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Wizards of Waverly Place (2007)
Too Much Disney, Not Enough Logic
Since Disney unjustly canceled Phil of the Future, it's been digging its own grave canceling its hit shows and creating really bad ones, like "Cory in the House," "Shake It Up," "Austin And Ally" and others. I just want to wince when I see this one. I remember the TV show "Bewitched," and it was mostly about the husband and wife. I recall "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," and it was mostly a satire on teenagers. "Wizards of Waverly Place" has its origins as a pilot around Aly and AJ MiChalka as sisters, but since they're doing better at concerts than acting, the series has been retooled around several supporting Disney actors like David Henrie from "That's So Raven" and Selena Gomez from "Hannah Montana." What bothers me about this show is that it's not creative and it doesn't make sense. I've studied magic and the paranormal, and this series is just not getting one thing correct. It's making things up as to what people think magic is about, and sticking "Wiz-" in front of everything. "Wiz-this" and "Wiz-that." Now, Selena Gomez is cute and attractive, and I hear she has a singing voice as well, but her character is annoyingly grating, an obvious holdover from her character on "Hannah Montana." The effects are cheap and often not very convincing. I get the feeling Disney doesn't care much on creating decent family TV shows anymore, just churning out star vehicles as promotional spectacles to create pop stars. Has anyone noticed that each of their shows has turned out at least one insanely successful pop star? "Wizards of Waverly Place" doesn't need to be good or successful as long as Selena becomes a singing star off it. However, the show is kind of addictive. After one episode, I'm checking it out more and more and trying to catch it where I can, but the show is infantile and ludicrous in its execution, but it is harmless Disney fare. From the start, it lacks any true creativity and imagination, trying to making it up in spirit and fun, but toward the end, the writers and creators became especially lazy. Bad episodes, illogical plot points, ridiculous scenarios, idiot characters and the main leads became even more and more exaggerated. What's worse, the characters of Justin and Alex fail to stay consistent. The only one who stays remotely consistent is Max, and he's just the comic relief. Over all, I recall the potential this series had from the start, and it's a major shame it degraded so far without reaching it.
The Sketch Show (2001)
Potential Out of Reach
I liked this show, but even I admit it had more bad moments than good ones. The only really good TV sketch comedies that worked were "The Benny Hill Show," "Dave Allen at Large" and by the broadest scope, both the American and British versions of "Whose Line" and they all worked because they had the courage to push bad taste. "The Sketch Show" didn't even try; it relied on bad puns and confusing scenes that got even more bizarre as scenes unfolded. There was no foundation to the series either. On his series, Dave Allen told hysterical stories and shared whimsical looks of life while Benny often told dirty limericks that slipped past American censors. Nothing was wrong with the "Sketch Show" ensemble of actors; each of them could easily have created an enduring character to go down in TV history with Flip Wilson's Geraldine or Eddie Murphy's Buckwheat. Kelsey Grammar obviously had a lot of faith in this series to show just how much comedy he could do when he wasn't limited to the restraints of Dr. Frasier Craine, but the series was inflicted with not enough creativity or courage to do anything daring. Drew Carey and Dave Allen both proved that comedy could not be defined and it did not have to be forced, but The Sketch Show was about as painful as watching your relatives trying to make your baby girl smile.
Excellent Kids Show For Adults
There has not been a show like this since "Beakman's World." In a time where cartoons have become condescending to kids and idiot purple dinosaurs won't get canceled, it's finally time to see a series that adults won't want to leave the room as their kids watch. Filmed in green screen with backdrops added digitally, Lazytown is a place of indefinable location populated by only six puppets and two adults. One of which is Sportacus, the wonder athlete without super powers whose mystic gem warns him of trouble. Trouble usually mastermind by the other human, Robbie Rotten, a local ne'er-do-well who lives in a bunker concealed behind a billboard. It is to this town where the human pink-haired girl Stephanie comes. Somehow related to the puppet mayor, she tries to teach the kids of Lazytown the wonders of playing, using their imagination and having fun as Sportacus helps her. She is played by Julianna Mauriello, a spirited and wonderful girl about 11-13 years of age with excellent acting skills and an excellent voice. If she leaves the series because of puberty (I frankly don't see her wearing that costume at 18), she could go straight to an excellent singing career. Magnús Scheving plays Sportacus, the ever out-going hero with gusto and good cheer Stefán Karl Stefánsson over-acts and hams up his comedic talent as Robbie Rotten, who's actually less a villain and more a hapless demented loner searching for peace and quiet. The overall style of the show is part magic and part entertainment as it tries teaching the lessons that adults can't teach. I highly recommend the series to all parents with kids under ten.
Best Discovery Channel Series
I'm a big fan of urban myths, and while The Learning Channel floats its urban myth series around looking for a place in its schedule, I still at least have Mythbusters! The show stars Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman as sort of the intellectual version of Abott and Costello, two obviously gifted guys who expose crazy urban myths born out of society and make it funny while trying to tick each off. Deep down, these guys really are buddies, but the humor mixed in with the science actually makes the show work. Adam sometimes gets too cartoony and Jamie a bit stodgy, but when they bounce off each other and an experiment goes right, or even funnier goes wrong, it's interesting as they scratch their heads and try to figure out why gasoline won't erupt into flames or their washing machine won't explode. Rounding out the cast is folklorist Heather Joseph-Witman giving the facts or history of the myths, Tory the builder and comic straight man and Kari the redheaded sexpot, a very talented artist in her own right. Of course, the true star is Buster the resident victim. A sort of human-sized articulated mannequin dummy, he's been blown up, set on fire, dropped from the sky and in an elevator and the mute witness to things blowing up in his face. I imagine this series will stay available as long as they can find myths that can be tested scientifically, or at least be able to blow up. This show has to have created the biggest explosion short of a nuclear blast - a concrete truck filled with dynamite. I hear Adam is still looking for where he parked it!
Grounded for Life (2001)
TV's Little Show That Could
Started out on FOX, became a hit, canceled by FOX, rescued by WB, dropped by the WB, syndicated by FOX Family.... this wonderful, funny show has been struggling for a long time for the respect it deserves. It's not a bad show; it's actually quite under-appreciated, but then, only the fans seem to love it. It had a revolutionary style that started with the end and then flashed back on the events that got them there. The back story was that Donal Logue, the happy go-lucky husband, and Megyn Price, the hot-looking wife, were teenage parents trying to get by with their demurely sexy daughter Lynsey Bartilson and feuding sons, Griffin Frazen and Jake Burbage (who mysteriously vanished but still spoken of just before the last season). Their lives were tested by the idiot brother, a possible shady character who didn't understand why he was always in trouble, played by Kevin Corrigan; Richard Reihle, the widowed father with out-dated parenting tips and Bret Harrison, the kind of nerdy and socially-inept neighbor kid with the hots for the daughter. The show had a surprisingly winning formula and the stars all had excellent chemistry, but very little faith by the networks. Riehle, the consummate character actor, even left to co-star in ABC's short-lived hit, "Married to the Kellys," and even faithfully returned for the last episode while the youngest son remained inexplicably and noticeably missing, something that was never explained (did Burbage's parents ask for more money? we may never know). Several things occurred in the series that took the characters away from their original roles: the dad quit his job to save his favorite bar and fight to keep it open, the mom quit his job to go to college, the uncle tried going legit but still remained basically demented and the daughter took the next door boy as her boyfriend after realizing he was the kind of guy she wanted. Oddly, of all the strange incidents that happened in the series, the one incident that stands out in my mind never occurred in the series. For a promo, Frankie Munez of "Malcolm in the Middle" once described the daughter growing to a hundred feet tall and turning her parents into finger puppets then confessed he was lying. Still, that's an image that has never left my mind and as Fox Family brings the series back, that image will remain my picture of the style and crazy wit of this series.
Arrested Development (2003)
Future Classic TV Series
I love this show. Very few shows make me break out laughing these days anymore. Arrested Development is finally what all comedies should be, thick characters, rich plots, excellent talent and intelligent humor mixed with momentary nods to other shows by the cast. Henry Winkler as lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn periodically has little "Fonzie" moments. Jason Bateman has been waiting for a great show like this. He's starred in shows like "It's Your Move" and "George and Leo" that were great, but they never bordered on excellent like this show. Portia De Rossi makes me forget she once did "Ally McBeal." She just never reached her full potential there. I can say the same thing for David Cross (The Drew Carey Show) and Jeffrey Tambor (The Ropers, Mr. Sunshine,); both of them reach to greater comedic heights here. I've never seen Jessica Walter do comedy before, but it's amazing the depth of antagonism she brings out as the family matriarch. Also part of the cast are Will Arnett, Tony Hale, Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat; four unknowns I've never heard of but who ought to go far with this series in their resumes. It's just uncanny as to how the plots this repertoire of actors create constantly overlap; they do the show so effortlessly. Ron Howard coming out of his busy schedule to do narration also adds to this successful formula as he reveals past events and tidbits that may or may not have repercussions later. It's through his words we really enter this world and even thank the heavens we are not members of this crazy family, but to tell the truth, I kind of wish I was. I only wish the series was back on Sundays with "The Simpsons" and after "The War at Home." FOX sticking the series on Mondays seems to reveal they have contempt with the show the same way NBC had with "Star Trek" and CBS with "Gilligan's Island," and look where they are now: two TV legacies that never reached their full potential because some freaks with low intelligence pulled them off the air against the wishes of their fans.
Family Guy (1999)
Why bring this back??
With all the excellent series FOX has unjustly *canceled* (Ally McBeal, Titus, Lone Gunmen, Quintuplets, Grounded For Life...), why bring back this one? It's not as good as the Simpsons, nor does it have the creative or the intellectual humor of Bart or Homer Simpson. Why does it insult and the viewer with inane plot points (in one episode, the father departs the plot to engage in violent attacks with a giant chicken for half the episode; the fight has nothing to do with the rest of the episode), but it also shows no respect for the persons or icons it is attacking. Example, this conversation between father and son: "Dad, what's a library?" "It's a place where the homeless go to wash and clean up." Stupidity isn't funny; it never has been. On the Simpsons, you can tell the writers respect and pay homage to what they are parodying (Marge's sister standing before a tank in Tienamen Square), but not on Family Guy. When Mel Gibson did the Simpsons, he was allowed to lampoon his Mad Max character and showcase his fondness for the Three Stooges. When Mel was featured on Family Guy, he was insultingly turned into a Biblical terrorist who hunts down the father and mother for stealing a celluloid movie. In another episode, the teenage daughter is forced to lose her virginity in front of a studio audience on Network TV. The football-headed infant on the show constantly conspires to kill his mother and take over the world, his older brother doesn't think and doesn't want to and the daughter seems normal till you realize how neurotic she is. The supporting characters are paper-thin entities without the depth of say Moe Syzlak, Ned Flanders, Clancy Wiggum or Seymour Skinner. The whole series occurs in a world devoid of logic or common sense and borders on a surreal insanity where no matter how stupid the father is, everything he says is somehow true. At least on The Simpsons, there is a rational pattern to the madness. But why does this idiotic series have a cult status? Despite being shallow and asinine, it is top notch animation and it doesn't make you think. It's irrelevant, it's insulting, it's nonsensical and it's only as funny as a fart joke. Why do people watch it? Probably out of morbid curiosity to find out how far down low it can sink trying to be funny or just because the remote control is on the television. It's still better than any episode of King of the Hill (a show that has been dragged WAY past its expiration date), but it will never reach the iconic status of The Simpsons.
Worthy TV Greatness
This is a perfect show for fans of criminal mysteries. Emotionally powerful, it actually takes a look within the forensic system and features two to three story lines at a time and shows criminals for what they are (IDIOTS!) and as well as insight into what deterrents officers go in taking off crooks off the street. In two separate episodes, a female psychopath has admitted that she'll be lying on the witness stand when she goes to court and the CSI team are limited in their scope to stop her. That's possibly what makes this show for great: it's delving into the human condition (in one episode, on-lookers cheered as a fake body was tossed off a roof measuring descent). The show has a top-notch cast where no one really stands out; they're all great in my mind in portraying these extremely intellectual people straight and serious in their work and yet tongue-in-cheek in their friendships. They give their characters fully developed and layered persona's. The show also uses mind-boggling effects and realistic cadavers in a way that the science is never over one's head. Often times, other great actors have appeared in roles on the series such as Dale Midkiff, Danielle Nicolet, John Kapelos, Bridget Brannagh and Susan Gibney. Because of this show, a new series of slang terms such as "floaters" (dead body in a lake) have entered modern language. My only fear in having a series like this is that criminals will figure out how to break the law and not get caught by knowing how not to leave evidence.
That '70s Show (1998)
It's not very often a series comes around that everyone likes. On the surface, "That '70s Show" was pretty much a one joke vehicle, but after living my teenage years through the Seventies, I really wished these people were my friends. Granted, I never wasted my life drinking beer and antagonizing my parents, but these young actors under the surface really cared about each other when they weren't busy trying to screw and steal each other over 24/7. Topher Grace plays Eric Forman; the same kind of likable loser I was and Mila Kunis was the for whom I would have secretly had an infatuation. Masterson and Valderama had all the best lines as Forman's best friends. Only things I didn't like was that Ashton "Dude, Where's My Car" Kutcher as Michael Kelso was irritatingly annoying! (I did like him in DUDE) He was just too stupid and unbelievable and Laurie Prepon is just too ove - . Who are these people who think she's a bigger over Kunis? I don't see it! Kurtwood Smith was funny as a hesitant father and Debra Jo Rupp was just WAY over the top as the mother. She plays the role as if she were possessed by a psychotic Doris Day. Don Stark was father to Prepon's character and served as a focus of abuse by Eric's dad and amusement from Topher and his friends. Former Angel Tanya Roberts kept her head above water as the boys obsessed on her, but it was not enough and she departed. Sadly, the series' top two stars, Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher have left before the last season. It's a beginning to the end; the show just can't be expected to survive with just Kunis, Valderama and Masterson. A sad end to a once great series....
Scare Tactics (2003)
No Shannen, no show
I really liked this show to start out; having someone as sexy as Shannen Doherty to host a horror series like this sure made me want to watch it, but my understanding of the show and what it was going to be about was completely off. This wasn't a horror series. I was expecting a series that staged paranormal incidents in public, not vicious "practical jokes." Did I say practical jokes? These weren't jokes; these are sadistic stunts. Part Twilight Zone and mostly stupid, the series lost me after a while. With Shannen on the series, I could at least change channels during the sadism, but when she left, so did I. (The worst thing was that she had been booted from her other series, well, no harm no foul; when was the last time a TV executive knew what he was doing.)