April 01, 2005

TV: The EYES have it

I caught the first episodes of four new TV shows in the last week or so; mostly, they were a disappointing lot -- two god-awful sitcoms and one musty medical drama. But there's one potential gem in the bunch.

Let's get the crud out of the way first, shall we?

Fox's Life on a Stick advertises itself as "the voice of a generation," and gives us a bunch of none-too-bright, none-too-interesting teens who work in a mall's fast food court. We're trying to recapture the vibe of That 70s Show, but the jokes are obvious, the characters are cardboard, and the actors have none of the personality or chemistry of the 70s cast.. (One small exception: It is nice to see Amy Yasbeck working again after the death of her husband, John Ritter; she is the only one in this cast who even comes close to making any of this stuff work.) This one won't last long.

Anything I say about NBC's adaptation of the British cult show The Office should be prefaced by noting that I have never seen the BBC version, so I'm judging the new one strictly on its own merits (which is, of course, how it should be judged). And those merits, I'm afraid, are thin enough that I'm having a hard time seeing them.

The show is an exaggerated recreation of all the most hellishly embarrassing, awkward, and unpleasant moments that make up a day in the typical office, and I'm at a loss to find anything funny in that. The pacing is interminably slow; the actors are bland and listless. Steve Carell, who I've liked elsewhere, makes the best impression, I suppose, hurling himself into the role of the clueless and insensitive office manager with all the energy he can muster, but the scripts give him nothing to work with. In a way, this is even more unpleasant to watch than Life on a Stick; at least with that one, I can tell where it's supposed to be funny. The appeal of The Office escapes me entirely.

ABC gives us Grey's Anatomy, about a group of four residents beginning their training to become surgeons. Sandra Oh as one of the residents is particularly good, and Chandra Wilson, as one of their supervising doctors, makes the most of a somewhat hackneyed Feisty Black Woman role. This isn't a bad show, it's just not particularly memorable or distinctive. It could have been made at any time within the last 20 years or so (with a bit of editing for sexual content and language, I suppose). Grey's Anatomy is thoroughly competent, but a bit stale.

But finally, there was one bright spot: ABC's Eyes, a hip update on the private-eye genre that fits very nicely into the Wednesday lineup after Lost and Alias. Tim Daly stars as Harlan Judd, whose "risk management" firm skirts the edge of the law to satisfy its clients. Daly is surrounded by a fine supporting cast of actors, most of whom have been working steadily for a few years without really becoming recognizable names; this show should change that.

Making the best impression in the first episode, I thought, were A.J. Langer (best known for My So-Called Life) as a recently hired investigator still trying to balance her military background with the occasionally shady tactics Judd calls on her to use; and Rick Worthy as Judd's best friend and most trusted partner, a gay black man who's only recently been released from an institution after an as-yet-unexplained nervous breakdown. They, along with the rest of the cast, have a nice chemistry.

The writing is sharp and clever, and I suspect we're going to get a lot of entertaining "nothing is what it seems" con-game scenes (and I am a sucker for a good con game). I hope this one catches on.

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