TV: 2011 TV Shows

I didn’t watch much television in 2010 and gave up on many of the new shows I started watching last autumn. My current viewing roster is below…

Harry’s Law – airs on NBC at 10:00 p.m. EST on Monday nights.

I really didn’t expect this show to be as good as it is, but never underestimated the awesomeness of Kathy Bates. This is a somewhat formulaic David E. Kelly legal dramedy, very much like The Practice when James Spader and William Shatner first joined. Kathy Bates stars as an ex-patent lawyer who opens a small criminal defense firm in a former “fine shoes” store. The quirky shoe store part of this setup is a little too David E. Kelly for me, and I find his standard skinny dumb blonde assistant character especially grating this time around. But it is refreshing to once again have a legal drama on tv that is interesting without being disturbing. And Bates is both formidable and hilarious as the lovable curmudgeon Harry. I can only hope Kelly doesn’t ruin this one by making his actors sing as he did with Ally McBeal, Boston Public and The Practice, all of which I loved at the beginning but couldn’t bear to watch by the end.

You can watch all the episodes at NBC’s site.

No Ordinary Family – airs on ABC at 8:00 p.m. EST on Tuesday nights.

I already posted about this superhero family/action drama after it first debuted last October (note: I gave up on Outsourced because it became the painful stereotype its critics accused it of). Created, written and produced by Greg Berlanti of Everwood, this family-friendly show stars The Shield‘s Michael Chiklis and Angel‘s Julie Benz as the parents of a family endowed with unusual abilities after a plane crash in the Amazon. The drama initially centered on the emotional struggles the characters experienced as they adjusted to their new powers, but this year the show has shifted focus on the superhero storylines replete with supervillians. Oh and you could make a pretty good drinking game out of geeky scientist Katie’s stereotypical comic book and sci fi references.

You can watch all the episodes at ABC’s site.

Off The Map – airs on ABC at 10:00 p.m. EST on Wednesday nights.

There were only two reasons I even gave this show, which is by the creators Grey’s Anatomy, a chance: Caroline Dhavernas and Zach Gilford. If those names aren’t familiar to you, Caroline Dhavernas was the star of the delightful but sadly short-lived Wonderfalls and Zach Gilford played Matt Sorenson on Friday Night Lights. In Off The Map, the two star as young doctors who travel to an obscure South American village to work in a “doctors without borders” style clinic. The presence of such a talented cast (which also includes Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer) and beautiful Hawaiian filming locations (last seen on Lost) have so far kept this medical dramedy from falling into Grey’s mediocrity. Sure, there are moments of melodrama and sappiness. But they are anchored by the gorgeous scenery, solid acting performances and the tumultuous situations such an exotic locale produces.

You can watch all the episodes at ABC’s site.

Perfect Couples – airs on NBC at 8:30 p.m. EST on Thursday nights.

Though I enjoyed the pilot, I really didn’t expect to keep watching this one. But it gets funnier every week. Perfect Couples is a half-hour sitcom about three couples: one couple is blatantly messed up and fights all the time, one couple is repressedly messed up and act like relationship gurus (they’d be really annoying if they weren’t so hilarious), and the other couple is relatively normal but still messed up. If the writing, direction or acting were off even just a little, this would be a disaster. But so far it’s all very well done and sometimes seems more like an indie film about a comically dysfunctional group of friends rather than a network television sitcom.

You can watch all the episodes at NBC’s site.

In other news, I actually like the new season of American Idol. I didn’t even watch the show last year, but I couldn’t resist Steven Tyler. I like the more positive vibe of the show and the new panel of judges. Tyler is especially entertaining since he has the quirky craziness and enthusiasm of Paula Abdul, but a more credible music background. I do wish they’d stop with the sob stories and bad singers – I usually tape the show to fast-forward through all of that. But they seem to be including more good singers this year to make up for it.

I’m also still watching old favorites Big Bang Theory, The Office, 30Rock and Modern Family. The perennially cheesy One Tree Hill has been surprisingly enjoyable this year despite the absence of the villianous Dan. I still love my geekout Jeopardy watching. And though I normally loathe reality series, ABC’s hidden camera show What Would You Do? is addictive.

Oh and I absolutely adored Downton Abbey, a BBC mini-series that recently aired on PBS. I eagerly await the second season, which is currently in production.

Creed Bratton: Bounce Back

Bounce Back is the upcoming release by singer-songwriter and actor Creed Bratton. The former lead guitarist of The Grassroots, Creed is probably best known now for his quirky character on The Office. Whether you heard his previous self-titled album or not, I recommend checking out Bounce Back. With the help of his backing band The 3DVB’s and his The Office co-star Ed Helms, Creed has made an unusual, funny, funky, and all around awesome album. The promo he sent me included the note “Hi Victoria, Hope you dig it!” Indeed I do.

The catchy single “Rubber Tree” (which I posted last December) features Ed Helms on banjo and is a good representation of the album’s blend of folk, pop, and rock.

A psychedelic cover of “Let’s Get Lost” follows. After hearing Creed croon the Chet Baker tune during our phone conversation two years ago, I kinda wish he’d recorded a straightforward jazz rendition. But this trippy, pedal steeled duet with singer Tara Holloway is pretty awesome.

“Love Me Like You Dance” is a fun Hawaiian Honky-Tonk ditty, while tracks like “Then I Think of You” and “Matters Like This” are more sincere ballads.

The vocals and instrumentation on the album are seriously good, but the lyrics are often pure comedy. My personal favorite lines are “You’re a warm piece of jerky” from the Alejandro Escovedo meets Talking Heads guitar grinder “Change that Channel” and “You had crimson jeans covered in spam” in the wonderfully nonsensical finale “My Heart’s an Open Book.”

But it’s the bizarre, bluesy Western stomper “Driving the Drags” that really steals the show.

Creed Bratton – Rubber Tree (mp3) *

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist

The album’s release date has been pushed back to March. It will then be available for purchase at the following links.

Pre-order @ Amazon (not yet available)

Creed Bratton

Creed Bratton Official Site

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Television

Yes, I’m one of the crazy people tackling Best of the Decade lists. In addition to my annual year end lists, I’ll be sharing my favorite Albums, Books, Movies, and TV Series of the past decade. First up, my favorite ten television shows that aired between 2000-2009…

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Television

10. Firefly

As you’ll see below, Joss Whedon dominates this list. There were several shows that almost edged out Firefly – most notably The Sopranos, but that’s not a show I could ever watch again. But in the end, there was just something about the short-lived sci-fi series starring Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, and Summer Glau that captured my little tv-addicted heart. Though it has a devoted fanbase and even got its own movie, it sadly never received the attention that Whedon’s other shows did.

Buy @ Amazon

9. Absolutely Fabulous

AbFab remains one of the funniest, most bizarre shows I’ve ever seen. What was so great about the show is that the two overindulgent main characters Eddy and Patsy (played by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley) were unabashedly vapid and unlikable, but you loved watching and laughing at them anyway. The show originally aired on BBC in the late 1990s and early aughts, but was rebroadcast on Comedy Central here in the U.S.

Buy @ Amazon

8. Once & Again

If you don’t remember Once & Again, it was a poignant little ABC drama by the creators of Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life. The show initially centered on the romance between a single mother played by Sela Ward and a single father played by Billy Campbell, and the struggles they faced from their respective kids and ex-spouses. But as the series progressed, it was the shy, awkward, teenage character Grace (played by Julia Whelan) who drew me in most. It also introduced a then unknown Evan Rachel Wood as Grace’s little sister Jesse. The show only lasted three seasons, but it was one of the best scripted dramas that has ever aired.

Buy @ Amazon

7. Arrested Development

I think Arrested Development was to the U.S. what AbFab was to the U.K. The hilarious Fox sitcom centered on The Bluths, a rich, despicable, and totally lovable family. The show itself was bizarrely clever and outrageous, but it was the perfect casting of actors Jason Batemen, Will Arnett, David Cross, and a then unknown Michael Cera that made the show so brilliant. I’m tempted to quote some of my favorite lines, but I don’t know that they would be as funny if you haven’t seen the show. My favorite moment was Will Arnett’s Gob “Final Countdown” entrance to his magic show. Or his duet with his puppet Franklin. Oh and when Tobias (David Cross) joined Blue Man Group. And…well, you get the point. It was all very weird and very funny.

Buy @ Amazon

6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I remember everyone I knew made fun of me for watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer during its cheesy first season. I was one of the few people who actually liked the Kristy Swanson movie that spawned the show, and there was just something about the tv characters Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Xander, and especially Allison Hannigan as Willow that made me keep watching. Then the game-changing, darker finale of that season suddenly made people take notice. By the time beloved vamps Spike and Dru joined the show in the second season, the show was no longer considered a joke. Seven seasons later, the show had a huge cult following, a spinoff, and there was talk of another movie. Creator Joss Whedon created completely relatable high school characters though he placed them in a nightmarish world. Though I watched from beginning to end, I lost interest in the final two seasons as the Buffy character lost her strength and humor, and far too many new characters were added. And I don’t know that I would love the show as much a decade later, but at the time, at the age that I was, I thought it was brilliant and I loved it even during its weakest moments.

Buy @ Amazon

5. Angel

When my least favorite character on Buffy got his own spinoff, I didn’t think I’d bother to watch it and certainly didn’t expect to end up liking it better than its predecessor. Angel was often a much darker program, but it also had its share of humor – especially in the puppet-centric episode Smile Time. Though it featured many of the characters and actors first created for Buffy, it really came into its own during the final season. Actors Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker were particularly riveting as their characters drastically evolved over the years. Denisof’s Wesley went from an annoying, by-the-book geek to a haunted loner in various shades of gray. And Acker not only portrayed the many moods and quirks of resident geek girl Fred, she tackled the entirely different character of Illyria in the final season. Also entertaining in that final season was the banter between Angel and new cast member James Marsters as Spike. And Angel‘s final episode was possibly the best series finale ever.

Buy @ Amazon

4. The Office

Yes, I’m cheating and combining the British and the American versions of The Office. When NBC’s remake first aired, I thought it was huge mistake since they’d obviously failed to capture the painfully realistic mood of the BBC original. But by the second season, the U.S. version stopped trying to mimic the Ricky Gervais vehicle that spawned it and instead found its strength in its new side characters played by actors Creed Bratton, Angela Kinsey, Mindy Kaling, Brian Baumgartner, and Phyllis Smith. The BBC version had bite, the NBC version has heart. And both versions of the show are so hilarious that I can no longer distinguish which I like more. I’m still waiting for a Cousin Mose spinoff…

Buy @ Amazon

3. Friday Night Lights

I think I’ve written enough about Friday Night Lights (especially in my first post about it two years ago) for you to know how much and why I love the show. Every episode of the series has been so brilliantly written, acted, and directed that it’s been like watching a feature film every week.

Buy @ Amazon

2. Freaks & Geeks

I pretty much listed everything I loved about Freaks & Geeks in my 2008 review of the new DVD set, from which here is a brief quote: “Set in 1980 Michigan, the show centered on aspiring freak Lindsey Weir (Linda Cardellini) and her little geek brother Sam (John Francis Daley) as they traversed the nightmarish landscape of high school, the precarious loyalty of friends in their respective cliques, the anguish of unrequited love, the transitory nature of relationships, the mortifying affection of their parents, and the sheer humiliation of the teen years.

Buy @ Amazon

1. Lost

Was there any doubt? After My So-Called Life, Lost is probably my favorite TV show of all time. The final season begins on February 5, 2010, and I’m both excited and very sad. No other series has so wonderfully trusted, engaged, and challenged the intelligence and imagination of its audience in the way Lost has with every episode. I remember vividly when I first watched the pilot, which was the summer before it first aired on ABC (aw, the innocent days of Bittorrent). I, like so many others, was hooked from the very first second. The first two seasons were excellent, but I think the last two seasons have been the strongest for the show thanks to addition of characters like Desmond, Ben, Daniel, and Richard, the increased focus on Locke, and the deliciously convoluted mysteries woven throughout each season. I’ve also appreciated how enthusiastic the actors seem about their characters in interviews, and how the writers have so intensely utilized the internet to stir up interest in the show. There has never been a show like Lost, and I fear there never will be again.

Buy @ Amazon

Mp3 Menagerie: Creed Bratton, The J. Davis Trio, The New Loud

Creed Bratton – Rubber Tree (mp3) *

If you didn’t know that The Office‘s Creed Bratton is also a musician, you obviously didn’t read my review of his self-titled album or my interview with him last year. This song is from Creed’s upcoming album, which he is finishing up now and plans to release in February, 2010.

Pre-order @ Amazon (not yet available)

Creed Bratton

Creed Bratton Official Site

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The J. Davis Trio – Breezay (mp3) *
The J. Davis Trio – Court is Now in Session (mp3) *
The J. Davis Trio – These Things Happen (mp3) *

The J. Davis Trio blends garage-jazz akin to The Bad Plus with hip-hop beats and vocals.

Buy @ Amazon

The J Davis Trio

The J. Davis Trio Myspace

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The New Loud – Don’t Dance (mp3) *
The New Loud – Heaven (mp3) *

The New Loud’s upcoming EP Can’t Stop Not Knowing (set for release February 23, 2010) lives up to the band’s name with over the top indie-rock and pop noise.

Pre-order @ Amazon (not yet available)

The New Loud

The New Loud Myspace

*all mp3s hosted by & posted w/ permission of artists or their PR reps

TV: My Fave New Shows

During the summer, my weekday evenings were spent reading, listening to music, and actually leaving the house occasionally to attend live performances and engage in other activities. I’d hope this unplugged trend might continue until Lost returns in January, but several new shows have pulled me in enough that I haven’t done much that I would consider productive in the past few weeks! For the curious, following are the new shows I’ve been enjoying…

The Forgotten: ABC, Tuesdays, 10pm EST. Christian Slater leads a team of civilian volunteers who search for the identities of murder victims after the police have given up. The twist is each episode is narrated by that week’s deceased. It’s Cold Case meets The Lovely Bones. The Shield‘s Benito Martinez also stars. If you missed the pilot (which features a guest appearance by My So-Called Life‘s Devon Gummersall), you can watch the full episode online at ABC.

The Good Wife: CBS, Tuesdays, 10pm EST. ER‘s Juliana Margulies gracefully portrays the archetypal politician’s wife, enduring mass judgement and attempting to resurrect her own law career after standing by her man in one of those infamous post-scandal press conferences. While I think the show would be more interesting had it stayed focused on the moral dilemas of the political world, it is a solid legal drama. If you missed the pilot, you can watch the full episode online at CBS.

Mercy: NBC, Wednesday, 8pm EST. Judging from the previews, I didn’t expect to like this one and only watched it because the hubby insisted. I was pleasantly surprised how much the show reminded me of the first season of ER. It centers on a spunky, unhappily married nurse who has recently returned to working at a “normal” hospital after spending some traumatic time on the frontlines in Iraq. Buffy‘s Michelle Trachtenberg plays a humorously optimistic young nurse. I’m a little worried they’ll mistakenly go all Grey’s Anatomy with silly romantic subplots, but otherwise I liked it. If you missed the pilot, you can watch the full episode at NBC.

Modern Family: ABC, Wednesday, 9pm EST. This quirky half hour comedy shares the same kind of sarcastic, oddball humor of Arrested Development. But rather than following the exploits of an eccentric rich clan, Modern Family looks at the dysfunction of a multi-cultural Middle Class family. Married With Children‘s Ed O’Neill plays the family’s curmudgeony patriarch. If you missed the pilot, you can watch the full episode at ABC.

The Vampire Diaries: CW, Thursday, 8pm EST. My new guilty pleasure by Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson. Though the previews, overall plot, and direction of the premiere were all very similar to Twilight, the subsequent episodes have reminded me more of Buffy and Angel. It’s the standard sarcastic, misfit high school gal falling for a lonely, conscience-stricken vampire story, but it’s done well. But the highlight of the show for me is Lost‘s Ian Somerhalder as the sexy, over-the-top villian vamp. The music has also been pretty good so far. If you missed the first two weeks, you can watch both episodes at CW.

Flash Forward: ABC, Thursday, 8pm EST. This is the big disappointment. After so much hype (the “from the network that brought you Lost” promo was a summer-long joke in my house, with my best/worst parody being “from the womb that brought you Roseanna Arquette, it’s David Arquette!”), I had hoped for more eerie mystery. But despite the cool premise (the world’s population blacks out for 2 minutes and see glimpses their future selves) and presence of Joseph Fiennes, the dry, melodramatic pilot ep seemed more like 24 than Lost. But it was kinda cool to see a brief dramatic cameo by Family Guy‘s Seth McFarlane and the new ads reveal Dominic Monahan will join the cast, so I’ll give it another chance. If you missed the pilot, you can watch the full episode at ABC.

I’m also still loving The Office (NBC, Thursday, 9pm EST) and So You Think You Can Dance (Fox, Wednesday, 9pm EST).

Update: As of mid-October, the only new show I’m still watching and loving is The Vampire Diaries. All of the others listed above failed to live up to their premieres.