Wired profiled the geek-heavy crop of new shows on TV this season. I was inspired to watch them and here’s the redux:
Chuck tries too hard to be exciting and not hard enough to be geeky. As if it’s not bad enough to have the nation’s secrets “downloaded into his brain”, the rest of the script is full of similar handwaves. Details make or break stories and there are no details in this one. “He’s the NSA’s top scientist”, for example, just irritated me. Was the script writer really so lazy as to be unable to figure out what type of scientist would study minds, so condescending as to think the audience wouldn’t know what a “psychologist” was, or merely so mediocre as to fail to realize that “science” is not the “dilithium crystal” of the 21st century. I give it six dumb-ass scriptwriters out of 10.
Where Chuck doesn’t try hard enough, The Big Bang Theory tries only a little too much. The geekiness is picture perfect and hilarious to the last argument about the physics of Superman catching a falling Lois Lane. I recognize the geeks, and not just because Sheldon (played by Jim Parsons) looks freakishly like me (though I rush to point out that I don’t have pants that ugly). The only sour taste in my mouth was that the geeks are the show, yet are not consistently sympathetically portrayed. I mean, you want him to get the girl and all, but they still go through the ritual humiliation of a depantsing at the hand of a manly man. This is as if Sean Hayes’s character on Will and Grace were surrounded by teamsters who pointed and yelled “fag” until he cried, and we were somehow supposed to find this funny. The second episode seemed to get the balance better, and my wife thought the depantsing was “realistic” (although I can’t remember this happening to me, making me nervous what this says about our relationship), so I give it eight physics in-jokes out of 10 and will keep watching because the geek writing is so damned good.
Journeyman stars Kevin McKidd who blazed as Lucius Verenus in Rome. This, alas, is no Rome. On the pluses: it features lovely San Francisco scenery and it cleverly works the Spidermanesque “his power is a curse as well as a boon”. On the minuses: the chopping between past and present ends up alienating us from both stories, and the “what the blue hell is really going on?” question is still not adequately explained after the second episode. I was burned by The X-Files—I know that when a show’s creator makes up the backstory as they go along, it doesn’t end well for the viewer. I give it seven erratic American accents out of 10.
Reaper is a gem. It knows what it is (unlike the IT Helpdesk-James Bond mashup that is Chuck) and delivers well. The writing is funny, the acting’s great (even though Jack Black called and wants his schtick back), and Ray Wise as the Devil makes the show golden. I give it a happy eight souls out of 10. It misses the last two points because, well, working at a Home Depot doesn’t make you geeky, just sad.
Ok, I admit it. I have even less design sense than Sergey Brin. I need to look hard to tell Arial from Times. I once read thirty pages of a magazine before realizing “oh, it’s set in Helvetica.” I am colour-blind. This may be why Pushing Daisies didn’t sit with me as well as it did with my trichromat wife. Even I noticed the supersaturated palette, but the pointed wackiness of the show just bounced off me. I get the feeling you’ll love it or hate it, and … well, maybe you’ll love it. My wife and her mother also loved and followed Six Feet Under to the bitter end, so perhaps a taste for Hollywood “off-beat” is genetic. Like my colour-blindness. I give it 5 functioning cones out of 10.
I saved the best for last. And by “best”, I mean The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I say this not because I’m a fanboy for indie asskicker and winner of the 2004 Most Improbably Named Movie Star award, Summer Glau. I say it because it’s exciting by parts, funny by parts, and interesting the whole way through. It was the only show whose pilot I finished thinking “I could go another one of those right now!”. I give the pilot 10 potential time-travel paradoxes out of 10 and will withhold further judgement on the show until I’ve seen the second episode. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an indestructible Perl script I need to coax into self-awareness ….