Friday, October 04, 2002


To conclude the comprehensive three-part review of the first two weeks of the fall television season, let us turn our attention to the best genre that TV has to offer – the one-hour drama. Now sampling one-hour shows is a much more daunting task than planting yourself on the couch with some 3-D Doritos to check out the latest shitcom. For one thing, you have to pay attention. There is no laugh track to use as a guide in deciding what is entertaining and what is not. Also, you run the risk of getting attached to a show and having to block off a whole hour to watch it each week. But, these dramas do offer the greatest potential rewards on the tube.

Thus far, I’ve caught episodes of “Push, Nevada”, “That Was Then”, “American Dreams”, and a portion of the premiere of “CSI: Miami.” The first episode of “Push, Nevada” captured my attention. I thought the writing was crisp, the casting was pretty good, and the thing was dripping with style. Call me an idiot, but I don’t really get the whole “solve the mystery and win a million bucks” gimmick. Maybe it will become clearer with time. I missed the second episode, but watched the third. By the end, my enthusiasm had waned. This obvious Twin Peaks wannabe had yet to give me enough clues as to what was going on. It didn’t draw me in, and there was nothing to keep me in, so I exited “Push, Nevada.” Judging from the ratings of the first few airings against heavy competition, if you’re curious at all, you better check it out fast.

Being a sucker for all things 80s, I had to watch “That Was Then.” The premise, ripped directly from “Back to the Future,” has the main 30-something character transported back to his high school days in the “Me Decade.” At the end of the somewhat amusing hour, he finds himself back in the present day, which has been altered to reflect the changes that he caused by reliving that portion of his life. Essentially, they boiled down "Back to the Future" into a pilot episode, but the reduction is not quite as tasty as the plot in its organic form. In fact, this whole metaphor has turned sour, because to create a reduction one removes the water, to create a television show one must water down a movie premise. "The In-Laws" has applied the same water-heavy formula to "Meet the Parents" and after airing four episodes in two weeks, I'd say it's already drowning creatively. I'm on the fence with "That Was Then," that way I'll be safe if the water level keeps rising.

I've never watched an episode of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" all the way through. But, being from the South Florida area, naturally, I tuned in for the premire of "CSI: Miami." I caught the first two scenes and thought it was highly stylized and well-produced but not my type of show. However, I will be watching this coming Monday because my friend, G-Style, wrote the episode. It's his first produced hour of television, so a hearty Mazel Tov goes out to G-Style.

The brand new one-hour I like the best is “American Dreams.” It’s a period piece set in the early 60s, another decade I can’t get enough of. It centers on a white family in Philadelphia. The teenage daughter wants to change her goody-goody image by appearing on “American Bandstand” as a dancer. It’s a soft show with a hint of an edge. When the teenage boy of the family, a high school football star, goes to tell his coach he doesn’t want to play football anymore, the Priest/Head Football Coach is smoking a cigarette and dispensing advice much more as the Football Coach than the Priest. The ending was emotional, as we see each member of the family react to the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated. But I felt a bit manipulated. I thought the use of Kennedy’s death to signal the loss of innocence was a little too on the head, a little too easy. I’m anxious to see what the tone is like in episode two, which airs this Sunday night, because I think this show has real potential.

All talk of potential is inconsequencial when referring to shows already operating their at their peak levels. "The West Wing" and "The Sopranos" are such shows. Sure, the Wing beats you over the head with it's self-righteousness unto you submit to its liberal leanings, but the dialogue crackles, the cast is sensational, and the production values are top notch. The storyline involving the fallout from the assassination of a Middle East leader and suspected terrorist has launched this season into high drama from the get go. With the presidential campaign acting as a frame for the season, the Wing just might be propelled into that rarified air occupied by television's all-time best dramas.

"The Sopranos" is already there. I'm still pissed that they took a year and half off after its only sub-par season and left us twisting in the wind, but I can't stay mad at this masterpiece. If it wasn't for "Six Feet Under", who knows, I may not even have a subscription to HBO anymore. That show rose to the top in the absence of TV's most beloved Mob family, pushing the boundaries of the medium in its two seasons since "The Sopranos" last aired original episodes. But now that lovable henchman of a show comes storming back to take back it's rightful place at the apex of the televised universe. The first three shows have been fluid and challenging, constantly shape-shifting and forcing you to have faith and flow with it. There is a tremendous confidence in the execution of this exalted program and an unpredictability that never lets you get settled and never lets you know what's really going to happen until it fully unfolds. Most of TV bores us by telegraphing their outcomes. We're too savvy. We've seen too much TV. But we've never seen anything like "Six Feet Under" and we've never seen the likes of "The Sopranos." Let's call a spade a spade: It's not TV, it's HBO.

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