Monday, September 26, 2011

TV Report Card: Summer 2011

Summer is over and so are the short summer runs of a few TV shows I enjoy watching. We said goodbye for good to two of them, one with some bittersweetness and the other none too soon.

I was really sad to learn that TNT was not picking up a third season of Men of a Certain Age. This past summer's run was every bit as funny, gentle and sweet as its debut season in 2009. The premise was simple yet rife with possibility. Three best friends (Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher, perfectly cast and looking better than ever) lean on one another as they not-so-gently ease their way past their prime. Joe, Owen and Terry and their coworkers and loved ones will be terribly missed. Thanks for 22 beautiful episodes. Season 2: 4.5/5. Entire series: 4.5/5

Rescue Me, on the other hand, wore out its welcome many years ago. One tragedy after another for Tommy Gavin became too much to bear. His relationships with Sheila and ex-wife Janet became repetitive and utterly tiresome. I know Denis Leary is the star of the show (and its creator and main writer) but sometimes I wish he would spread the wealth on his co-stars more often. I grew weary of "The Tommy Gavin Show" around season 3 (I'm not sure what the last straw was: the death of his brother, his young son or his father). I stuck with it to the end because the show did have its endearingly entertaining moments, most notably in the firehouse with the guys. Their camaraderie was fresh and oftentimes brutally funny. Rescue Me used to be great (especially when it dealt with the effects of 9/11), but it lost its spark too soon. Season 7: 2.5/5. Entire series: 3/5.

I'm thrilled that FX is continuing its relationship with Louis C.K. and his increasingly brilliant and subversive comedy, Louie. This half-hour laugher just wrapped its second season and Louis C.K. is already hard at work for a third go-around next year. Louie is unlike anything else on television - the narrative is fractured, the humor alternates from dark to silly on a whim, and in this groundbreaking season, the emotions ran high as Louie dealt with close brushes with death, a deep longing for Pamela, and realizations on what is important in life. No "sitcom" that I know of dares to be as thoughtful and life-affirming as Louie does. Season 2: 5/5. Entire series to date: 4.5/5.

The Glee Project was a huge surprise. I had low hopes for this reality contest in which wannabe Glee fans audition and compete for a guest spot on Fox's mega-hit. I'm not a fan of reality programming; I used to dabble in an Idol here or a Survivor there, but my programming regimen is about 98% scripted. But I gave Glee Project a shot and I'm very thankful. It's easily the best reality program I've ever had the pleasure of following and it has enhanced my appreciation and enthusiasm for Glee itself. All of the judges of The Glee Project -- Ryan Murphy, Robert Ulrich, Zach Woodlee -- are major behind-the-scenes players on Glee, and they are insightful, thoughtful, and more importantly, hugely entertaining to watch. They really cared about these kids. And these contestants are nothing to sneeze at -- all four winners are talented, bright individuals who will fit right in the Glee universe. This first season of The Glee Project was filled with twists, surprises and suspense; in other words, it blew American Idol out of the water. Season 1: 4.5/5

The thing I learned as a loyal Curb Your Enthusiasm viewer is that I can't judge every episode the same way. Sometimes everything comes together perfectly: the plot, the pacing, the amount of laughs, everything. Most often, however, they do not. Sometimes I'll marvel how wonderfully structured the episode is but find it lacking in the laughs department. Sometimes I'll laugh all the way through, but plot-wise it just didn't gel.

This season saw two episodes that were just right: Palestinian Chicken (easily a top 3 episode of all-time) and Mister Softee. Those were classic, perfect Curbs. The other 8 episodes are a mixed bag but now that I think of it, I may have "laughed" more this season than I did during last season's popular Seinfeld arc. In a nutshell, after 8 seasons (!), it appears to me that Larry David and his band of cynical misfits are as good as they've ever been. Season 8: 4/5. Entire series to date: 4/5.

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