Monday, November 14, 2011

Notes on Pop Culture: TV Season Thus Far = Some Good, Some So-So

The fall TV season is about to go on its typical holiday break which means we’re soon going to be seeing an uptick in repeats through the new year. Grey’s Anatomy, for example, has already aired its last episode of 2011. While I’ve already extolled the virtues of the new shows Homeland and Boss here, how have other favorite TV shows being doing thus far this season?

Grey’s Anatomy: It’s had an up and down start to its eighth season. While the last episode before the holiday hiatus was solid, the softball one was the weakest episode in some time and the weeks upon weeks of Derek being a sanctimonious withholding jerk were hugely grating, never mind a gigantic turn-off. Made me despise his character. Now that we’ve learned that Meredith and Derek have lost Zola, I’m wondering what horrendous thing the writers are going to do to Meredith next as Teddy mourns her husband and Cristina likely goes into shock again, not long after she regained her emotional equilibrium after the mass shooting. (To read reviews of this season’s episodes thus far, I’ve been reviewing them over on CliqueClack TV.)

The Good Wife: This show seems as though it’s been keeping things on the down-low for a lot of the season thus far. It doesn’t seem to be taking as many chances as it has in the past and the Alicia-Will affair has, with the exception of the season premiere, been mostly under wraps, cloaked in nuanced bits of conversation in Will's glass office or aluded to in coded ways. Their relationship has not been a huge focus of Alicia's world as her attention has been split between her kids and a boatload of casework lately.

The incremental increase in the pressure the angry and jealous Peter Florrick is applying to Will in the form of an investigation into Will's actions has made for good television. Plus we don't really know if Will has been thoroughly on the up-and-up in all his business dealings. I hope the slow build will pay off, much like the big reveal about Kalinda did last season. The writers have got to know that they've raised the stakes with its stellar second second.

Seeing Eli Gold on a regular basis, now that his offices are inside Lockhart/Gardner and hearing his witty one-liners has been a wonderful addition. (The “Here. Comes. Santa.” line in the latest episode was great.) And now that Peter is getting closer to finding out for sure that Alicia and Will are sleeping together, the tension that’s been at a low boil will start to heat up.

Up All Night: I’ve also been reviewing Up All Night, the freshman Christina Applegate and Will Arnett comedy about neurotic new parents. After a bit of charming awkwardness and lack of clarity as to what role the Ava (Maya Rudolph) character should play, the show has hit its creative stride.

Its best show of the season was the latest one where Reagan and Chris had a hard time trying to get away for a romantic evening at a hotel together in order to snap their multi-week romantic dry spell. I also loved seeing Reagan’s therapist parents, Toby from The West Wing and Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom Blythe Danner. I hope they’ll return for guest spots.

Parenthood: Here’s another show that has been hot and cold thus far this season, though it’s had more quality moments than cruddy ones. The latest episode is an example of the quality that we know Parenthood writers can deliver when they want to. They provided Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham) with some meaty material (it’s about damned time) involving her ex-husband Seth (played by the excellent John Corbett), and featured some thoroughly charming, achingly loving scenes between Adam and his wife Kristina who recently gave birth and who is still adjusting to the changes in her body. (I also review this show weekly here.)

What needs work? Figuring out what to do with Jasmine, Amber and Zeek who had the misfortune of having a storyline about starring in erectile dysfunction drug ads. I also hope that my concerns about where they're headed with this whole coffee cart gal adoption thing are misplaced.

Modern Family: As much as it pains me to write this, I’ve been distinctly underwhelmed by this season’s offerings from my favorite comedy, the episode above – where Phil made a string of mistakes when caring for the kids while Claire was trying to launch her bid for City Council (accidentally drugging Alex and giving Luke a shiner) – notwithstanding.

From the episode where Cam tried to pick up a woman just to prove that he could (so uncomfortable and so unfunny) and the one where Jay was acting like a grumpy old man who wouldn’t go out salsa dancing with Gloria (so tired and disappointing), to Claire getting drunk and going out with Cam and Mitchell’s friends, there have been several unfortunate misfires.

I don’t know what to make of the paucity of really strong material as of late -- the expectations are ridiculously high given their Emmy prowess --  but I’ve got my fingers crossed that the Modern Family writers get their mojo back. And soon.

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