Monday, August 06, 2007

Summer TV, Or The Old Grand Mere She Aint What She Used To Be

HBO started the trend of actually putting on decent television during the non-network season (re: Summer), and have actually pretty damn successful with it. Now everyone's jumping on this trend (accept, of course, the major networks, who are using the summer to show Hidden Camera Shows and reality programs that can't make the fall schedule). Summer used to be all about the end of the Sopranos season and the Major League Baseball Package. Now with a slew of options, I had to at least take a look at the landscape. And it aint all pretty.

"Mad Men" - AMC

I went into this show (and yes, it's only two episodes in, it probably needs a lot more time) more curious than anything because:
  1. Yes, it was created and co-written by a former Sopranos writer, Matthew Weiner. But Weiner was the least talented of all Sopranos writers, and his best work only happened in episodes he co-wrote with those twisted geniuses David Chase and/or Terrence Winter. I mean, Weiner worked on "Becker" before he got the Sopranos gig, but you'd at least have thought he learned a few things from Chase and Co.
  2. It's the first original series on AMC, a network that I was puzzled to learn was jumping into the series boat, just as I was puzzled to learn they were airing non-classic movies like "Catwoman" and bad Steven Segal pictures on a daily basis.

The story goes like this: Weiner had just left Becker (allegedly still with his sanity) and wanted to do his own thing, so he created this series on spec with a script about advertising in 1960. Weiner's agent somehow gets the script to David Chase, who is so impressed with it, he brings in Weiner for an interview and hires him as a writer. After his success on The Sopranos, AMC took a chance and bought 13-episodes of "Mad Men". Weiner wisely brought along with him some of the behind the scenes talent from The Sopranos (who you might recall, became unemployed around May of this year) to make the show have that cinematic quality The Sopranos had on a weekly basis.

It's too early to tell on this one, but the first two episodes have a least been clever, witty and true to form. Weiner and company have captured an era perfectly. The admen of the 60's were the rock stars of their times. The drank a lot, they smoked a lot, hell they sold cigarettes in their ads, they fucked around with hot chicks from the office. It was a great time to be in the ad game. What will be interesting to see is whether Weiner travels down the obvious path (the politically correctness that would follow in certain years, the ban on cigarette advertising in certain mediums), or if like The Sopranos, we're going to have an anti-hero we actually emphasize with a la Tony Soprano. So far, it's extremely difficult to get into these characters or at least if not care about them, well then at least understand them. Weiner at least has an arc in mind to telling his story. It's got promise, but for whatever reason, I can't see this baby going the distance.

"John From Cincinnati" -- HBO

Let me see if I get this right: HBO had over two years to prepare for the end of The Sopranos, even knowing the exact date the show would go off the air WELL in advance. They weren't sure if Larry David was coming back anytime soon, and for reasons nobody can quite understand, they popped a cap in "Deadwood's" ass and don't really seem to care about "The Wire" all that much, even though every critic in America can't stop raving about it. Let's face it, they weren't going to find another "Sopranos", at least not overnight. But they had over TWO YEARS to develop something that could have kept people around after Tony ordered onion rings for the table and then cut right to black. I mean, this is HBO after all, were everybody is killing to work because they offer people like Chase and Larry David and other show creators such creative and unlimited freedom in what they want to do. Both Chase and David have taken odd amounts of time off between seasons, only to have HBO welcome their shows back with big ad campaigns.

So what gets the HBO post-Super Bowl slot (post-Sopranos finale)? This piece of shit that's trying to pass for....I have no idea what. I can't even figure out who this show appeals to. Have you heard one person talk about this show around the water cooler? Do you know ANYONE who's into this show enough to have even sat through an entire episode? It was created by David Milch, who also created "Deadwood", and you have to think that HBO simply promised him the coveted Sopranos time period after botching the whole Deadwood cancellation. I can't even explain the premise to this show. And I've given this show the old college try. Sorry, it's just not there.

"Flight of the Conchords" -- HBO

This is the part Mackenzie should be writing, because whether he wants to admit it or not, he's a closet fan of this show and I almost had him come out and admit so the other night. I told him I just had a hard time wanting to sit down and watch this thing as the two leads sort of reminded me of the musical version of those two comedians who used to do that "Cheap Seats" show on ESPN Classic. It has to be an acquired taste, but most critics are absolute in love with this one. Mac wouldn't go that far, only to admit that he watches it and "can see why I have a hard time getting into it, they show might not be for you." Translation: He's into it. He should really be talking about how it's the next big break through comedy on HBO. I would bet on it being more of a cult favorite than anything. But again, I can't sit for more than 10 minutes with this thing.

"Entourage" -- HBO

The show came back after a pretty decent third season with one weird plan: Eight "bonus" episodes that really ended season 3. The idea was they'd have the final 8 of season 3 to air right after the first 8 episodes of the final season of "The Sopranos", have "John from Cincinnati" take the Super Bowl slot after the Sopranos Finale, and then Entourage would come back and be on all summer with season 4.

During those awful 8 "bonus" episodes, I was ready to rip the show to ribbons. To say how it was becoming the worst HBO show since "Arli$$". How Ari and Vince were becoming like Rachel and Ross, obviously in love with each other but not quite ready to admit their feelings. For the most part, these episodes meandered around things like (No, I'm not making this up) Drama and Turtle taking a race horse home, only to have the horse escape to a local Dairy Queen like place. I came back around after the boys got Ari back in the picture (because, let's face it, and he damn well knows it, this show doesn't work without Jeremy Piven stirring up shit), and finally gave Kevin Dillon a chance to show his comic timing that paid off in a deserved Emmy Nomination.

As Season 4 officially started, the series was still hit and miss, but lately they've been more good than bad. They obviously have a plan (Director Billy Walsh being Martin Scorsese to Vinny Chase's Leo Di Caprio or Robert De Niro). And on the episodes where Piven isn't obviously mailing it in, they have their ace in the old in Dillon, who's vastly making a lot of folks forget he's Matt Dillon's brother. Those eight bonus episodes the network made them pull out almost killed this show. Somehow, they've found their way. It's still not in the same ballpark as "Curb Your Enthusiasm" or "The Sopranos". As Samuel L. Jackson would say in "Pulp Fiction", not even the same league, not even the same motherfucking sport. But it can pass for addictive bubble gum pop until Larry David rides in to save the day.

Dodger Games -- West Coast Feed -- MLB Extra Inning Package

Yes, Vin Scully still calls some innings. I have no clue how much longer Vin has left in those golden pipes of his, but something tells me he's just going to keep going until he dies in that booth. He hasn't lost a beat, and nobody, on radio, tv, anywhere, paints a picture of a game like Vin Scully. Even if you can just give this 3 innings, it'll be 3 innings you'll never forget.

The Bronx Is Burning -- ESPN

Somewhere, Spike Lee has to be beyond livid. I'm sure he's fired off an email or 7 to ESPN Upper Management:

Dear Racists,

You might recall that in the glorious summer of 1999, I released a major motion picture called Summer of Sam. OK, maybe you don't remember it because it did dismal box office, never amounted to much in DVD sales, and I can't even get a cable network to rerun the thing every once in a while, even though Mo' Better Blues was on HBO at 3am EST the other night. Man, my fucking epic had it all: Trips to Yankee Stadium (including getting Reggie to tip his hat to fans in the right field bleachers); a film framed by the real-life Jimmy Breslin; good shots of Mira Sirvano's tits; licensing to decent songs from the era, including trips to Studio 54; hell, we even had a talking dog. It was Adrian Brody's first major starring role -- you know, the guy who won an Oscar for a movie directed by a guy who can't even come to this country anymore without getting arrested on the spot, and has completely fallen off the earth ever since. Breslin even mentioned Reggie's 3 homers in game 6 of the series. Shit, I even included the fucking BLACK OUT. My film was even co-written by a guy named Michael Imperiolli, who you might remember won Emmys as Christopher Moltisanti in "The Sopranos". Meanwhile, in your little mini-series, you cast the guy who played Benny on "The Sopranos" as the late Dick Howser, who I don't even remember from that team (even though I sure remember Bobby Cox, and he's nowhere in your little series). OH -- and the voice of the dog in my movie? HMMM...none other than one of MY actors, John Turturro, who I see you've made up with elephant ears to play the great Billy Martin. Yep, I had Turturro in Do the Right Thing and Jungle Feverand Fuck, even Girl 6. Now look what you've done with him -- put him in a TV series from the guy who directed Benny & Joon? Oh yeah, and Oliver Platt as George Fucking Steinbrenner? That's like casting Casey Affleck as Reggie Jackson. By the way, who is this guy trying to be Reggie? Everything about this series is racist, and I can't help but take the entire thing personally.

A Spike Lee Joint

P. S. Besides, the real "Bronx is Burning" Story should be about the miraculous 1978 season, not 1977. You want a real story, make one about THAT season.

Dora The Explorer - Nick Jr.

Dora's turning into a whore. Now she's got some "friend" named Diego to go on her misadventures with Map, Backpack and Swiper. She's got a Lindsey Lohan future in front of her, I just know it.

Live From Abbey Road -- Sundance Channel

My one can't miss show right now. It airs every Thursday night at 9, and they repeat most episodes all weekend long. The concept is simple and MTV and VH1 should be kicking themselves for not thinking of this sooner: Three different artists (ranging from the likes of David Gilmour, Damien Rice, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shawn Colvin, Norah Jones, Paul Simon, and the Killers), and have them play a set of three of their songs from the most famous studio in the world. You know, the one where the Beatles recorded most of their later albums? All sessions are recorded live with no studio audience, and it just WORKS. There hasn't been this good of a music program on television to showcase talent since someone at MTV went to bed one night and had a dream about a show called "Unplugged." I know not everyone gets Sundance (I'm looking at you, Bsmoked) but this is worth at least catching a few times.

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