Heather’s Fall TV Schedule

Summer is great and all, but I’m an Autumn girl. I love everything about the fall – apple picking, leaves changing, the slightly cool and crisp weather, the beginning of football and MLB playoffs. Some people love a tropical climate, but I’m happiest in jeans and sweatshirt weather. I prefer Halloween to the 4th of July. September has always been my favorite month, as it meant going back to school and, more importantly, celebrating my birthday. And as a pop culture junkie, September used to be the beginning of a new television season. That model has obviously evolved – shows now premiere throughout the year – but the Fall is still when most of the new programming on the “big 4” networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) debuts.

Labor Day may still be around the corner, but there is no doubting that Fall is quickly approaching. Today I ordered a pumpkin coffee at Dunkin Donuts, one of the surest signs that Autumn is waiting in the wings.

So in honor of the impending change of the season, I’m going to write what is perhaps my most embarrassing post to date. I’m going to pull back the curtain and reveal what my Fall TV viewing schedule looks like. Keep in mind, this is not for the weak of heart. My TV rotation is pretty daunting and despite its appearance, I must assure you that I do have a life. I don’t spend all my time in front of the TV; I have a job, am social and am a productive member of society. But I do watch a lot of TV. That I cannot deny.

Without further ado, here is my Fall TV schedule (premiere dates appear in parentheses):

Monday

8 pm – How I Met Your Mother (ABC – September 24)

9 pm – Gossip Girl (The CW – October 8)

10 pm – Revolution (NBC – September 17)

Monday is the iffiest day of programming for me, as I am not committed to any of these shows. I used to love HIMYM, but the quality the last season has been severely compromised. I’d be watching strictly for Jason Segel and Neil Patrick Harris; I’m just tired of them jerking us around about the identity of the mother. It’s beginning to feel like a series of misdirections just for the sake of misdirection. I actually bailed on Gossip Girl last season, but since this is their final season and it contains an abridged number of episodes, I may catch up and then tune in for their swan song. I’m intrigued by Revolution, a new show on NBC, but my skepticism about investing my time in new shows may prevent me from tuning in until I know it will be back.

Tuesday

9 pm – Happy Endings (ABC – October 23)

9 pm – Go On (NBC – September 11)

9:30 – Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 (ABC – October 23)

10 pm – Parenthood (NBC – September 11)

10 pm – Sons of Anarchy (FX – September 11)

My Tuesday night viewing is kind of all over the place tonally. For my money, Happy Endings is one of the most fun comedies on TV; it is a great ensemble and I love its quirky sense of humor. I enjoyed the pilot of Go On and am willing to give it a try, at least for a few episodes. Don’t’ Trust the B was also a nice surprise last season and I look forward to its return. I like the cast on Parenthood more than the current storylines, but I enjoy spending time with the Bravermans enough to make room for it on my schedule. I’m a really big Sons of Anarchy fan; even though the last few seasons have been a little uneven, I still really like this  somewhat soapy show about a motorcycle gang in California. Hell, I’d tune in just to see Charlie Hunnam on a regular basis; the fact that he can act is just a bonus. Katey Segal is doing some stellar work as matriarch Gemma. If you aren’t watching Sons, I’d recommend catching up on DVD.

Wednesday

8 pm – The Middle (ABC – September 26)

8 pm – Survivor (CBS – September 19)

9 pm – Modern Family (ABC – September 26)

9:30 pm – Suburgatory (ABC – October 17)

10 pm – Nashville (ABC – October 10)

10 pm – American Horror Story (FX – October 17)

10:30 pm – South Park (Comedy Central, September 26)

I like The Middle in spite of Patricia Heaton, who I find annoying. I’d be delighted with a spin-off with just the kids, who are really doing some great work. I’m not 100% sure I’ll watch Survivor, but the news that Lisa Welchel (aka Blair Warner from Facts of Life) will be a contestant might peak my curiosity enough that I tune in. If I don’t like the contestants, I’ll stop watching. Modern Family took a step down in quality last year in my opinion, but when it is firing on all cylinders it is pretty darn funny. I enjoyed the freshman season of Suburgatory, though I liked the show more when it focused on Tessa and her high school friends rather than the adults. I’m willing to take a chance on Nashville for one reason: Connie Britton. I love her; she was part of one of my favorite TV marriages of all time on Friday Night Lights, so wherever Tami Taylor goes I follow. South Park can be hit or miss, but when it hits it is some of the best satire out there (and it hits more often than not). As for American Horror Story – the show is nuts. It’s not always good nuts, but it is definitely not boring. It’s what I imagine being on a weird acid trip is like.

Thursday

8 pm – The Big Bang Theory (CBS – September 27)

8 pm – The Vampire Diaries (The CW – October 11)

8 pm – 30 Rock (NBC – October 4)

9 pm – The Office (NBC – September 20)

9:30 – Parks and Recreation (NBC – September 20)

10 pm – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX – October 11)

10:30 pm –The League (FX –TBD)

Obviously Thursday at 8 pm is a tough time slot; I usually wind up watching The Big Bang Theory on Demand at some point over the weekend because it is a low priority. I’m a sucker for the NBC Thursday comedy block; the fact that this is The Office’s final season is the only reason I’m coming back. 30 Rock will also have an abbreviated final season. Parks and Recs is the best of the current Thursday night lineup. I refuse to apologize for my affection for The Vampire Diaries – despite the fact it is on the CW and is a show about vampires, it is really good. Of all the shows on the air that deal with a mythology, The Vampire Diaries does the best job in execution; I am constantly surprised by the plot twists. The FX comedies are not for the faint of heart – they are crude and raunchy – but they are among the best comedies on TV. They are on my must see list.

Friday

8:30 – Community (NBC – October 19)

9 pm – Grimm (NBC – September14)

Normally I don’t have anything to watch of Friday nights, but then NBC decided to ship off my beloved Community to the TV wasteland. I’ve come to terms that the shortened order of Community will probably be its last. I’ve enjoyed the improvements to Grimm since it has returned for its second season, so I’ll stick with it. I suspect both of these shows will be watched on tape delay.

Saturday

Day of rest. Catch up on the DVR

Sunday

8:30 pm – Bob’s Burgers (Fox – September 30)

9pm – Revenge (ABC – September 30)

9 pm – The Walking Dead (AMC – October 14)

9 pm – Boardwalk Empire (HBO – September 16)

9 pm – Dexter (Showtime, September 30)

10 pm – Treme (HBO, September 23)

10 pm – Homeland (Showtime, September 30)

So much for the end of the weekend being relaxing; I have a royal clusterfudge at 9 pm on Sundays. Thanks a lot ABC – you just HAD to move Revenge. I’ve made my problems with Walking Dead known, but I still generally enjoy the show. I’m curious how Boardwalk Empire is going to handle the shocking cast change from last year’s finale. Dexter has been declining in quality the last few seasons, but they have introduced an interesting new development that makes me want to come back for more. Treme isn’t for everyone with its very methodical storytelling and deliberate pace, but I really enjoy it. I still need to catch up on season one of Homeland, but I’ve heard nothing but universal praise for it so I definitely want to add it to the rotation. And I may have just discovered Bob’s Burgers, but I really find it amusing. Thank goodness for the West Coast feeds of HBO and Showtime and their respective on demand channels; that’s the only way I can view everything.

I don’t know how I’ll do it all, but somehow I always manage. This is one of the advantages of not having kids; plenty of time to devote to television.

What’s on your fall TV schedule? Need help planning? Check out TV Guide’s Fall TV Preview.

Why Season Five of True Blood Sucked

This post will contain some spoilers on season five of True Blood specifically and the series as a whole. So if you aren’t caught up and don’t want any idea of what is coming, you may want to skip this post.

 

True Blood wrapped up its fifth season last night and frankly it couldn’t have happened soon enough for me. What had previously been a fun summer guilty pleasure has morphed into a bloated mess that I endure rather than enjoy.

True Blood, if you aren’t familiar with it, is based on the Charlaine Harris books and tells the tale of a small Louisiana town that is home to all sorts of supernatural creatures: vampires, werewolves, shifters, fairies, etc.

I should have known I was in trouble from the very first episode of the season; season four, which wasn’t particularly great either, ended with a cliffhanger as to the fate of Tara (Rutina Wesley). She had taken a bullet in an attempt to save her best friend Sookie (Anna Paquin). This had the potential to be a great development for the series if they had decided to let her die; her character had become increasingly useless as the series progressed. Every season there were new ways in which Tara wound up the victim and she had become frankly annoying and uninteresting. She had served her purpose and it would have been great if they ended the character’s tenure on the show by letting her die and then focused on the grief and guilt of those closest to her.

So of course, they decided to save her by turning her into a vampire. Annoying and angry Tara was sticking around. Yay.

That decision to keep Tara, in some form, as a resident of Bon Temps, Louisiana is systematic of the largest problem that I have with the show. True Blood the television program has fallen victim to the same problems I have with True Blood the book series – the inability to let characters go and the unsuccessful attempt to juggle multiple story lines in service of all these characters. The television show just got to that place much more quickly than the books did.

Much of season five felt like the writers and director were just spinning their wheels to kill time. There were an awful lot of story lines that I don’t think anyone really cared about; they decided to give fringe characters major story arcs that didn’t really go anywhere and accomplished very little. I’ll be surprised if I find anyone who was really invested in the “Terry is cursed” storyline or what was going on with the pack of wolves. Terry has always been a pretty minor character in the True Blood universe and while I like the actor (a Gilmore Girls alum), I don’t know that I was particularly interested in his back story. Terry is best in small doses and this particular subplot seemed to add nothing to the season other than as a vehicle to keep some of the other minor characters on screen. In fact, the whole story line wrapped up a few weeks ago and then was never mentioned again; if they hadn’t wasted 7 weeks on it, I would have thought I imagined the whole thing. Just completely unnecessary.

The politics of the Wolf pack could have been more interesting if given time to develop. In the literary series, the inner workings of the pack and wolf community was given an entire book. We got to know the characters and were more invested in their fate. The wolves have been part of the True Blood TV world for a while, but they haven’t really been given much attention. They have always had their story lines crammed in among all the other plots; the wolf characters have primarily been portrayed as flunkies to the vampires, held captive by their weakness for vampire blood and its drug –like qualities. Other than Alcide (Joe Manganiello), we don’t know very much about the wolves, so when we are expected to care about who runs the pack or their problems, I just kind of shrug. Don’t get me wrong -I’m all in favor of whatever keeps Manganiello on screen, but I wish he was given more to work with. With more development, that entire subplot could have been interesting.

True Blood hasn’t really known what to do with Sam (Sam Trammell) since season two and this season was no different. Season five found him saddled with a relationship with fellow shifter Luna and suffered from the same underdevelopment that the wolf subplot had. I really didn’t care very much about Luna – she actually seemed pretty unpleasant – so worrying about her being in peril was not very high on my list of concerns. The show also loves to abuse the shifter condition to make various characters shift into Sam, presumable to give Trammell more to do. The result this season was a bizarre scene where Sam was lovingly looking at himself, which was weird even by this show’s standards. Her fate was left unclear in the finale last night, but I’m hoping that the fact the actress has been cast in a Fox comedy this fall means that we’ve seen the last of her. Though knowing True Blood, it doesn’t.

All of these subplots and tangents meant that even what I’d consider the A story line – the vampires – got short shrift this season. While I like some of the other characters – to know Lafayette is to love him – the real draw for me is the vamps and the introduction of the Vampire Authority (and the return of Russell Edgington (the fabulous Denis O’Hare)) just meant more characters to service. I had high hopes when Chris Meloni (Law and Order: SVU and Oz) was brought aboard this season, but they didn’t really use him to his whole potential. The Authority story line went off the rails pretty quickly for me and the fundamental character shift of Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) was abrupt and unexplained. The changes in Bill were not minor and I felt that the show really betrayed that character by not giving that transformation more attention. I really have no idea what caused Bill to abandon everything that he has stood for over the last four seasons and that seems like something that was more important than Sheriff Andy’s romantic relationships.

This season also brought back more of the fairies and I’m on record about how little I care about them. Even the casting of the fairies was suspect – the books are pretty descriptive when it comes to Claude and to say that they went in a different direction is an understatement.

It’s just too bad; while True Blood was never necessarily a great show, it definitely used to be a lot better when it played small ball and worked with only a few characters and storylines. I recently went back and watched some clips from the first few seasons and they were compelling and interesting. Minor characters were actually minor and were used sparingly. The first few seasons True Blood was a show that I really enjoyed. Now the show is becoming a series of snack breaks while I wait for Alexander Skarsgard (Eric) or Deborah Ann Woll (Jessica) to be on screen. Someone needs to rescue them, along with Kristin Bauer van Straten (Pam), from the mess that this show has become. The fact that they stuck Bauer van Straten with Rutina Wesley is a grave injustice.

I think that the show can still be rescued; perhaps the departure of creator Alan Ball will reinvigorate the series and the new showrunner can undo some of Ball’s unfortunate tendencies and decisions. If the new people in charge are interested, I have a few suggestions on how to improve the show:

  • Start killing some people off – there are too many characters on the show and the landscape of Bon Temps is just too cluttered. Plus that fact that not many people actually die means that the stakes are great lowered when characters are in danger. Shipping off Hoyt, a character that had run his course, was a good first start, though the failure to kill him means he could certainly return. Stake Tara, let Luna die and scrap most of the wolves and fairies. True Blood needs to clean house.
  • Narrow your focus – don’t try to cover so much territory in a season; pick two or three story lines and focus on them. The series was better when it was smaller. Only tell stories that are compelling or that move things forward. Stop taking the viewer on meandering tangents that ultimately are forgotten and are therefore a waste of our time.
  • Remember what a supporting actor/actress is supposed to do – not everyone can be a star and True Blood needs to start using the minor characters as intended. Their job is to support the main characters and their story lines. Sit down your cast and explain to the actors that they can’t all get the same amount of screen time. Even though it was a scene that was kind of a waste of time, I enjoyed the birth scene from the finale; it gave us just the right amount of a lot of fringe characters like Arlene and Holly and allowed Lafayette to shine with his comedic relief. True Blood isn’t pee-wee soccer; not everyone needs to get a trophy or a major plotline. Characters need to take a backseat when they are not essential.
  • A little nudity goes a long way – I’m no prude, but True Blood tends to use nudity a little too gratuitously. The third time we saw Lilith naked and covered in blood, I just yawned. It had lost all its effectiveness or shock value or whatever emotion that they were hoping to illicit. I have no issue with the use of nudity or sex scenes per say, but pick your spots and use them efficiently. The more commonplace they are, the less the audience cares.
  • Kill Tara – I know I already said that, but it bears repeating. She’s the worst.

I’ll probably stick with True Blood because of my affection for Skarsgard and some of the other actors, but my enthusiasm for the show wanes as the series progresses. The reaction that I assume that they want from a viewer after a finale is probably something closer to disappointment that the show is over rather than relief. I’m more excited that I don’t have to sit through this mess for another 10 months than anything else. Hopefully some changes will be made to revamp (ha!) the format of the show and to sort out some of the problems I’ve listed above. If not, season six may very well be my last.

Fulfilling a Childhood Dream

Michael Jordon. Brett Favre. Sugar Ray Leonard. Roger Clemens.

Sometimes it is hard for the great ones to walk away. They think they are ready to retire and yet the thrill of competition calls them back for more.

I am no different.

Last year, after attending the NKOTBSB concert in Buffalo, I announced my retirement from the New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) specifically and the boy band game generally. I’d done all I could do; I’d seen the big 3 (NKOTB, Backstreet Boys (BSB) and N’Sync) live. I’d adequately relived the nostalgia of my childhood. I thought I’d reached the end of the road.

I, like most girls my age, was a really big NKOTB fan back in the day. At 12 years old, my bedroom had been literally wallpapered with posters of the group. I don’t think there was an inch of space that wasn’t covered. I even had posters on the ceiling. God bless my parents and their belief in freedom of expression – most of my friends were not given that much leeway in their decorating choices. I spent enough money on teeny bopper magazines, buttons, books, tapes, t-shirt, pillowcases and videos to perhaps finance a down payment on a house. I used to argue with my father over the TV – he would want to put on the evening news, but I’d want to see the end of MTV’s Total Request Live (TRL) to see if NKOTB had the number one video again. For about three years, they were the most important thing in the world to me. I dreamed of someday becoming Mrs. Joey McIntyre, though I knew that would never really happen. I was a pre-teen girl, not crazy. But I was pretty sure if I could just somehow meet Joe, I could die happy.

And then one day I didn’t care anymore. I don’t really remember when exactly I stopped listening to their music or when the posters came down. I assume I didn’t just wake up one day totally over the phenomena; I’m sure it was a gradual evolution as they fell out of favor and my musical tastes changed with age. Eventually you put away your childish things and move on. By the time I entered high school, I was far more interested in grunge music than boy bands. We used to laugh at the girls who didn’t get the memo that the era of NKOTB was over and who continued to obsess over them. It was time to grow up.

That didn’t mean I completely forgot about NKOTB; I may have started listening to Metallica and Pearl Jam, but if I somehow heard “Hangin’ Tough” I would smile and think about how nuts we had been over them. They were fond memories. One of my sorority sisters, “S,” had also been a big fan of the group and our mutual former admiration of them became a running joke between us; if we somehow stumbled upon some (cheap) NKOTB merchandise, we’d buy it for the other person as a gag gift. We joked that if NKOTB ever reunited that we’d go to the concert together and relive the glory days.

Toward the end of college, N’Sync and Backstreet Boys were becoming popular. Their songs were catchy and it was perfectly acceptable to admit liking their music as a guilty pleasure. But obviously it wasn’t the same as NKOTB had been; while the next generation of girls were screaming their heads off and wallpapering their bedroom walls, I barely knew the names of the members of either group. I was the same age or older than most of the guys; they were no longer some dreamy older boys, but contemporaries. Some of my friends and I went to see N’Sync in concert, partially as a goof and partially because we did enjoy some of their songs and I remember wishing that I had brought ear plugs to drown out all the tween screaming and being very upset that I couldn’t buy a beer to help get me through the experience. It was a good window into what my peers and I had been like during the NKOTB heyday and it was eardrum shattering.

When NKOTB eventually reunited three years ago and went back out on tour, I kept my word and went to see them with S. When she asked if I wanted to see NKOTBSB (the merging of New Kids and the Backstreet Boys), I was willing to go because I’d never seen BSB live and I figured I might as well round out the major boy band trilogy. I was pretty adamant that this was my last time; even though I always had fun, it was more because of the company than the show. Seeing NKOTB live was beginning to have diminishing returns. I’d relived the glory days, but I was ready to close the chapter. The concerts were getting a little repetitive as their discography is fairly limited; even with a new album, you tend to hear the same songs at each show. We had great seats for that show in Buffalo and I got lots of great pictures, which I thought was a good note to end my boy band career on.

So when S asked if I wanted to go to Hershey, PA to see NKOTBSB, I did consider turning her down. I wasn’t sure I wanted to travel that far to see NKOTB for a fifth time. But I don’t get to see S very often nowadays and the prospect of hanging out with her for a weekend was very tempting. What ultimately sold me was that NKOTBSB were not going to be the only acts performing; I’d be able to see other artists that I like but probably would never go see on their own or who I would have limited opportunity to go see in the future. I was ready to come out of my yearlong retirement for one last show. When 98 degrees, another boy band from the BSB/N’Sync years, announced that they would be reuniting for one night at the festival, it was just the icing on the cake. Now I would have really seen everything.

What I hadn’t anticipated was our tickets for the Mixtape Festival also entitled us to a meet and greet with New Kids on the Block. 23 years later, my childhood dream was going to come true. For about five minutes after S told me this news, I was transported back to being 12 years old. I called the only person who would really get the significance of this moment – my mom, who had endured more NKOTB than she probably ever wanted to. She was suitably impressed.

NKOTB performed both nights and they were entertaining as usual. The only real downside of the festival, beyond the obvious mismanagement, was dealing with the NKOTB fans. While S and I have a firm grasp on reality and go to these shows to briefly relive our pasts, a lot of these women are straight up nuts. They never got beyond that youthful obsession and it honestly makes me uncomfortable to be around them for any length of time. These women follow NKOTB around like the Grateful Dead – they go to multiple concerts a year and go on the NKOTB cruise every year. They seem to think that they know the guys in the band and I overheard plenty of conversations that I wish I could unhear. It’s like they are twelve year olds trapped in grown women’s bodies. It’s all just really embarrassing. I joked with S that all NKOTB shows should also have a mental health tent. I’m all for fandom and having a good time, but there reaches a point when you should realize you are making a fool of yourself. I generally am more comfortable hanging out with men than women to begin with, but some of these women were just really exhausting. Because our tickets were part of the ultimate VIP package, we definitely ran into the fans at the crazier end of the spectrum. One woman said that she could have bought a car for the money she spent on tickets, transportation and lodging for this concert. We met some nice people, but there were a lot of wackos too.

Because of the issues on Friday, we greatly lowered our expectations for the meet and greet Saturday morning. Unlike most of the people there, we’d never done this before. We waited another 2 ½ hours in line before it was our group’s turn to go in and “meet” Joe, Jordan, Jon, Donnie and Danny; I say “meet” because the whole experience was over in about a minute. You got the chance to hug all the members and then your group of 10 people would get your picture taken, 2 fans to each New Kid. While you were waiting in line, the fans were expected to put themselves into groups of 10 and to work out who would stand with what New Kid. Believe me, this was much more complicated than it sounds, as certain members (Joe, Donnie and Jordan) are more popular than others (Jonathan and Danny). So finding people willing to stand next to the latter group proved to be a challenge; one of the jokes that came out of the weekend was that instead of saying “I’m taking one for the team” we now say “I’m standing next to Danny.” Same meaning. S and I managed to align ourselves with 8 other people and worked out who was standing next to whom. We were ready to meet and greet NKOTB.

So, of course, there had to be a complication.

Apparently some of the people ahead of us had not been able to get themselves into groups of an even 10 people, so when we were on the on deck circle there were suddenly two extra people in our group who had been bumped from the previous group. This totally threw off our perfectly planned out fan/New Kid alignment. By the time we realized what was happening, it was our time to meet the New Kids. I managed to quickly trade with someone so I still got Joe, but the rest of our group wasn’t so lucky. When one of the strangers in our group realized that she wasn’t going to be next to Donnie, she apparently said “This is my dream” and shoved poor S out of the way to get to him first. S really had no interest in standing next to Donnie – she was supposed to be next to Jordan before the shift and was simply going to the next available member. Like I said – crazy. Donnie would up apologizing for S for what happened.

As for me, I didn’t necessarily get to fully soak in my few seconds with Joe before the picture as I was watching the chaos unfold behind me. I hugged him and did talk to him for a few seconds – I think I told him that this made my inner child very happy – he put his arm around me for the photo, and then it was over.  It wasn’t life changing and I didn’t get chills or anything, but it was strangely fulfilling. Now I could retire. There was nothing left for me to accomplish. I’d lived my dream, even though I knew it wouldn’t mean that much to me in my 30s as it would have in my teens. It was still a cool experience, and I’ll admit to being anxious to see the photo when it is finally posted so I have some tangible proof of the moment. It was all over so quickly.

And I learned a valuable lesson – when you say “now I can die happy” you probably need to be more specific; a little over 24 hours after meeting Joe, I was almost run off the highway by a tractor trailer on my way home. The guy apparently couldn’t see me and merged into my lane while I was alongside him. I managed to speed up and drive on the shoulder to avoid getting hit, but I frankly didn’t expect to be facing my mortality that quickly after the meet and greet.

So now I am really retired and this time it should stick. It’s been a fun ride, but I’m done. At the rate I’m going, I should finally get to meet Brad Pitt sometime in my 50s.