SOS: Save Our (favorite) Shows!

The fiancée pointed out to me today that one of our new favorite shows, Life on Mars, will not be surviving to season 2.  This is a real shame; though it was a remake of a classic UK show, we’d grown really fond of the series.

In fact, there have been a lot of good shows on television this season; for the first time in a long time, I’ve actually found much of my weeknights filled up with good television viewing.  Quite a few of these shows, however, are wavering in the ratings and could share the fate of Life on Mars.  I thought I’d do a post about, and a general appeal for, those shows I’ve fallen in love with in recent months/years:

Life on Mars. I hadn’t really bothered to watch this show until last month, but once I did, I was immediately hooked.  This quirkly cop show is about a 2009 police detective who, after a traffic accident, finds himself inexplicably in the 1970s.  Episodes are a mixture of gritty/humorous crime drama and weird sci-fi strangeness.  A stellar cast makes the show mesmerizing, especially Harvey Keitel as an effective, on-the-edge police lieutenant and Michael Imperioli as a sexist police detective firmly entrenched in the 1970s.

Notable scene: (Imperioli is about to kick a suspect who is lying on the ground; Keitel stops him.)  Imperioli: “Boss, he killed a guy!”  (Pause.)  Keitel: “Okay, but just one.”

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  I really had my doubts about such a show.  After Terminator 3, I was convinced that the concept had been irretrievably broken.  I became more optimistic, however, when I learned that the series would be considered part of an ‘alternate timeline’ from T3; i.e. T3 never happened!  The show itself follows Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), her son John Connor, and a ‘friendly’ terminator from the future played by the infinitely charming Summer Glau, as they seek to thwart the creation of the computer system Skynet and the nuclear apocalypse it brings.

If the show had simply followed the ‘terminator chases Sarah & John’ formula of the three movies, it would have gotten tired very quickly.  There are multiple conspiracies afoot, however: human resistance members from the future have come to stop Skynet, and terminators have been sent by Skynet to infiltrate the highest echelons of society to make sure that it gets built!  In addition, there are hints of ‘rogue terminators’ in the future which are trying to destroy Skynet themselves!  The show is dark, moody and reflective, and sometimes slow going, but it maintains a great atmosphere of impending doom and shows us the psychological effect that this knowledge has on the characters.

Notable scene: In the season 1 finale, FBI agents raid the hotel room of a fugitive, not understanding that the fugitive is a near-unstoppable terminator and that they’re all completely doomed.  The scene is scored, and ominously foreshadowed, with the haunting Johnny Cash song, “When the man comes around,” which is fittingly about the biblical apocalypse.

Leverage.   Fortunately, this show just got renewed for a second season, but the fiancée and I were very worried about it!  This caper series is most concisely described as ‘an Ocean’s 11 a week’, in which a team of criminal specialists play Robin Hood and scam the rich and powerful of society who have hurt innocent people.  The show is very light-hearted, and relatively formulaic, but it is a very good popcorn entertainment.  The cast members are all exceedingly likeable, and are headed up by the still-way-cool Timothy Hutton, and their chemistry makes for a lot of very funny moments.  The capers are sometimes a bit unbelievable, but put in a little suspension of disbelief and you’ll have a good time!

Notable scene:  Eliot Spencer, martial artist on the team: “What smokes crack and screams like a little girl?” (Question to a drug dealer just before Eliot makes a mess of him.)

Burn Notice.  As far as I can tell, this show isn’t in any trouble, but I just want to rave about it anyway!  It is about a CIA agent named Michael Weston who gets ‘burned’ — declared a security risk — and forced to stay in Miami, doing odd spy-like jobs until he can use every trick he knows to figure out who ‘burned’ him.  The show is very realistic and gritty but maintains a light-hearted tone throughout.  My favorite part are the voice-overs by Michael: in every ‘spy tactics’ scene, Michael calmly explains the psychological and technical tricks he uses to get things done.  The show is just wrapping up season 2, and has held my interest throughout.

The supporting cast is excellent, too: I originally started watching the show because Michael’s best friend, Sam, is played by the coolest actor in the world, Bruce Campbell!

Notable scene: (Michael is driving his car off-road, backwards,  in an attempt to avoid police pursuit.) Voice-over: Airbags are great for surviving crashes but they make some evasive maneuvers tough. Gone are the days when you could run through a stand of trees without a face full of nylon. Of course anything you used to do head-on you can still do…but it’s a little hard on anyone who’s stuffed in your trunk.

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8 Responses to SOS: Save Our (favorite) Shows!

  1. Joshua says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who appreciates Sarah Connor Chronicles! The Ellison/Weaver/John Henry stuff gets a little heavy-handed at times, but generally speaking the twisty-turny conspiracy plots are great. And I was especially stunned to find that they managed to make John Connor not come off as a whiny ingrate, despite the fact that he’s still going through the usual refusing-his-destiny arc that always turns fictional teens into irredeemable brats.

    • Joshua: I agree about the E/W/JH stuff, though I’m intrigued to see where they’re going with it. Now that you mention it, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that the writers (and actor) managed to make John Connor a likeable character even with all the teen angst. The character strikes the right balance between sad teen and troubled adult.

  2. Mary says:

    Terminator and Burn Notice are my first and second favorite things on TV these days. They trade off, depending on my mood. They leave the other shows I still watch (24 and and Heroes) in their dust. In particular 24 should be embarrassed that it is not half as believable as either one. I imagine those instructional voice-overs from Michael Westen as targetted at Jack Bauer. Listen and learn, Jack.

    • Mary: Wow, Heroes really jumped the shark, didn’t it? I’m still watching it at this point in part because I’m fascinated to see how much they can make me hate all the characters I fell in love with in season 1.

      24 lost me a few years ago, partly because it was getting too hard to suspend disbelief in the face of yearly 24-hour terrorism crises, and partly because the show became ‘exhibit A’ in conservative arguments about the necessity of torture. It’s a TV show, guys, not a real-life case study!

  3. I notice that Lostis conspicuously absent from the list. Did you give up on that? At your urging I did watch the first and second seasons. I thought the first was brilliant, but by season two it was getting really obvious that the producers were starting to spread the story too thin, so I found a better use for my limited TV time: Dr. Who!

    I’m watching the first season of Heroes now, and I’ve been warned that season is the only season that I should watch. I’m four episodes in, and I still have not really warmed up to it, but I have faith in your judgment.

  4. PD: Actually, I really like Lost, even more now than in previous seasons! The only reason I didn’t include it in my list is that it seems pretty safe from cancellation.

    The writers have gone all out this season, and the show is overly and gloriously over-the-top weird. Pieces of the story from previous seasons that you’d say, “Gosh, they’ll never fit that into any coherent plot,” are starting to make a reappearance in interesting ways.

    For me, seasons 2 and 3 were sort of so-so, though punctuated by flashes of real cleverness. Season 4 (which brought in Brian K. Vaughan as a writer/producer) suddenly picked things up and became really compelling again. This season, I really find myself looking forward to the next week’s episode!

    Dr. Who is, of course, also an awesome show. David Tennant has entered my personal ‘hall of fame’ as one of the coolest actors ever, along with Bruce Campbell…

  5. Mary says:

    Heroes barely has a coherent plot any more. It’s just all over the place. And yes, 24 is downright offensive at times, not to mention wildly implausible on every level and inexcusably internally inconsistent in its plots. (I could rant.) It’s doing something sort of meta this season, having its characters actually argue at length about whether torture can ever be justified. I think it’s a good sign that they’ve raised the question, but insofar as it has tried to answer it so far, the answer seems to be pretty unambiguously “yes.” The most annoying part is that the plot is so silly that it begins to seem like the whole plot is just an elaborate hypothetical set up to justify torture, the classic “ticking time bomb” scenario is pretty much the plot of every episode now — we have a source who told us that something “high casualty” is about to go down, but doesn’t tell us where or when. Nobody asks “Seriously? What the hell is wrong with your source? What’s with the cryptic warnings? What’s the point?” And nobody decides to torture or even interrogate this source at all, either.

    I guess I *did* rant.

    But I have a hard time giving up on shows once I’ve started watching them. This is the reason I am also still watching Dollhouse. Leverage and Life on Mars sound better, I’d have to say. I’ll have to give those a try.

    I am watching Lost season one on DVD at the moment as well. That’s fun, but since I watched every episode of Alias, I know better than to think J.J. Abrams is actually going somewhere with his mythology.

    I want to be watching Chuck, but since it is on opposite something (Terminator?) I missed the first half of the season for lack of a DVR. I’m recording them now and will probably get caught up this summer. I’m awaiting the return of Reaper on the CW, which I think is this month. And I’m mourning the loss of Pushing Daisies.

    • Mary wrote: “That’s fun, but since I watched every episode of Alias, I know better than to think J.J. Abrams is actually going somewhere with his mythology.”

      That’s a fair concern, and not just something to worry about with Abrams! I’ve blogged in the past about the fact that I can hardly recall a show which actually ended well: either the show does poorly in the ratings, in which case it is dumped without closure, or it does well in the ratings, and is strung along until nobody cares anymore (exhibit A: X-Files). Lost is promising because last season Abrams negotiated an end-date for the series, with the explicit intention of plotting a coherent and consistent story-arc and ending. Will it play out well? I can’t be sure, of course, but as I said, this season has been a blast!

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