Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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TV O.D. : Fall ‘07 Season Blitz, Day 1

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 19, 2007

Life is easy, new TV is hard

Don’t say we here at IITS never gave you anything. For the next two-three weeks, I’ll be running through as many new premieres–some old faces, but mostly the new ones–as I’m around to catch the season primetime debut of. Some of them will (hopefully) be good, the great majority of them most likely will be not, but the important thanks is that you, the reader, will be spared the misery and humiliation of wading through this unchartered territory yourselves. Just sit back and let us take the hit for you–after all, that’s what we’re here for.

Back to You
(Wednesdays, 8-8:30 PM, FOX)

Starring: Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Fred Willard, Laura Marano

Premise: Obnoxious news anchor Chuck Darling (Grammer) returns to the Pittsburgh station he worked for ten years prior after being fired from his current, better gig for an accidental on-air outburst. Back in Pittsburgh, he rejoins sports guy Marsh McGinley (Willard) and former co-anchor Kelly Carr (Heaton), with whom he shared a tempetuous off-screen relationship that blossomed into a one-time affair, which may have resulted in Carr’s ten-year-old daughter Gracie (Marano).

Thoughts: I’ll openly admit it–I went into Back to You expecting to hate it. In fact, I sort of wanted to hate it–I resented the pre-premiere buzz the show got as the “return of the classic sitcom!,” as if a show with a cliched set-up, predictable punchlining and 1-D characters is really what TV needs at the moment. What’s more, I found the supposed prestige behind the show–Heaton and Grammer have a combined six Emmys between them (seven if you count Grammer’s win for voicing Sideshow Bob)–to be fairly bullshit, considering that Frasier was the worst thing about Frasier and that nothing about Everybody Loves Raymond ever eclipsed unwatchability. Willard’s a cool guy, yeah, but the show was gonna need way more than his reliable support to make the magic happen.

Unsurprisingly, “magical” is not among the first words to come to mind when discussing Back to You. The show is basically everything the previews promised–Grammer and Heaton’s chemistry is definitely solid, if not groundbreaking, and Willard seems to be playing the same character as his Anchorman newsman, though if he gets a line half as good as “put down the gun and let the marching band go, we’ll play it off as a prank,” I’ll eat my hat, provided that someone provides me with an edible hat. But there’s nothing new in the characters here, and nothing particularly interesting–Grammer merely plays the arrogant asshole we always knew Frasier Crane secretly was, Heaton doesn’t get to do much but play his more down-to-earth foil, and the rest of the cast (Josh Gad as the station’s inexperienced, sweaty coordinator, Ayda Field as the slutty weathergirl, Ty Burrell as the embittered field correspondent) are all one-noters, unlikely to evolve much, not that the show would want them too anyway.

The dialogue is predictably snappy–characters enter and exit scenes for the sole purpose of being at the right place at the right time for their requisite one-liners, and there are a couple of legit zingers, but the whole affair feels plug and play and more importantly, utterly boring. The newsroom seems like it should be a dynamite breeding ground for such off-the-wall wackiness, and it’s surprising that no one else has thought to set a show there recently, but the zaniness in Back to You feels contrived and bland.

Hit Potential?: Likely. Back to You is unmistakably mediocre, but it’s very good at being mediocre, and given that the two most ratings-successful fictional shows of the last few years have been CSI and Two and a Half Men, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the nation still has a taste for that sort of well-constructed averageness. Add in a couple of stars playing within their type, and Back to You should fit over the US like a warm blanket.

Worth Watching?: Not if you hold creativity, originality, excitement, or really even entertainment among your priorities for TV. Indeed, Back to You is the much-ballyhooed “return of the sitcom,” revealed as the complete waste of time it always was.

Gossip Girl
(Wednesday, 9:00, CW)

Starring: Blake “4th Chick in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” Lively, Leighton Meester, a bunch of other people with rich person names

Premise: An unseen but all-knowing gossip columnist (voice of Kristen Bell, now officially the First It Girl of the CW) narrates the story of a group of rich Manhattan socialite high-schoolers, focused around the return of Serena van der Woodsen (Lively), the school’s party queen. Serena left nine months previously under mysterious circumstances, revealed to be in some way connected to the one-night stand she had with Nate (Chace Crawford), the boyfriend of her best friend and now principal rival, Blair Waldorf (Meester). Also receiving attention are Dan and Jenny Humphrey (Penn Badgely and Taylor Momsen), the two outsider-y kids of former rock star Rufus Humphrey (Matthew Settle).

Thoughts: Was prejudiced going into this one as well, though in the opposite direction–I’ve been waiting for a decent teen drama to surface since the stagnation of The O.C. a few years ago, and who better than O.C. mastermind Josh Schwartz to be the man behind it? And I gotta say, judging from the first episode, I think this could be it–Gossip Girl packs the same kind of giddy thrill that The O.C. had in its early episodes, both the voyeuristic delight of getting an all-access pass to the seedy world of people richer, prettier and more charismatic than you are and the rush of feeling like, with the outsider kids as proxies, that you’re actually beindgincluded yourself.

First of all, the thing moves. Within the five minutes before the credits roll, you’ve already got all the major characters and themes introduced, given much assistance by Bell’s Voice of God-like narration. The editing is brisk, the directing sharp, the dialogue…unobtrusive. The music ain’t hurting matters, neither–Schwartz has always had an excellent ear for soundtracking, and betweeen the hits (Timberlake, Akon, Timbaland) and indier tracks (Cold War Kids, Peter Bjorn & John) used, the music always keep things exciting.

And the setting…well, it’s sort of shocking that it took this long for producers to greenlight a show set in the rich-bitch Manhattan universe. Aside from the geographic concerns–the show uses real-life New York settings all around the city, and they sure are nicer than the ones I seem to be spending time around–setting the show in the city that never sleeps makes the whole thing feel like a sped-up (or, I suppose, coked-up) 90210, a world where friends refer to each other by their first initials and text messages are the most reliable form of communication.

Plus, the “Gossip Girl” pretext–named for the fictional blog written by Bell’s unseen character, which chronicles the misadventures of the main characters and is constantly checked and referenced by the characters throughout the show–puts the thing in a distinctly 21st century setting, a post-Hilton/Reid/Lohan universe in which the right person throwing up in a bar toilet is potentially banner news. It’s an inevitable advancement in the genre, and even if it’s sort of cheesy in parts (sorry, no one takes the time to browse the internet in the middle of a party, no matter how good the gossip. Right?) it feels like some sort of progress.
Hit Potential?: If it keeps up this pace, most definitely. Nothing sparkles quite like a world you know you’ll never be a part of (Entourage, anyone?) and with an already-instilled fanbase from the book series of the same name the show is based on and with a pro like Schwartz at the helm, it’s hard to imagine this not being a breakout hit. That’s not to say the show’s a lock quite yet, though–pilots can get away without developing characters, but as the series advances, if they can’t come up with at least one truly likeable, relatable character, viewers may feel a bit too left out to stick with it.

Worth Watching?: So far, so good–if you still have the patience for quality teen drama, anyway. Still too surface-focused to know if it’ll be worth going the distance for, but The O.C. didn’t dig too deep with its pilot either, so for now I’m gonna try to give Schwartz and company the benefit of the doubt.

On Deck for Tomorrow: The premiere of Kid Nation, the return of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

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4 Responses to “TV O.D. : Fall ‘07 Season Blitz, Day 1”

  1. Someone From Your Past said

    It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia returned last week, my friend.

  2. Asher said

    My thoughts exactly on Back to You. Can’t wait to see what you thought of Kid Nation.

  3. Andrew Unterberger said

    eh, just as well, I haven’t seen the first two seasons yet anyway.

  4. mdf--- said

    I have to say I couldn’t disagree more with the comments on Frasier and Raymond, but from what I’ve seen of “Back to You” it does look poor.

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