Tuesday, October 03, 2006

New US TV season: things old, new and borrowed

So, the new US TV season has opened, bringing now shortage of new shows, many of which are not destined to survive long. Aaron Sorkin has returned to the small screen with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a drama set at a satirical weekly sketch show. Lots of great actors, lots of big ideas and all, but it's so much harder to get excited about than Sorkin's previous effort, The West Wing. There the stakes were global, the future of the free world and all that. It's a bit like going from war reporting to covering the opening night of Footlights.

Having watched the first three episodes, Studio 60 has done enough to keep me watching - but the jury's still out on this one. The joy of Sorkin's previous TV show about a TV show, Sports Night, was it could show without an obligation to make the show it was showing seem like a funny, satirical sketch show about current affairs. Studio 60 has yet to find a way of making the show it shows resonate. But, like I said, I'm giving it time to show me the funny.

James Woods stars in Shark, a show that's essentially House for lawyers. In House the lead character is an unlikable, obnoxious asshole who happens to be a brilliant doctor. He treats his minions like dirt, has dysfunctional relationships with almost everybody and constant pain from a bad leg. It also has Hugh Laurie in the lead, who makes that work while still being a character the viewers love.

In Shark the lead character is an unlikable, obnoxious asshole who happens to be a brilliant lawyer. He treats his minions like dirt, has dysfunctional relationships with almost everybody and constant pain from a good daughter. It also has James Woods in the lead role, who makes most of that work while still being a character the viewers love. But Shark is going it second, which makes it less than fresh.

There's also several places where Shark is merely a minnow compared to House. In the medical drama, patients' lives are at stake. In Shark, it's a court case. Sure, they tend to be murder cases, but so what. Also, Shark is a lawyer who gets people on the stand and asks them questions without already the answer. He may suspect the answer, but we're expected to believe he is so intimidating or persuasive that the person being questioned gives it up anyway. Yeah. Right.

Lastly, House is essentially Sherlock Holmes with a medical degree, solving mysteries that baffle mere mortals. I don't get that same vibe off Shark. It feels like what it is - a carbon copy, neither as sharp or crisp as the original. I doubt I'll be bothering with Shark in future.

Ugly Betty is a comedy drama based on a telenovela, an Hispanic TV form that's like Dynasty turned up to a hundred and eleven. Camp as tents and over the top to an extent that beggars belief. Ugly Betty is formulaic, predictable and utterly, utterly wonderful. Yes, it follows much the same path as the forthcoming film The Devil Wears Prada [can't wait to see that], but the original source material predates both that film and the novel from which ...Prada was adapted. I think Channel 4 has secured Ugly Betty for UK TV and they've got a big, fat hit on their hands. It's Bizarro Sex in the City, as one character says in the pilot. I'll be keeping an eye on Betty.

2 comments:

Colin Wilson said...

House is fun, but after 2 seasons here in Oz the limited formula is starting to wear a bit thin. And James Woods is no Hugh Laurie, so I can't see myself working up much enthusiasm for Shark. Terrible name too.

But I think The Wire has just started its 4th season in the States, which is alright by me. The first two were great, and the third awaits.....

Go McNulty!

Chris (UK Scriptwriter) said...

Is studio 60 on UK TV?