What I’m Watching and Why

Every week, I follow Tiffany A. White‘s Tele-Tuesday posts and Tiffany’s and Amber West‘s What to Watch Wednesday posts on their blogs. They have done an excellent job of breaking down television series, classics, and specials so that readers can discern what might be worth their time.

After trying out various series and being well into the fall season, I wanted to give my two cents on what I’m watching and why. For Deep-Fried Friday, I hope you’ll add your own recommendations.

The Big Bang Theory. Perhaps the funniest sitcom on television right now, this show tracks four brilliant but geeky scientists attempting to make it in a world where they don’t fit in. When beautiful but shallow Penny (Kaley Cuoco) moves in next door to Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki), their lives are permanently altered. We have all known someone like these nerds. They are not understood and socially awkward, and yet we feel for them trying to navigate social situations and find love and meaning in their lives. Still, there is enough to mock there. I also have to credit this series with introducing the word “Bazinga!”

Castle. Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is a bestselling author who has killed off his long-running series main character and needs a new idea. Maybe that alone endeared me to him, since there are some writers out there who need to kill off their cash-cow star and write something else for a change. But when a killer begins to copycat murders from Castle’s novels, detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) brings him in to assist. The partnership turns permanent and Castle finds his idea (Beckett inspires his Nikki Heat series), even though there is tension of all kinds between the two and their differing backgrounds and personalities. Another great supporting cast here with fellow detectives Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Castle’s mother (Susan Sullivan) and daughter (Molly C. Quinn). The plot lines are intriguing, the relationships are complicated, and the script-writing is excellent. In addition, Castle has featured real-life writers playing poker with Richard Castle – Stephen J. Cannell, James Patterson, Dennis Lehane, and Michael Connelly.

Grimm. I have initially enjoyed how this series presents the original Grimm’s fairy tales brought to life in modern day. Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is a police detective who is informed by his mysterious aunt that he is a Grimm – a descendent of the family that has fought against the evil fairy tale characters for generations. He must now balance his own police work with the new knowledge of odd creatures living in their community, which he can see but other humans cannot. Of course, there is the solving of a crime each week, alongside his partner Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby). But the crimes weave a tale into them (e.g., Red Riding Hood, the Pied Piper). So far, a supporting character is outshining the rest in this series – Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), a reformed Bludbad (wolf creature) who helps Nick navigate the fairy tale world. I don’t know if I’ll stick with Grimm. It’s interesting, but not yet a must-see on my list.

Hart of Dixie. New York doctor Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson) must complete a year of family medicine before she can obtain the position she has wanted for . . . well, ever. As it turns out, she ends up in Bluebell, Georgia, where her practice partner and a few other townspeople don’t want her. In addition, she struggles to adjust to small-town Southern life. Like other favorite series set in small towns – Northern Exposure, Gilmore Girls, Jericho – the rich characterization carries the storyline. The residents’ charm and quirkiness pull me in, and their conflict, both internal and interpersonal, keep me engaged.

How I Met Your Mother. Main character Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) tells his children the story of how he met their mother. Being long-winded, he also tells about a thousand stories that led up to that moment. The ensemble cast – with Marshall and Lily (couple friends from college, Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan), Barney (a womanizer and opportunist, Neil Patrick Harris), and Robin (a tough-minded, tender-hearted newcomer, Cobie Smulders) – is the focus of the show. Each character has a distinct personality, but the viewer can understand how these people would gravitate to one another. The slapping phenomenon of several shows is one of the best running gags. My only complaint is that the show has recently had a few sad episodes in a row. I’m ready for the comedy to return.

Psych. Break out the pineapple, it’s fun-time with Psych! Shawn Spencer (James Roday) is a slacker whose detective father trained him from an early age to notice every teeny, tiny detail in his environment so that he can solve crimes. He’s so good at it that he catches what others miss and then claims a psychic vision. The police end up hiring him as a psychic police consultant. Shawn drags along his best buddy, Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill), and their antics alone are worth the price of admission. Psych has done a particularly good job of borrowing from other series and films (Twin Peaks, Hitchcock). That tongue-in-cheek humor treats the audience with a clever wink-wink. Best recurring one-liner? Perhaps it’s Shawn’s “I’ve heard it both ways.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I am catching up on the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer series years after it aired. Thanks to my Netflix account, I am currently in the third season. I can see why it was such a popular series. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a California high school student chosen as the One to slay demonic vampires in their midst. Armed with her wits, physical prowess, a knowledgeable and caring mentor, and supportive friends, she battles the forces of evil. It’s interesting to watch her shift between the intense end-of-world rescues and her daily concerns as a high school student and teen. The characterization and acting are good enough that I believe just about anything they throw at me. With as far as I’ve gotten, I can honestly say, forget Team Jacob or Team Edward; I’m on Team Angel (David Boreanaz).

In addition, I look forward to continuing to watch Downton Abbey, Sherlock, The Glades, and Necessary Roughness when they return in 2012.

It’s your turn! What are you watching and why?

Monday Musings: Generation TV

I was recently reading comments on an author’s blog (probably Tiffany A. White, but I can’t find the post) and noticed that several people were talking about Saved by the Bell – which I don’t think I’ve ever seen!  That show debuted after my school years.  In fact, I spent a lot of my time when that show was airing watching CNN’s coverage of the Gulf War, not finding out who Screech was. 

Saved by the Bell cast

Besides reminding me that I’m getting older by the nanosecond, the conversation made me think about how TV shows characterize generations.  Growing up in the 70’s, I have never met anyone my age who hasn’t watched The Brady Bunch (1969-1974).  That was THE family sitcom for our time.  My sister was so well-versed on the Bradys that she could usually predict the plot line based on the opening scene.  (“Jan is wearing her yellow dress and coming down the stairs, so this is the one where she fakes a boyfriend named George Glass and rubs lemon on her freckles.”  That kind of thing.)  The show was such a part of our childhoods that I wonder how many of my generation have secretly downloaded It’s a Sunshine Day onto their MP3 players. 


Then, there was Happy Days (1974-1984).  Cool was defined by the leather-clad Arthur Fonzarelli; 1950’s style and music made a comeback; and my friends all thought Joanie and Chachi were the perfect couple.  Of course, Ron Howard was the crux of the show as the naïve but maturing Richie Cunningham.  In addition to its success, this show spawned Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and Joanie Loves Chachi.  Happy Days was THE show to watch.  (Well, until Fonzie jumped the shark.) 

Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-1979) was perhaps my generation’s Saved by the Bell.  If not for Kotter, I’m pretty sure John Travolta would not have played Danny Zucko a few years later in Grease.  Looking back, the funny thing is how few women were in the show.  Other than Mr. Kotter’s wife and a few supporting actresses who interacted with the main characters, it was a male-focused show.  But Juan Epstein’s mother’s notes were always entertaining, Vinnie Barbarino was nice eye candy even if he was intellectually-challenged, Arnold Horshack was probably our version of Screech – a little nerdy, and Freddie Washington was the really cool one at the end of the day.  And the show made us appreciate that some teachers care about their students quite a lot. 

The last popular sitcom I can recall being a big deal when I was growing up was One Day at a Time (1975-1984), which traces the family of a divorced mother and her teenage daughters – played by Mackenzie Phillips (daughter of Mamas and Papas’ John and Michelle) and Valerie Bertinelli (before Eddie Van Halen and Jenny Craig).  This show dealt with more serious issues – like family break-up, drugs, teenage sexuality – but interjected humor as well.  I think I have at one time or another seen all of the episodes for this show. 

Maybe these shows do characterize my generation well.  It was post-1960’s, but tough subjects were still not talked about a lot on the TV screen.  Slowly, however, shows debuted that dealt with both humorous plots and tough family challenges.  

So what sitcoms define your youth?  What do you recall about them?  Do you think they represent your generation well?  What family sitcoms appeal to you today?