Lots of good new stuff on the tube this season, and guess what, lots of mediocre stuff too. Some are too new to be sure about, having only aired pilots which are always a little embryonic and difficult to fall in love with.
My favorite so far is Six Degrees, which ran its third episode last night. I've mentioned it before here as a vehicle for Campbell Scott (changed my mind last night, however, about casting him as Ashley Wilkes. Maybe ten or 15 years ago, but not any more.) The title of the series refers to the 1967 study by Stanley Milgram that proposed there are only "six degrees of separation" between human beings, in other words, we are all linked by knowledge of someone who knew someone else, after six links, to everybody who ever lived. This led to the title of a play and movie, and has been boiled down, not unlike Andy Warhol's phrase "15 Minutes" and now supposedly the shorthand is immediately understood.
I'm not sure if you got that or not. But this is a tv review so I'm moving to the next point and will let you ponder it -- I'm sure you'll let me know if there are any questions. The point is that the tv series is elegant, well written, well acted and always intriguing, with beautiful NYC locales and an ensemble feel. Catch it if it stays on til next Thursday.
Problem may be that it's up against another newie, which I haven't seen since it's opposite Six Degrees, called Shark, which stars James Woods as an obnoxious jerk, a role he plays so well. It's a courtroom show, and maybe I'll watch it if it moves to another time slot.
Speaking of odd time slots, Friday Night Lights runs on Tuesday nights. I'm not likely to watch it just because the subject matter doesn't interest me -- high school football. It came from a movie that was well received by the critics (but I also didn't see because it also was about high school football), so if high school football interests you, I'm sure it's good.
My second favorite this year is Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, one of those behind-the-scenes drama-comedies about the making of a weekly show which might be likened to Saturday Night Live. Very good acting, and clever scripts.
I am slightly interested in Men in Trees, which I've also mentioned here before. A rather wan romantic comedy with a sexy leading man, but I've got my doubts about Anne Heche here. A good actress -- I'm just not convinced she's right in this role of conflicted (although she's good at conflicted) "relationship consultant" off to find herself in Alaska. To me, it's a near miss, with its bucolic box-supper auctions and local radio-show yahoo straight out of Northern Exposure. But I haven't given up on it; maybe Anne Heche will become a star after all.
You may have gathered that I'm a bit of a television addict. I think that's probably true, although I can quit whenever I want to. I just have to check out every new season and decide if I want to.
Wednesday night two new situation comedies ran back to back on NBC. I doubt if either of them will make it, but I found them fairly good for pilot episodes. The first, 30 Rock, is a little too close to comfort to Studio 60, but it is snappy, comic, and doesn't always hit the mark, even though it stars Tina Fey and is written by her, and Alec Baldwin. Baldwin is a fine actor, and did a nice turn in Will & Grace last season, but he is a bit mean in this one -- and my friend Edith, who knows more than a bit about the theatre, says, "He acts like he can't act." I could do a whole blogpost on that remark, but not today.
30 Rock was followed by 20 Good Years, starring John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambour. Anything with Lithgow is gonna get me to watch it at least twice, but in this one he's playing a asshole type -- sorry, that's about the only word for it -- who decides to rope his wimpy but lovable lifelong friend into a retirement project to live life to the fullest (jumping out of planes, swimming with the Polar Bear Club, that sort of thing). It's like an update of The Odd Couple combined with Grumpy Old Men, and may not have very broad appeal. In fact, John Lithgow may be the only reason to watch it. And Tambour is an excellent Felix to his Oscar.
Which of the new series will make it? I couldn't say. After all, for about ten minutes in the 1960's I was television critic for Women's Wear Daily. I was one of about three such in the country who panned All in the Family. And I'd stick by that critique today.