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Tune in or miss out

By Daniel Kahn

Section: Arts

November 17, 2006

For many people, the coming of the fall season means many things. Long walks through the country admiring the foliage. Apple picking. Vowing that this semester will finally be the one where you dont fall behind on your readings. Deciding on the perfect Halloween costume. (Or for girls, deciding on the perfect slutty Halloween costume. Face it, ladiesHalloween is that one night a year when you can finally be that slut that you wish you could be all year round. Slutty angel. Slutty devil. Slutty nurse. Slutty kitty cat. The costume may not say slutty when you purchase it, but I doubt Little Red Riding Hood was on her way to grandmas house with a basket of goodies and her yabose hanging out!)

Anywho, before I got distracted by images of heathen sluts, I was trying to make a point: for me, fall means stress.

Every fall the television networks premiere their new shows, and every year it throws my whole life out of whack. As evidence, look at the previous statementwho even says out of whack anymore? The last time somebody used that phrase was probably 1994! This is what the new TV season does to me!

Inevitably, there are always some newbies that are scheduled to air in the same time period as shows I love and could not possibly give up. This causes me to re-jigger (jigger: last used in 1982. See what I mean!) my weekly viewing schedule. Of course, none of this would be possible without the unconditional support of a most understanding suitemate (Hi Jen Gordon!) who kindly allows me to watch shows in her room while taping different shows in mine. (Did I mention how good-looking Jen is? Because she really is! And so intelligent too! And Im not just saying this because American Idol starts up next semester, which is an additional 3-4 hours per week of obsessive TV-watching that will most likely be taking place in her beautifully-decorated and always clean room! Jen for President!)

Taking on new shows is always a gamble. There is the chance that they will last 10 years and be your favorite show ever. But there is also the possibility that the ratings will be miserable and your favorite new show will be cancelled faster than you can say Smith. So here are some judgments about three of my favorite new shows. The time I spend with them every week may be further encroaching on the possibility of me developing any lasting human relationships, but Ive grown fond of them nonetheless.

Heroes

While Ill admit that Im weird and spend an unhealthy amount of time working on my pale in front of the TV, I dont consider myself a geek. Ive never watched the Sci-Fi network, I dont particularly like comics (obviously except for Archie, who really helped me get through a tough period in my life when I was constantly forced to choose between a gorgeous blonde and a gorgeous brunette. And while that never technically happened, it might some day, in which case I have a treasure trove of Riverdale adventures from which to guide me), and my knowledge of Star Wars derives mostly from Spaceballs.

Which is why I find it strange that Ive become an avid fan of NBCs Heroes. For those of you who have not seen or heard much about it, Heroes is about a group of seemingly average people who discover that they have extraordinary abilities. For instance, theres one guy who can paint the future, but only after an injection of heroin to get his creative juices flowing. (Which is actually how I wrote that Saved by the Bell piece from a few weeks back! Okay, that was actually a joke, which you probably got, but my mom now reads this and shes kind of gullible.and always asking me where those track marks on my arm are from. Oh, mom. Silly, gullible, suspicious mom!)

Heroes has really ratcheted up the suspense in recent weeks, leading into next weeks much-hyped Save the Cheerleader, Save the World episode. To catch you up, one of the heroes is a high school cheerleader, Claire, whose superpower is being able to heal her body from any harmburns, cuts, impaling You know, normal teenage hi-jinx! It seems that Claire is the next target of a shady character named Syler, who goes around killing people with special abilities by cutting open their heads, removing their brains, freezing their bodies on the spot, and leaving no fingerprints or traces.

I realize that this all may sound like a bunch of hooey (hooey: last used in 1957) but its actually pretty involving and entertaining. What Ive learned about sci-fi shows is that its necessary to suspend your disbelief and just go along for the ride. So far, Heroes is a ride worth taking.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

While my feelings on Heroes may have surprised me, the true shock of the new season is how I feel about Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. This show had everything I thought I could ever want in a primetime drama. The cast is superb (Look! Matthew Perry! Could he be any less like Chandler?). The creators, Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, were the geniuses behind The West Wing, one of my all-time favorite dramas (although come to think of it, with Wings idealistic, and therefore unrealistic take on politics, I guess Heroes cant be considered the first fantasy show Ive loved). And the show business setting, behind the scenes at a Saturday Night Live-type sketch comedy show, seems ripe for good drama and hopefully a few laughs.

Unfortunately, the Studio 60 has been disappointing on many of these levels. A lot of the conflict comes from studio bosses waffling over how political the show-within-a-shows content should go, and many episodes have featured characters arguing over the religious right versus the liberal media. While these issues might make for an interesting political debate, as television drama goes, it hasnt been very compelling.

To top it off, the sketches that we often see them writing and performing have been anything but funny. How are we to believe that their show is a comedic institution that millions of people watch every week when nothing we viewers see elicits any chuckles. (Although with millions tuning in to the yawn-inducing SNL every week, the fact that Studio 60 cant land a joke isnt so outlandish.)

So why am I tuning in week after week? Why am I enjoying this hour of material that is both not-particularly-dramatic-when-it-means-to-be and not-particularly-funny-when-it means-to-be? I believe it is partly because I have no other shows to watch in this time period (phew!) but also partly because I still have hope that Studio 60 can achieve greatness. Many new shows need time to find their footing, and with a show that has this kind of pedigree, Ill cut it some slack. Studio 60 may not be the best show on TV, but Ill take it over any of those by-the-numbers crime procedurals any day.

Local Flavor with Joan Cusack

Switching gears, my favorite new non-fiction show this season isnt on any of the big broadcast networks, and not even on MTV or VH-1. No, this little gem appears on a channel I never even considered watching before nowThe Travel Channel. Now dont get me wrongI love traveling, and I love TV, so youd think that the Travel Channel would be one of my favorites. But I have to say, Ive never really enjoyed watching non-fiction programming that doesnt involve people sobbing in a confessional or a competition of some sort. But upon seeing that my favorite actress of all time, the wonderful and amazing Joan Cusack, would be hosting a show where she travels around Europe to learn about different cultures and sample their food, I knew that my Travel Channel hymen would be but a distant mammary. I mean memory. (Was all that inappropriate? Deal.)

Cusack, who I first fell for as the psycho nanny Debbie Jellinsky out to steal Uncle Festers fortune in Addams Family Values, hasnt really been getting the best acting opportunities lately. While I understand that the amount of roles for forty-something actresses isnt exactly huge, it is still discouraging to think that Cusacks comedic abilities have not been put to good use in recent years. And while some may think that she is slumming by hosting a reality show, I am just grateful that I get to watch her every week right in my bedroom. (Which I realize sounds a bit dirty, but so what if I have a crush on her? She might be a little old for me, but shes pretty and really funny! And so what if some people think she looks like my mom and thats why Ive had this infatuation with her ever since I was little? Who doesnt have a little Oedipus in them these days? Most of you? Oh. Fine.)

Every week Cusack visits a different European city and goes to family-owned farms and restaurants to learn how they work and to cook and taste some delicious food. While the food looks amazing and I envy her every time she takes a bite of different French pastries or Italian pastas, it is her daffy (daffy: last used in 1939. This is depressing) personality that makes the show something special. Whether shes making some wacky face or trying her voiceover in the accent of whatever country shes in, Cusack is delightful and highly amusing. After watching each episode, I go to the shows website and take notes on what restaurants I need to go to if Im ever in Vienna or Libson or Paris or Athens. But I know that even if I someday visit any of those houses of gastronomy (no that is not something grossit means cookingand I resent that youd think Id go to a vulgar place!) Ill be wishing that I was there with my lovely Joan.

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