I sampled most of the season’s new offerings last month and wound up adding several to my regular roster. With some, the luster faded after a few episodes.
For example, “The Class” started out funny and emotionally involving — rare for a sitcom — then quickly became formulaic and only mildly funny, very much like every other sitcom.
I was thrilled with the first few episodes of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” then realized I’m only interested in the behind-the-scenes TV stuff, NOT the characters. Last week’s episode, which didn’t deal with the production of their TV show at all, is what made me realize it. In the first few minutes there was an exchange between the director and one of the cast members right after a show — “Your sketch ran 15 seconds long! We had to steal it from ‘News 60’!” “Sorry, people laughed. I wasn’t expecting it either” — and that was more fascinating to me, as a TV junkie, than anything that followed. “Studio 60” is still amusing and full of cracking good dialogue, but I’m not nearly as engaged as I was at first.
And then there are some that started out good — good enough to put on the TiVo list — and only got better. Here are three.
“Heroes.” Yeah, everyone’s talking about “Heroes.” As well they should! I liked the premise, thought the pilot was solid but not spectacular … and have then been increasingly blown away with each subsequent episode. There are enough answers given to keep us satisfied, yet tantalizing mysteries remain, too. It’s a plot-oriented series, with twists and turns and surprises every week, yet the characters are intriguing, too.
“Friday Night Lights.” I know, it’s about a high school football team, and you don’t care about football. NEITHER DO I! Each of the episodes so far has brought a tear to my eye, or almost, anyway. It’s a sophisticated, funny, emotional look at a small Texas town where high school football rules, and where the people are mostly honest, good, decent folks. In the first episode, the golden boy quarterback broke his back during a game. Subsequently, we’ve followed his progress in the hospital while also seeing the team (and the town) deal with it. The second-string QB, a good kid who cares for his senile grandmother while his father’s in Iraq, is in over his head as the new starting QB. The team is close to mutiny, wanting to win but needing to support their coach. The coach juggles his wife and daughter with his responsibilities to the team. There’s so much going on, so many characters and so many emotions, that I look forward to the show every week. The ratings have been lackluster, however. Find it on NBC on Tuesdays (not this week, though; it aired on Monday this week).
“Help Me Help You.” This new sitcom has done pretty well in the ratings, so apparently people are watching it, but I haven’t heard anyone talk about. It’s funny! It stars Ted Danson as a shrink who runs a weekly group-therapy session for five people of varying nutcase-ness. Each episode focuses on Danson’s personal life (trying to get back with his ex-wife, being a vain and pompous Sam Malone type, etc.) with secondary plots involving a couple of his patients in their own lives. The writing is peppy and smart, the delivery impeccable, the timing similar to the rhythm “Arrested Development” had. (Not having a laugh track to get in the way certainly helps.) A couple weeks ago we saw Danson’s character in a group therapy session with other group therapists. One of them was played by Jonathan Katz — aka “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.” Perfect casting! The next week had Danson with some of his psychiatrist buddies trying to start their own little rock band. (One of them was Michael McKean.) Some of the names they came up with for the band were Shoq Therapy, Id Sync, Free Association, The Jungbloods, Flock of Egos, Couch, and Pink Freud. I don’t care where you’re from, that’s comedy.