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TV Review: 2008-2009 Season

As a new father, I may no longer be able to go to many movies or play many video games, but I can sure watch a lot of television. These six shows are not the only shows I watch regularly (not on this list are Mythbusters, Rescue Me, South Park, and Top Chef, among others), I'm slightly embarassed to admit, but they are the six biggest shows and the ones in which I didn't miss an episode.



24: Season 7
24
Season 7

While clearly an improvement over the frustratingly mediocre sixth season, 24's seventh still fell into a few of the show's now cliche trapings. However, while it may no longer be one of the most original and innovative shows on television, it remains the most exciting. Season 7 did a lot of things right. For one, the writers were able to hold their focus for an entire season and maintain an unwavering thematic direction, something they haven't done since the very first season way back in 2002. For another thing, the move from Los Angeles to D.C. was a welcome--if sorely overdue--change, and the removal of C.T.U. from the equation kept things from getting stale and repetitive. Let's face it, the C.T.U. storylines from the last few seasons have all been the same, and there are only so many inter-office romances, hidden spies, and power struggles that can offer anything new to the show. Granted, by the end of this season, the writers had ostensibly turned the F.B.I. into C.T.U. and made it clear that the unit will return next season (which is already filming). Unfortunately, this is just one example of the show's biggest failing, its inability to let go of the past. It's always nice to see old characters come back on the show, but when the writers come up with increasingly strained justifications for bringing them back every single year, it gets tiresome. Tony Almeida is a perfect example. While I was never happy with the way he was killed off a couple of seasons ago, his resurrection and the explanation he gives for it is wildly unsatisfactory. still, the writers were able to do a few clever things with his character, even if his ultimate motivation is, like so many other things, treading on well-beaten ground. In short, the seventh season is strong and entertaining enough to keep me interested in 24, but the days of my calling 24 the best thing on television are nonetheless over.





Dollhouse: Season 1
DOLLHOUSE
Season 1

Dollhouse is a unique and interesting concept. For those who don't know, the show is about a company that turns people into "dolls," slaves whose individual personalities have been wiped clean. These dolls can then be imprinted with whatever personality the company wants, from a sex slave to an international super-spy, all with built-in fighting skills and programmed failsafes. Inscrutible people then hire the dollhouse for whatever they need. The show follows--for the most part--a doll named Echo, and it becomes apparent early on that there are certain hidden parts of her former self that linger even after her mind is wiped at the end of every episode. It's a bizarre concept for a television show, because it's hard for the audience to get attached to a character who is so tenuous. The other characters are occasionally interesting, but mostly just dry and one-dimensional, and this is definitely the show's weak spot. Otherwise, the over-arching mythology is fascinating and amazingly fast-paced. The show introduces big mysteries early on, but by the end of the first season, most of those mysteries are answered. Dollhouse isn't perfect, but I'm glad it has been renewed for a second season; it is interesting and engaging enough to want to see where it goes next.





Heroes: Season 3
HEROES
Season 3

Criticisms of Heroes are a dime a dozen, and many of them are deserved, if exaggerated. Yeah, the characters are a bit too mercurial and their backstories are being rewritten every few weeks. Yeah, the time travel stuff and future painting is infuriatingly inconsistent and relied on way too much. Yeah, it's hard to get emotionally invested in the stakes when every major character change--including death--will probably be undone in the next episode. Yeah, the writers seem to get lazier and lazier, even as they promise a return to the greatness of the first season. Having said all that, I must confess that I still like watching the show. It is still incredibly entertaining, as long as you can ignore the very vocal critics who seem to have nothing better to do than rag on the show. The show is just as fun as it was in the first season, and anybody who says different is wrong. Volumes 3 and 4 had some very good moments, culminating in probably the best finale of the entire show's run so far. If you've given up on the show, try again, and don't have ridiculously overblown expectations. (To see my full review of Volume 3, go here.)





House: Season 5
HOUSE
Season 5

I love House. It is a consistently well-written show, even if it falls into a very predictable formula, and the characters are some of the most complex and intelligent on television today. Season 5 had several obstacles to overcome on the heels of the shortened fourth season. The show is still trying to juggle the expanded cast with moderate amounts of success, and there was the sudden departure of Kal Penn in his zeal for politics to contend with. The writers began the season with House's new P.I., who was a good character who shouldn't have disappeared as suddenly and unceremoniously as he did. They then went on to deal with relationship drama between Foreman and Thirteen, Chase and Cameron, and House and Cuddy. The final episodes dealt with Kutner's sudden and inexplicable suicide, which was a masterful way to drive House to the loony bin in the finale. All in all, the fifth season continued the show's excellence, and didn't appear to show any signs of the writers running out of new ideas. Besides, Hugh Laurie's House is easily the most fascinating character around.





Lost: Season 5
LOST
Season 5

While more people have stopped watching Lost than are still watching it today, the show remains the most mind-bogglingly well-made show on television. Season 5 saw the show fully embrace its sci-fi geekiness with the unabashed introduction of time travel. This does not bother me, even though I do feel that the fast pace of the season came at the expense of some much needed character development. I was amazed at how well the writers were able to explore some of the show's biggest mysteries by putting the audience smack dab in the middle of the 1970's Dharma Initiative. It was tough to see where the season was going and why the Oceanic Six were brought back to the island, but by the finale, it all started to make sense. Season 5 will always be remembered as the time travel season, but it was the perfect way to set the stage for the sixth and final season next year. I, for one, can't friggin wait to see how it ends.





Terminator: Season 2
TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES
Season 2

The second season of Fox's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is mired by the knowledge that Fox has decided to cancel the show. This is incredibly unfortunate. The writers of the show are fairly ingenious in their ability to juggle a huge mythology, a constantly growing cast of characters, and the need to have action in every episode. The season had one or two weak points, like the three episode slow digression into Sarah Connor's inexplicable obsession with three dots, but it more than made up for it with the revelation that John Connor isn't nearly as weak or oblivious as he has seemed. The introduction of a T-1000 was a bold move, and it pays off all the way up to the finale, where it is revealed that she isn't fighting John Connor as much as she is Skynet (awesome). The stuff with John Henry, the unprogrammed Terminator with a young and learning A.I., is really creepy and interesting, and I really want to know where that was going. The slightly-glitchy Cameron was of course great, but we may never know what her real mission was. Goddamn it, why did they have to cancel this show?! The ratings were in the tank, but that's to be expected from a show that they put on Friday night! Man, sometimes, I hate Fox. Here's hoping some other channel picks it up.






-e. magill 06/01/2009








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