Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spring TV Roundup: 3 Up, 2 Down

UPDATE (Saturday, 5.2.09)
Looks like "Kings" is on its way out. First it was moved from Sundays to Saturdays, and now it's been pulled altogether, to be burned off this summer. Ah well. Despite my review, I really did like this show—found it fascinating, if nothing else. Ian McShane floats all boats, and he was certainly worth the effort. I'll still watch, but it just seems high-concept shows can't make it on broadcast TV anymore. Don't expect another "Lost" anytime soon.

On another note: I've caught up on "Castle," and, wow, did it pick up steam in its most recent three episodes. This show just gets better and better as Katic gets more comfortable in the role. The writers, too, seem more comfortable, as Beckett is finding a rhythm with Castle; she's still exasperated from time to time, but it's more of a partnership now than a chore. Plus, the stuff with Castle's family is gold every time.


I picked up three hour-long dramas on the TV schedule this spring, and found all to be at least satisfactory and worth coming back for each week. Unfortunately it looks like only one of them is going to make it to next season; thankfully, it’s the best of the bunch.

Finally! Nathan Fillion has a hit! After his previous two starring vehicles were canceled early—one great (“Firefly”), one not (“Drive”)—this crime procedural looks like it has some genuine legs. All the credit goes to Fillion and his quite capable straightman, er, woman, Stana Katic, in her first starring role.

Fillion plays crime novelist Richard Castle, who is shadowing Katic’s Det. Kate Beckett for research on his next book. Beckett likes it none too much, of course, thanks to Castle’s roguish attitude and penchant for sticking his nose where it doesn't belong, but that’s where all the fun comes in. The premise is ludicrous, of course, since Castle is always figuring out ways to help solve each week’s case, but I find his character’s insights and processes fascinating (I’m a sucker for well-written author characters). And reality is so beyond the point, anyway. This show is all about the leads, and Fillion and Katic play off each other quite well—it’s no Booth and Brennan, mind you, but definitely entertaining. Like their first cousins, maybe. Fillion is, of course, utterly charming, and Katic is slowly chipping some of the ice off Beckett, which is a very good thing.

Call it “Bones: Even Liter.” I’m hooked.

Grade: B+

This modern-day retelling of the Saul/David story is ambitious in so many good ways—probably too ambitious for network TV, which is partly why it failed to find an audience. The real culprit, though, is creator Michael Green’s (“Heroes”) betrayal of the source material. Christians have proven time and again that when pop culture treats our heritage and beliefs with respect, we turn out in droves (“Passion of the Christ” vs. “The Last Temptation of Christ,” for example). Green may use the basic premise and some of the same names as found in the Bible, but little else resembles the original narrative. Instead, he relies on liberal tropes such as nationalized health care, gay rights, and corporate greed to drive the drama on "Kings."

The most egregious error, though, is the show's portrayal of David. Played by relative newcomer Chris Egan, the future king here is an utter impotent wimp who, in stark contrast to the David of the Bible, has little or no faith in God. Even his famous showdown with Goliath is shown as a hollow act of mere blind luck, not a divine reward for steadfast faith from the Almighty.

My primary reason for watching is the incomparable Ian McShane (“Deadwood”), who anchors the show with his considerable gravitas in the role of King Silas. His counterpart is written so meekly, though, all the tension between the two supposed titans of history is utterly contrived. I appreciate Green’s fascinating interpretation of a modern, albeit fictional, kingdom, with its own complete set of laws, customs, and social idiosyncrasies. But by largely abandoning the characters’ biblical roots, Green abandoned his chance at greatness—and widespread popularity.

What a wasted opportunity.

Grade: C+

I’ll always watch anything Joss Whedon does, based solely on my love for “Firefly.” But this latest creation is lacking the certain quirky spark that defined both his classic space Western and his other cult TV hits, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.” “Dollhouse” is a darker, more serious affair than any of those shows, which allows for almost none of the writer’s trademark wit and deep characters.

The problem starts with the premise, as Eliza Dushku’s superagent, Echo, is quite literally a blank slate with no defining characteristics at all (other than looking hot at all times); a personality is imprinted on her brain each week as she engages in a new mission. It’s sort of an “Alias” meets “Minority Report” vibe. While every episode is filled with compelling action and there is an interesting overall story arc to the series, the center doesn’t hold because Echo doesn’t give us anything tangible to hold on to.

Because of this, I find no real connection to the show. It’s the strangest thing: Each week I almost have to force myself to hit “play” on the DVR, yet I get sucked into the narrative every time. But, much like Echo, “Dollhouse” gets wiped clean from my head and the process starts all over again next time a new episode pops up.

Not exactly the stuff cult legends are made of. I don’t think people are going to be watching these 14 episodes over and over again for years to come, like I continue to do with a certain other Whedon project.

Grade: B-

No comments: