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Keeping Just Barely Above the Tide
2007-09-26 12:21
by Mark T.R. Donohue

OK, I'm not even going to try and organize my thoughts about all of the season premieres I've watched so far. In a few weeks, I'll write more structured things about whatever I'm still watching. As for now, I just have to move some of these pilots through before my brain gets full.

"Gossip Girl" Kinda OK, actually. No substitute for "Veronica Mars" but the CW is doing a good job spreading out gradually so that by 2011 they'll have one respectable show per night. I tuned in for Kristen Bell's narration but that's actually the show's biggest weakness, a silly tie-in to a parent series of young-adult novels that the show's barely-there storytelling hardly requires. However this is a more watchable soap than you might expect because it has an engaging star (Blake Lively, also of the just-good-enough-not-to-turn-off Accepted) and good casting catches in both the evil ice queen (bravely "Gossip Girl" casts the brunette Leighton Meester against the blonde heroine Lively) and the Innocent Young Thing (very sharp 14-year-old Taylor Momsen). Sadly all of the male characters are more or less indistinguishably oily, which is bad because one of them I think is supposed to be somewhat more sympathetic ("Penn Badgley" as Momsen's sister and Lively's suitor) and one is definitely supposed to be sleazier than the rest (no clue, and I scoured the IMDb page and the CW page too). I haven't cancelled the Season Pass yet, but we'll see how the competition shakes out. As for the premise it's totally fluffy nonsense about high school-age Manhattan socialites, and "The O.C."'s Josh Schwartz is attached -- so clearly the thing could catch on big.

"Reaper" A disappointment. I think creators Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas miscalculated in having Kevin Smith direct their pilot, because despite the buzz Smith's big name brought to the show, he's kind of... not really... he can't direct. The pacing of the first episode of this comedy-fantasy (although it's not funny and not particularly fantastic) was all over the place and I even caught a few of Smith's trademark Clerks two-shots where the camera starts moving in anticipation of one character's finishing speaking and the other's beginning. The show has a grubby, out-of-focus look that doesn't suit the material at all; Ray Wise's appearances as the Devil lack any of the suprise-cameo majesty they require. Wise also isn't very physically imposing against Bret Harrison, who plays the series lead, a 21-year-old warehouse store-worker whose parents long ago sold him into Beelzebub's service. Said "service" mostly involves flailing at souls escaped from hell with unconvincing special effects, many excessive build-ups for non-jokes from unfunny comic relief character Sock (Tyler Labine) and then capturing the damned with some sort of relic granted them by Satan, which in the pilot is a Dirt Devil handvac. (Get it? Dirt Devil? Whoa, dial "h" for "humorousness.") This show just doesn't get either of the genres it is trying to straddle -- for comic-book fantasy it's flat, too self-involved and gets the mythology all wrong, and for blue-collar "My Name Is Earl" comedy it's, well, not funny -- and in the havoc of a new TV season on a fifth-rate network, it has to get way better quickly if it's going to stick. Perhaps having real directors work on all subsequent episodes will change things around for the better.

We'll get into some of the returns of shows we already like in our next post. Go, new TV season!

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