The Overs and the Unders
Because it's the end of the year, and because the award season is upon us, the most overrated and underrated TV series are coming into focus. Here's my attempt to correct the balance.
Are you over Lost (ABC)? If so, you might find satisfaction in Jericho (CBS). Like the characters in Lost, those in the small town of Jericho, Kan., find themselves stranded after a nuclear holocaust. Isolated in every way possible, the town must learn to survive with diminishing resources while trying to figure out what has happened in the outside world. As in Lost, there have been power plays, trysts, and the challenges that come when once-friendly strangers have to rely on one another for their lives. A mysterious black man who moved his family to the small town just before the bombs went off strained the imagination, until it was discovered that he works for a secret agency. Official government agent or part of a rogue regime? Not sure, and it's this cat-and-mouse game wondering who's for the common good, who's out for themselves, and who's up to no good that keeps this series absorbing, along with the occasional freaky broadcast of an Asian official (Korean? Chinese?) urgently speaking to whomever might be watching. While the luster on Lost has faded, drama still thrives in Jericho.
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House on House (Fox): House is the character everyone loves to hate. His disdain for patients, colleagues, and anyone who comes into his line of fire is jaw-dropping. He's tolerated, we're led to believe, because he's a brilliant diagnostician. A bum leg and an addiction to painkillers makes him damaged, a quality audiences apparently find sympathetic. I despise him.
It would be fair to give Laurie props for creating such a strong reaction, but no. As far as snarky, arrogant know-it-alls go, I prefer the imperious Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock played with frightening ease by Alec Baldwin. What makes him so riotously annoying is that, in spite of his ignorance of the TV program he oversees, he still manages to use some arcane bit of marketing knowledge to help him get through whatever mess he finds himself in (or creates). That, or he shifts the dirty work to his all-suffering staff, then takes the credit. All without a cane. Ah, if there's a character I love to hate, it's Jack.
This year, the working single woman has made her presence known on the small screen. There's Anne Heche's Marin Frist in Men in Trees (ABC), America Ferrera's Betty Suarez in Ugly Betty (ABC), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Christine Campbell in The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS). But the true heir apparent to the TV-working-woman hall of fame, which includes Mary Richards and Murphy Brown, is Liz Lemon, played by star and creator of 30 Rock, Tina Fey. Liz is smart and feisty on the job, a bit of a social misfit on the singles scene, but always true to who she is. I've never understood what is supposed to be so darn appealing about Heche (even before that whacked-out Barbara Walters interview). I'm a longtime Louis-Dreyfus fan, and Ferrera makes Betty enormously likeable, but when it comes to the pantheon of great TV women, Fey's ascendancy is assured.
And finally, what the frak? Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi) underwhelms me. There, I said it. I prefer almost anything else but am most appreciative of the underrated Eureka (Sci Fi). Granted, this is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but they are both set in alternate worlds. While BG occurs far in the future, Eureka is placed in the present, except for one thing: It's not supposed to exist. It's a secret town established by the U.S. government for the nation's most valuable intellectuals to live and work. Wonks, nerds, and geeks have the run of the town, tooling around in their thermal-powered vehicles over streets named for mathematicians and scientists and conducting town meetings through handheld video devices. An average Joe (Colin Ferguson) works as the sheriff, resorting to his common sense when the egotistical geniuses and nutty eccentrics corner him. While BG is steeped in highly self-absorbed seriousness, Eureka slants quirky. You got to love quirky.
As always, stay tuned.