I watched some TV on the plane rides to/from LA for the Season 3 premiere of True Blood on Tuesday night.
I'd watched one episode of The Middle in November, and two more including the pilot/first episode on the aeroplano. This is a really good show, and it's all there pretty much from minute one of the pilot. The closest in ancestry might be Malcolm in the Middle, and it will be interesting to see if The Middle can hold up a little longer than Malcolm did. I think it has a couple advantages. The family in Malcolm in the Middle wasn't a real family. It was very close to one, but the exaggeration was just a little too much. The family in The Middle is exaggerated but I think is an exaggerated version of reality instead of going beyond it. The writing is sharp and snark without looking down on its characters. By keeping the focus more on the mother than on the children it may better be able to survive the inevitable aging of the cast which began to really hurt Malcolm because things that were fun when the kids were younger seemed not so fun at all when the kids were bigger. This is a show that deserves its success.
30 Rock, two episodes, has gotten a lot better than its earliest episodes from Season 1. I may give more time to The Middle next year now that I don't have 24 to watch and can look for another hour or so of network TV to amuse me. But I'm still not sure I like 30 Rock so much that I want to start making it appointment viewing. But it's decent.
The Big Bang Theory. Huh? From sampling that, I'm a little puzzled the show's taken off so much. It's not bad. I've watched bad sitcoms, this isn't one of them. One of the problems may actually be the show's laugh track. The show's funny, but it's not always THAT funny, and the disconnect between the uproariousness of the laughter on the laugh track and the actual quality of the jokes was incredibly distracting to me. The cast isn't bad, but they also seem visibly to be working while the best acting is the kind you don't notice. It reminds me somewhat of It's Like, You Know, a sitcom from ten years back with similar-ish characters similarly sitting around doing sitcom banter, but I kind of liked that the older show was a little dryer.
Friday Night Lights isn't airplane viewing, that's appointment viewing every week for me, and season 4 is no exception. Last week's episode had four different commercial breaks with lead out scenes powerful enough that it took me ten or fifteen seconds to decompress from the show before I could turn to my newspaper reading during the commercials. At the end of the prior episode we found out that the father of one of the main characters, the now-graduated QB of the Dillon Panthers, had been KIA in Afghanistan, this week we're dealing with his deeply conflicted feelings. There's a great scene when the QB visits his coach's family for dinner, and in the writing and the acting it's what the characters aren't saying that's as important as what they are. You're looking at the faces in the background. The QB storms out and nobody knows what to do and the coach says "I'll go talk to him," but what we see is that he doesn't really talk. He goes out, says "I'll walk you home," and maybe they'll talk or maybe they won't, but it's just being there for the person. The one thing I didn't like was the actual funeral scene. Season One of True Blood, one of the points that won me over as the show found its groove over the course of season #1 was when they had a funeral scene where not everyone in the show was wearing a black funeral suit. I was told by Tim Akers that it wasn't uncommon in his upbringing to have one of those hanging around, but I still think there are people in the world who don't have and don't buy and don't wear black. Well, not in last week's Friday Night Lights, where everyone is indeed dressed in black. No, no, no, no, no a thousand times no.
And speaking of True Blood -- well, yes, I'm biased, but I do think the show is hitting a home run in its third season. There's a strong consensus that the first season really started to get good around the 4th episode, that the second season was stronger than the first, and season 3 is at least the equal of the previous. Season 3 motors out of the starting gate picking up its characters right where the previous season left them, and moves forward with great energy. The actors and the writers are all finding their characters. Hence, in Season #1 there were occasional forced message moments with obvious metaphor and real life parallel. Those moments aren't gone in Season #3, but now they're totally in character. When Sookie's giving a message to someone, it's Sookie giving the message. There are an abundance of nice little touches throughout. I was especially fond of the menu for the meal between Bill and the vampire king of Mississippi played by Denis O'Hare. The meal starts out with blood taken from willing donors fed a tangerine diet for the past two weeks. If you're the kind of person who really digs the cage-free hens and the free-range chickens, you'll be able to laugh at yourself while taking the moment very seriously. And if you're the kind of person who thinks that whole cage-free hen stuff is exceedingly silly, you'll be able to take the moment the exact opposite way. It's written and played so dead-on straight that you can't tell which way anyone on the show is going with it, so the moment becomes your own. And let me assure you the second episode is worth watching entirely for the meal. Haven't enjoyed a movie meal moment so much in years, up there with Louis Jordan serving his speciality to James Bond in Octopussy.
If you haven't watched the first two seasons of True Blood, I'm not sure how much the recap at the start of episode #1 will help. Happily, enough people have been watching that it probably won't make a difference.
When they say "it's not TV, it's HBO..." Well, TV doesn't have the budget. The cast of True Blood keeps growing and growing and growing. This Variety review says they're now up to 29 regular characters and I wouldn't argue. In the real world of TV, you can't do that. Maybe once in a while you can have an episode where you drag in everyone for some event, and then the bean-counters will say you can't have any guest stars next week and must use only the regulars.