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Opinion By Ted Baldwin

1998-99 TV RIP

Reviewed: 5/31/99
Thank God this year is over. How can a season be so full yet leave nothing to watch on Monday, Friday and Saturday nights?
Some really good stuff this year. Promises for good new year, with exception of profligation of 1-hour Providence type series.
Information in this column comes from my experience, and in small part, from various readings, including but not limited to Cinescape Online.
If you want 100% accurate details on any of this stuff, or are looking for exactly what is going on, try researching the net. Cinescape is generally on target, and they have a complete archive.

     The end of this year's TV season had its moments. And it gives pause to reflect.)

     Drama this year was over the top. ER (NBC), NYPD Blue (ABC), and Law and Order (NBC) continue to provide the most compelling television, and each will be back in the fall.

     I do not watch Chicago Hope (CBS), other CBS shows, or Providence (NBC)..

     CBS just does not interest me. I watched it all the time as a kid, however. What happened?

     Homicide Life on the Street, (NBC) with its perpetually roving and oft nauseating camerawork will not return. It has run its course, despite attempts to hunk it up, and cross breed it with L&O. It just never spoke to me, with its off-beam attempts to inculcate interest in the private lives of its people.

     The three winners, above, keep the personal stuff always secondary to what the show is about. Remember LA Law? (NBC) Once a courtroom-centered monster of the airwaves, it lost its way in excessive interest in the adoption problems of a lawyer couple, and drove a stake through its own heart when the same lawyer (Stuart?) lost his mind as a result of the LA Riots hitting him on the head and he emulated the retardedness of Larry Drake.

     At the office.

     And they tried to make the lawyers nice.

     And not greedy.

     It was unbelievable, unwatchable. And the political bent went into such a preachy know-it-all mode as to render those with differing opinions stupefied. Just an observation on why hit series lose it.

      Hercules(Syndicated) Hercules the Legendary Journeys, loses it star, Kevin Sorbo, and will not return.

     As compensation, the production group will replace it with two shows, and Sorbo will return in something. Hercules was shot in New Zealand or somewhere on that side of the worlds-away-from-LA. Unfortunately for the Herc people, there is much more opportunity in LA, and star-centered vehicles as successful as HTLJ will continually face this problem if they opt for outland location. Their own success did them in. But they all win. And it is certainly a problem I will be glad to have.

      HTLJ was in trouble, anyway, falling to self predation and mockery of its own attitudes, it was beginning to lose its way. Still touching at times, they mostly reversed the damage done by the death of Iaolus, but the campy stuff they often ventured into probably did not appeal to enough of its core viewership to keep it on top.

      Add to that Sorbo's hurt shoulder, and you see where it was going.

      Good show, liked the premises, enjoyed the puns on names and all the action. Good luck to them all, and show us more, newer, even better stuff.

     DS9 (Syndicated) DS9 - the initials of a show which if you do not know what they mean will not matter to you in the least it is so weak, trundles off in to its messy after-death. It died ages ago, and only the strength of Star Trek-The Franchise kept it on life support. More like stasis.

     In the perpetually regenerating world of Star Trek, nothing ever changes, nothing ever grows (except Jake Sisco grew up, and a few actors left the series before they actually died) and nothing important happens.

     Oh, there is a lot of pontificating. And regurgitating old Star Trek premises, like the "genocide" question. Now instead of Picard ungenociding the Borg, it is the clandestine Section 31 actually using bio-agents against the Changelings, and the Feds refusing to stop it in the interests of winning the war against the Dominion.

     So the moral crisis on DS9 is, do we allow this now curable disease to advance and wipe out the Dominion, and stop their totalitarian warlike aggression, thereby saving multimillions of lives, as it possibly forces the Dominion to surrender to receive the cure? Or do we stop the immoral genocide?

     Wait, maybe we should fight a FAIR war! With FAIR weapons! So we are more equal in combat!

     Who knows, who cares.

     If there is no will to be free, then the Federation employees (citizen is such an unwieldy word when dealing with these indecisives) do not deserve to be free.

      In fact, in the face of the obviously superior power of the Dominion, the Federation should just give up. After all, if they did not resist, then there would be no need for the loss of millions of lives, no? It is the Federation's fault the Dominion attacked, anyway. They should not have looked so prosperous as to invite an attack.

     Laughing are you? That is precisely the type of argument used by Helen Caldicott before university audiences in 1985 to rationalize surrender to the Soviet Union! Better red than dead, she said. Better we give up all our freedoms and our way of life than risk nuclear war. The communists are not so bad. And she said it all in the name of saving the children. Saving them for communism, Soviet style. Better a millstone…)

     I am glad to see these moral waffles go. And the Bad news? Reports indicate the writing staff could move over to Voyager. If they were such great writers, would not DS9 still be going? Urgh.

     Dharma and Gregg(ABC) Watched it once. I never felt like the characters were not winking at me, sort of saying, "oh, aren't we goofy? Don't you love us?". It had no cohesion but for the laugh track, but some people like it a lot.

     The series year end promos told me to expect a happy/sad serious season finale. Oh My! Will they Break Up? Will They Stay Together? Another big who cares.

     Looks bad for the show, to see such format tampering. ABC has been so derivative anyway (check out their Seinfeld in LA riff "It's Like, You Know" or whatever it is called) and from the promo it felt like D&G was being re-engineered to look more like Will and Grace, which believe it or not is a funny serio/comedy show about four unlikable New Yorkers - sliding into the Seinfeld groove/gap.

      Are they trying to emulate W&G's success by copying its sometimes serious side?? It already had a Friends-like extraction (Phoebe-goofiness without the requisite foundation for it).

     ABC has a history of tampering shows to death. They tanked the monster hit Mork and Mindy by upscaling and edgifying it with "sassy" new characters. Oops. We really did like the old lady and Mindy's dad…

     ABC, serio-killer.

     Stargate SG1 (Syndicated) Getting better all the time, even though I am seeing it a year late in syndication. Really want a new feature film…hint, hint.

     Outer Limits (Syndicated) Strange fusion of retreads and second chances on scripts - picking up some stories where they left off in a sort of annual revisitation. Interesting, but some of the stories were not that good in the first place. Again, getting it in syndication. Always shows promise, so I have not given up on it. Fast forward through a lot of the preachy and romantic stuff that is so tangential to purpose.

      Honey I Shrunk the Kids. (Syndicated) A super family show with lots of good versus evil. Great fun for little kids. Funny enough self references for grown-ups to watch, too. Disney getting it mostly right.

     Mad TV. (FOX). By far the funniest, most consistent sketch comedy show in decades. They let it roll. Fresh ideas, stunningly out-there characters. (Stuart, UBS Guy, Ms. Swan, The Garage Sale Lady, Rusty, Java Man, Andrea, Vancome Lady, and Will Sasso's jillion characters, movie parodies.

     There is actually writing on this show.

     Only thing it does not have is misplaced interchangeable super-egos courtesy of a NY comedy-semi-star-making-machine and the Ambiguously Gay Duo. And that is all Saturday Night Live has going for it.

     La Femme Nikita. (USA) Brutal. Interesting. Hard-boiled. I watch every episode.

      Futurama. (FOX) Best new animated series. Good gags.

     King of the Hill. (FOX) Good. This guy (Mike Judge) will have a lot to offer over the years.

     The P.J.'s. (FOX) I just don't find projects type humor all that funny, but it is getting better. Will check in from time to time. I do like Eddy Murphy in lots of roles. (Nutty Professor, e.g.) Go-cart ride sequence was very funny. Well done. Last half/ending sucked, though.

     Simpsons. (FOX). Showing its age, but still good. Has not suffered greatly on the surface from the loss of Phil Hartman, but we will never know what gems he would have given us. I used to never miss it, but now I can.

      That 70's Show. (FOX). Pretty funny, semi-accurate look at the who-cares generation. Well-developed in its perceptions of the way we perceived things. And it can be funny even if you were not aware or alive during that era.

      X-Files. (FOX). This show has suffered a great deal, and save for the discovery of the space ship at the end of the season's cliffhanger, should be put to pasture.

     The biggest problem is that there is little or no cooperation between Mulder and Scully, and the boring old conflict is always the same. She should have grown by now, considering all that has happened. There can always be new conflict in a progressing situation. Try giving both Mulder and Scully paranormal explanations that are at odds with each other, for example.

      And I wish they would experiment with making them all a little more intelligent. And cut the comedy crap, or do it better, ok? The switched bodies 2-parter, for instance was just not believable (for what it was) or that interesting.

      And could someone make the nerd assistants a little more effective? They would be a lot more interesting as helpers in-the-know, not hapless goofs.) (Or does it threaten the creator's/writer's sense of a threatening government to have someone get one over on it?)

     Dilbert. (UPN). Second best animated series on TV. Outrageous, full tilt cause and effect storylines show unlimited Avarice of Dogbert, Pure Evil of Catbert, Stupidity of Ratbert, and helpless involvement of Dilbert. Funnier to ex-state, ex-corporate employees, I am sure.

     Just Shoot Me. (NBC). Hilarious. Terrific consequences played out to unforeseen conclusions. bravo.

     Buffy The Vampire Slayer. (WB). Funny comedy mix with monsters and ghouls as Buffy tries to sort out being a teenager while being the first line of defense against HellMouth, which poor Sunnydale CA just happens to sit upon. It is all over the map, and often funny as the hell it seeks to stop.

     This show did not cause Columbine.

      Felicity. (WB). This is a self-absorbed show about rich kids and their inability to have perfect little lives that match their expectations.

      Felicity often looks like she smells dog poo on her shoe, but isn't sure, and the guys are all dolts. It is shot in a nauseatingly warm glow that permeates every frame of every scene (like the smell of dog poo). (Last year a huge number of cinema one-sheets featured this warm color. I think it is a focus-group result that showed patrons reacted favorably to it.) Whatever happened to the simple rose-coloration we had when we were kids?

     She spent an hour of TV time deciding whether to accompany a gambling loser back to CA on a doomed road trip (had to be doomed, this guy is an unredeemable, selfish, self-absorbed loser) or go to freakin' Europe with a guy that has a job and loves her.

     I was not sure at the end which she chose, if I was supposed to be able to tell. I time-compressed the show into about 10 minutes courtesy of fast forwarding, but I did watch the end twice to figure out what she'd decided. I think she went to Europe. But if they didn't care enough about me to tell me conclusively, or at least tell me I would have to wait till the fall to find out, I don't care.

     I hope she went with the loser. She needs that kind of heartbreaking experience…lol.

      We were this insufferable as college kids? No, it takes a special selfishness to behave this way, and only a generation spawned by our selfishness could provide it.

     Third Rock From the Sun. (NBC) Grew on me. Took 3 episodes. It can be breathtaking in its inanity. And that is both good and bad.

     Cliffhanger this year showcases William Shatner as "Big Giant Head" in uproarious scenarios. Best line, Shatner complaining about his plane trip to Lithgow, something about some thing on the wing…Lithgow said "Same thing happened to me!" (Both were in the Terror at 30,000 feet Twilight Zone Episodes…a natural.) As bad as Dick (John Lithgow) is, BGH is truly alien to our ways…Shatner even does horrible karaoke!

     What does BGH and Vicki's baby look like? Tune in September.

     Drew Carey. (ABC) Really funny at times, just feels too ABC-ish for me to make a habit of it.

     Frasier. (NBC) Why does this win Emmy after Emmy? Tune in and see. It is adroitly written, with the best miscommunication comedy since Green Acres and early Beverly Hillbillies. Sophisticated and respectful of its audience and its intelligence.

If he doesn't know it, Kelsey Grammar is heir apparent to Jack Benny's legacy. The next 30 years will tell.

      Friends.(NBC) Spotty, but generally on target. Joey's stupidity is not always funny, but he is sweet most of the time.

      Ross and Rachel deserve each other, and their joint attitudes are now one. Hehehehehehe. Great twist on events.

      Chandler is the best of the bunch this year.

      Phoebe is too goofily controlling, and I don't really like her escapades…but she is part of what is going on. I get embarrassed for her.

      Monica is solid.

      I'd like to see more interaction with outsiders, in general.

     Veronica's Closet. (NBC) Started funny. Lost its way with Ron Silver and the whole romance thing.

      Give the pretty boy Dan Cortese something more to do, please. He can stop the show, and they should let him without the passing feint that shows capitulation. Bring back the Dan that makes up words that take over the media. Conquest through inadvertion!

      Josh, the gay guy that is in denial, is a funny take on the lifestyle, but the girlfriend is taking him, and the show, nowhere.

     Did someone do a focus group on this show??? It feels like suit-tampering has taken place. I think it has a real future, if they get back to basics.

     Give Olive some devious interests, she can handle it.

      Will and Grace. (NBC). Funniest ensemble on TV, with four misfits vying for each other's attention.

     Karen is the best secretary since Mrs. Whiggins, and Jack is, well, "Just Jack!" And they are not afraid to let the chips fall.

     Best line on TV all spring? Karen answering a phone call from Will while admonishing Grace…"Honey, the reason you are not in a relationship…is on line one."

     As brutal as La Femme Nikita, only funny…

      South Park.(Comedy Central). Ha. More please.

     Jesse. (NBC) Unusual. Don't know where it is going. It doesn't either.

     Maybe the fall will see a better direction for the humor. It does mix seriousness and comedy in an appealing way - only All In The Family ever had the capacity to take us from hilarity to tears in a split second…if they are trying for that, they need to examine their heart and true values. We can only care about someone deeply if we think they believe in what they are saying and doing, like Archie and Edith. If there is trust in us for those characters, we can be hooked.

     Characters with character are needed if trust is to be engendered.

     Voyager. (UPN) Almost finding its way. Pretty lost at times. We will see how years six and seven go. At least it is watchable.

      Also, the doctor should move around the sick bay by rematerialization. Easy effects, and it would add to the sense that he is struggling with his otherness. And why does he not materialize a helper when he needs someone to hold a scalpel? Please. If the computer can generate him it can do two at once, one subservient to the other. It is an easy fix, find an off-line subroutine and implement it. It will also advance the Doctor's humanness through contrast. And he can still use human helpers…

     7 Days. (UPN) See my review of it on this site. Last week Parker beat an evil alien to death with a wrench. It was called for, believe me. Thanks guys, let us hope this sounds a little of the needed death knell for quislings DS9 style.

     Pretender. (NBC) Hot and cold. Usually pretty good, Quantum Leap style. I am not a faithful fan, but I like it a lot mainly because I like Jarod.

     Millennium.(FOX) Weird show. Not because of the premise, but because of the way it is being handled. Great promise bogged down in misty threat and vague bad guys.

      Best when it deals directly with concludable evils and steers clear of family stuff, which it does not handle well. Problem with the relationship between Frank and Mrs. Black, was that Mrs. Black was on the way out due to Frank's psychosis from the beginning. There was never a sense of two people working together to build. just a separateness and a sadness. Not too unimaginable, considering that Millennium arose form the creator of X-Files, which has the same conflict between man and woman at its core.

      I like Lance Henriksen a lot, ever since Aliens, and Pumpkinhead. But it remains to be seen whether Millennium can get on with the business of good versus evil and eliminate this gray confusing muddly stuff that turns off viewers. The social ends can still be reached, thank you, just keep it interesting on the way…

     By the way, I like this sort of show, and want it to succeed very much. I have seen almost every episode.

     And that is what I watch every week.