Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Three Ws of Summer Television

I’m not sure whether this is all collateral damage from the strike, but it seems like television is a little deader than usual this summer. Sure, we’re two weeks away from Project Runway Season 5 and less than two weeks away from Big Brother 10, but there’s no Entourage until September, and since Hell’s Kitchen started earlier this season, it’s ending earlier, too – next week instead of August. (For the record, my money’s on Petrozza. I don’t think Ramsey’s had any bad words about his cooking all season. Hygiene, yes, but cooking no. Plus, he didn’t burn the chef twice in one night.)

That means that my summer television is currently dominated by the three Ws: weeds, whores, and wipeouts.

First off, there’s Weeds. The season’s been a little lackluster so far. I can’t fault the storytelling, they’re doing a good job there, and the cast continues to dazzle. But without Agrestic and the wacky-tobaccy ensemble I’d grown to love (Heylia, Conrad, and Sanjay are gone, and Doug, Dean, Celia, and Isabelle are getting less screentime) it just isn’t the same. I even miss “Little Boxes” dammit. I get that the show had to go in a new direction, but I feel like it jettisoned a lot of the best parts without any equal replacements. The border-running is amusing and the family dynamics between the Botwins is still top-notch, but it’s missing the spark of the earlier seasons.

And then there’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl. This show should be so much better than it is. It’s got Billie Piper, all manner of salacious antics, fourth-wall-breaking that actually works (unlike Sex and the City’s season one efforts), is based on a cheeky blog – there’s a recipe for success somewhere in those ingredients, but clearly it’s a recipe for a tricky soufflé, because Call Girl falls flat. Worst of it is, I can’t even place my finger on why each episode leaves me cold. I think maybe it’s the balance of soft core porn and soft-hearted hooker. Right now it’s a little too much about the “ooh, aren’t I scandalous?” sexytime antics and not enough about Hannah herself. I mean, hooker with a heart of gold is a time-tested trope for a reason – it works. It’s psychology we love to mine. What I loved about the blog when I started reading it were the little glimpses of psychology that would slip out between the quippity-quips, and the show isn’t really mining that yet. Luckily, I do have a cross-ocean advantage here. I’ve got several U.K. dwelling friends who have already seen the full first series, since it aired there starting last September. I’ll drop them an email and see if the episodes perk up in the future before I decide the fate of my Tivo Season Pass.

Finally, here’s a show I didn’t expect to watch or enjoy – ABC’s Wipeout. It’s a pretty bizarre game show, reminiscent of old school American Gladiators, but with less dignity. (It turns out that is, in fact, possible.) It’s brought to us by the producers of Fear Factor, but no one’s chowing down on goat taint or anything. Yet, anyway. I think what I love about it is the sheer sadism on the parts of the producers and the hosts. At least one of the obstacles, Big Balls, seems intentionally impossibly designed in order to ensure each contestant fails hilariously each time. And as the wisecracking narrators, John Henson (from E!) and John Anderson (from ESPN) display a disdain for the mazerats usually reserved for British game shows. That said, the show’s a little long, and the preliminary qualifying round gets repetitive long before it’s over. It probably could have been 30 minutes long instead of 60. So it’s not appointment television, but it’s worth watching with Tivo remote in hand to bloop-bloop ahead when it drags. And it’s certainly an entertaining diversion until Heidi Klum and The Chenbot grace us with their presences once more.

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