TV, critics, personal taste: 2007 early season musings

Yes, we watch TV. Not a huge amount (certainly no 21 hours a week). If you don’t count the weekly Netflix movie, figure anywhere from 42 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes a night, with most nights an hour or less–during the summer, just plain 42 to 48 minutes a night (the run length of great old and newer series on DVD–48 minutes for the older ones, 42 minutes for some of the newest).

Not, as it turns out, enough to justify Expanded Basic cable at Comcast’s steadily increasing rates–I figured out that we–well, I–watched a total of about 20 hours a year on channels beyond the true basic, and given the differential of $35/month, I didn’t think that particular viewing was worth $21 an hour. (Just off hand, I can’t think of any TV viewing that’s worth $21 an hour!) [A curious twist: When we dropped back to basic basic, which Comcast gave me surprisingly little guff about, the one Expanded Basic channel I was watching was adjacent to a must-carry basic basic channel, so it's still visible. For now.]

One reason we haven’t purchased a DVR yet: Given how little we watch or want to watch, it’s hard to justify the monthly fee for a TiVo, and that’s about all that’s left on the market. (We still have an S-VHS VCR. For now, that’s good enough.)

But hey, come the new season, we’re willing to give some things a try, looking at show descriptions, local reviews, other sources. Rarely anything at 10 p.m. (I’m an early bird–we’re taping Men in Trees), no procedurals or other cop series, very few over-laugh-tracked comedies.
This season began with some intriguing and odd possibilities (heavily overlapping circles) and our big-paper local critic had definite thoughts on them, mostly similar to most other TV critics, from what I can see. For series we were at least mildly interested in, those thoughts could be summarized:

  • Reaper: The hot series, must watch, great stuff.
  • Chuck: Maybe OK, but derivative and with too many similarities to Reaper, which after all, is a sure thing winner.
  • Pushing Daisies: Quirky as all get out but an outside possibility.
  • Moonlight: It got the rare SF Chronicle #5 Little Man: The empty chair, the worst possible rating. The review was scathing even by this reviewer’s harsh standards. But, hey, we watch Angel on DVD and loved Buffy–might another “good vampire” series be worth trying?
  • Back to You: Great cast, but will anybody really watch an old-fashioned three-camera sitcom in the 21st century?
  • Aliens in America: Much more favorably reviewed as a fresh new comedy.

So Reaper was the sure thing…

Now, what follows are what we think; there’s no reason anybody else should agree. That said:

  • Moonlight: The critic was right. We couldn’t make it through 15 minutes before giving up. Without Joss Whedon’s genius, this was just a mess. Cross that one off.
  • Reaper: Strong start, but it seems to be a one-trick pony and the ensemble isn’t gelling very well. We’ve basically given up on this one. (Great Devil, though–but even there, a one-trick role.) Gone.
  • Chuck: Here, the ensemble seems to keep getting stronger and the premise allows an unusually wide latitude. We’re sold on this one, at least for now. (As always, your mileage may vary.) I’d say the critic was too enchanted by Reaper and too negative about Chuck.
  • Pushing Daisies: Yes. A mannered show (the saturated color palette, the deadpan vocal deliveries, the nature of the narration) and a completely bizarre premise (not that Chuck and Reaper have, shall we, say, everyday premises)–but the cast, writers, directors pull it off with style. Here, too, the critic was right (for our tastes).
  • And the two sitcoms are both, well, sitcoms. I screwed up taking Back to You, missing the show entirely, and we weren’t particularly upset–but the cast is solid and we’ll watch it when it’s convenient and there’s nothing better to do. Aliens in America–well, so-so.

Otherwise? I already mentioned Men in Trees We’re still enjoying Bones (although it’s certainly odd as an 8 p.m. series). Oh, and of course, How I Met Your Mother–and, with Dana Delaney added, Desperate Housewives. We’ll probably lose at least one more as the season progresses…
Is there a point here? Mostly that, when two shows have somewhat similar premises (mostly that the key characters in both Chuck and Reaper work in big-box stores), it’s hard to tell which will thrive and which will wither–and that, for us, it’s mostly up to whether the ensemble works and whether the premise turns out to be stultifying.

4 Responses to “TV, critics, personal taste: 2007 early season musings”

  1. Karin Dalziel Says:

    I am really enjoying Pushing Daisies, which I watch (in surprisingly good quality) on abc.com.

  2. walt Says:

    Last season, we watched one episode of something we’d missed–Men in Trees, I think–on my 19″ LCD, I believe from abc.com, and the quality was indeed a lot better than we expected.

    Not quite the same thing as on our decade-old 32″ TV, though, much less a high-def big screen (somewhere down the road…)

    Now, if any reader knows of a DVR (maybe a DVD recorder with hard disk?) that doesn’t require a monthly subscription fee…and isn’t outrageously expensive: Let me know. Around here, that market category seems to have disappeared.

  3. Jay Datema Says:

    EyeTV meets your requirements, I think.

  4. walt Says:

    Thanks for the suggestion (which was flagged for moderation for some reason). From what I can see, EyeTV is a DVR peripheral for a Mac. That doesn’t meet my requirements for two reasons:

    1. It’s a computer peripheral, not a separate device.

    2. It attaches to a Mac, and I have no plans to leave the Windows fold.

    If a PC-based DVR was what I was looking for, I’d change my requirements for my next PC (easy enough: my second choice at the moment has a TV tuner and DVR software built-in, as do a fair number contemporary PCs)–but I also don’t plan to move my PC to the living room.

    Actually, looking at Fry’s/Outpost.com, I do see one possibility, a Philips DVD recorder/hard disk video recorder for $330. So maybe there is hope (although buying that means that, when we go to HD, I have a $330 doorstop…)


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