October 5, 2007

Annual Fall TV Review

I love watching TV. I am not ashamed to say this. I think it's a worthwile pastime. Now, I'm not talking about the indiscriminate time wasting that people usually rail against. I'm talking about the TiVo-assisted selection of quality viewing entertainment, and the enjoyment of said selections.

rant ahead...

The idea of telling a story through a display of moving pictures synchronized with sound is something that's on the whole done better on television than by the movies nowadays. I'm highly disenchanted with the Hollywood studio system of movie making and distribution. Too much effort and money is put in to movies that have to appeal to the lowest common denominator just so they can justify the enormous effort and money that went into them in the first place.

There are good movies being made, but they're hard to find amongst the intelligence-insulting crap. If you're lucky enough to find out about a good movie, there's a whole world of pain in store for you as you try to go see it. If you're going to a theater, you've got to discharge your responsibilities at home (i.e. find a babysitter, feed your cats, etc.), actually drive to the theater (since we're talking about seeing a good movie, you're probably having to drive to the one place in town where it's playing), pay a ridiculous amount of money for you and your spouse/date/party, pay ridiculous prices for refreshments or be forced to smuggle in your own, then watch the movie in a dirty, sticky auditorium with uncomfortable seats from a scratched print with subpar sound (again, because we're watching a good movie, it's probably not at the newest fanciest theater in town).

If you opt to not see the movie at the theater, you've got other things to contend with. DVD's nice and all, but it means either purchasing (which gets expensive), or renting (which means driving somewhere, or using Netflix, which is definitely not on demand). Downloading movies illegally over the internet works well for those without a conscience. New technologies like Amazon Unbox, or Vudu, or Apple TV or things like that all hold promise, but still suffer from fatal flaws.

Contrast that to television: TV's full of crap; don't get me wrong. However, the sheer volume of stuff delivered through the TV means you can still find a lot of quality entertainment once you've filtered through the crap. The overall delivery process couldn't be easier since TV just falls into your house (at very reasonable prices considering the volume of stuff), and the filtering process of separating out the crap is so much easier now that we have TiVo and the extended word of mouth that is the internet.

rant over

Now that I've established that television is a good value proposition for your entertainment choice, I'll explain a little more about my TV watching. I've got a number of things I watch on a regular basis, and a number of other things I might watch more infrequently. However, I'm always on the lookout for something good to watch. I've had shows recommended to me in the past that I just couldn't watch because I wasn't able to see it from the beginning. I've got a compulsive personality that finds it hard to watch something without a continuing story line, and I can't watch something at all if I've missed any part of the story. That means I can't just pick up a TV series two or three seasons in. The few times that I've tried watching a series after it started I was forced to track down the previous episodes first, either in reruns or on DVD.

A few years back, I made a commitment to watch every new series that came on TV, precisely so that if a show was good, I could be there to watch it from the very beginning. Over the years I've refined my technique and made up some rules for this endeavor which I will share with you now.
  • I limit myself only to new series on the broadcast networks. There's really great stuff on the other cable channels, but most of the action's still at the broadcast networks. Also, there's just too many of those other channels, and no way to keep up with them all. If something good crops up on one of these other channels, I just assume that I'll either hear about in time, or be able to jump in on the hundreds of reruns.
  • I don't include reality series. Again, there's too many of them. I'm not opposed to reality TV; it's just that all the series are (generally) the same in my experience, and I don't have time to add new ones when I don't watch the older ones. (I also reserve the right to skip a spinoff series if I already don't like the series from which it's spinning off.)
  • Every show gets up to three chances before I have to make a commitment. I'll record the pilot episode for a show, and if it's just completely retarded, I'll give up on it right away. If I have any interest in it at all, I'll give it a second chance the following week. If after the second airing, I'm still on the fence, I can record it one more week. After three weeks, though, I've either got to give up on the series or commit to watching it until the end.
As you may tell, there's a lot of pressure on the TV series to really come on strong out of the gate. You may also guess that the end of September/beginning of October is a real workout for the TiVo. Summer is spent watching movies to try to clear space on the TiVo for all the new HD pilots coming up in the fall.

So far the system has worked well for me. Every fall I add a couple of series to my watching, and every spring, a couple of series end, keeping my overall TV watching load pretty constant. I've also been pretty confident in the decisions that I've made. I've only once gone back and tried to start over from the beginning watching a series I previously passed up on (24, which I ended up re-dropping halfway through the 3rd season). And, I've only twice given up on series that I had previously committed to (Prison Break and Desperate Housewives, both for reasons of getting stupid and boring).

One of the reasons for starting a blog that I didn't put in my manifesto was to have a place to keep track of this fall's TV series. I intended to write my reviews of each fall series and what I liked or disliked about it, and it made sense to stick it up somewhere.

So, dear imaginary reader, what follows will be my review of each of this fall's new TV series.

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