It has now been over two weeks since the beginning of the 2012 Fall TV Season Premiere bonanza and although some of the dust particles are still airborne, some have settled. In the grand tradition of its clean, clear (and uber ratings successful) storytelling lines, my CBS season verdicts are as wrapped up as the ending of every one of its CSI/NCIS procedural factory shows.
WHAT I SAID THEN: Returning shows that I will watch and DVR Season Pass: Survivor: Philippines (I made my alliance with Jeff Probst during the finale of Season 1 in 2000 and I don’t break my alliances)
I would be remiss if I did not give a much deserved and overdue shout out to Survivor: Phillippines and the glory of Jeff Probst. Now in its 25th(!!!) season, Stella (and this new cast) got her groove back. A three tribe format, the return of compelling fallen veterans (I forgot how much I loved Skupin in Africa before his burning hand in the fire incident), some engaging celebrities (former NL MVP Jeff Kent’s recent alliance with Penner was a classic Survivor power play), have once again reinvigorated and revitalized the tried and true reality competition pioneer.
At the end of the day on the island, Mr. Probst is my most reliable television staple and ultimately central to Survivor’s unrivaled success. When I think back to the TV landscape of Survivor’s debut in 2000, Jeff Probst is the Survivor who has outlasted (and I daresay outplayed) everyone else. Other shows have come and gone (my dear friend Tess cannot let me live down the time I spent with Anderson Cooper on The Mole) and Jeff Probst is still expertly administering tribal council q and a’s, live challenge play-by-play in the Marv Albert/Al Michaels league, and go-to punchlines (the “come on in guys” before every challenge is my favorite). His high end hosting (if you can even call it that – he is so much more than just a host who reads cue cards) is certainly one reason for greatness, but I have another theory as to why Probst is the best. More often than not, the winners of Survivor (or at least the most compelling contestants to watch) care and try the most. There is nothing like watching a Boston Rob or a Penner this season treat the game with the reverence it deserves. They value the Survivor process and how it should be played more than anything and know what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to compete. Jeff Probst, like the best Survivor players, bleeds Survivor. Although some aspects of his job are motions (“the tribe has spoken”), he is never going through them. He plays each moment of his six weeks of filming (and the often unintentionally comedic live reunion show) as it could be the last, as if this grand Survivor adventure could come to an end at any time as fast as it became a phenomenon twelve years ago. This is why Jeff is always so sensitive to quitters and so reverential to fighters (this season’s three disqualified-due-to-injury returnees especially). He is fighting for Survivor and we are all witnesses.
VERDICT: (a very easy) full year DVR SEASON PASS
AMAZING RACE, PERSON OF INTEREST
WHAT I SAID THEN: Returning shows up for 2012 Season Pass cancellation: The Amazing Race (my most inconsistent staple over the years), Person of Interest (the fact that last season’s final four episodes remain unwatched five months later says something)
Amazing Race is like a home improvement project or the cooking of an elaborate meal. If you have time and there is nothing else going on, great. If it doesn’t happen, no worries. The season premiere debuted last Sunday night and the teams are your standard player combinations (She has not one prosthetic leg but two! They’re best friends for thirty years – he is 6’6’’ and he is 5’1’’!) and a race around the world is pretty cool, but AR does not ever seem to take it to a next level (I have always thought that some format changes were in order – the $2,000,000,000 twist for a team that wins the first and last leg is not what I had in mind). Will I continue to watch? Sure. If an overtime NFL game goes late and pushes back the start time messing up my DVR, will I care? Not really.
I feared Person of Interest would fall off the map after my lacksidaisical follow through in finishing season 1. Because I had a few hours to kill and because the mood seemed right, I watched last year’s season finale and this year’s season premiere back-to-back hoping for a possible change of heart and some renewed momentum going into season 2. I was pleasantly surprised to find a show that I had lost track of so many months ago feel so fresh. POI, at its core, is a Batman-like story without the cape and cowl. (Jim Caviezel’s John Reese is the non-caped crusader. The great Michael Emerson’s Finch is an Alfred/Oracle hybrid. Detective Carter is a Batman: Year One Jim Gordon, and the crooked cop (and at times hilarious) Fusco is Harvey Bullock. Even the Paige Turco recurring character fits in to a Catwoman mold). Guided by showrunner (and Christopher Nolan brother) Jonathan Nolan, episodes have great television action, interesting guest stars (I am talking about you Astro), a topical premise, and an ever-evolving central mystery that seems to be raising the stakes entering season 2.
VERDICT: Amazing Race is day-to-day and Person of Interest is cleared to play for the season
WHAT I SAID THEN: New shows that get a pilot viewing chance: Vegas (I have never been too keen on Dennis Quaid), Elementary (the PBS Sherlock is so good, do I have room for a CBS procedural with Lucy “don’t get it” Liu?)
The Vegas series premiere was more than enough for me to learn that (a) I was right about Dennis Quaid, (b) Michael Chilikis may be pushing five feet, (c) not all period dramas inspired by Mad Men’s excellent use of time period work (see: The Playboy Club, American Dreams), and I will not be watching again. For a show that has a supposed compelling setting, Dennis Quaid poisons it immediately as the anti-Probst. He seems keen on a CBS paycheck and the potential for years of syndication residuals and will do the least amount of work necessary to get there.
In marked and wonderful contrast, Elementary is a confection of a television treat. Going in, my reservations were about the over abundance of incredible Sherlock Holmes in my life (the PBS show is my jam, the Robert Downey Jr. movies are not), my challenges with past Lucy Liu cultural moments (the lyric in Hey Ya! comes to mind), and the CBSification (i.e. the standardizing and dumbing down of content to reach middle America’s older demographic) of what could be a delightful fictional character.
First, as I have learned, I can stand to have more good Sherlock Holmes and this is good Sherlock Holmes. The move to NYC was a simple act of brilliance and frames the character’s outsider/otherness in a unique way. He no longer just an oddball – he is an oddball Brit foreigner in a foreign land. Jonny Lee Miller is a delight in the lead role. He commands each scene with a real dynamism that I haven’t seen in a network drama in some time.
My Lucy Liu enjoyment may still be a work in progress, but the gender change to Joan Watson and the decision to portray her as Sherlock’s drug rehabilitation counselor is successful. Their platonic and often contentious back and forth has been a joy to watch in the first two episodes. This Watson is not relegated to the sidelines, but is rather an obstacle that Sherlock must learn to co-habitate with and utilize to his advantage. It helps to have the always reliable Aidan Quinn along for the ride as a kind-hearted police captain. He is a welcome return on Thursday nights at 10 (last season’s early cancellation of the underrated Prime Suspect left the Irishman out of work).
Finally, CBS is allowing Elementary some creative breathing room. It is whimsical (when was the last time CBS has whimsy on its schedule?) and character focused. The crime of the week format is intact, but Sherlock Holmes demands a mystery filled with twists and turns, and so far, delivery.
VERDICT: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Elementary is a who-done-it. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
PARTNERS, MADE IN JERSEY
WHAT I SAID THEN: New shows dead on arrival: Partners, Made in Jersey (nope)
…NEXT UP: NBC’s Fall Lineup featuring Revolution, The Office, Parks and Recreation, The Voice, and SNL.