Here's a quick rundown of our thoughts on the new season.
"The Big Bang Theory" (CBS) - We regret to inform you that it's not as good as it used to be. We suspect the writers know they have a monster hit on their hands and are reluctant to change a thing. If it ain't broke and all that. Jim Parsons' Sheldon remains hilarious (and one of the more original characters ever put on TV), but more and more he's becoming the show's defacto star to the detriment of the other characters. This is a show that works best when it's functioning as a "Friends"-style ensemble. We also must deduct points for the broad, grating, stereotypical jokes involving Wolowitz' overbearing Jewish mother, which always feel like they belong in another, worse show.
"Blue Bloods" (CBS) - This is what you'd expect from CBS. Solid, nicely made, conservative, not exactly complex or challenging, blending extended-family drama with police intrigue. It's comfort food. We didn't really like the pilot, but we didn't hate it either. It is what is it.
"Chase" (NBC) - The actual goings-on of a team of gritty federal marshals would make for a pretty good show, don't you think? Consider the strategy, the action, the technology that must be involved in tracking down dangerous fugitives. This is not that show. (We think FX's acclaimed "Justified" may be that show, which we're sad to say we have not seen.) This is the bad version of that show. This is the watered-down NBC version of that show. The characters, the dialogue, the plotting, it's all so very very phony. Of course you have the new member of the team serving as the Rookie Who Doesn't Get It and Makes a Rookie Mistake That Almost Costs Them the Case and of course you have the Wiseass Sidekick mutter little throwaway jokes when everyone's discussing brutal crimes because You Have to Make a Joke or Else This Job Will Get to You. It's the kind of show that will probably feature a serial killer or mass murderer in every other episode (see also "Criminal Minds" and "Medium").
"Community" (NBC) - We sampled this show last season and found it rather frantic and clumsy. It seemed to be trying too hard. We gave up on it. Then we happened onto the "Modern Warfare" episode (aka the paintball episode) in reruns and fell in love. The show is still frantic, but it's now gotten a clear handle on its oddball collection of characters and find ways to allow each of them to shine. Even more significant perhaps, the show has developed a peculiar taste for screwball pop culture satire, spoofing space movies one week and religion the next week. It's a strange show that sometimes gets really Out There in pursuit of jokes, which may be why despite its fervent fan base it's always facing rumors of cancellation. You either get it or you don't.
"Cougar Town" (ABC) - The Cheese Fry loves the dialogue on this show. Funny, odd, edgy (sometimes mean), completely plausible, and rapid-fire. These characters don't just say funny things in that familiar set-up, punchline sitcom way; these characters say funny things because they're genuinely funny like your goofy coworker or your bestest old high school friend. You want to hang out with them to hear what they say next. This stuff is often so laugh-out-loud golden that we invariably hit the Tivo rewind button to experience it all over again. Penny can!
"Friday Night Lights" (NBC-DirecTV) - It's hard to find much fault in a show that shouldn't even still be on the air. No cops, no lawyers, no doctors, no dead bodies, no threats to mankind usually equals a quick cancellation. That it's still cranking out quality shows about family, teenage dreams, small town politics, and the value of team sports with vivid characters, subtle acting, and realistic dialogue is something of a minor miracle. We want to market a new bumper sticker: WWCTD? What would Coach Taylor do? This is supposedly the show's last season and it will be missed. A quiet masterpiece.
"Fringe" (FOX) - It's official. This is the new "X-Files." You got your crazy conspiracy theories, your complicated mythologies, your sexual tension between the two leads, and your monster-of-the-week murder cases. It's all there and this season the show is hitting new heights as it blends all of this together in one long narrative arc involving parallel universes and memory wipes. But this show has something "X-Files" never had: John Noble as Dr. Walter Bishop. His flawed character, the lovable loser who did some very bad things in his past (for arguably the right reasons), is the heart and soul of the show.
"Glee" (FOX) - The Cheese Fry is a new convert to this fizzy show (thank you, Mrs. Cheese Fry), but we are not unaware of its frustrating inconsistency. The recent "Rocky Horror" episode was pretty terrible and the writers rarely seem to expend much energy trying to create a believable world. This is a show that stretches plausibility, then decides to stretch it a little more. Logic is often thrown out the window. You kind of have to go with it and enjoy the little moments of high-school outsider poignancy, laugh at the hilarious one-liners (Heather Morris' Brittany gets the best ones), soak in the eager we-want-to-entertain-you let's-put-on-a-show! charm, tap your feet to the song, and enjoy the quirky characters.
"The Good Wife" (CBS) - The Cheese Fry fully endorses this show, which continues to shine in its second season. A mature look at the messy morals and unpleasant realities of politics and law, as well as the complicated professional relationships familiar to any workplace. We don't know how "real" this show may be (we're not lawyers, nor are we running for office), but it certainly feels real and we appreciate that. Alan Cumming's frazzled political consultant is our new favorite TV character. If you haven't checked it out, do so immediately.
"Hawaii Five-0" (CBS) - The theme song kicks ass. And the show pretty much goes downhill from there. It's a cheesy, simpified look at law enforcement that tries way too hard to be hip and clever and, you know, fun. But the one-liners clunk, the sourpuss lead (Alex O'Loughlin) displays zero charisma, and nothing seems remotely realistic. We've given it several chances and are always disappointed. We have no officially given up. How this appeals to wide audiences and has become a hit right out of the gate is beyond our comprehension.
"How I Met Your Mother" (CBS) - Perhaps not as strong as it once was, thanks in part to the way Neil Patrick Harris' character is growing monotonously one-note (and if you think about it, his sexist promiscuity is borderline sociopathic). But it's usually good for a few good laughs and we remain fans of the way the show experiments with non-linear plots and unexpected narrative tangents. And really, Jason Segel can do no wrong.
"Law & Order Los Angeles" (NBC) - At long last, the show seems to be finding its groove after some shaky early episodes. Though the structure and narrative sensibility is the same as the other "Law & Order"s, sunny, sprawling Los Angeles is not dank, crowded New York City. Which means this show has an entirely different vibe. Not worse, just different. While we're hopeful the show continues to find itself and improve (we're trying very hard to suspend disbelief and buy Skeet Ulrich as a seasoned homicide detective), we continue miss the late great "Law & Order," whose last season was among its very strongest.
"Law & Order SVU" (NBC) - This has always been a dark show, chock full of amusing stuff like child rape and deviant personalities (always explained by television's most annoying know-it-all, Dr. Huang, who seems to lurk in the background until his expertise is required at which point he bounces into the frame to deliver his doctorly monologue). But more and more the show has taken on this operatic tone where everything is way over the top and exaggerated and, well, crazy. We understand that the show has to keep raising the bar and find new ways to shock the viewer, but we sometimes want to take a shower after watching an episode. Take, for example, the cringe-worthy recent episode that showed in rather disturbing detail what's involved in a rape exam. We're also starting to get tired of Eliot Stabler's tough-guy sneer.
"Medium" (CBS) - Yes, we often don't like this show's serial-killer-of-the-week subplots, which are often needlessly gory and violent. How can Phoenix generate this many mass killers and psychos? Answer: it can't. We also get tired of seeing Patricia Arquette wake up with a gasp after having one of her scary psychic dreams. And the mysteries are often fairly predictable. You'll be several steps ahead of the characters in figuring it all out. But the real appeal of this show isn't the police procedural stories or the psychic supernatural mumbo-jumbo. It's the family. Outside of "Friday Night Lights" (see above), no show displays as healthy and normal a marriage as the one shared by Allison and Joe Dubois. Watching them interact makes us get all warm and fuzzy inside, even when they're having problems. And the three daughters are probably the most realistic daughters on television, mostly because they're not at all precocious or glamorous. Think of it as a family drama masquerading as a cop show.
"Modern Family" (ABC) - The best word to use to describe this Emmy-winning show is "cute." You may not laugh out loud, but you'll definitely have a smile plastered on your face for the duration. The cast is top-notch across the board, including the kids - who actually factor into many of the plots and are just as well-written as the adults. It's single-handedly revived the family sitcom, a format dead since the departure of "Everybody Loves Raymond." The airwaves will soon be glutted by copycats. And none of them will be as good.
"The Office" (NBC) - Last season, this show seemed to be flailing on its last legs. The Very Special Episode where Pam gave birth was painfully unfunny and oddly forced. But for whatever reason, "The Office" seems to have recaptured its mojo, that unique sensibility that sympathetically explores these characters' insecurities and celebrates their peculiar outlooks, yet also takes great delight in putting them through embarrassment and humiliation (such as Andy's recent improvised monologue on stage in "Sweeny Todd"). You cringe just as much as you laugh.
"Survivor" (CBS) - We know it's not cool to still like this show, but we still like this show. Jeff Probst is at the top of his game and he's s a big reason why the show works. More importantly, of course, is that armchair quarterbacking is completely unavoidable. How can one not marvel at the bone-headed decisions these poor charact--, er, contestants make? You wonder if these people have ever seen "Survivor." The tribe has spoken.
"The Walking Dead" (AMC) - The Cheese Fry loves zombies. There's something uniquely appealing about a band of exhausted survivors facing impossible odds in the form of armies of relentless, mindless monsters. If it's got a zombie it, we want to see it. This new show doesn't cover much new ground in zombie lore (for something uniquely horrifying and inventive, read Max Brook's World War Z), but it's lean and mean and entirely competent. And it seems bent on exploring that classic question of the genre: who's the more dangerous enemy, the zombies you're fighting or your fellow survivors? And it's on cable, which means it's got a lot of gore, which is always a plus for this kind of thing.