'Heroes' and Zeroes
The year 2006 is nearly spent, and the Chronicle's annual Top 10s issue waits in the wings. As I scribble on that, I've been thinking of the hits and misses of the most recent TV year; what I wished for, lamented, and cheered.
Happy comebacks: After a lame third season that culminated in the highly melodramatic death of Marissa (Mischa Barton), The OC (Fox) returned this season with a new energy, ably navigating that transition between high school and college that other series have stumbled over. Last week's Chrismukkah episode was a good example of the series' new, energetic stride. Ryan and Taylor (Benjamin McKenzie and Autumn Reeser) fell off a ladder and, in their unconscious state, got to see the world as it would be were they not in it. Striking just the right balance between kookiness, prime-time soap, and snarky humor, the episode also put to rest (I hope) Ryan's mourning for Marissa. Unlike many fans, I am not sad she's gone. I'm too busy being entertained by Summer's (Rachel Bilson) development into a more complicated version of her former wicked self. C'mon, say it with me: Marissa who?
Everybody Hates Chris (CW), the slice-of-life comedy has become the place to spot former TV stars. Ernest Thomas (Raj in What's Happening!!), Jimmie Walker (J.J. in Good Times) and Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear in Starsky & Hutch) are just a few of the former TV stars that have recurring roles in Chris. Well, except Walker. Playing Chris' grandfather, he died in the first three minutes of his appearance. Walker's rubbery mug falling face first into a plate of mashed potatoes was a sight gag so well done; it's too bad he was killed off so soon.
New characters deserving of a cult following: Mark Indelicato as Justin, Betty Suarez's effeminate nephew on Ugly Betty (ABC). The series continually strikes a delicate chord when it comes to dealing with Justin's apparent future as a gay man. Two episodes stand out. The first was when the foppish Marc (Michael Urie), one of Betty's backstabbing co-workers at Mode, struck up an unexpected friendship with young Justin, recognizing his younger self and offering the young fashionista some survival advice. The second was the episode when Justin's errant father shows up for the holidays, only to walk out again when he observes his son thrilled by tree trimming instead of wanting to throw a football "like a normal kid." The walkout was played just out of sight of Justin, who already knew it was coming. I can still feel my heart breaking.
While prognosticators thought another serialized drama with a large cast would test audiences' patience, Heroes (NBC) has become one of the breakout hits of the new TV season. One reason is the refreshing Hiro (Masi Oka). His enthusiasm and reverential regard for his powers is charming, funny, and infectious, making him the hero you most want to root for.
Faded glory: After that last episode of Lost a few weeks back, I am left with the sense that the series is rudderless. Although the series creators assured Entertainment Weekly columnist Stephen King that they had it all under control in a large EW spread a few issues back, I remain skeptical. The creators say they never meant the "black fog monster" or the numbers to create such a stir. I say give me a break. Hopefully, they saw the recent Sci-Fi mini-series, The Lost Door. While its conclusion was underwhelming, the many curious details of the mini fell into place with precision.
Speaking of precision, the snap, the crackle, and buoyancy of the once great Gilmore Girls (CW) is gone with series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. Yes, it still looks like The Gilmore Girls, it still walks and talks like The Gilmore Girls, but this season rings like a pod-people version of its former self.
Like The OC, Veronica Mars (CW) managed that high school-to-college shift well. The serial-rapist mystery that carried the first half of the season was scary and smart, but the representation of campus feminists as femi-nazis was a huge disappointment. The one thing you could depend on in VM was how series creator Rob Thomas would tweak the key characters from various subcultures (the jocks, the popular kids, the nerds) to make them sympathetic. Not so with the femi-nazis, who were cast in uncharacteristic monotones. I'll come back to the series, but I'm still smarting.
Next week: the overrated and underrated series of the year. Oh, I can imagine the angry e-mails already.
As always, stay tuned.