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Don't Mention Kolchak

By David Michael Wharton     September 26, 2005

Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan of ALIAS.
Well, what do y'all think?

Summer's over, most of the new genre shows have hit the airwaves (INVASION, THRESHOLD, SUPERNATURAL, SURFACE), Sci-Fi Friday takes a breather until January (thanks so much for that cliffhanger, Ron Moore, you bastard), and we finally got a glimpse into the inner workings of the island's hatch (and I don't mean the tax-dodging SURVIVOR winner). FX has marked the turning of the seasons by wrapping up one series (RESCUE ME) and returning another (NIP/TUCK, as preposterous and entertaining as ever). And this week we see the returns of a hit-or-miss superhero (SMALLVILLE), a creatively stumbling spy gal (ALIAS), and the "Harry Potter of shows" (VERONICA MARS).

Oh, and then there's the matter of the NIGHT STALKER remake. The less said about that, the better, but I'll still say plenty below.

So I want to hear from you guys. It's been a while since we've run a barrage of reader mail, so send me your cheers and jeers for the summer viewing season. The shows that kept you on the edge of your seat, or the ones that kept you on the edge of a yawn. The only rule is that if you're going to dog on a show, try and make a reasoned argument for why the show ain't your bag, baby. And no name calling… that's what the comments section is for.

Onto the week to come…

Tuesday, September 27

The business of wacky lawyering is a delicate one. A little wacky goes a long way, a lesson ably demonstrated by the recent mercy killing of HEAD CASES (first casualty of the new season!). BOSTON LEGAL, whatever its occasional excesses, has the balance between drama, quirk, and character nailed. A large part of that success is bound to the twin anchors of Denny Crane (William Shatner) and Alan Shore (James Spader). As Shore, Spader carries a moral compass whose magnetic north shifts according to convenience, but he still manages to sell righteous indignation on behalf of his clients when needed. As for Shatner, he's achieved the rare feat of logging twin entries into the pop culture lexicon. Spending decades typecast as Kirk obviously taught him to be comfortable mocking his own image, and he's taken the self-deprecation on display in FREE ENTERPRISE and remade his career at an age when most people would be stuck doing infomercials for DVD rental kiosks. Of course, if it were only self-mockery, the joke would wear out after a while. But Denny Crane is as fully realized as Kirk in a fraction of the screen time, and arguably more interesting. And not many people could turn "Denny Crane" into a punch line that still works, even after a season of usage.

There have been some changes in the firm as the season begins -- Lake Bell is off hunting sea serpents on SURFACE, Rhona Mitra is having three-ways on NIP/TUCK -- but as long as Spader and Shatner remain in play, the latter a twilight reflection of the former, BOSTON LEGAL will be judged and found worthy.

I'm surprised it's taken them this long to do a "female president" series, especially with the success of THE WEST WING proving the fertility of the Oval Office's dramatic soil. CIC boasts good genes, springing from the creative loins of Rod Lurie, whose cop 'n' mobster drama LINE OF FIRE was gunned down all too quickly by ABC. Much ado has been made about Geena Davis in the lead role, especially since her last TV foray was 2000's unmourned fatality THE GEENA DAVIS SHOW, and rightly so since much of this show's success will hinge upon her verisimilitude as the leader of the United States. It's an uphill battle for Davis, since I'm fairly certain the Constitution disqualifies any presidential candidate who starred in CUTHROAT ISLAND. Still, America is a land of second chances, so I ignored the many minutes of my life Geena Davis has stolen and gave her a fair shot to win me over as the PotUS in the pilot episode.

Davis does a passable job as President Mackenzie Allen, opposite Donald Sutherland as a GOP nemesis just a few shades of villainy shy of actually twirling his mustache and tying the new president to the nearest set of railroad tracks. If the show survives, the conflict between these two will fuel much of the tension, but neither character is particularly inspiring, especially when stacked against the gold standard of Josiah Bartlett and his Sorkin-era WEST WING staff. Bartlett was originally intended to remain only an occasional player on that show, with Sorkin instead keeping the focus on the men and women behind the president, and yet Sheen's barnstorming performance at the end of the pilot made such an impression that the writers reworked the show to increase his role. Martin Sheen came across as, well, as presidential, and Davis has yet to make a similar impression. Points are also lost for the resolution of the pilot's principal crisis, which, without spoiling anything, is resolved just a bit too cleanly for my liking. How much more interesting could it have been if Mackenzie made the choice to go against the advice of many and accept the presidency, then stuck to her principles on her first major decision in office, only to have things turn out tragically?

Wednesday, September 28

SMALLVILLE should take lessons from VERONICA on how to properly balance a season-long storyline against self-contained episodes. For most of its first season, VERONICA deftly meshed the "case of the week" against the investigation of Lily Kane's death, a mystery that expanded to include the truth about Veronica's rape, the whereabouts of her mother, and even the question of "who's her daddy?" The pilot was one of the most solid I've seen in a long time, hitting on all cylinders with smart, funny characters, crackling dialogue, and a nimble mixture of humor and pathos. VERONICA could also teach LOST a thing or two when it comes to doling out enough information to keep the audience from getting frustrated, without spoiling the show's mysteries too soon. Showrunner Rob Thomas introduced a compelling mystery in the pilot, complicated and twisted it as the season progressed, and then wrapped it up by season's end in a satisfactory manner that didn't cut any narrative corners or cheat the audience. This season, there's an all-new mystery, while the story will build off the ramifications of last year. No "There's a ladder in the hatch!" moments for this show, thank you very much.

The show's cast is stellar, with Kristen Bell far more deserving of an Emmy than many with trophies on their shelf, and Enrico Colantoni as Keith Mars is hands-down the best dad on television. If there is a worthy successor to the Buffyverse, this is it, and it's no coincidence that the show has attracted vocal fans including Kevin Smith, LOST's Damon Lindelof, and Joss Whedon (who will even be making a guest appearance this season).

Thursday, September 29

Syd is preggers! Vaughn might be dead! Nadia's a zombie! And I don't care!

Actually, that's not true. A few weeks ago, I certainly didn't care. Two mediocre seasons in a row had officially stripped the bloom from the rose for yours truly, and last year's revelation that Rambaldi's master plan involved floating a big red ball over Russia and turning everybody into ill-tempered cannibals was the last straw. Still…that was a pretty nice last-minute cliffhanger. Combine that with the new cast additions of Bathlazar Getty, THE INSIDE's Rachel Nichols, and even ANGEL's Amy Acker, and I am reluctantly intrigued. It will be interesting to see how active Mrs. Garner-Affleck is this year now that she's with child both in continuity and in real life. Although I must say, I would have loved to see them try to pull an I LOVE LUCY and keep Garner's swelling belly hidden behind computer monitors, desks, and blousy fetishwear. The addition of Nichols, combined with Garner's big-screen aspirations, suggest that perhaps the writers are hoping to set up Syd's eventual replacement, and that may be just what the show needs. New characters can give the writers new chemistry to work with, and god knows they didn't seem to be going anywhere with the show's originals. Then again, new characters can also result in the last few seasons of X-FILES. Still, everyone on the show has already double-crossed everyone else at least twice, so at least now there are some new possibilities for betrayal.

A lot of fans were dreading this remake, a skepticism that wasn't helped by the casting of Stuart "Thank God I didn't wind up as Aragorn" Townshend as the new incarnation of Carl Kolchak. I'm sorry to say, those suspicions were well founded.

The original series was cheesy fun, anchored by an infamous performance by Darren McGavin as Kolchak. No matter how ridiculous the week's plotline, McGavin sold it with his character's rumpled charm and good humor. Townshend's Kolchak, on the other hand, has all the charm of a pillow full of thumbtacks.

The show is overseen by former X-FILEr Frank Spotnitz, and his background shows… but not in a good way. The two episodes of this show available for review feel amazingly like early, mediocre episodes of X-FILES. The crucial difference, though, is that even a mediocre X-FILE was elevated by the characters of Mulder and Scully and the performances of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. The new NIGHT STALKER doesn't have a compelling character anywhere in sight, and in fact the show could fairly easily have been made from unfilmed X-FILES scripts with only a few minor changes (and could only benefit from the changes). The ongoing mystery linking Kolchak's dead wife to all manner of unexplained phenomenon that the episodes hint at shows some potential, but the rest of the show is one "been there, done that" moment after another. There is nothing fresh here, no new spin to distract us from the fact that we've seen this kind of story done before, many times, and better. SUPERNATURAL may not be a show for the ages, but its sense of humor and genuine desire to make you jump out of your seat is much closer to the spirit of Carl Kolchak than this mess. Kolchak has been made over into a brooding Mulder wannabe, assayed by a thoroughly uninteresting actor, and the biggest unsolved mystery about this show is: why does it exist?

All the commercials have been playing up this season's introduction of more comic-book elements, such as the Fortress of Solitude, as Clark inches ever closer to his date with tights. The more focus on Clark's training for world saving, the better, because that leaves less time for half-assed plotlines involving Lana as a reincarnated witch (my stomach churns just typing that). The season opener also gives us a pair of new Kryptonians, and we can be fairly certain they'll wind up punching Clark in the head before too long. Meanwhile, we'll get more Metropolis, a guest stint by Carrie Fisher as the pre-Perry White editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet, James "Spike" Marsters as Braniac, and even an appearance by Aquaman (although if someone could tell me what Aquaman is doing in Kansas, I'd love to hear it). And say, shouldn't Lex be getting really evil by now? Bring on the Machiavellian fun!

Send all questions, comments, and defenses of Stuart Townshend to Keep your head and hands inside the television, folks…


ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (7 PM CST, FOX) "The British Bombshell." Charlize Theron joins the cast as a British love interest for Michael. There's a "the British are coming" joke in there somewhere, but I'm much too professional for that.

SURFACE (7 PM CST, NBC) Laura and Rich team up to investigate the appearance of a strange sea creature that washes up on a beach. Let's just hope the Oregon Highway Division doesn't dynamite it before they arrive.

KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL (7:30 PM CST, FOX) "Aftermath." The comedy series crosses over with James Ellroy's L.A. CONFIDENTIAL as Jack becomes embroiled in a case of governmental corruption that begins with a bloody gun battle in the walk-in freezer.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (7:30 PM CST, CBS) "Purple Giraffe." I must say, that was a nice little last-minute twist in last week's pilot episode. Suit up!

PRISON BREAK (8 PM CST, Fox) "Riots, Drills and the Devil." Michael futzes with the prison air conditioning in order to get more time in the yard. I wonder if the prison has those convenient Hollywood air vents that are always just big enough for a full-grown man to climb through.

MEDIUM (9 PM CST, NBC) "The Song Remains the Same." Don't you hate it when you get a song stuck in your head? That happens to Allison tonight, but in her case it portends doom of some sort.

WEEDS (9:30 PM CST, Showtime) "The Punishment Light." Nancy schtups a competitor in the ganja-distribution industry.


BONES (7 PM CST, FOX) "A Boy in a Tree." Temperance investigates the death of the son of a Venezuelan ambassador, which appears to be suicide but may be murder. Isn't it always?

GILMORE GIRLS (7 PM CST, WB) "The UnGraduate." Lorelai is aggravated by the construction crew working on her house, while Rory joins the Daughters of the American Revolution.

HOUSE (8 PM CST, FOX) "Humpty Dumpty." Cuddy's handyman falls off the roof and only gets worse when taken to the hospital. Tragically, all the king's horses and all the king's men can't put him back together again.

MY NAME IS EARL (8 PM CST, NBC) "Quit Smoking." Earl tries both to quit smoking and to make things right with a fella who did time for one of Earl's crimes. Too bad they don't have a patch for that second one.

COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF (8 PM CST, ABC) "Pilot." Geena Davis gets hailed as the Chief after a brain aneurysm fells the president. In the pilot, she must decide if she wants to accept the presidency or step down, while also dealing with a powder keg of a foreign crisis. (Series premiere)

SUPERNATURAL (8 PM CST, WB) "Dead in the Water." The brothers tackle a murderous lake-dwelling spirit. Perhaps the Lady in the Lake's inbred cousin?

THE OFFICE (8:30 PM CST, NBC) "Sexual Harassment." Michael's worried that a review of the office's sexual harassment policies may stifle the "casual" atmosphere he mistakenly believes exists with his employees.

BOSTON LEGAL (9 PM CST, ABC) "The Black Widow." Guest stars aplenty as Heather Locklear plays a woman accused of killing her sugar-daddy older husband and Rupert Everett plays an attorney with ties to Tara. (Season premiere)

SCI-FI INSIDE: SERENITY (9 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Nathan Fillion hosts a behind-the-scenes look into Joss Whedon's big-screen FIREFLY expansion.

NIP/TUCK (9 PM CST, FX) "Kiki." As Matt learns the truth about Ava, Christian performs surgery on a gorilla. Which answers the age-old question, "Where does a 900-lb gorilla get cosmetic surgery done?"


LOST (8 PM CST, ABC) "Adrift." Having revealed the puzzling contents of the Hatch, now LOST's writers turn their attention back to Michael, Sawyer, and Jin's raft troubles.

VERONICA MARS (8 PM CST, UPN) "Normal Is the Watchword." One of the best new shows of last season returns with a new mystery and plenty more Kristen Bell hotness. (Season premiere)

GHOST HUNTERS (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Eastern State Revisted; Vacation Home." TAPS returns to the site of one of their creepier encounters.

INVASION (9 PM CST, ABC) "Lights Out." Suspicions of alien foul play are intensified with the discovery of a wounded airman.

OVER THERE (9 PM CST, FX) "Suicide Rain." Do the people on BONES know about this "suicide rain"? Maybe that kid in the tree wasn't murdered after all!


THE O.C. (7 PM CST, Fox) "The Last Waltz." Marissa makes a new friend and the Coopers get evicted.

ALIAS (7 PM CST, ABC) "Prophet Five." Syd's knocked up and Vaughn isn't who he said he was (assuming he's still alive at all). (Season premiere)

SMALLVILLE (7 PM CST, WB) "Arrival." The show ramps the mythology into high gear with the introduction of the Fortress of Solitude and a pair of malevolent Kryptonians. (Season premiere)

EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (7 PM CST, UPN) "Everybody Hates Keisha." Chris' dream girl falls for his brother. Incidentally, I now can't wait to have kids, just so I can threaten to "slap the caps off your knees!" Although I don't think it will be quite the same coming from me.

REUNION (8 PM CST, Fox) "1988." Sam enlists Will to help her recover her baby. Maybe the dingo ate her baby.

NIGHT STALKER (8 PM CST, ABC) "Pilot." I've met Carl Kolchak, Mr. Townshend, and you, sir, are no Carl Kolchak. (Series premiere)


GHOST WHISPERER (7 PM CST, CBS) "The Crossing." In a bit of reverse SIXTH SENSE-ery, a little boy isn't aware that he's dead, until Jennifer Love Hewitt and her breasts help him out.

MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE (7:30 PM CST, Fox) "Burning Man." Malcolm travels to Burning Man and is impressed by a healer played by Rosanna Arquette. (Season premiere)

THRESHOLD (8 PM CST, CBS) "The Burning." An escaped mental patient knows the truth that's out there. Given that episode title, he may also have syphilis.

NUMBERS (9 PM CST, CBS) "Bettor or Worse." A woman robs a jewelry store by giving the owner a note saying his family will be killed unless he hands over some diamonds, but she is then gunned down by the 5-0 on the way out. Apparently, they aren't always a girls best friend.


TEEN TITANS (7 PM CST, Cartoon Network) "Homecoming, Part Two." The Doom Patrol teams up with the Titans to tackle the Brotherhood of Evil.

CHUPACABRA: DARK SEAS (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Never, never sign up for the goat-sucker cruise.


THE WEST WING (7 PM CST, NBC) "The Mommy Problem." Janeane Garofalo joins the cast as a presumably snarky media consultant for the Santos campaign.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (8 PM CST, ABC) "You Could Drive a Person Crazy." Lynette and Tom settle into their newly reversed roles as bread-winner and bread-baker.

ROME (8 PM CST, HBO) "Egeria." Outnumbered by Pompey's forces, Caesar asks Anthony to join him in Greece. He also invents a salad.

AMERICAN DAD (8:30 PM CST, Fox) "Con Heir." Stan's dad show up and makes him an offer he can't refuse.

This concludes our broadcast.


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