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What People Watch
2008-06-01 17:34
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Entertainment Weekly printed the final ratings for this season of television in its June 6th issue. I'm sure the information is on the Web somewhere for those who want to see them. Where are the shows that I watch on a regular basis? Let's take a look.

#1 "American Idol" Obviously, I tuned in every week (after the interminable and useless open audition shows). Season Seven was a step up from the one before but the show still seems stuck to a few certain annoying conventions even while it furiously changes things that don't need changing. They need fewer rigid theme nights, longer performances, and the results shows (#2 in the ratings) need to be abolished or at least truncated dramatically. With all those quibbles, I still had a lot of fun watching it and will watch it again next year.

#7 "House" I don't know if "House" is as watched as it is because of "Idol" carryover or because it's a good show, but I'm fine with either. It's a surprisingly dark, adult, psychosexual show to be this widely seen and that sort of bothers me. It ought to be a cult show like "Dexter" and yet everybody watches it. A lot of the credit for that has to go to Hugh Laurie for creating and sustaining one of the most vivid characters on the small screen. Season Four was pretty shaky, starting with a "reality show" concept where House eliminated potential replacements for his ducklings one by one. That kept important characters from getting enough screen time, so when the last third of the year tried to put a bow on everything by justifying the introduction of some of those extraneous folks, it didn't quite pay off. The two-part season finale, however, was fantastic.

#21 "Lost" So much has been written about the fall from grace of "Lost" and all the things that needed to be done to fix it, but it's still #21 -- and that's not bad given a shortened season, haphazard scheduling, and a level of self-reference that's grown completely impenetrable for new viewers. I thought the loss of a handful of episodes really hurt what was otherwise a rollercoaster year. Not enough time was given to delineate which of the freighter folk were important and what their backstories were, so we ended up not caring about most of their actions. Also, the reintroduction and use of Michael was hugely disappointing. The Desmond episode "The Constant" was a series highlight but a week later there was an actual episode with the Ticking Digital Clock, one of the most abominable clichés in film. And with the decisions they've made this season, they could be screwed for next year. I like the way the "Lost" writers work without a net, but they don't need to try and redefine the show with every episode.

#46 "Bones" I really like this show, which adds believable personal issues for its characters with the usual forensic science gadgets and LCD displays and whatnot. I'm always surprised when I find out one of my friends likes it, but a pretty substantial number of them do. It's just one of those quiet shows that people watch, enjoy, and forget. That's okay. I used to really be annoyed by the supporting cast behind David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel but they've grown into the show's strength. I like the show's concept that people who do strange, macabre work are all a little loopy themselves. I think it's mostly true.

#63 "The Big Bang Theory" I don't care at all for "Two and a Half Men," which is the highest-rated comedy at #16. But I really love "Big Bang Theory," which came from the same creative mind, that of epic title-card writer Chuck Lorre. What's the difference? Well, "Men" is mostly idiotic sex jokes, and "Big Bang" has had dialogue about the Heisenberg principle, neurofeedback, and game theory. Perhaps some people will gets smarter or become interested in science from watching this show. It's also usually pretty funny.

#64 "How I Met Your Mother" I ended up watching almost all of the first- and second-season DVD's of this show over the weekend, just because I started them and I was too exhausted to get up and take the disc out of the player -- or think of something else to watch. I think it's a sitcom that really improves on closer viewing, because so much of the humor is derived from the personalities of the five characters. "Mother" is the rare TV sitcom where the punchlines absolutely aren't interchangeable. If Marshall were to say one of Barney's lines, it immediately wouldn't sound right. The other thing this show has going for it is Alyson Hannigan. She's so adorable.

#64 "Family Guy" Isn't this an interesting tie? "Family Guy" is a cultural phenomenon with ring tones, t-shirts, action figures, and the rest. "How I Met Your Mother" is a little show that has to sweat out its renewal for the next season after every year. But they're dead even in the ratings. How did that happen? Well, "Family Guy" on Fox is kind of besides the point for Seth McFarlane and his team. They could do it for nothing if they wanted. It's the wall-to-wall reruns on TBS and Cartoon Network, DVD sales, and merchandising that makes the "Family" engine run. Personally, I don't think the show has been at all funny since it "came back" to make new episodes for Fox. The writers are completely in love with themselves and like to torture the viewers with stuff they know will annoy them just for the sake of doing it. Compared to how sharp "South Park" has been recently, "Family Guy" definitely loses the feud between them. "American Dad," #95 in the ratings, has actually gotten better than its parent show. Mostly due to Patrick Stewart.

#73 "The Office" and "The Simpsons" Another interesting tie. I don't think much needs to be said about either of these shows. "The Office" certainly is much more of this time, while "The Simpsons" will kind of always be stuck in the more sarcastic, individualistic 90's. Neither is as funny as it used to be.

#83 "My Name Is Earl" Weird, weird season for Earl, which had a prison stay, a coma, a quickie wedding, and several people being hit by cars. I love the way that any number of a huge ensemble cast could pop up at any moment, like "The Simpsons" only live-action. I also adore Eddie Steeples' beatific portrayal of Darnell. Next year Greg Garcia needs to focus on getting back to the show's basic concept and away from over-the-top dream sequences and other more conceptual mucking about. The Catalina character needs a lot more to do.

#92 "King of the Hill" The single most underrated show on TV.

Everything from 147 to 160 (the bottom) on the list is CW shows. I heard "Aliens in America" got canceled -- that's a shame, that was a cute show, although it never quite came together the way the promise of the pilot suggested it could. C'mon, America, we need to find Scott Patterson a vehicle!

2008-06-02 09:16:16
1.   Inside Baseball
Do you ever watch NCIS, Mark? My wife and I have watched it for the last two seasons and have enjoyed it a lot. The banter between the agents is always really sharp and the best part of the show by far. The stories are average and mostly predictable but the chemistry between the actors make it worthwhile.
2008-06-03 13:57:51
2.   Mark T.R. Donohue
1 Generally when it comes to stuff that isn't sci-fi themed I pay more attention to cast than to subject matter. I haven't checked "NCIS" out yet, but I have heard from a few sources that it's deeper than the average procedural. Might be a cool thing to add to the TiVo season pass during our summer of reruns.

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