway, when you have a show that combines two fake monkeys kissing as stand-ins for the lead characters and Chi McBride as a hilarious straight man (the "proximity" line made me choke on the pie I was, COINCIDENTALLY!, eating), that's a show I'm gonna watch no matter what. This really was the best pilot I've seen in years.

Plus, I wouldn't worry too much about the future, because there clearly isn't gonna be one. Enjoy these amazing episodes while they last!

Anonymous said...

Pushing Daisies I didn't care for at all. The symmetry jokes for both names and narration got old and predictable very fast; by the time we were told that the Dancing Mermaid Mermaid Dancers had, what, retired from retiring? Whatever, by then the intended whimsy had calcified and landed with a thud.

But worse, the it's all make-believe mentality stretched to the one realm it never should--emotions. You can be as self-consciously fairy-tale as you like so long as the characters still behave as if things matter. Here Ned tells Chuck they can never touch, she smiles and teases him about kissing, and he finds that more delightful than heart-breaking? Chuck spies on the family she'll supposedly never see again, and keeps flashing the radiantly dopey "isn't this magical" smile? This isn't twee, it's simply callous, calculated avoidance of anything clumsy or awkward or human. (Of which Amelie, dark tyler, whatever its faults, was never guilty.)

Based on the pilot, I don't trust the show to handle Chuck's eventual learning of Ned's role in her father's death in any way of interest to me. I'm clearly in the minority on this, so having had my say I honestly wish those of you who enjoy it get a nice long run that keeps the qualities you like. But even McBride can't lure me back to this one.

memphish said...

I really hoped they would pick Dale for Top Chef. The last minute attempt to make me like Hung just didn't work. While I'm sure his food would be worth eating, I feel certain he'd only want to serve me what he wanted me to eat, not what I wanted to eat. I still don't think his food had any soul, and everytime he spoke to the judges he only said what he thought he should said not what he really thought or believed.

Chef Tom is the most nit-picky person in the world. He never says anything positive and always fixates on the negative and looks permamently POed. Padma was in fine hair-tossing form. Wearing the same outfit in the live show was stupid and for Gail Simmons a doubly bad choice.

Anonymous said...

I was not as impressed with Daisies as I was expecting. Probably too much hype. It was cute enough, but I wasn't in love with it. I'll keep watching though, for now.

The scene with the two mothers on Private Practice was great - the rest of it just okay. I hate how all the characters seem so pathetic - like Violet crying over her ex in every episode. She could be a really good character is she just got over him and had something else to do.

Anonymous said...

Is it sad that I couldn't get over the fact that the aunt's bad eye shouldn't have prevented her from seeing her niece behind that wall? The wall blocking the niece was on the right side of her field of vision, and it was her right eye that was bad. But her left eye was the one in position to see the other side of the wall (it's angled to see behind, the right eye would never have been able to see behind it anyway). The wall and the niece should have been to the aunt's left.

As much as I liked the show, that's all I could take away from it.

bill said...

Enjoyed the first look at "Daisies." Good introduction to the characters. I'm thinking it could be like "Earl," in that once the format is established the better shows are when it deviates from it.

And "Life" has me sucked in. Mostly due to the guy playing Crews. Waiting for the rage to explode.

Economy of Casting things where the most recognizable guest star was the perp...I was supposed to recognize them?

Anonymous said...

As a hatah of all things twee, I found myself LOVING Pushing Daisies. Color me surprised! The female lead is incredibly likeable, and I kept thinking this as I forced myself (for the last time) to sit through Bionic Woman. Wow does that show suck.

Anonymous said...

Hm, I loved DAISIES but not quite as much as expected. At first glance, it's not the second coming of WONDERFALLS I hoped to see, but I still love it... WONDERFALLS was great at contradicting itself in tone, it was a wildly optimistic view of the world told from the perspective of cynical characters and I thought DAISIES might have a similar perspective on death both cartoonishly silly and somber at once.

Still, I enjoyed it to pieces.

BTW, as for TOP MODEL, it's been ages since I've seen it but from what I recall the show's usual pattern was to build up one hopeful as the big bitch, only to eliminate her early on and then have another to turn out to have even more bitchy qualities.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't feeling Pushing Daisies. I found Sonnenfeld's bizarro Tim Burton/Brian DePalma style to be off-putting- perhaps the execs banned him for being so damn pretentious.

Then again, I never liked Dead Like Me and liked but did not love Wonderfalls.

I found myself liking Kristin Chenoweth more than Anna Friel. Maybe because she liked Pace's character for who he was instead of some goony childhood sweethearts thing.

However, I'm gonna stick around, because all the actors are good, especially McBride.

Jon88 said...

"Pushing Daisies": liked it a lot. Don't believe for a moment that it can sustain that level of whimsy and visual interest over the long haul, but willing to stick with it for a while. But points deducted for misspelling Coeur on the town's signs. (Points transferred to the captioner, who knew better.)

Anonymous said...

^ I had a similar reaction, jon delfin. I really liked it overall(actually, I loved the first half-hour, then the narration got a little old), but I worry about its shelf life and its ability to sustain its conceit.

OTOH, I am hoping for some magical cure that will allow the two leads to kiss without Chuck dropping dead immediately, so I guess I'm in for the long haul.

Unknown said...

I thought the closing moments of the show demonstrated what (for me) was wonderful and aggravating about it.

The "kissing" with the monkeys as substitutes for Ned and Chuck? Loved it, thought it was just right.

But then they had to try and top it with the ridiculousness of the "holding hands" moment in the morgue. Far too cutesy and precious for these adults -- especially following the monkey bit.

Loved the visual style of Sonnefeld, but have no idea how they will keep that with a stable of TV directors. This seems to scream for a limited run, where they can get more top shelf talent in, or where they can train the journeymen to shoot like pros, or within the show's style. (A la the Sopranos.)

Unknown said...

Plus, was Zooey Deschanel too expensive?

Anonymous said...

I liked some things about Pushing Dasies quite a bit, but I'm not sure I'd like to see them reiterated on a weekly basis.

And I was over the narration by minute five. Going from Daisies to Gossip Girl made me felt I'd gotten a good talking-at for a couple hours. Until someone finally produces that John Hurt v. Morgan Freeman Voice Over Smackdown I've always longed to hear, I'm a big phooey on the device.

Also: Too much pie talk, NOT ENOUGH ACTUAL PIE.

Anonymous said...

Liked the pilot and the idea of an Amelie TV show. With all these crime and hospital shows clogging the airwaves I'm down with a fairy-talesque genre. It's interesting to see how they carry the stories and visual style over to a series. Loved the cast except for Anna Friel, she was stiff and flat and basically grated, smiling beautifically does not equal expressiveness. I found myself rooting for the Kristin Chenoweth's waitress. The male lead was very good though, I remember him from Wonderfalls.

Musings of a Perkinated Mind said...

I'm with you on the tweeness of PD. I need to see more before I make a final decision because there is a lot of potential there but I need a little more edge to shows I really enjoy.

I tried to watch BW this week and fell asleep though I woke up in time to catch most of Top Chef and I was thrilled Hung won. He deserved it for great cooking all season. And I think he had a strong passion for cooking - he just got a bit of a villain's edit this year.

Toby O'B said...

If a series of commercials can lead to a TV series, then I'd rather see Abe Lincoln, the Beaver, and the Deep Sea Diver with their "Boss" from those Rozerem ads get a shot. Especially the Beaver! ("Listen, Ken -#" "Doug." "Whatever...")

Anonymous said...

One thing I take away from Pushing Daisies (which I wanted to like a lot more than I actually did), is that it's an odd show for the 8:00 hour. How many other "family hour" shows are so steeped in death and violence, however tweely presented?

In the pilot alone we had two women being suffocated, one man mauled by a dog, and another blasted with a shotgun. Several of these events were actually depicted in real time as well.

Shouldn't it be at least a 9:00 show?

Regardless, I think this one will be gone by December. Shows this quirky just don't take off, especially when they're this odd right out of the gate rather than evolving that way over time.

Anyone ever look at the earliest episodes of Green Acres, for example? Compared to the craziness that would eventually be its hallmark, the earliest episodes are remarkably pedestrian.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Regardless, I think this one will be gone by December. Shows this quirky just don't take off, especially when they're this odd right out of the gate rather than evolving that way over time.

Well, it opened very well, drawing about 12 million viewers and easily trouncing all the other 8 o'clock shows. I give credit to ABC for promoting the hell out of a show I figured would be a tough sell.

That said, will people come back next week, or will they feel that one hour of this much concentrated twee was enough? No fall-off at the half-hour, which is a good sign, but the same could be said of both Private Practice and Bionic last week, and both of those shows dropped two million viewers for episode two.

J said...

it's an odd show for the 8:00 hour. How many other "family hour" shows are so steeped in death and violence, however tweely presented?

Totally. Not that networks care any more, but one of the first images in the show was a dog getting hit by a truck!

I'm a little surprised at the Friel/Chenoweth leanings here. I liked Friel a lot - her earnestness (esp. in the first "hug" speech) won me over -- and found Chenoweth to be annoying.

Also, I declare a moratorium on new fictional characters, in any medium, named "Chuck."

Anonymous said...

"Well, it opened very well, drawing about 12 million viewers and easily trouncing all the other 8 o'clock shows."
Wow! I'm really amazed but I still think it's only going to make the drop off next week that much more remarkable.

Alan, do you know how Reaper did this week compared to last?

Unknown said...

This "soul" nonsense has gotten out of hand. Beyond simply being spectacularly blithe, such accusations inevitably derail discussion into utter meaninglessness -- it's easy to avoid engaging the actual merits and flaws of Hung's food by wantonly tossing out epithets. Does no one remember the first episode? Where he so dexterously dismantled that geoduck, popping a raw piece into his mouth? Dude knows and loves his craft. Boring -- but apparently tasty -- chocolate cake aside, I saw nothing conservative about Hung's menu; Colicchio even described it as "very modern." I'm no Hung fanboy (I initially was rooting for Tre or the highly alluring Lia, and both Casey and Dale would have been worthy victors under different circumstances) but give the man his due.

Also, Pushing Daisies: had it on background while studying Bio, liked it just barely enough to stick around until Paul Reubens shows up.

nell said...

casey and dale were my favorites from the beginning. dale, mostly because i'm convinced he's actually a friend of mine who learned to cook on the sly, ditched his glasses, and got a new haircut. but i was pleased to see them in the finale. dale & hung both had merits, it is what it is. but the real question is: did i miss something? why was marcel the first to run up to hung, pick him up, and spin him around?
and really, this whole live setup turned Padma into a beauty pageant announcer. weird format, and it seemed very awkward afer they announced the winner. like they didn't know how to fill an extra 3 minutes.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is such a good day for television. Pushing Daisies actually rated higher than Private Practice (yeah I could, it was slightly lower in the demographic, but I'm being an optimist with this). That and Tell Me You Love Me was renewed for a second season just so made my day.

For me the pie-lette was perfect, and I loved the sweetness of it, though I can accept that it could have felt a bit saccharin to some. It's funny, but the monkeys kissing moved me more than probably any kiss has on television.

Lets just hope it can sustain its brilliance.

Nicole said...

I was surprised that Hung won, mostly because they were setting him up as the villain the entire time. Even doing that, I liked him and thought he was the most talented, especially out of the final five. He might have been arrogant like Marcel, but he was consistently good throughout the show and did not obsess over the super weird foams like his friend.

I didn't dislike Dale or Casey, but they just weren't consistently Top Chef when it counted.

As for PD - I liked it, but it will probably take me a few shows to determine if I love it, or if it was just a cool pilot.

Anonymous said...

"One thing I take away from Pushing Daisies (which I wanted to like a lot more than I actually did), is that it's an odd show for the 8:00 hour."

Then again, so was Lost in the same timeslot...

Anonymous said...

Alan, I don't know if you'll see this comment, but I believe that the Private Practice episode order you're familiar with was in fact that the modified episode order. I believe that ABC returned "In Which Sam Receives an Unexpected Visitor" to its correct place.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I believe that ABC returned "In Which Sam Receives an Unexpected Visitor" to its correct place.

No, I spoke with someone who works on the show on Wednesday morning, and was told "Unexpected Visitor" had been made and intended as the fourth episode but bumped up because ABC liked the baby swapping hook.

When the other docs are barging into Addison's house to watch the stripper, there's a line that's very clearly looped in (the sound quality is different and you never see Addison's face as it's being said) where Addison notes that she barely knows any of them. That was a quick fix to deal with the fact that it was airing earlier than planned.

Ted Frank said...

ABC did something very clever with Pushing Daisies: they waited thirteen minutes to do the first commercial. A standard tv break while they were still in the middle of the setup would have had people switching off the tv.

I liked it a lot (and regretted not using the HD-DVR), but I don't see how it's sustainable on network TV. I wish HBO had done it: this would work better with twelve-episode seasons and consistently good directing and writing.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed Pushing Daisies.

Private Practice needs to go away immediately.