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Monday, September 28, 2009

The Week That Was: Scanning one blogger's DVR tally

Last week was billed as the biggest on the Fall TV schedule -- and judging by my DVR tally (and the amount of time I spent on my couch this weekend) that was all too true. Having played catch-up with most high priority premieres and returning shows, here's my quick rundown on the week's winners and losers:

Winners:

"Modern Family": Very funny pilot, though I agree with Adam that its a little too cliche and familiar in spots. Particularly, the documentary style, which felt more like a distraction since it's already been beaten into the ground by NBC. Big points to ultra cool dad Phil (Ty Burrell), who managed to get the biggest laugh out of me by using the word "chillax" without a hint of irony.

"Cougar Town": A little scattered and too over-the-top in its preachiness -- did they really need to spell out the double-standard with men dating younger women that demonstratively? -- but overall, quite likable and even risque. Bill Lawrence ("Scrubs") has never been one to dial back on gushy life lessons, but the pilot established a smart, snarky tone (the aging real estate cougar was especially hilarious) and offered up some fun gender headbutting that should bode well for a full season pickup.

"Community": Strong debut, solid second episode. The B-plot in Thursday's new episode -- Britta's passion for global causes -- felt flimsy and forced, but Ken Jeong's appearance as uber-defensive Senor Chang (very funny) and Pierce's (Chevy Chase) delusional presentation with Jeff (Joel McHale) was like a cough medicine hallucination come to life. Still a lot of promise here even if the second episode didn't take a big step forward.

"The Amazing Race": There's a reason "Race" wins every Emmy (and should) for Best Reality Competition. It's revolutionary television. No other reality show can compete with the production value of an ongoing global adventure -- one that in a span of two hours stretched its considerable reach to Japan and Vietnam for hilarious (a Japanese game show with contestants choking down Wasabi bombs) and hardscrabble (getting caked in mud and herding ducks) challenges. Already, some villains (professional poker players Maria and Tiffany; meathead Lance and doormat Keri) have emerged, while others (Globetrotters Herb and Nate; good guys Zev and Justin, left) have jumped out as early crowd pleasers. Despite rarely tinkering with the formula -- though they eliminated a couple this year before the competition even started -- "Race" remains compellingly authentic TV.

"The Office": Dunder Mifflin is in a nice rhythm -- and all because they've stayed in the office for two straight episodes. Mining humor from the simplicity of Michael's ever pressing need to be included has resulted in some rapid fire riffs and even better plot development. Jim stepping up career wise -- and Michael attempting to hold him back -- also had a real moment of tension attached. Maybe the bar has been lowered, but some pretty funny stuff so far. Heck, I'm even looking forward to Jim and Pam's upcoming wedding.

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia": Another show that's rediscovered a nice, easygoing rhythm. No one is about to accuse the "Sunny" gang of "toning it down," but the last two episodes have felt a bit more restrained compared to last season's manic undertaking (kudos to FX for not airing new episodes back-to-back). In particular, the ending to "The Gang Exploits the Mortgage Crisis" was a stroke of genius, while "The Gang Hits the Road" kept things incredibly simple by containing its madcap comedy to a crowded car and flaming trailer. Plus, there was Charlie eating an entire pear and Sweet Dee's jar of urine splashing on Mac -- two uproarious moments that rank among the best gags in five seasons. Can't wait for Episode 11 and "Kitten Mittens," though.

Losers:

"Dancing with the Stars": When does 17.4 million viewers qualify as a disappointing start? When you're used to 21.4 million the year before. Tom Delay's debut certainly had some buzz Tuesday morning, but honestly, how long is the amusement of watching a creepy old man shake his diaper going to last? Confession: I tuned in to see the "Iron Chef" chairman dance and came away scarred by both Delay shaking his groove thang and the meager concept of this wretched, wretched TV show. Honestly, it isn't even the dancing, but rather those boring backstage interviews that absolutely horrify me. And really, how unbelievable is it that Delay, a man who wanted to abolish smut on television, is now bumping and grinding to "Wild Thing?"

"FlashForward": Maybe it'll get better over time, but the pilot had a chance to 'wow' and failed on every turn. Too big, too bloated and trying too hard to be "Lost." The cast -- which includes a few "Losties" -- seems solid though, and some of the future storylines carry promising bits of intrigue. It just needs to focus less on the big picture and bring character development and a more realistic pace into focus. Had higher expectations, that's all.

"The Beautiful Life": OK, so I didn't actually settle down to watch this. Then again, nobody did since it was already canceled by CW after two episodes. Sorry MJ, but even this Ashton Kutcher produced suckfest tanked faster than "Brothers." Points to everyone who picked it in the Fall TV Death Pool.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski, trozwado@greenbaypressgazette.com

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