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To TiVo or Not to Tivo? (part 2)
by david   October 20, 2005

earl, bones, prison break, extras This is part two of David's brief assessment of the new 2005 fall TV shows. These capsule reviews are based on the first one, two or (in the case of a few shows which started early this season) three episodes. They are definitive and binding -- you have no choice but to agree with them.
(David is a licensed televisionologist, having logged over 500,000 hours of quality, hardcore TV watching in his short lifetime.)

tivo My Name is Earl
(NBC, sitcom, starring Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee, Jaime Pressly, Eddie Steeples & Nadine Velazquez)

I was on board with Earl from moment one. I'm a big Jason Lee fan (which, I suppose, is just an extension of my love for Kevin Smith's work, though I will say that I'm willing to cut Lee a lot more slack than I do Smith, who, after all this time, retains some serious first-time-filmmaker problems in all his movies), I come from hearty redneck stock (my dad has a moustache down to his jawline, and in recent years refuses to wear anything other than overalls, often without a shirt in warm weather), and I have long had the skanky trailer-trash hots for Jaime Pressley. Plus, the concept was simple and fantastic -- white-trash loser + karmic awareness = hilarity.

My Name is Earl does not disappoint. Each episode (I've seen three so far) is stronger than the previous, and offers 22 minutes of great fun. There are infrequent misfires in each episode, and it seems still to be experiencing a little bit of awkward new-show growing pains (sometimes pacing seems off, and not every guest star "gets" the premise the way you'd hope), but the fact that it just keeps getting better, tighter and more polished with each episode is extremely encouraging (the most recent episode, featuring guest star Giovani Ribisi, was top-to-bottom fantastic). The regular cast is incredible -- all seem to have slipped easily and comfortably into their roles, especially Pressley, who was born to play Earl's ex-wife -- and the producers' choice to eschew the live audience/laugh track and stick to the more expensive single-camera style sitcom (as with Sports Night and Scrubs) was 100% on-the-money. I wish more sitcoms could be so bold in their choice of actors, subject matter and production style. Since that will never happen, I'll just be satisfied that Earl is great, and keeps getting better.

tivo Bones
(FOX, crime drama, starring David Boreanaz, Emily Deschanel, Michaela Conlin, Eric Millegan, TJ Thyne & Jonathan Adams)

The creators of Bones certainly have the formula down:

  1. Haunted attractive brainy scientist as the mysterious but sympathetic lead
  2. Hunky, manly, rough-with-a-heart cop-type to provide the bridge between science and crime and punch people
  3. A couple of wacky, quirky, "against type" (a girl computer specialist? No you didn't!) supporting science geeks (affectionately called "squints")
  4. Plenty of contemporary music playing over all the boring scince stuff
  5. Holograms

Problem is, Bones shows nothing that will set it above, or even at the same level as CSI, CSI: New York, or even the abysmal CSI: Miami, to say nothing of the half-dozen other "Science Cop" shows out there, save perhaps a legion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fans, and the fact that Dechanel's forensic anthropologist character's nickname is -- are you ready for it? -- "Bones." And oh, does she hate that nickname. Bones simply cannot rise above the pack of procedural crime dramas which are currently choking the airwaves, and it is nowhere near as good as the best of them.

tivo Prison Break
(FOX, drama/thriller, starring Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller, Amaury Nolasco, Stacy Keach, Peter Stormare & Robert Knepper)

"Skeptical" does not begin to describe how I felt as the first wave of Prison Break commercials washed over my television this summer. I mean, a prison break might be a good premise for a film (see The Great Escape and the Shawshank Redemption), but how much TV can you really get out of it? Four episodes? Five? And then what? When Shannon added it to our fall TiVo list, I scoffed. "Fine, whatever. I give it two episodes. Tops."

At this point I officially admit I was wrong. The show has it's stumbles, including some bad acting in a few of the supporting characters and sometimes distressingly transparent story and writing in the secondary plotlines, but as a whole it is a well-crafted thriller with a clever through-line and some really solid character work. Purcell and Miller are appropriately intense as incarcerated brothers (one on death row for a crime he did not commit, the other purposefully in jail to break the former out before he is executed), Nolasco does great work as the unbelievably pleasant cell-mate, and Stormare and Knepper, a prison gang boss and a sexual predator named "Tea-Bag," respectively, add fantastic flavor to what might easily have become a sea of prison-movie stereotypes.

While Prison Break isn't my favorite show on TV, I do find it very intriguing, especially in that the prison break itself appears, four or five episodes in, about to occur. What will become of these characters on the outside is something I hadn't considered in my initial skepticism about the show, and, honestly, I'm excited to find out what happens next.

tivo Extras
(HBO, comedy, starring Ricky Gervais, Maggie Jacobs & Stephen Merchant)

I'm a gigantic fan of the original British series The Office, so it should be no surprise that I am similarly in love with Ricky Gervais' newest endeavor, Extras. Coincidentally, both series strike at the heart of my daily life -- my day job is in the blandest cubicle farm imaginable, so every aspect of The Office was instantly recognizable (which made the whole thing simultaneously supremely funny and agonizingly sad), and I'm an actor who spent no small amount of time early on in my career doing "extra" work.

It's that "background performer" or "extra" work that Gervais' Extras is centered around. Gervais plays a wanna-be actor who makes ends meet through background work. He is in his early forties, his career is going nowhere, his agent is a complete fuck-up (change "forties" to "thirties" and you can use the entire previous phrase in my current bio as well), and his time on-set, thanks to his trouble with interpersonal relationships and his dimwitted friend, Jacobs, is a torture.

In the end, Extras is about pretty much the same thing as The Office, and it's lead-in, the hilarious Curb Your Enthusiasm: a regular guy, trying to get ahead, trying to make his mark and gain the love and/or attention of as many people as possible, who is thwarted at every turn by his own self-sabotaging inability to communicate with those around him. It's also wrapped in painful realism (it is very clear that some or all of the brilliant writing staff have spent a good deal of time as extras) and filled with fantastic performers, just as The Office before it. And, thankfully, in the hands of a genius like Gervais, this formula continues to pay big dividends, making Extras one of the funniest shows on television.

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