Spies, Television

New Old Shows

January 13, 2012

I’ve added a handful of new TV sets to my casual viewing rotation, which should keep me busy for a while.  Here are two new (to me, anyway) discoveries, plus one not-so-new one:

Jenn and I finally started season one of The Gilmore Girls, a show I’ve heard a lot of positive buzz about over the years.  It’s a mother-daughter comedy-drama starring Lauren Graham as a neurotic, thirtysomething single mom and Alexis Bledel as her equally neurotic, intelligent daughter.  This show couldn’t look any less like my kind of thing, but so far it’s winning me over with its witty scripts and charming cast.  Graham and Bledel are both adorable, pre-dating what I thought was a Castle gimmick:  reversed responsibility roles in a parent-child relationship.  I could do without the show’s cheesy, la-la-la soundtrack – hey, you can’t have everything! – but otherwise I’m enjoying this one.

A more obvious pick for me is Homicide: Life on the StreetI impulse-purchased this during a Fry’s run over the holidays, probably in response to running out of NYPD Blues to watch (the majority of that show is still weirdly unavailable on DVD).  Like Blue, Homicide is an urban cop show focusing on a detective squad, here set in the less glamorous city of Baltimore.  Four episodes in, I’m discovering what I probably should have already known:  Homicide is pretty awesome.  It’s grittier, less flashy, and more realistic than the more famous Blue, and clearly a rawer precursor of The Wire – a show with which it shares a setting and a lot of creative personnel.  Its focus on one major case for the length of the season is refreshing in a genre often beset by unrealistically tidy case-of-the-week repetitiveness.  I’m looking forward to seeing this one through.

Finally, for after-work wind-down viewing – and because I’m a ridiculous completist – I picked up the first season of the recently released, late-1980s reboot of Mission: Impossible.  This one brings back memories:  it came out during my senior year of high school, and I remember being unreasonably excited about it, before the show’s sketchy quality and teenaged distraction caused me to lose track.  Alas, this remake (which lasted two abbreviated seasons) simply isn’t that good.  Born during the 1988 writer’s strike, Mission 2.0 looks good – the cast is attractive, production values are high, and the location work (it was shot in Australia) gives the show a better sense of real-world place than the original.  And it’s nice to see Peter Graves back in harness, slightly less credible but ever likeable.  Unfortunately it lacks the class, novelty, and artistry of the original series by a longshot, and its scripts are poor — the writers have, at best, a clumsy handle on the show’s unique story mechanics.  I’ll soldier through it, of course, since I missed a good many of them the first time around, but for non-completists, this one is easily missed.

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  • Bill Shunn January 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Since you’re a fan of his TV work, I can’t recommend David Simon’s book Homicide highly enough. It’s his account of his year spent essentially embedded with the Baltimore PD’s homicide squad, and it’s incredibly absorbing. Not to mention that it’s the basis of the series, and that you can get to know the real-life counterparts of several of the television characters.

    • Chris East January 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      Thanks for the rec, Bill…I’ll definitely put that on my list!

  • Philip Brewer January 13, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    We enjoyed Gilmore Girls through the years (except the last season, which sucked pretty bad). The writers were masters at pulling off what Jane Espenson calls “two-percenters”—the little jokes that only two percent of the audience is going to get.

    First of all, a lot more than two percent of the audience was going to get a lot of them, but they made them feel like two-percenters. Plus, they did so many of them, that even if half of them went over your head, you still felt like you were in on the joke.

    Every episode is a master course on how to pull that off.

    • Chris East January 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      So far, to me they don’t feel so much like inside jokes as really, really quick ones that blow right past you so quickly you don’t have a chance to laugh. But I’m intrigued to watch another episode soon in light of your comments…

      I forgot to mention in the review that a few years ago Jenn and I got to tour (thanks, Shelley!) the little Warner Bros. lot where they filmed Gilmore Girls. They do a pretty good job transforming a tiny patch of SoCal into New England! (And it’s fun to see the characters walking through places I’ve seen first-hand.)

      • Philip Brewer January 14, 2012 at 7:08 am

        Yeah, jokes probably isn’t the right word. Pop-culture references might be closer. But they play them for humor, so they work like jokes. But what impressed me was that I never felt left out of the joke. (As has happened sometimes, when I was reading a book and figured out that it was full of insider references that were going over my head.)

        Cool to be able to see the show after seeing the set. I remember that feeling (or the opposite, perhaps) when I lived briefly in Los Angeles, and was constantly seeing the landscape of all the TV shows I’d ever watched. Every drive to Malibu took me back to the Rockford Files.

        • Jenn Reese January 15, 2012 at 10:47 am

          This made me laugh since the beach where they filmed Rockford Files was one of the first places Chris wanted to see when he moved out here. We still go there sometimes, in fact.

          I think what works with the pop culture references in Gilmore Girls is that often Rory doesn’t even get the joke, so the audience doesn’t feel bad. It’s a character thing that Lorelei is constantly making jokes that no one else (except a few people in the audience) even get.

          • Chris East January 15, 2012 at 11:37 am

            When we drove down to the Rockford beach for the first time, I didn’t know that’s where we were heading…I totally geeked out! Went out on the pier and pictured having a cold one with Rocky. 🙂