George R.R. Martin's series dense but not impenetrable to newcomers
HBO put the "It's not TV. It's HBO." slogan into semi-retirement a couple of years ago. It had been around for nearly 13 years, and it was taken out of circulation (or occasionally shortened to just "It's HBO.") during a fallow creative period for the pay cable giant, when it was very hard to argue that the post-"Sopranos" version of HBO was really any different from any other channel.
But at HBO's early '00s creative peak, the slogan wasn't pretentious, but uncannily accurate. Shows like "The Sopranos," "The Wire" and "Deadwood" took stories and worlds that audiences knew to death and made them into something more - something grander in ambition, something richer in execution, something guaranteed to stick with you far longer than previous TV versions of that story had. "The Wire" was a cop show, and "Deadwood" a Western, but both were so much more.
The slogan's gone, but HBO has been mounting a comeback over the last year thanks to new blood like "Treme" and "Boardwalk Empire." Now comes "Game of Thrones" (it debuts Sunday night at 9), the expensive adaptation of George R.R. Martin's fantasy novel series "A Song of Ice and Fire," which is trying to do for the fantasy genre what the classic HBO dramas did for cops, cowboys and wiseguys.
And for the most part, it works - stunningly well.
Fred Dalton Thompson clashes with the firm, and the election results are in
Sarah and Adam struggle with their daughters growing up, but in very different ways
'SNL' alum amused himself the whole time, this critic a bit less than that
I wasn't able to review Comedy Central's new "Sports Show with Norm Macdonald" in advance because the show is produced so close to airing in the interest of being timely (well, mostly timely, but we'll get to that). So I DVR'ed it last night, watched it this morning, and have a few thoughts on the debut coming up just as soon as I say "Charl Schwartzel" 17 times in a row...
'Mad About You' star has disappointing comeback in semi-improvised comedy
On his new NBC sitcom "The Paul Reiser Show," which debuts Thursday night at 8:30, Reiser plays a character with whom he has much in common. Both men are named Paul Reiser. Both are rich and famous from starring in "Mad About You." Both are now past 50, with a wife, two kids and no need to ever work again - and are nevertheless eager to find something to pass the time.
In the case of Paul Reiser, the character, he mostly focuses on being a husband and a dad and hanging out with the fathers of his sons' classmates. In the case of Paul Reiser, the real person, he's decided to do his own version of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
The last - and probably least - of this season's big trend
If the show they were working on weren't so flat and lacking in laughter, I'd actually feel sorry for the people involved with ABC's "Happy Endings," which debuts Wednesday night at 9:30 and 10 p.m.
Every TV season has a trend - some theme or premise or casting idea that seems to drift from one pilot to the next until you start to wonder if every development executive is spying on every other development exec. This season's most prominent trend has been three-tiered comedies about groups of friends and/or relatives at different stages of a relationship. The specifics vary, but the basic idea remained in ABC's "Better With You," NBC's "Perfect Couples," FOX's "Traffic Light" and now "Happy Endings."
It's also been one of this season's least successful trends. NBC pulled "Perfect Couples" off the schedule several weeks early, and "Better with You" and "Traffic Light" both seem to be playing out the string.
So as one show after another with this fundamental premise has struggled, if not outright failed, the cast and crew responsible for "Happy Endings" have had to sit on the sidelines, realizing more with each passing week that they, like the other shows, seem to have miscalculated the zeitgeist. No one seems interested in this theme, and that's even with shows that have been better-executed and funnier than "Happy Endings." It's likely a dead show walking, and it hasn't even debuted yet.
Frances Conroy, Japanese earthquakes and a baby shower figure into a busy episode
What did everybody think of the 'L&O' revamp?
I offered my review of the revamped-but-basically-the-same "Law & Order: LA" this morning, and I also discussed it with Fienberg - who was particularly put out by all the crying and/or mudered children in these two episodes - on today's podcast. Now it's your turn. For the five of you still watching, did all the cast tweaks make you more interested in the show going forward? Less? If you had leftover affection for Rubirosa from the final seasons of the mothership, did that affection survive the cross-country move?
What did everybody else think?
A heat wave cripples the city, and Teresa gets to know her new driver
The up-and-down season goes pretty far down with one of the worst Barney stories ever
I was tempted to write a long, part-angry, part-sad, all-frustrated review of tonight's "How I Met Your Mother," which - at least with the silly, lazy, two-dimensional Barney storyline - took whatever goodwill still lingered from the John Lithgow episode from a few weeks ago and lit it on fire, then danced on the ashes. I was going to express puzzlement about how the series seems to go to such strange creative extremes this season, where some weeks it feels very much like the show we know and love (even if it's a slightly older version of that show), and others it feels like a show where the entire creative team was replaced en masse by the people behind Kelsey Grammer's "Hank." I was going to talk about how the non-Barney scenes weren't terrible, but were completely flat and lifeless. I was going to repeat the usual lament about how the show has chosen to completely, utterly ignore the fact that Marshall only took the soul-crushing but lucrative corporate job because of Lily's shopping addiction, and that for those of us who remember that fact, Lily's complaining about Marshall's earning potential speaks very, very poorly of her. I was going to repeat my desire that we get to Ted and Zoey's horrible breakup already, just so we can be rid of her.
But what's the point? There have been good episodes this season - very good episodes at time - and then there have been absolutely terrible ones, and there seems to be no pattern, rhyme or reason about which you're going to get in any given week. You spin the wheel, and some weeks you get "Legendaddy" or "Oh Honey," and some weeks you get "Canning Randy" or "The Exploding Meatball Sub."
I'd get mad again, but there have been too many opportunities for that this season, and then others for the anger to go away for a while. I'm just gonna put this one in the rearview and hope the next spin turns up better.