I Speak TV: What To Watch This Summer

Posted: July 20, 2009 in Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

TelevisionI know, I know. All this talk over the last couple weeks, about musical theatre and teh interwub, and we’ve been missing all the important things. I hear the cries of concern. They say, “We are fearful, Jeff Holland…what can you tell us of television in the summer?”

I am here to help. Allow me to venture down to the I Speak TV Global Stronghold (location: unknown, but let’s say somewhere just to the left of space-time). Yanking the tarps off our powerful machinery, dusting the cobwebs off our hyper-global interface monitors, telling our secretary, Irene, to hold all our calls, and finally, shaking the all-powerful eight-ball of mystery to ask: “Anything good on TV lately?”

The outlook is good.

“Leverage”
I had initially dismissed “Leverage,” last year, thinking, “Well it’s good, but it’s not ‘appointment TV’,” before realizing just how stuck-up that was. Sheer competence can be underrated.

This is old-school episodic TV, very much in the “A-Team” vein, so while it doesn’t create the sense of urgency or drama of “Lost” or “The Wire,” it doesn’t make any claims to be such a show. What it shoots for – and largely hits the mark – is to offer a weekly caper built around a team of likable, Leveragefleshed-out characters (from Timothy Hutton’s weary, boozy Nathan Ford on down, they’re easy to watch and root for). And so it is especially suited for the summer season, when it’s okay for stakes to feel a bit lower.

That could be viewed as a criticism – since it’s highly unlikely that the characters are in real, irrevocable danger at any point, the emotional investment isn’t all that heavy – but again, it really depends on what you want out of a show. If you want to be entertained for an hour every week, “Leverage” does the job in spades.

To cross the bridge from “solid” to “appointment” TV, the show is going to need a central antagonist – and that may happen, since Mark Shepherd, as master-planner Nate’s opposite number, is returning. But honestly…I just LIKE these characters. One of the great joys of the first season was watching this group of singularly-talented outlaws gel as a unit, particularly in moments where they take on socially-maladjusted Parker as a kind of human-making project, or wonder when to focus on the ‘functional’ or ‘alcoholic’ aspect of Nate’s functional alcoholism (currently on the wane, as he’s quit drinking – while living in an apartment above a bar, which one character points out as “very…Catholic”).

(John Rogers produces this show, and because he a) put together the sadly aborted “Global Frequency” pilot (you should go track that down for it is excellent); b) is a wonderful blogger; and c) was quite happy with The Translated Man, Chris Braak’s debut novel, we consider him a friend of Threat Quality Press and you should pay him respect.)

“Hung”

My god, was there ever a show I was dreading as much as HBO’s new Hungdramedy about a down-on-his-luck gym teacher who decides to use his one talent – his big dick – to become a gigolo and make some extra cash. It has a freaking pun for a title, after all. And hey, I liked Thomas Jane in the second Punisher movie (and also his cameo in “Arrested Development”), but he never struck me as a particularly versatile actor, let alone an everyman type like the show’s hero, Ray Drecker.

So color me shocked that “Hung” is actually really goddamn funny. The show’s high concept doesn’t really illuminate just how the humor will be mined (and the pilot does no favors by grabbing at any penis-based pun or double-entendre it might find). And the promos make it seem like every episode’s going to be a “Californication”-style HI-larious fuck-fest (I fucking HATED “Californication”), but in practice it’s far closer to “Weeds,” playing to the obvious absurdity of an utterly normal guy who’s trying the most outlandish (and as he is well aware, probably dumbest) idea he can come up with as a means for battling back the financial woes he’s facing so he can get his home and family back in order.

And Jane Adams, as a nebbishy would-be poet who takes on the task of being Ray’s pimp, walks away with every scene she’s in.

“Torchwood”
Generally speaking? I hate “Torchwood.”

That is to say, I have been painfully disappointed by the vast majority of the previous two seasons of the “Doctor Who” spin-off featuring Captain Jack Harkness and his team of (largely personality-free) paranormal investigators. I’ll quote comics scribe Steven Grant, who pointed out that, in spite of the show’s mandate to be an edgier, more adult sci-fi show, it Torchwoodseemed to be written by previous showrunner Chris Chibnall “[with the] overall approach…‘Of course it’s stupid, it’s science fiction!’”

The new miniseries, “Children of Earth” (promoting BBC America’s new HD channel), isn’t that. At all. It is intense and paranoid and uses a mean little plot device – our children are in danger! – while making it clear from the first episode that what will likely doom us all is bureaucracy. It feels like a particularly British brand of science fiction, and that is welcome, after two years of, well, let’s say “dumbassery.”

What makes this miniseries fantastic so far is the way it builds a palpable sense of dread while also handling some dangling plot threads (Will they be hiring new staff after last year’s deaths?; Wouldn’t immortal Jack have at least a couple kids here or there?; and Where the hell is Martha Jones?) and couching the threat within its three leads’ reactions to children in danger (Gwen’s ambivalence toward having kids; the hilariously winking joke that kinda-sorta-gay couple Jack and Ianto are, in a way, on an adoption hunt).

(This is one of my chief nagging points, largely grilled into me by Mark Waid’s school of writing – the external drama needs to resonate in some internal way within our heroes, otherwise, why should we care?)

This is all based on the first episode – but damn, what a hell of a first episode – so I’ll probably mention this one again next week.

(Oh, also a new season of Anthony Bordain’s “No Reservations” has started up again on the Travel Channel. And if you’re in the mood for cartoon superheroes, “Spectacular Spider-Man” is in full swing (HA!) on Disney. Also also – ABC’s delightfully odd comedy “Better Off Ted,” burning off its initial run before the new season in the fall.)

There. Thanks to the awesome power of the ISTV Global Stronghold, I have saved your summer for you. You do not need to see the sun’s awful rays for another two months.

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Comments
  1. K. Holland says:

    “Children of Earth” really is a great little mini-series. Also good to see some “Better Off Ted” recognition.

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    If I wasn’t so sure throwing out a dozen quotes from “Better Off Ted” wasn’t lazy posting, I’d have such an easy time every Wednesday.

    But in the comments thread, I think it’s allowed:

    “Is it that number the accounting department invented for tax purposes? Then on a scale of one to zerplex, how bad is it?”

    “So I do know something about women. I’m going to call my wife and tell her how hot Linda is!”

    “I declare Ted the victor. And Victor the loser.”

    “Let’s not get into who shrunk whose office, or who canceled whose dental plan.”

    “Your department is using too much creamer. It’s not Katrina, but it is a problem.”

    “Is there such a thing as ‘too’ intimidating? …IS there? ANSWER ME, YOU LITTLE BEAN-COUNTER!”

    “It’s not MY fault I don’t listen when you talk!”

    “Diversity – just the thought of it makes these white people smile.”

    “‘Money before people’ – it’s the company motto! …Just looks more heroic in Latin.”

  3. Amanda says:

    Wow….Those are some good quotes…Oh noooo! I don’t have TIME for another show! Especially one that I’ve missed the ENTIRE first season of!

  4. braak says:

    It is available on Hulu, Amanda. JUST GO WATCH IT ON HULU RIGHT NOW.

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