Friday, October 27, 2006

TV Reviews: "Lost" Wannabes

When I start reading a new comic book, I will give it four issues before I decide to keep reading or drop it. Some books start strong, some start slowly and four issues is generally about the right amount of time to judge where a title is going.

The new shows of the fall season have passed their fourth episodes, which I found leading me to my Tivo Season Passes to decide what stays, what goes, and what is on thin ice.

Suspense Drama
Channel: CBS
Premise:Residents of a small town in Western Kansas see a nuclear explosion that destroys Denver and find themselves cut off from the rest of the world, unsure of what's happened.

Take "Lost" and replace the island with a midwestern town and the Others with government agents posing as "regular folks" and you have "Jericho." Early episodes have tended to revolve around the people of Jericho trying to accomplish every day tasks without the help of the technology they normally have. Episode 3 was almost entirely about finding gas for the generators at the hospital to keep both a baby on a ventilator and a mysterious man with radiation sickness alive.

Often I find myself having trouble keeping storylines and backstories straight. I'm not sure if this is because the show is too boring to hold my attention or if it's being written to give a feeling of jumping into the middle of everything. For example, Skeet Ulrich has a conversation with his mom about how he hurt her and his dad, but if this had been mentioned or indicated, I guess I was more interested in trimming my toenails at the time and missed it. Likewise for the story about the guy who wants to leave his wife, the IRS woman who's come to foreclose on a guy's farm, and just about any other story arc that doesn't directly relate to the cause of the nuclear explosions and the top secret plan involving Lennie James and a bunch of other moles pretending to be our neighbors.

Verdict: Thin ice. I like the concept enough to give it 3-4 more episodes, but if the execution doesn't pick up, it'll be purged with pleasure.

The Nin9
Channel: ABC
Premise:Following the lives of nine people taken hostage for 52 hours when a bank robbery goes bad.

This is another show that's being sold like "Lost"--and there are similarities--but this is not "Lost." The mystery is what happened during the 52 hours and every episode gives us a small glimpse. The most recent showed us the bank manager's daughter, who was in the bathroom when the robbery started, trying to find a place in the bank to get cell phone service to dial 911. That's five minutes of the 52 hours, so at this rate, "The Nin9" could last 1040 episodes and that's assuming we don't get any "here's a sequence we've seen before but from a different character's perspective"... which, now that I think about it, is pretty much what the daughter in the bathroom scene was.

The rest of the show deals with the post-robbery lives of the nine hostages. One was a cubicle-dwelling pencil pusher contemplating suicide who now is a hero and wants to embrace all life has to offer. Another is a cop who's having to cover up mistakes made by the police and the FBI during the stand off to protect himself and his friends. The bank manager's daughter doesn't remember anything between the time she dialed 911 and when they were let out of the bank and is struggling to remember.

While it's interesting, we need to start getting some results.

Verdict: Keeper. I don't know where this show is going, but I like the cast enough to stick with it. Like "Jericho," I hope they get more into explaining what happened during the stand off as I'm already tired of hearing people mutter on and on about "everything that happened in there" without knowing what happened in there.

Channel: NBC
Premise:Some people have superpowers and the New York is going to be blown up in a nuclear explosion in a few weeks.

If you read comics, all you need to know is Jeph Loeb is one of the writers for this show. If you don't read comics, all you need to know is Jeph Loeb isn't a very good writer.

Oh, and it has Milo Ventimiglia, who will forever be "complete asshole Jess" from "Gilmore Girls." That guy could star in "Jake Gets Free Blow Jobs from Hot College Girls if He Watches this Show" and I'd still change the channel halfway through.

Verdict: Purge.

Where all these shows fail is that they all overlook two enduring aspects of "Lost" that have made it the hit it is. First, while "Lost" is full of mysteries, we get answers to questions. Questions on "Lost" prove to be like the hydra--for every one question we answer, two more take its place--but questions are constantly being answered. These shows all seem to have one or two mysteries that are out there and hinted at, but never explained. Two of them are "What happened?", the other is "What's going to happen?", and every episode amounts to the characters shaking their heads and not learning nor revealing anything.

Secondly, "Lost" gives us in depth glimpses at the characters. "Jericho" and "Heroes" have given us some one-dimensional backstories for some characters, like the guy who wants to leave his wife or the Japanese guy who's... from Japan and acts all Japanese-y, and imply there are interesting histories and mysteries for others--like Skeet Ulrich's secret "other life" that hurt his parents so much or the single mom, internet stripper who blacks out and kills people while unconscious--but never seem to pay them off.

It's also worth mentioning Lost goes out of its way to make characters who are obviously different from one another. You'll never confuse Jack with Sayid nor Kate with Sun nor Locke with Sawyer. Outside of "the black guy," "the black guy's faux daughter," "the guy from Scream," "Major Dad," "nerdy kid," "shopkeeper Southern lady," and "oh... where do I know her from... she like the poor man's Dianne Wiest... crap, I'm going to have to look her up on IMDB... hey, he was on couple episodes of 'Simpsons'... Kindergarten Cop! That's where I know her from!"-lady, I don't know what's supposed to differentiate one "Jericho" character from any other. For that matter, when all those recognizable characters stand out only because of their race, stereotype, or previous acting gigs, that's not saying much about the diversity of the characterizations.

It could be argued these shows are still early in their runs and characters may be developed down the road, but for the purposes of comparison to "Lost," there simply is no comparison.


Blogger Sara J said...

I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you on Heroes - so far I'm totally digging it.

I mean, here's a show that has me saying, "Save the Cheerleader. Save the world." every week. Without laughing.

Amazing Race came close last night with, "Follow the blondes - they are the only ones that know what they're doing" - but that was painful to say.

I suspect that Heroes has some weird darkness that is going to be revealed in the next few episodes, like when Ali Larter and her ex-baby daddy clash.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Scott J said...

I have to agree with Sara about Heroes (I never gave Jericho or the Nin9 anytime so no comment there).

Additionally I am disappointed with your review of Heroes being about how the writer writes bad comics and one of the actors was on a different TV show (never watched it so I don't even know which actor/character you are talking about) and that character was an ass. You have obviously watched at least one episode of Heroes, if not all 4, but your review lacks the plot points that you supplied for both Jericho and the Nin9.

Some of the things Heroes has going for it is that you have the basic questions of what is each persons abilities, why these people, which of these people are good and which are bad, and what is with the symbol that keeps turning up? While some of those questions are being answered, mainly about the abilities, you have the new questions of why is the cheerleader important, what is so important about her biological parents, who/what is her adopted father, et cetera (enough with the minor spoilers).

I don't think that Heroes is trying to duplicate Lost, though others may be trying to, it is just a mystery that is trying to capitalize on the recent mainstream interest with superheroes.

4:50 AM  
Blogger aaron21 said...

Heroes is cool. It's a very intersting and kick butt type of show. And, it's not as comic book as you think it would be.

Jericho's a cool show. While yes there are some problems. But, besides a few shows on TV very few tv shows have that "perfect" first season. Even through that I'm going to be watching it.

Next week is the fall's finale and it looks like a good one.

7:36 PM  

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