The Week In TV: Appointment Television
For Halloween, I dressed up as a guy who ate more candy than he distributed to visiting children. It's a classic. This was the week in TV Land:
• I queued up The Walking Dead in my DVR last night after finishing my Boardwalk Empire post, expecting to watch a few minutes and get enough of a feel for the show's tone to write briefly about it here. 90 minutes later, I finally took a breath. The pilot episode of AMC's latest series was relentlessly engaging and so smartly made it's hard to wonder why nobody ever made a series about the zombie apocalypse before this. Written and directed by Frank Darabont, who also produces and helped develop the series from its comic book origins, the premiere of The Walking Dead demonstrated a commitment to as much reality as possible in the context of a show about zombies, especially in its laudable lack of score for much of the episode. Because that's what the world would be like if society disintegrated: quiet. The spare sound design underscored the horror of every moment, and the narrative device of following sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) as he woke from a coma after missing the end of the world was a brilliant way to toss viewers head-first into the nightmare. Plus the cold open of Rick taking out a young female zombie was jaw-dropping. There are a few nits to pick -- Darabont's visual style is occasionally flat, especially compared with some of AMC's other shows; it's also jarring that the survivors refer to the zombies merely as "walkers," as if there are no zombie movies in this world. Characters in vampire movies have heard of Dracula, so it wouldn't be unreasonable for the inhabitants of the Dead universe to know about zombies. Then again, maybe the word is avoided because it feels overused or too gimmicky. Regardless: the show got off to a hell of a start, and I'm excited to see where it goes from here.
• Saturday saw the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" in Washington, D.C. (attended by our very own Pete Vonder Haar, of whom I am jealous on a cellular level), which drew more than 200,000 people. The event went off remarkably smoothly for something broadcast live and put together in what felt like not much time, and was mostly an excuse for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to goof around on stage in between performances by some pretty solid artists, including John Legend and the Roots as well as Jeff Tweedy and Mavis Staples. Keith Olbermann tweeted his displeasure at Stewart's equating all cable-news hosts with each other, but he gets upset about things so often it's hard to keep track, and his brain-choking smugness and preening self-righteousness can be just as damning to the national discourse as Glenn Beck's inability to speak honestly or accurately about history and culture. Here's Stewart's closing bit, in which he reiterated the need for everyone to just chill out and keep things in perspective. This isn't the end of days, or even the nastiest election season on record. The truth and the narrative aren't necessarily the same.
• The 2009 film In the Loop was a brilliant political satire spun off, in a way, from the BBC series The Thick of It. Now series creator and film director Armando Iannucci is heading to HBO with Veep, a comedy about a female U.S. vice president that might wind up starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Louis-Dreyfus just spent five years having all kinds of "wacky" new adventures, so a razor-sharp, pitch-black comedy like this one could be just the thing to remind us all why we loved her in the first place. I eagerly await the day I can turn to HBO and hear her launching into something like this:
• Speaking of HBO, Big Love is going to end after its fifth season, which premieres in January. Series creators Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer said in a statement that they'd realized when planning the upcoming season that it felt like a natural end to the story they'd started to tell when the show debuted in the spring of 2006. I can't offer an opinion about the series, having only watched a couple of episodes in its first season. The series' ratings flagged in its third year but managed to bounce back a little last season. Still, five seasons is a decent run for any show. In other series news at the network, Eastbound and Down and Bored to Death have both been renewed for a third season, though the former might call it quits after next year anyway.
• Color me pleasantly surprised: this was the second funny episode of The Office in two weeks, which is something of a record for the show nowadays. The Halloween antics were a springboard for some great character comedy -- Angela's consuming desire to win that coupon book, Oscar's inability to persuade others of the book's worthlessness, Jim's sweet decision to dress up for Pam -- and the story about Daryl's plans for his future could be a way of setting him up to run the branch when Michael leaves. Plus the cold open was one of the best in weeks. Is The Office mounting a ninth-inning rally? Dare I hope?
• Spike TV recently announced that they're going to aim at an older demographic than 18- to 34-year-old men; this came as a surprise to people who have actually seen the network and would have sworn no one over 17 actually watched it with any regularity or investment. How many episodes of Manswers can you watch before you realize you're wasting your life? Anyway, regardless of the inherent disconnect, Spike's going to aim older but not higher with a development slate including a comedy from the director of Wild Hogs. That show, Thunderballs (funny already!), will follow a group of men as they balance annoying things like family and relationships and basic adult responsibility with their quest for glory in a bowling league. So, for all you Spike fans about to go to college, take heart: The network is still there for you.
• Just days after SyFy announced the upcoming Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, they lowered the ax on Caprica, the talky drama that had all of BSG's freshman-philosophy wonderings without any of the character, drama or action. Yet the muddy drama's flaws are nothing compared to the network's intentionally bad TV-movies about giant sharks and even more giant octopi battling for underwater supremacy, so maybe with SyFy, you have to take what you can get.
• This is not a joke (well, it's a joke, but it's a real one): NBC has picked up a drama from Jamie Foxx (yes, that Jamie Foxx) about a woman who is raised in a mafia family only to see them all killed by a rival boss, after which she hides out in an orphanage and eventually grows up to be an attorney who spends her nights as an undercover assassin seeking revenge for her dead relatives. In addition to being almost too ridiculous for words -- the set-up reads like Alias reimagined by a shut-in Tarantino fan -- the project is currently set to star Selma Blair, though the network hasn't made her or any other actors official yet.
• If you're not watching Sherlock, you're missing out. The BBC series has been airing on PBS, and the first season of three 90-minute episodes wraps next Sunday. If you haven't been watching, you can catch up online or just hold out for the DVD set next week. The series is a fantastic, compelling modern reboot that casts Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch [real name]) as a police consultant and self-described "high-functioning sociopath" and Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) as an Afghan War vet dealing with PTSD. The chemistry between the two leads is phenomenal, and it's great to see a franchise handled with glee, wit, and intelligence. This is roughly 187 times better than Guy Ritchie's recent film version. Appointment television.
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