Tuesday, March 18, 2008

DVR clean-up round-up

Since I had already watched the CBS comedies last week in order to write yesterday's column, I spent last night's viewing hours either giving another shot to some shows I was on the verge of abandoning, or watching shows from last week that had been sitting on my DVR hard drive. Brief spoilers for, in order, "New Amsterdam," "Canterbury's Law," "Reaper" and "Survivor" coming up just as soon as I work on my glove-slapping technique...

"New Amsterdam" remains a show with a couple of strong elements (immortal Manhattanite, Coster-Waldau's performance) floating in a sea of mediocre ones (the police procedurals, the chemistry-free romance). Even the flashbacks to Amsterdam's past adventures can be problematic. I know there's not a lot of time to do the earlier eras justice, but the flashback rapist was a Rollie Fingers mustache away from being a complete cartoon of a bad guy. The idea of comparing how attitudes have changed -- or haven't -- about rape over the centuries was an interesting one, but the execution was iffy.

And yet, I'm finding that I really like Coster-Waldau and the easy manner he brings to Amsterdam. What seemed like world-weariness in the first couple of episodes now feels more like amused detachment. I don't know if that's supposed to be thematic (now that he's found his one true love -- even if she's the most boring person in Manhattan -- he's stopped moping) or if the producers just realized that the initial portrayal of Amsterdam could drag the show down, but this guy is someone I don't mind spending time with. Oddly, given my dislike of the police stories, the best scenes in the episode featured Amsterdam bonding with the fashion designer victim. Those moments of the two of them talking did a much better job of showing how relaxed and confident and wise this guy is -- as he probably would be after 300+ years on this island -- than any of the gags where he solves a crime because he learned to lip-read a few centuries back.

In hindsight, I'm surprised Fox didn't send out last night's "Canterbury's Law" for review -- the screener disc had the pilot and episode four -- as it was much stronger than the other two. A minimum of the ZZ Top "Legs" video material (other than the opening credits, which I saw for the first time here), there was some humor to leaven the grimness (and without the psychic material getting too goofy), and I actually felt something for the Julianna Margulies character. It's still a formulaic lawyer show, but this was a better-done version of that than the two episodes I saw in advance.

Thank God for DVR season passes, or else I would have never remembered that A)"Reaper" was coming back with new episodes, and B)"Reaper" was moving to Thursdays after "Smallville." But the DVR saves me from having to remember stuff. Thank you, DVR. I'll even forgive the way you start to spazz out when your hard drive gets too full.

Decent episode, and a fair bit better than I remember the show being towards the end of its pre-strike run. (Though I believe this episode was one of a few pre-strike leftovers.) Whenever they make the Devil more menacing, it in turn gives his lighter moments more snap, so I liked seeing him blow off some steam at Sam -- and also seeing his maybe, maybe-not daughter threaten to cut Andi good. That said, the comedy factor is still lacking from the pilot level, and it was the laugh-out-loud moments that made the rest of the show work.

Finally, I watched half of last week's "Survivor" the night it aired, just so I could buffer enough of "Lost" that I could watch without commercials. Once Jonathan was evacuated from the game, my interest faded, and I didn't get around to seeing the rest of the episode for days. Jonathan happens to be one of my favorite "Survivor" contestants ever. I love his bitchy give-and-take with Probst, his insistence on playing a rational game and his constant struggles to present his rational arguments in a way that the other players could understand. (Every hero's gotta have a weakness; for Penner, it was his tendency to argue things too forcefully.) And I admired the hell out of him killing himself on that last reward challenge, given what we would find out about the state of his leg. (You could tell Probst, who always develops man crushes on the uber-jocks, finally let go of whatever issues he had with Penner after seeing that performance.) With Jonathan gone, with Yau-Man gone, and with Cirie (my other favorite among the "favorites") acting really smug this time out, I'm out of people I really care about.

I thought it was a shame that Chet was so mentally checked out of the game (and no doubt freaked out about his foot, given what had happened to Jonathan) that he refused to participate in Tracy and Ami's scheme to blindside Ozzy. The thing is, if I've done the math right, Tracy didn't even need Chet's vote to get rid of Ozzy. All they had to do was lie to Chet about who to vote for, then cast three votes (Tracy/Ami/Erik) for Ozzy while three other votes (Cirie/Ozzy/Amanda) voted for Chet. In the event of a tie, there's a revote where the two people who are tied are ineligible to vote, which means Tracy's crew could have gotten rid of Ozzy by a 3-2 margin. (Or, at least, they could have flushed out the hidden idol, had he been cautious enough to bring it to Tribal Council.) Anyway, I guess I'm with this season for a while yet, but a lot of the fun went out of it with Jonathan.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

Agree on all points about New Amsterdam. I was a bit irritated with last week's revelation of the love interest's being married because it's such an unimaginative obstacle to put in their way. However, I was even more vexed by the way they completely dismissed that obstacle in this episode with a 15 second phone call. I'm guessing that they're setting up this romance so easily to lay the groundwork for a love triangle between to include the partner. Another unimaginative plot.

Being a history lover I most enjoy the flashbacks. I thought that the flashback not only highlighted the difference in attitudes about rape but also drew a parallel between John's honor killing and the father's. Of course, John's is easier to excuse since he killed the rapist and not the victim, but they were both murders nonetheless.

I do appreciate how the writers throw in little details about Amsterdam's history with each episode. In this episode, he implied that he changes careers every 10 years. Imagine never being able to retire!

Anonymous said...

I'm still a bit baffled as to how some of these people on "Survivor" are "superfans." Some of them act like they've never seen the show before!

Bummer about Penner's knee. I, too, was enjoying his gameplay. Unlike you, though, I still have people to root for (James, Ozzy, and Tracy for now), so I'm still excited about the show. But I will miss Jonathan and I totally miss Yau-Man (every challenge for me includes the thought, "Yau-Man would so rock this!").

Matt said...

Well, Amsterdam certainly could retire--recall that he makes very good money off the "antique" desks he makes and sells, and I assume he owns the building where he lives, probably bought at a ridiculously low price.

I'm not quite sure why he'd choose to be a cop if he wanted to keep his secret, since there are a lot of risks of discovery.

Tom O'Keefe said...

Regarding Reaper, I'm glad to see that they're keeping the devil mean. Often times, the tend to "humanize" him in stuff like this. And it just isn't really believable. If he's Satan then he's Satan. I don't think he's going to see the error of his ways just because he met a nice kid.

As for it being a pre-strike show, I would assume so since Sock was tossed into a Christmas display.

Unknown said...

I am also hypnotized by the Amsterdam character. I do like him. And the comparison to honor about females wasn't a bad idea.

Actually, having her married COULD/could have been an interesting plot point. Amsterdam seems like an honorable sort most of the time- what if she was happily married? Could he still chase after someone who wasn't interested? It's sleazy of him...but on the other hand, how can he not, and what if she and the husband age and die together? I dunno, could have been an interesting conundrum and given them the inevitable "will-they-won't-they" that has to be on every television show. Instead, it was quickly semi-resolved. Huh?

I am impressed that they're in the sack so fast- or more like, what, they're not dragging this out for years? Oh, wait, you can't do that on television any more. That said, it did feel too fast for them to get to THAT point, even if she's separated.

Nicole said...

I don't get what is going on with New Amsterdam, especially the romance angle... We don't actually know or care about the doctor very much so the fast forward to consummating the relationship was a "why are they doing this now?" moment, considering the husband reveal the episode before. There was no point to it, and unless it's a mistake and she really isn't the one, there were a lot of steps skipped. If this is a triangle, I'm rooting for the new girl and we haven't even met her.

The history flashback was weak, along with the procedural. The writers need to rent a few DVDs of Forever Knight and Highlander. While those weren't the best shows ever, they were much more adept at integrating the historical flashback with the modern day storyline and making us care about the characters in each era.

Luckily for the writers, they have a lead character with charisma and the ability to fit in both timelines... except for his hair.. it was way too mullety.. but he can only do so much with the weak material given.

I was bummed to see Jonathan have to leave because of an injury but at least it seems to have ended the rift with Probst.
I still sorta like Ozzy and am holding out hope for a "superfan" that we haven't gotten to know yet.

K J Gillenwater said...

I have some of the same feelings about "New Amsterdam" as everyone else. The 2nd episode was my favorite so far...and they haven't managed to eclipse it yet, which is not a good sign.

The doctor character really is dull. No chemistry. And she just is coming off as 'not good enough' for immortal John. She's very bland and doesn't seem all that deserving to me of his interest.

However, after the quick jump into the sack last night, I got to wondering, how are we sure that the doctor is really 'the one'? What if it is his partner after all (with whom he has a LOAD more chemistry)? I know he had the heart attack in the train with the doctor there, but he also had just met his partner only a bit earlier than this chance meeting with the doc.

He really doesn't know for sure the doctor is the woman he is destined to be with.

So I hold out hope that she is just the red herring. If not, they'd better come up with something quick or I will be bored.

Coster-Waldau still captures my attention. He's a find actor and nice to look at. I feel sympathy for his situation and honestly want him to get what he is looking for...so that is good.

Anonymous said...

Even with Chet unwilling to go along, why not spread the rumor that they were going to vote for Ozzy to flush out the immunity idol?

Bobman said...

I like New Amsterdam in a guilty pleasure sort of way - I know it is kind of hollow and lacking, but it's "fun" to watch for the most part. And since I really don't watch any other crime procedurals (I was big into CSI way back when it first started, and I watch "Bones" as a similar guilty pleasure, but that's it) it's not too tiresome to me.

I do agree on the chemistry with the doctor for the most part; I don't know if I'd classify her as "dull", but she's certainly a very shallow / not-well-fleshed out character that we're supposed to just take on faith as John's savior. The way they're rushing along this romance I definitely think it's a red herring; they're setting her up to get hit by a bus very soon.

Anonymous said...

As far as Penner, I too was upset to see him leave the game for the reasons you mentioned, Alan.

Also, I enjoyed the way he talked. It always was cool to feel like, at least with my eyes closed, that Alan Alda was on the show.

It might take me a few more weeks to find someone new to root for.

Anonymous said...

I think Chet must have kept insisting he wanted out, to the point that it wasn't possible to work around it. I thought it was surprising that no one brought it up at Tribal Council. That only makes sense if they all knew what was going on and everything we saw was BS and editing.

I'm also amazed at the bad job they've done at selecting "superfans". But maybe the whole superfan idea was a last-minute marketing decision and the casting people did the best they could. (I think Alan said there was a last-minute change away from "All-Stars II", but we don't really know how much time they had to find new players who knew the show (and could leave on short notice, etc.).

Anonymous said...

One comment on your Survivor review when you mention that Johnathon was evacuated from the island. Have you learned nothing from the Wire, Alan? You evacuate a building; to evacuate a person is to give them an enema.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, even Jay Spry would agree that I used the term properly. If I had written "Jonathan evacuated," I would have meant that he soiled himself. But "Jonathan was evacuated" means that other people took the action to remove him from the game.

Karen said...

I'm with you pretty much 100% on "New Amsterdam," but there are some elements of the flashbacks that are simply painful. The Walt Whitman reveal last week was cheeziness embodied, but this week--a gentleman would accept a challenge of a duel from his servant? Oh, I am so sorry, but I do not THINK so. The entire scene where Amsterdam stormed into the dining room--and wasn't immediately hustled out--had me screeching in pain, and when Durst actually accepted the challenge? Oh, man, I was laughing.

The other misfire in episode 4 was, I thought, the sex scene at the end. This episode involved violent rapes; ending it with a romantic sex scene was tasteless.

I do find the doctor's story to be uneven; the husband was a cliche obstacle, but then they dispensed with him in a few words. I don't agree that she and Amsterdam have no chemistry, but they're being asked to sustain a mythic level--to go from casual acquaintances to lovers in practically a few hours.

Oh, well. There are only two episdes left, anyway, so I'll stick it out. Because, did I mention? Coster-Waldau is REALLY attractive.

Anonymous said...

Now the novelty of the concept has worn off a bit, I was taken aback at how truly awful the writing on "New Amsterdam" is. ("You should laugh more often."). It seems as if the writers have a handbook with every cop show and romantic cliche which they dutifully rely upon each week. Plus, although it has only been three episodes, I get no sense that there is a larger mythology at work in the flashbacks. At least on "Angel" the flashbacks over the course of a series of episodes seemed connected or in aide of some larger theme. Not so here. This is really, really bad television.

Anonymous said...

Plus, we have not one but two cliche ridden professions: police and docs. The police, particularly the older cop, spout platitude after platitude from cop shows galore. We've heard it all before a zillion times before. Same thing with the doctor lingo. It is so very, very apparent that the writers have but a surface understanding of either profession.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty clear the Survivor "superfans" are not "super" and possibly not even "fans". :-) Seriously though, obviously it was just an excuse to have some of the more interesting and/or photogenic "favorites" back on the show without doing another all-star season (either because the first one was a disaster or because plans changed at the last minute). This Survivor has been pretty weak thus far, but this is usually around the time it starts to pick up, so I'm sticking with it.

Mo Ryan said...

So it would be proper to say that all of these shows were evacuated from your DVR?

Anonymous said...

Regarding New Amsterdam: I'm an old fan of Highlander, Forever Knight, Angel, etc., so I'm poised to like this series. But like the other's, I'm finding the flashbacks unimpressive. I like the main character, like Omar, and I'm growing fond of the female partner, but the love interest is... under-developed as a character, and that's hurting the series badly. We haven't seen anything in her that is worth a 400-year wait, and they're going to have to show that ASAP or they're going to have to reveal that she's not really the one. I like the idea some have floated, that "the one" is the partner. But me: I think the spell's just wearing off. hee hee.

Regarding Reaper: I dunno, I liked the Devil better in the earlier episodes, and I'm not sure I like the menacing aspect. One of the things that I liked best about this series was the idea that the Devil was a better parent to Sam than his own parents, and that seems to be fading as the series goes along. I'm still enjoying it, though.

Anonymous said...

I watched New Amsterdam the day after I watched the CBS sanitized Dexter (sorry, I don’t have Showtime). How is it that a show about an immortal cop is three times more disturbing and uncomfortable to watch than a show about serial killers? A nun that is raped and stabbed to death? An Indian immigrant, who is raped and stabbed and somehow survives, is then killed by her father who had done the same thing to her sister? The father's one remaining daughter? Yeah, she helps her father kill her sister. Yuck.

It's nice to know that a serial rapist and killer who runs from the cops, resists arrest, stabs a cop (immortal as he might be) and threatens to kill another cop could be released on bail. Forget about the DNA evidence, what about the crimes of assaulting an officer and attempted murder?

I know that Hollywood doesn’t like Tabloid journalism, but to suggest that they would reveal the name of a barely famous rape victim, and that the nightly news would then report on that revelation, gives the show realism issues. I can go along with the Immortal Cop thing, just make everything else realistic.

I agree that the chemistry is way better with the partner. The doctor is kind of pretty, but HDTV allows me to see her skin blemishes through the twenty layers of pound cake on her skin.

On Reaper, it was very nice to see the Devil acting very evil, albeit a bit incompetent and naïve.