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Sitcoms and Space Invaders

By David Michael Wharton     September 12, 2005

Howdy all, welcome back to another action-packed week of obscure references and questionable wit. Got plenty of new show previews to cover this week, and I was finally able to get my hands on a copy of the SURFACE pilot (thanks NBC!), so we'd best get right into it. Before we do that, however, I do have one question for you.

How great was it that they snuck the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA theme into the closing moments of last week's episode?

I suppose the little chill that went up my back when I recognized the opening chords of the theme creeping in over Lucy Lawless' narration is a testament to the power of music to stir emotion and memory. I've always thought that the striking, martial theme from the original series is one of the finest bits of genre music ever composed, even if it was attached to a corny 70s STAR WARS knock-off. It's fitting that it has finally been put to use for a show worthy of its stirring refrains.

Friday, September 16


This season, it's all about aliens. Blame LOST for both the resurgence of genre shows and for the fact that we're being invaded on no fewer than three separate networks this season. ABC has strange things afoot in Louisiana (strange things that begin, in a case of spectacularly unfortunate timing, in the wake of a hurricane) in Shaun Cassidy's INVASION, NBC's getting their ABYSS on with mysterious aquatic critters swimming the seas and falling from the skies in SURFACE (about which more below), and CBS is bringing us THRESHOLD. In it, Carla Gugino returns to series television just in time for me to cease mourning the loss of KAREN SISCO, playing a government "contingency analyst" who suddenly becomes one of the most important people on the planet when one of her contingency scenarios namely, "first contact" becomes a reality. At the behest of a bunch of intimidating men in crisp uniforms and expensive suits, she gathers a team of specialists to help confront the situation, including an aeronautical engineer, a language expert, and the ever-popular covert operative.

THRESHOLD boasts a fascinating cast even beyond the always-welcome Gugino, with Brent Spiner returning to a regular series gig for the first time since NEXT GENERATION, and Peter Dinkalge (THE STATION AGENT) finally following up his delightful LIFE AS WE KNOW IT guest turn from last season. Behind the camera, the show is co-created by genre vet David Goyer, who directed the pilot, and ex-TREK anathema Brannon Braga. It's even got HARRY POTTER producer David Heyman doing all those exciting producer-y things producers do. The biggest question mark by far is Braga's involvement, as he is showrunner on this little enterprise (if you'll forgive me). Virtually Braga's entire career has been centered on TREK -- some would argue on the calculated decimation of TREK's legacy, but that's a whole other discussion. Much as the name Braga may leave a bad taste in the mouth, THRESHOLD deserves to be given a chance to rise or fall on its own merits, especially since the even-more-hated Rick Berman isn't associated with the proceedings. This could be Braga's chance to redeem himself in the eyes of SF fans, but it could also be his chance to further damn himself if the show begins smelling of turkey long before Thanksgiving.

Braga aside, the real strength of this show coming out the gate is the cast. KAREN SISCO more than proved that Gugino could carry a series, assuming anyone had bothered to watch it. Spiner and Dinklage both settle in comfortably as a pair of eccentrics. There's even a major part to be played by LOST's erstwhile Ethan Rom, William Mapother, whose guest stint on ABC's island drama has propelled him from a bit player to "Hey, it's that guy!" level. I won't say whether he's tapping into his Ethan Rom nasty streak in this role or playing from the straight and narrow, but it's good to see him getting work on a show that has air conditioning. Just a shame we didn't get to see his fat-suit episode of FOX's THE INSIDE.

As for the story, it's hard to tell this early on whether the show has something new in mind or if it's just another trip down X-FILES Lane, but the pilot does raise several intriguing questions. It remains to be seen whether the show's writers have good answers to those questions. Perhaps more pressing, with three somewhat similar shows competing for viewers' time, which one will capture the audiences attention enough to survive the season?

Monday, September 19


What more is there to say about this show that hasn't already said? It's perhaps the funniest, smartest thing on television (It is. I'm sorry, it just is. If you don't like it, go read something else and come back for the KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL entry.), and I'm exuberant that it has against all odds landed a third season on FOX. The move to Mondays could go either way, ratings-wise, but pairing it with KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL certainly makes more sense than its previous slot, shoe-horned into FOX's Sunday-night "Animation Domination" block (we'll leave that fate to the execrable THE WAR AT HOME now). Of course, in the magical land of my imagination, I envision a world where NBC somehow swipes ARRESTED away from FOX and creates a brand new, gloriously strange "Must-See TV" block by teaming the Bluths with THE OFFICE, SCRUBS, and MY NAME IS EARL, but that prospect is far too wondrous to ever grace this crude dimension.


Based on chef Anthony Bourdain's memoir of sex, drugs, and woks and rolls (sorry about that), KITCHEN was once in development as a feature film property for Brad Pitt and director David Fincher. Instead, it's found a home on the small screen, shepherded by SEX AND THE CITY's Darren Star and with ALIAS's Bradley Cooper donning the tall, funny hat as Bourdain. The pilot finds Bourdain at rock bottom after too much party and not enough pastry collapsed his superstar career like a bad soufflé. Offered a second chance by the owner of a new restaurant, Bourdain recruits a misfit band of fellow confectioners to get the place up, running, and fabulous in under 48 hours.

Anyone who's seen the classic Britcom CHEF! knows that misanthropy and kitchens mix well, and while Cooper's Bourdain isn't quite the bastard CHEF!'s Gareth was, he's just slimy enough to be interesting. And he certainly knows how to pick his kitchen crew, as this show rivals THRESHOLD for amazing casting. KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL unites actors from the aforementioned ALIAS, BUFFY (Nicholas "Xander" Brendon), FREAKS AND GEEKS (John Francis Daley), and even HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE (John Cho). There's very little Xander in Brendon's character, so it's nice to see him a chance to play something other than the Zeppo. Daley, meanwhile, became an expert at playing the brunt of many humiliations as long-suffering Sam Weir on FREAKS, and he puts that to good use here as the target for every mean-spirited prankster in the kitchen.

The pilot is a lot of fun, so much so that I'll even forgive it for recycling the "something awful is in the food on the night the food critic is visiting" plotline that was already creaky when I LOVE LUCY premiered. The restaurant is populated by an appropriately odd collection of characters both up front and in the back, and Cooper shows enough charm that he might actually pull off this leading man thing after all. The show makes a good match for ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, and is one of a handful of truly promising sitcoms this season (the others being NBC's MY NAME IS EARL, UPN's EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS, and CBS's HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER). Speaking of which…


What do you get when you combine Bob Saget, Doogie Howser, and a girl who, this one time, at band camp, shoved a flute up her, well-you-know. Thirty years or so in the future, a dad (voiced by Saget) pulls a WONDER YEARS and recounts to his kids the tale of how he met, won, and wooed his wife. Neil "Doogie" Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan do not, I was surprised to learn, play the actual couple in question, but are instead supporting characters. Also filling out the ranks is FREAKS AND GEEKS' Jason Segel. Haven't seen this pilot yet, and I've heard both good and bad about it. However, it has enough talent on board that I'll give it a shot.


Alien invasion numero dos. With as sweeping a scope as I've seen in any pilot, SURFACE (formerly FATHOM) follows three characters in various locations as they all become entangled in the appearance of a mysterious new species in the earth's oceans. An awkward rich kid has a close encounter in a North Carolina bay, a California marine biologist spots something BIG near an undersea hot vent, and a Louisiana fisherman nearly loses his life to shadowy leviathan while spear-fishing under an offshore oil rig. And then there's the matter of a missing submarine. A little bit CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, a little bit ABYSS, SURFACE is my second-favorite genre pilot this season, right behind SUPERNATURAL. Part of that is because THE ABYSS is still one of my favorite movies, and I'm a sucker for this type of story. But, with the limited insight one episode can give, I found the mysteries posed by SURFACE more intriguing than those posed by THRESHOLD. Your mileage may vary.

One big question that faces SURFACE is what the show's long-term narrative arc will be. The pilot has already showed us more of the undersea creatures than we've seen of LOST's jungle beast in an entire first season, so the writers don't seem to be hanging their hopes on keeping us in the dark all season as to what these critters look like. Instead, the focus will presumably become learning their nature and intentions. Where did they come from and what do they want? What does their sudden appearance mean for our world? It's possible (and this is mere speculation on my part) that the show's course will reveal itself to be less X-FILES (how do we stop the invasion?) and more ALIEN NATION (how do we co-exist with our new neighbors?). Either way, I'm intrigued and, for the time being, hooked.


One of the best surprises of last season. Like HOUSE, the primary appeal isn't in the plot-of-the-week, but in the characters. Allison and Joe Dubois make up of the few married couples on television that are happy, enthusiastic, and passionate, even when struggling with the million trials a marriage and kids and careers throw at them. MEDIUM is much like the relationship at its core: sometimes scary, often funny, never boring. This season, Allison Dubois will have some competition in the "I See Dead People" department, courtesy of the Jennifer Love Hewitt comeback vehicle GHOST WHISPERER, but while MEDIUM is well done, I expect GHOST WHISPERER may just be half-baked.

Send all questions, comments, and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT slams to Keep your head and hands inside the television, folks…


MAKING OF 'A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE' (7:15 PM CST, HBO) At this year's Comic Con International, screenwriter Josh Olson coined the term "Cronenberg-y" while describing a pair of sex scenes in this adaptation of John Wagner and Vince Locke's graphic novel. I hope that doesn't mean Viggo Mortensen humps an open leg wound.

HISTORY DETECTIVES (8 PM CST, PBS) "Leisureama Homes; Jim Thorpe Tickets; 1667 Land Grant." I'm not entirely sure what a "Leisureama Home" is, but I'm betting it's something Quagmire from FAMILY GUY would want to invest in.

FARGO (8 PM CST, IFC) This movie might not have done much to spur North Dakota's tourism industry, but I bet it did sell a few wood chippers.

PRISON BREAK (8 PM CST, Fox) "Cute Poison." Michael's mentally unstable, insomniac cellmate becomes intrigued by his cryptic tats, forcing Michael to distract him with a book of half-finished Mad Libs.

WEEDS (9:30 PM CST, Showtime) "Dead in the Nethers." Nancy opens a bakery as a front for her chronic chronic biz.


BONES (7 PM CST, FOX) "Pilot Episode." Zooey Deschanel's sister teams up with an ex-vampire with a soul to solve the murder of dead senatorial intern. (Series premiere)

GILMORE GIRLS (7 PM CST, WB) "New and Improved Lorelai." Tired of waiting for Luke's response to her proposal, Lorelai ditches Star's Hollow and hooks up with a hard-drinking petty criminal with a raggedy Santa Claus outfit and a penchant for sex in an uncomfortable place (not the back seat of a Volkswagen). (Season premiere)

HOUSE (8 PM CST, FOX) "Acceptance." House treats a death row murderer tormented by the voices of his victims. Snide comments to ensue. (Season premiere)

SUPERNATURAL - (8 PM CST, WB) "Pilot Episode." Heads up, Tivo peeps: tonight's episode will run seven minutes long. Adjust your recording technology accordingly. (Series premiere)

RESCUE ME (9 PM CST, FX) "Justice." Tommy goes looking for the drunk what run down his boy. (Season finale)

DARKMAN III: DIE DARKMAN DIE (10 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Who knew this series made it to number three? So is that subtitle directed at the character or the series?


ED WOOD (7:45 PM CST, IFC) It's about this guy, he's crazy about making movies, but he likes to wear dresses. This is drama!

HEAD CASES (8 PM CST, FOX) "Pilot Episode." A pair of crazy lawyers team up in an attempt to out-wacky the works of David E. Kelley. (Series premiere)

GHOST HUNTERS (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Astor Mansion/NJ Affiliate." Ya see that door move last week? That was pretty cool, eh?

OVER THERE (9 PM CST, FX) "Situation Normal." The soldiers guard American oil workers, none of whom starred on SAVED BY THE BELL, as they install a pipeline.


THE O.C. (7 PM CST, Fox) "The Shape of Things to Come." By now you've probably seen last week's SIMPSONS premiere, so by now you've already chuckled at that episode's absurdly funny O.C. parody.

REUNION (8 PM CST, Fox) "1987." I admire the whole "one hour = one year" concept, but I think they should take it to the next level and actually cram a year's worth of footage into each episode. Just crank that puppy into fast forward.

STARVED (9 PM CST, FX) "The Breatharians." After having gained weight during his foray into veganism, Sam decides to try a "sun and air" diet. (Season finale)

IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (10:00 PM CST, FX) "Charlie Gets Molested." The gang stages an intervention after they become convinced that Charlie's high-school gym teacher took liberties with him beyond simply making him climb ropes and shower with other boys. (Season finale)


FIREFLY (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Out of Gas." One of the best episodes of the show finds Mal gutshot and the ship crippled in the wake of an explosion. (Repeat)

ROBOCOP (7 PM CST, WGN) 1) Serve the public trust. 2) Protect the innocent. 3) Uphold the law. 4) Don't make any more sequels, please.

STARGATE SG-1 (7 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Prototype." A superwarrior created from Anubis' DNA runs amok, but is nonetheless unable to determine what became of the monk, the monk, the monk. Another episode follows.

THE PERFECT SCORE (7 PM CST, Showtime) This mediocre SAT heist flick is worthy of neither Scarlett Johansson's ample acting talents nor the ample amount of time she spends in a miniskirt.

THRESHOLD (8 - 10 PM CST, CBS) "Trees Made of Glass, Parts 1 and 2." Carla Gugino returns to my TV, and she's bringing Brent Spiner and Peter Dinklage with her. Will Brannon Braga regain the goodwill of hordes of SF fans the mishandling of TREK has alienated? Or will he and Goyer knock this one out of the park? Time will tell. (Series premiere)

STARGATE SG-1 (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Fourth Horseman." The Ori contaminate the Earth with a deadly plague. coughcrusadecoughcough. Last episode til January.

MOVIES THAT SHOOK THE WORLD (9 PM CST, AMC) "The China Syndrome." You know what really makes this airing perfect? The fact that it's immediately followed by TALES FROM THE CRYPT PRESENTS DEMON KNIGHT.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (9 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Flight of the Phoenix." The Galactica crash lands in the Mongolian desert and the crew is forced to rebuild the starship from spare parts.


JULES VERNE'S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (7 PM CST, Hallmark) Well, sure it may be mysterious, but does it have a wrecked slave ship in the middle of the jungle? What about a hatch?

DRACULA 3000 (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) One half of popular hip-hop duo OutKast is bitten by a vampire and raised as the undead. Actually, that's not what happens here, but I think I'd much rather watch that movie, wouldn't you? But this one does have Coolio, who between this and PTERODACTYL is becoming quite the Sci-Fi Original himself.

MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (9 PM CST, TCM) Cagney (James, not "…and Lacey") riffs on Chaney (Lon, not Dick).


THE ABYSS (6:09 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Catch the extended version of James Cameron's underwater epic, assuming you haven't already owned the DVD for, like, ever. It'll get you in the mood for tomorrow's premiere of SURFACE.

THE SIMPSONS (7 PM CST, Fox) "The Girl Who Slept Too Little." Springfield relocates the cemetery…directly behind the Simpson home.

FAMILY GUY (8 PM CST, Fox) "The Perfect Castaway." Peter, Joe, Cleveland, and Quagmire become lost at sea in the wake of Hurricane RuPaul.

AMERICAN DAD (8:30 PM CST, Fox) "A Smith in the Hand." Stan decides to handle Steven's sex education himself.

ROME (8 PM CST, HBO) "Stealing from Saturn." Assorted Romans do as the Romans do.

This concludes our broadcast.


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ijenpat 9/12/2005 9:24:01 AM
I got chills as well when I heard the old BG theme. I was so glad they finally used it. I'm looking forward to this fall's TV schedule and just hope that some of the shows, namely Bones, Night Stalker and Supernatural do well, or at least are given a chance to find an audience. I had to purchase a 2nd TVio to record all that I want to watch. Oh man, I have no life. Thanks David for all the work you do.
snallygaster 9/12/2005 10:54:17 AM
I thought that the original BG theme music had already made an appearance in the new BG miniseries. Didn't they play it when the vipers were doing their fly-by during the Galactica's decommissioning celebration?


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