And now for something completely different... (

By:Jason Davis
Date: Monday, July 24, 2006

Alas, I am not devoting this week's column to MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS. Indeed, I'm not devoting this edition to anything. I've got several upcoming notions on a slow boil, but none of them are quite ready to fill a TV Wasteland. To be quite honest, I was hoping J. Michael Straczynski's big announcement at Comic-Con would provide me with some worthwhile fodder, but as my deadline approaches, I've yet to ascertain the contents of said announcement. Bugger. Instead, we shall, for this week, have something of an anomaly wherein the lion's share of this installment is found within the TV listings below. I shall, to that end, offer general appraisals of this summer's television offerings even as I catalog their occurrences in the schedule. So, without further adieu, onto the listings:

LIFE ON MARS (10 PM PST, BBC America) Pilot If you watch one hour of television this week, let it be this show. While investigating a serial killer, present day British cop Sam Tyler (John Simm) is hit by a car and wakes up 33 years earlier in 1973 where he's expected as a transfer from a different police unit. Co-creators Matthew Graham (DOCTOR WHO, HUSTLE), Tony Jordan (creator of HUSTLE) and Ashley Pharoah (who, along with having a cool surname, wrote foryou guessed it--HUSTLE!) have hit it out of the park with this show that TV Wasteland calls "The best new TV show of the season!" Yes, I realize that I just quoted myself, but quoting Entertainment Weekly or TV Zone or any of the mags singing this show's praises would entail me getting up from the computer and, by Neilson, I have a deadline to keep! Trust me on this. The show's blend of modern police sensibilities and 70s political incorrectness would be reason enough to watch, but it also has a fantastic soundtrack (that will not be making it to the DVD releasesee last week's column) and a cast of extraordinarily brilliant actors. Philip Glenister (brother of HUSTLE's Robert Glenister to continue the trend) does an astonishing job of subtly building a character across the season's eight episode runhis facility for slowly fine-tuning the performance over a set period of time is amazing. Anyhow, that's enough of my leaping up and down. Please, treat yourself and check out the show...

DEAD LIKE ME (8 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Dead Girl Walking" One of the great tragedies in recent memory, this Showtime series was yet another casualty of the network's seeming inability to commit to anything longer than two seasons since the 21st century began. Chronicling the post-mortem adventures of George Lass (Ellen Muth)a twenty-something slacker killed by a de-orbiting toilet from a disintegrating space stationwho finds herself drafted into service as a grim reaper, DEAD LIKE ME was a marvelous blend of emotional drama and gallows' humor. Conceived by WONDERFALLS co-creator Bryan Fuller, the series shares a lot in common with its Fox-aborted younger sibling (except, of course, a second season). If you enjoyed the knick-knack induced adventures of Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas), give this show a look as it makes its basic cable debut on SFC. Alas, I'm sure it'll be slightly edited for content, but what isn't in these FCC fine-happy days?

DEAD LIKE ME (8 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Curious George" Need another reason to watch? Mandy Patinkin! Inigo Montoya himself, plays the head reaper and he dispenses wisdom in the Waffle House like nobody's business.

EUREKA (9 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Many Happy Returns" I haven't had this much fun visiting a televisual town since I arrived in TWIN PEAKS. Last week's pilot was a brilliant glimpse into a marvelous premise and I can't wait to see how this series develops. In this second installment of the series, the newly appointed Sheriff Carter (Colin Ferguson) attends a locale funeral only to find the deceased sitting in his office after the service. The show has a marvelously quirky quality that reminds me slightly of my first impressions of FARSCAPE which is a pretty good sign. Give it a look if you're up for something offbeat.

NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES (9 PM PST, TNT) "The Road Virus Heads North" Tom Berenger stars in this episode of the Stephen King anthology, but your humble correspondent has yet to sample TNT's offering and is sadly unfit to comment. Given previous King TV successes, you're odds are roughly even...

BLADE (10 PM PST, SPIKE TV) "The Evil Within" Again, I confess to being woefully behind on this show. Hell, I'm woefully behind on the franchise having never even seen BLADE II, though I probably should having just spoken with writer-director Guillermo Del Toro the other daythe man is a fantastic commentator on the horror genre, by the wayabsolutely riveting in his analysis.

NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES (9 PM PST, TNT) "The Fifth Quarter" >B>X-FILES stalwart Rob Bowman directs this segment featuring SIX FEET UNDER's Jeremy Sisto. I love Sisto's work and am quite fond of Bowman's (even ELEKTRA in a strange and disconcerting way...).

HUSTLE (10 PM PST, AMC) Episode 17 From the same production company that brings you LIFE ON MARS, we have another of my favorites which basically takes the premise behind MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (the 1966 TV series, not the asinine film franchise they stamped its name on) and sets it on the other side of the law. Though I'm only up to the end of series one, I've yet to see a weak episode and the cast, led by the charismatic Adrian Lester, is an ensemble of riches like you won't see anywhere else.

HEX (10 PM PST, BBC America) "Spiral" Top marks for atmosphere and imagery, but I'm still trying to adapt to this show's style of storytelling. Actress Jemima Rooper is hilarity personified while Christina Cole exudes a kind of dangerous charm. I'm not quite sure what to make of newcomer Laura Pyper as Ella Dee, but she certainly packs a lot of presence into her performance often upstaging the show's ostensible star.

MONK (9 PM PST, USA) "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing" I've honestly not seen much of MONK, but I definitely like what I have witnessed and Tony Shalhoub deserves his, until a few weeks ago, consistent spot in the Emmy ballot.

STARGATE: SG-1 (9 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "The Pegasus Project" Okay, gentlemen sharpen your rocks and ladies don your fake beards so that you can attend the stoning. STARGATE: SG-1 really doesn't do it for me. It's a fine program and I see perfectly well why it inspires such devotion in its fans. I'll even go so far as to say that it's managed that singular feat of transforming itself to insure longevity. The addition of Browder and Black, coincidentally just as I started working for Cinescape, was a godsend to me because it created enough of a re-boot and added some beloved familiar faces making my indoctrination a little less painful. Still, I feel unprepared to comment on the show at any great length because the weight of those first eight years is a foreboding thing to contemplate. Hence, you don't see much mention of the show hereaboutsfor that, I apologize to those of you who love it as much as I love my DOCTOR WHO. Still, I do watchmainly for Claudand I may, eventually, feel confident enough to give it the discussion it deserves.

PSYCHE (10 PM PST, USA) "Woman Seeking Dead Husband - Smokers Okay, No Pets" With a title like that, I know I'll be watching. USA's motto of "Characters Welcome" has to be as pleasant an ideal as you'll find on TV these days. The shows aren't always plotted with razor-sharp originality, but I never fail to be entertained by the endearingly eccentric characters that populate them.

STARGATE: ATLANTIS (10 PM PST, Sci Fi Channel) "Irresistible" A death fetishist takes a liking to Agent Scully and...wait...that's the wrong "Irresistible." That might actually make for an amusing party game to play with your more pop-culturally literate cohorts. Take an episode of a show and place the characters from a different show that used the same episode title in the story. Start with "Eye of the Beholder"...I think every show in history has used that one at some point.

I have instituted a policy of raiding my DVD cabinets on Saturday nights. If you at home would like to play along, this weekend's entry will be the Sci Fi Channel's CHILDREN OF DUNE as I'm in the process of re-reading Frank Herbert's work of genius.

THE 4400 (9 PM PST, USA) "The Ballad of Kevin and Tess" As the title would suggest, the story centers on Kevin Burkoff (Jeffrey Combs) and Tess Doerner (Summer Glau) who go on the run when the latter's work garners the wrong kind of interest. Though this season stumbled for me with "Gone Part 2," I think THE 4400 is the kind of show I longed for in the early 90s when I religiously read Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men and dreamed of a live-action TV series. The show tackles the same issues with the additional weight of post-9/11 paranoia bolstering it for good measure and I commend any series that provides a home for the lovely Summer Glau and the reliable Jeffrey Combstwo wonderful talents!

DEADWOOD (9 PM PST, HBO) "Leviathan Smiles" Wyatt Earp arrives in the camp as this remarkable HBO begins its slow fade to black. Though I love the show and its "profane poetry," I have little difficulty in seeing why it's been cancelled. After all, HBO is supported by subscribers and DEADWOOD would have been a budget-buster for a broadcast network with huge ad revenues. At the end of the day, I can't imagine that HBO can hope to recoup expenses from such an extravagant period piece. CARNIVÁLE fell prey to the same unrepentant accounting and I'm certain the same fate will eventually befall ROME (probably after the second season amortizes the sets to a reasonable figure). Each series was a noble experiment, but I fear HBO will soon dwell exclusively within the here and now.

THE DEAD ZONE (10 PM PST, USA) "Symmetry" Always well acted, this show is hit or miss in the script department. The writers have an astonishing ability to generate concepts for the series and always tie Johnny Smith's psychic abilities into the story with ease. It's the execution of those stories where things usually fall apart, though the last two episodes I've watched have been high water marks for the series with some very well-told tales to be found in "Articles of Faith" and "The Inside Man."

BROTHERHOOD (10PM PST, Showtime) "Matthew 5:6" With the whole Bible to choose from, we're in the same book as last week? Oh well, the gospel is probably easier to find cool quotes from, but I'm all about the Old Testament personally. I was drawn to this one mainly on the strength of Jason Isaacs and Annabeth Gish, two performers I've enjoyed elsewhere. Upon tuning in, I discovered a show with the wonderful conceit that the law-abiding congressman brother is dirtier and more two-faced than his gangster brother. It's a brilliant set-up and I've yet to be disappointed by an episode as I write this. Here, of course, is the obligatory verse: "Blessed [are] they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."

That wraps things up for this week. I promise a more conventional column for next week, but I hope you've enjoyed this little exploration of "Why I watch" and do check out LIFE ON MARS. It's rare that I take to a show this passionately and I hope maybe you will too.

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