One word impressions of major premieres

One word summaries of my reactions to various premieres this season so far.

Chuck:  Meh.

Heroes, Season Two, Episode One:  Booyah!

The Big Bang Theory:  Bleah.

Journeyman:  Hmm.

Reaper:  Smirk.

More detailed reactions (with some minor spoilerage) beneath the fold.

Fantasy and sci fi dramas have been increasing in numbers over the past few years.  There are probably lots of reasons why this is so: the second wave of computer and sci fi geeks has grown up and are spending less time playing Dungeons and Dragons, for one; we live in tumultuous times, which are always friendly to genre shows and movies, for another; plus, shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica proved suddenly that such shows can actually be good.

This season, though, it seems that producers have gotten it into their heads that nerds really want to watch more television, and that what they really want to watch are shows about nerds.  This resulted in the spawning of two new nerd-centric shows:  Chuck and The Big Bang Theory, along with lots of other genre shows.  Last night saw the premiers of both of these shows, as well as the season premiere of Heroes.

First, Chuck.  I understand that when the first episode of this show was showed at Comic-Con, it got a standing ovation.  I’m not sure I know why.  There were some cool elements to the show, and I liked its occasional forays into over-the-top campiness (the ninja fight scene was particularly spiffy), and the premise is interesting.  However, I felt like the writers simply consulted a book full of currently popular nerd tropes and piled them on top of some standard mid-quality action fare.  It’s a show about a nerd, but if nerds are their target audience — which I suspect it is, since it’s on just before Heroes — you’d think they do more to get the computer technology elements correct.  The climax pivoted on a brand of laptop computer that Chuck was familiar with having a "DOS override prompt", but what the hell is that?  I imagine that it’s meant to recall the way you can switch from a GUI to a terminal mode in a Linux system, but that isn’t how it looked on the screen.  It was simply technobabble, and it annoyed me that the writers felt it was sufficient to name a few X-Box games to make it nerd friendly.

I think they were trying to go for a sort of Office Space meets The Matrix feel, but it just didn’t work out.  I don’t think this show will last; if it lasts more than four episodes it will be due entirely to its placement ahead of Heroes.

Second, The Big Bang Theory.  I had low expectations when I watched this show, and they were fulfilled.  I guess that I had hoped for something edgier, something more like the BBC’s The IT Crowd, but this one fell totally flat.  Perhaps nerds are popular this season, but this show felt like it was written by the jocks and the bullies that used to beat the nerds up in high school.  The stereotypes were way too over the top, and the characters looked and acted not like the nerds I know and work with but like rejects from Revenge of the Nerds, and the popular stereotypes from the 80’s.  Lots of technobabble and science talk got thrown around in this show.  I will hand it to the writers, they seemed to know what they were talking about when it came to things like the particle/wave duality of light (as if I’d know any better, of course), but that’s about all they got right.  I’ll be surprised if this show lasts more than a couple of episodes.

The good news is that Heroes is back, and kicking as much ass as ever. I was very glad with how the season ended last year: the major storyline wrapped up, but with enough teaser mysteries to keep us all excited for the next season.  Episode One did what I think that show does best: engages the viewer in the complicated mysteries behind the mythos that Tim Kring has built up, gives us hints at deeper stories, and more.  How fun is it to see Hiro back in action, and to see Noah Bennet back to his good guy with an edge of evil ways.  We got a hint of darker conspiracies going on, and we got to see some interesting new characters as well.  I’m particularly intrigued by Hiro’s encounter with his hero, the medieval sumurai Kensei.

I think that it’s a natural tendency, among many fans of many shows, to keep escalating expectations for the show, such that if the show isn’t constantly improving in quality, then the fans feel let down.  I suspect Heroes will suffer from this problem as well.  So far, I think it’s delivering on its promises.

Journeyman started off with a sound storyline and intriguing premise.  Our hero — who is eerily reminiscent of John Simms from Life On Mars — finds himself somehow "unstuck" in time, living a Billy Pilgrim sort of life ((Billy Pilgrim was the protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel, Slaughterhouse Five, for all you uncultured Philistines out there)) , flipping back and forth between the present and various periods of time in the past, from ten to twenty years.  There are hints at deeper secrets here as well: who is this mysterious Livia, with whom our hero had an affair some years ago before she was vanished in that plane crash?  It seems that she has also become unstuck in time, and seems to have some answers.  Will she show up again?  Clips from future episodes hint that she will.  I find myself intrigued by this show, and I will watch it at least a couple more times.

Finally, tonight I caught Reaper.  Since it airs on the CW, the unholy merging of the WB and UPN, I was naturally worried that this show would end up being horrific, but I was pleasantly surprised.  There were some weaknesses that haunt every pilot episode of every series: time that needs to be spent establishing characters and the situation, for example, though it seemed this show did less of that than others have in the past.  I particularly liked Ray Wise as the Devil.  He’s got a sort of diabolical Jack Nicholson feel to him.  And the Devil is generally nice and sympathetic, though every now and then he comes up with something to remind us that yes, he is the Devil, and therefore evil and scary.

What surprised me the most about Reaper was that Kevin Smith was involved with it.  I had no idea until I saw his name in the credits as both executive producer and director.  But I think that even if I hadn’t known he was involved, I would have thought the writers were still influenced by him; the idea of supernatural entities being involved in even the most mundane activities of human lives, for example, feels very Kevin Smith; and, of course, the idea of a Dirt Devil being a tool for sucking up an escaped demon feels VERY Kevin Smith.  There were also quite a few subtle geek culture references that reminded me of the way Kevin Smith might have done things; the way Sam used telekineis to bring the Dirt Devil to him, just like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, for example.  As an homage to geek culture, Reaper is far more successful than either Chuck or The Big Bang Theory (which I still maintain is just insulting).

Much as I enjoyed this show, I think Reaper has some serious flaws that I hope will be addressed in future episodes.  Women characters are given seriously short shrift; Sam’s mother barely shows up at all, and Andi’s only role is to provide a source of sexual attraction for the male leads.  She’s portrayed as a successful college student who’s just working in the same dead-end job as
Sam and his friends because she has "low standards".  I think it’s a given that she’ll end up involved with Sam, who himself dropped out of college after one month because it "put him to sleep".  I don’t really care for the successful-woman-with-loser trope, and I’m annoyed that it’s being used here.

Still, it was funny enough for me to set up my DVR to record it on a weekly basis.  The only difficulty now is that it’s on at the same time as House.

Life was easier when television sucked.

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