Premiere Week: Donald, Martha and Other Monsters

It’s “premiere week” on American television this week, the week where ABC, CBS and NBC unveil their new shows for the 2005-2006 season. And I’ve been watching.

There are three Lost knockoffs — shows in the “scary unknown monsters meet Party of Five” model: Threshold from CBS, Surface from NBC and Invasion from ABC.

In Threshold the scary comes from outer space in form of a massive pile of whirling glass shards that emits a sound that makes people have bad dreams. In Surface it’s massive tarantula whales that lay eggs and generally cause a big fuss. And in Invasion it’s hurricane-induced soul-stealers that take over families in the Everglades.

None of the shows is as inventive as Lost, but Threshold is the best produced and has the best character development (if you can call it that), but it still amounts to little more than “NCIS with aliens.”

Since I learned on Monday that Two and A Half Men is the number-one rated sitcom in America I’ve decided to opt out of that genre entirely and confine myself to endless re-runs of Seinfeld and The Simpsons. And even they are getting tired (don’t tell Catherine). I did watch the season premiere of the (American version of) The Office and it was much less annoying than I thought it would be. And apparently this will be a “very special season” of Will and Grace as it is the last one. Everything else seems to be some variation, as Johnny says, of the “overweight Dad, svelt Mom, and crazy kids try and make it in this crazy mixed-up world” (I’m pretty sure Johnny didn’t say “svelt”).

Which leads us to reality TV (yes, yes, Kevin, I know it’s not “reality”). Last week saw the debut of the latest Survivor, this time in the jungles of Guatemala. Not much new to report here except for an unusual amount of sickness in the menfolk that results in lots of vomit and writh shots. Host Jeff Probst seems to have lost a little of his spark and, despite the spiders and ants and crocodiles, the location doesn’t seem to bring anything new to the game. Of course I’ll keep watching regardless.

This week it was the two versions of The Apprentice, the old one with Donald Trump and the new one with Martha Stewart.

Stewart’s is a kinder, gentler version of Trump’s (contestants don’t get “fired,” they “don’t fit in”). It’s only been two days since I watched it, though, and save for the endless walls covered with paint chips, I can’t remember a single thing that went on, which means it can’t be rating very high on the “water cooler conversation” scale.

Trump’s show is simply more of what we’ve become used to: lots of Trump, lots of brand enhancement deals (last night was the fitness chain Bally), lots of racially-charged internecine bickering. In the end it was the strident Hispanic woman who got fired, mostly, it seems, because she self-identified as “someone who can’t work with women.” Ho hum.

Last night was the 98th season opener of er, the show that refuses to die even though they have used up absolutely every single plot device that can lead to “chaos in the emergency room.” All of the glam stars of the past are gone — Noah Wyle was the last to leave, at the end of last season — so we’re left with Goran Visnjic (who used to be great, but how long can you string out the “my kids are dead and I have no soul left” angst?) and a cast of second-rate actors fumbling their sutures and central line kits. The show might surprise me — I’ve given up hope before, only to be surprised — but it’s not looking like it.

To get some idea of how old er is, recall that it premiered in 1994, the same year that CBS debuted Chicago Hope. And who remembers Chicago Hope? It was cancelled years ago in a blaze of Christine Lahti.

The best thing about Chicago Hope was Mandy Patinkin, and his new show, Criminal Minds, debuted opposite er last night and I managed a pretty good job of watching the two shows at the same time (something made easier by the fact that I knew exactly what was going to happen on er, so I only needed to tune in every once in a while).

Criminal Minds is in the CSI mold — tormented and eccentric but brilliant crime-fighter finds bad guys using science and mind voodoo. Patinkin is well-suited in the lead, and the rest of the cast is better than a show like this deserves (Matthew Gray Gubler from The Life Aquatic was particularly good), but the show doesn’t cover any new ground, and after an hour the Churchill and Nietzsche quotes got tired and I forgot why I started to watch. If the show succeeds it will be because Patinkin makes it succeed, but don’t hold your breath.

Otherwise I’ve been watching a whole lot of MSNBC, mostly because it’s the only 24 hour news station we get (well, there’s CTV Newsnet, but it’s so bad as to be unwatchable, and CNN Headline News which always seems to be airing either sports or “showbiz” news). Watching MSNBC these days means watching wall to wall hurricane coverage presented by Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Tucker Carlson and Rita Cosby. Collectively they are slightly less annoying than their dopplegangers on CNN. But only slightly. Carlson and Cosby are the worst of the bunch, mostly because they seem to have no journalistic training nor skills. Matthews is good on politics, horrible on live coverage, and Olbermann, who makes everything sound like a game of something, is completely compelling.

Next week is The Amazing Race, Without a Trace and The West Wing. Still no end to the Compass lockout, so I’m blissfully unaware of anything happening here on Prince Edward Island. Our friends at the CBC had a rally yesterday afternoon; didn’t hear about it until after it was over because, well, the way you hear about things on Prince Edward Island is on the CBC.


denise's picture
denise on September 23, 2005 - 21:00 Permalink

one thing I found fun for these tv shows is playing with the cast on — they have all the lost people, trump, etc. hate the show… stretch their faces.. love the show, stretch the faces compassionately!