Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I've got a good feeling about 2009

I may have mentioned a time or 17 that my every waking hour these days is consumed with watching DVD screeners of shows that are premiering next month, and/or shows that will be paneled at the upcoming mid-season TV critics press tour. And, as I was swapping e-mails with Mo Ryan about our respective thoughts on Showtime's "United States of Tara" (Mo disliked it, I was hot-and-cold to it), she sent back a note that I think nicely captures my feelings about this screener marathon, and my hopes for the new year:
God, just in the last few days I've felt more energized to do this job than I have in a while. Been writing up S2 of BSG, watching Scrubs, Lost, Damages... I mean, damn. However I felt about TV in September, when it was such a chore to trudge through those pilots, I don't feel that way (ask me in two weeks, when I'll probably be losing my mind with all that'll be going on then). I'd much rather feel charged up about an interesting misfire like Tara than be watching just about any new show the networks have come up lately....
I'm right in with Mo on this. "Damages," a show I didn't really enjoy when it debuted, and about which I still have ambivalent feelings this year (the first two new episodes were really starting to hook me in before they did something that continually drove me nuts last season) is still a lot more intriguing to me than most of what I was writing about back in September. I still only like parts of "Big Love" (primarily the stuff with the wives, and not anything to do with the compound or with Bill's business), but I feel passionately about those parts I like.

And those are just the shows I'm not over the moon about. Coming up over the next few weeks are a whole host of goodness, from "Scrubs" to "Flight of the Conchords" to "Lost" to "Battlestar Galactica" to (for those of you without DirecTV) "Friday Night Lights." (Ellen Gray has a nice rundown of all the January premieres.)

Despite all the shows I praised in my recent columns on the best shows and best episodes, 2008 was in many ways a rotten year for television. It started off in the middle of the writers strike, and even though a lot of shows were back on the air by April, we got fewer episodes of most series, while others (like "Conchords" and "Big Love") stayed off the air altogether. And the lack of anything really pulse-quickening in the fall premieres didn't help the business shake off the year-long strike hangover. And two of the best shows -- "The Shield" and "The Wire" -- were brilliant in part because they were ending.

But looking at all these returns and debuts over a short period of time has me pumped up for the new year. Now, some of the upcoming stuff will be ending, too ("BSG," possibly "FNL," definitely the current incarnation of "Scrubs," if not the series as a whole), but as I said in my review of the "The Wire" series finale, I remain an optimist that other great things will rise up to replace the ones we're losing.

When you get paid to watch TV, it would be obnoxious to say your job isn't fun, but I have to say that the last few weeks of 2008 -- and what they mean for the early part of 2009 -- have been the most fun I've had doing this job in quite a while.

Happy New Year, everybody. Stay safe and, as I used to joke every December in elementary school (in a joke that never, ever got old, no matter what the other kids from Hilldale School tell you), see you next year.


Alanna said...

Happy new year!

1/16 - My beloved BSG returns.
1/16 - I can rewatch FNL legally (and in hi-def.)
1/18 - My second-fave Conchords returns.
1/19 - MLK Holiday (and a day off work.)
1/20 - Barack Obama becomes President.
1/21 - Lost returns.

To swipe a now-cliche from Colbert: Is this a great week, or The Greatest Week?

Unknown said...

I'm not as optimistic about the future of tv. There used to be a lot of good shows on tv, but so many of them have gone away. Are there any new shows on the horizon that will even come close to the greatness of The Wire, The Sopranos, The Shield, Deadwood, Rome, or FNL? Lost and BSG will be gone soon as well. Heroes has never lived up to it's promise. I watch Chuck and there are three sitcoms I enjoy (HIMYM, The Office, and 30 Rock). I like Mad Men as well, but it may not be the same if the current show runner does not come back.

Please tell me why fans of good television should be optimistic.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you also weren't that blown away by Damages. I thought a lot of the acting was uneven (Glenn Close included), there were plot holes you could drive a truck through, storylines that went nowhere, and the whole thing felt overblown and overly dramatic.

I'm surprised you seem so enthusiastic about the return of Scrubs. From what I remember of last season it seemed like you'd pretty much run out of good things to say. Am I just misremembering or are you giving it another chance? And if that's the case will you be doing the same when Rescue Me finally returns?

Alan Sepinwall said...

I was much happier with the new episodes I've seen.

wcdixon said...

Thanks for another year of wonderful posts...all the best for 2009!

Anonymous said...

Showtime's "VIP" site is streaming the first ep of Tara. I watched it last night and I can't remember the last time I've found myself hating something as much as I hated that show. To be fair, about fifteen minutes in I started skipping ahead a couple of minutes at a time, but I'm pretty sure I didn't miss any necessary plot points. It was just painful to me. This show has managed to take people I generally like and turn them into people I'd like to beat with a stick just to get them to stop talking. Rosemarie Dewitt is so awesome and yet, here? No. John Corbett continues his journey down the road of creepy dudes who make me feel like I should be wearing a rape whistle and I felt bad for Toni Collette the entire time. And I *hate* it when people say they feel sorry for an actor in a show. It always seems so hollow and ridiculous, but now...I sort of get where those people are coming from.

I did like the son a little bit, though. And the opening video diary was well acted. The rest was just bad.

Anonymous said...

Aside from looking forward to Lost, BSG, FotC and Big Love, I am also glad that "Burn Notice" is back.

As much as I love very complex series like Lost and BSG, there's something awfully refreshing about "Burn Notice" which doesn't aspire to be the next coming of TV. It's just good old-fashioned entertainment. Great action, some laughs, some family drama, and a central mystery that doesn't require in-depth knowledge of magnetic fields, time travel and 17th century philosophers. And Michael is a hottie, the Miami locations are travel porn for someone stuck in a New England winter and you got Bruce Campbell - now this is a TV show!

How can you not love a show that casts a Landers sister as Bruce Campbell's love interest (you must be over 40 to understand why that's awesome). This is 10 times the show that "Damages" is, I watched 2 episodes of that and found it insufferable.

ACyclcUniverse said...

Will you be posting a quick impression of the BStarG premiere, much like you did with Lost?

After watching the rest of the webisodes that were leaked onto Amazon, I'm dying for anything Battlestar to tide me over in the next few weeks and I've always lobed your recaps!

Happy New year!

Anonymous said...

Alan, do you know when any of these shows are coming back...?

Breaking Bad
In Treatment
Curb Your Enthusiasm (is it ever?)
The Tudors

Happy New Year!

Linda said...

I haven't seen most of the screeners you have, and I STILL agree with you. This is why I think all the "end of the golden age" stuff is so goofball. As I was telling someone today, during the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008, the writers were off the job for three months. I think it would be much more foreboding for quality in general if they'd been gone three months and it HADN'T been kind of a disappointing year. It was a tough year, but there was plenty to watch, and there will be plenty to watch next year.

Mo Ryan said...

I really, really wanted to like United States of Tara, for a lot of reasons, if nothing else because Toni Collette is an amazing actress. But by the end of the third episode, as I put it to Alan in an email, I wanted to punch someone.

But I do really think it's a case of massive potential gone awry, which is why I could write 2000 words about Tara (I'll try not to, when I review it, but you know what I'm saying). As opposed to, say, Do Not Disturb, when I wished my entire review could be my Twitter about the pilot back in Sept: "It made my soul vomit."

In any case, I would like to thank Kathy for writing my Burn Notice review ;)

It's just good old-fashioned entertainment. Great action, some laughs, some family drama, and a central mystery that doesn't require in-depth knowledge of magnetic fields, time travel and 17th century philosophers. And Michael is a hottie, the Miami locations are travel porn for someone stuck in a New England winter and you got Bruce Campbell - now this is a TV show!


This is the reason I really, really like Supernatural as well. It's meat and potatoes genre TV done very well. And did I mention there's some hotness on display? It's kind of cool that there are some shows that don't aspire to be the Wire yet are wonderfully well-crafted in their own ways. And BN, like Chuck, is, I think, deceptively difficult to create, yet you don't often see these shows "break a sweat," so to speak.

Alan is more of an optimist than I am, I think, regarding the current golden age of TV. I do wonder if it's ending some time soon.

For me the test will be, once Lost and BSG are off the air, will Mad Men be the only show that is really re-writing the rule book and making my jaw hit the floor on a regular basis?

I think there will always be well made, pleasing shows (hope so, anyway), but I do wonder if we'll see the likes of The Shield, The Wire, Rome, Deadwood, etc. again. I mean, are the networks even going to commission a Veronica Mars ever again? Given what's happened to Dollhouse and Ron Moore's Virtuality at Fox, I'm not super-optimistic.

I would love to be totally wrong, but part of me wonders whether in the current economic and ratings climate, if the networks, even the cable networks, will circle the wagons and keep churning out clones of The Mentalist.

Again, hope I'm wrong. I hope that in 2010, when Lost goes off the air, we're already all charged up about some crazy upstart shows that have us staying up til 3 am reading analysis and comments on Alan's site ;) Fingers crossed.

May you all have a great New Years and 2009, by the way. And thanks to Alan for hosting this great party all year long.

Unknown said...

I totally agree with your comments Mo. My greatest fear is that within three years all we will be left with is Law and Order, The Mentalist and CSI clones and spin-offs. That and reality tv and game shows. You can't really blame them though, it's a cost effective and profitable business model.

Anonymous said...

1) Not only are a lot of good and great shows returning, but as can be seen by the dates in Alanna's post, they're coming back early in the winter/spring season. And the new midseason shows sound more promising than the fall crop; Dollhouse (despite the rumors), Kings, and comedies from Mitchell Hurwitz and Greg Daniels are the most interesting to me.

2) Between this post and the top 10/next 10 columns, I wonder what this thought experiment would produce: take the top 20 shows from 2008 (based on quality, of which critical approval is a fairly good measure) and compare them to the top 20 shows from 1998, or 1988, or 1978. How would they stack up? I think 2008 would do very well. Sure, there's tons of garbage out there, but there are so many shows and networks compared to the days of the big 3, and the cable networks have allowed a lot more creative freedom, which produces a lot of great shows. I'm not saying everything's better now, but it's certainly not all worse either. That's also how I'd partially answer Andy's question.

3) Happy New Year, Alan! Whatever is aired in 2009, this blog will remain the Mecca of television blogs. Thank you!

Alan Sepinwall said...

My greatest fear is that within three years all we will be left with is Law and Order, The Mentalist and CSI clones and spin-offs. That and reality tv and game shows.

That's the fear every few years, and it never quite works out that way. For a while, newsmagazines were going to kill great dramas. Then the Law & Order shows were going to kill serialized dramas. Then it was the CSI spin-offs, etc., etc., etc.

It's cyclical. There may be gaps in between the brilliance, but they're rarely that long.

Anonymous said...

So weird, lately I have been thinking about 2010, when Lost is off the air, what else will there really be to watch? I'm hoping Alan is right but I'm trying to think of what GREAT drama's I will be watching and can only come up with a few different shows, all of which with undetermined futures. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Treme, Boardwalk Empire.

Unknown said...

I think I'm just down about network and even cable tv because of all the great shows we have lost lately (Shield, The Wire) or will lose very soon such as Lost, FNL and BSG. Also shows we have lost in the last few years (Rome, Deadwood, Sopranos) that were never adequately replaced. I think 2009 will be a great year, but a lot of what we all talk about and love now has an expiration date soon approaching. It just seems we are losing far more than we are gaining. Still some shows we enjoy out there, but I think we are going into a down cycle.

Unknown said...

Also want to say Happy New Years to everyone here, and thanks for the blog Alan! It's great to share and read comments from people with similar great taste in television:-)

Anonymous said...

You guys aren't really thinking long-term enough. What about 2015, 2016, and so on? All the shows we love will surely be off the air by then.

What are we going to watch then? Its really depressing to think about...

Anonymous said...

Or to take it even more long term, in a hundred years we'll all be dead. We won't be able to watch any TV!

Anonymous said...

Flash Forward is poised to be the replacement for Lost.

Looking forward to the resumption of:
Burn Notice*

* - love to see these two shows cross over especially with Tricia Helfer appearing on both of them.

Anonymous said...

Also shows we have lost in the last few years (Rome, Deadwood, Sopranos) that were never adequately replaced.

Can any great show truly be replaced? I get what you're saying, but I think some shows are just irreplaceable. I still miss Buffy and Gilmore Girls. They were both, I think, special enough that nothing can ever replace them.

And how often does a show maintain its quality over many seasons? Buffy and GG had truly awful 6th seasons. (Buffy redeemed itself in its 7th season, but GG's final season wasn't so great, in retrospect.) And weren't there lots of complaints about the Sopranos later seasons? I'm not stating anything new by saying it's probably better for shows to end after 4 or 5 seasons at the most.

Unknown said...

Maura, I loved Season 6 of Buffy! I doubt remember every detail, but I remember it dealt it had a lot of really great and emotional moments. The Scoobies dealing with the loss of Buffy, Buffy dealing with her return to life after being in Heaven. Spike's relationship with Buffy, and it had one of the best episodes of the show's history, "Once More With Feeling." I actually didn't care as much for Season 7.

Generally speaking, I agree with your 4-5 season lifespan for shows. Buffy has continued on in comic form however so I think the show's ending had more to do with poor ratings and the desire of some of the actors to move on. I truly believe the show could have gone on if it had been more of a commercial success; same with Angel. I can't watch Bones because I still see David Boreanez (sp?) as a vamp with a soul, lol.

Anonymous said...

Mike F:

I heard the date of return for Breaking Bad is March 8th.

I don't know an exact date, but the Tudors will be some time in April.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the trigger-happy fingers. Anon. at the end for Mike F. is me....Jenn J.

Matt said...

Buffy Season 8 in the comics would have been absolutely unworkable on television for several reasons:

1. Budget--not only do you have a massive cast, you have massive effects battles (Dawn is a 40 foot tall giant for an extended period of time, sieges on castles by hordes of the undead, time travel, and the like).
2. Content--I don't see the UPN going with "Buffy questions her sexual orientation" as a major storyline, which appears in the comic book as a major story arc.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to Scrubs and, of course, Mad Men this summer. I hope they get Weiner signed on pronto!

Anonymous said...

I would love to be totally wrong, but part of me wonders whether in the current economic and ratings climate, if the networks, even the cable networks, will circle the wagons and keep churning out clones of The Mentalist.

Isn't "The Mentalist" a clone of "Psyche"? :-)

@Andy, I can't watch "Bones" because Emily Deschanel sucks harder than Angelus.

Unknown said...

For me Bones ultimately falls in the waste heap of networks finding a new spin on a cop show.

Would we even have tv if it wasn't for cops, doctors and lawyers?

Anonymous said...

When will the great month of TV be this year? The hangover of the writers strike really messed up 2008 and didn't give us a month of great episodes Sun- Thurs. I can't remember but I think Feb.2008 had Wire(Sun) House (Tues) Lost (Thursday).....
I also though Sept was strong with the end of Mad Men ( Sun) Chuck (Mon) House and Shield (Tues) and Sons of Anarchy (Wed). What do you guys see being the strongest stretch this year? March with House, Chuck, Lost, Damages.....?

Pamela Jaye said...


Scrubs is on a different channel now. You may know this - of course you do - but your DVR might not.

I don't know is this is true for TIVO or CablCo DVRs, but mythtv has a "Record at any time on this channel" option. And I've been using it for Scrubs, as I didn't want the reruns from every channel it airs on in syndication. So I set mine for NBC (channel 8 here).

It occurred to me to check if Scrubs was "on" this week, and I didn't have it set to record - because It Changed Networks.

I'm sure there is *someone* that is going to bite. And Scrubs has enough problems being located, what with the 17 time slots it's been in. at last all of *those* were on the same crappy network.

being DVR users we tend to trust in the machine and may not notice till we've missed it (like I did when my DVR decided to scrap a Monday Chuck for a Saturday repeat that never happened.)

apologies to everyone who had to read this post twice.