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Diving into the DVR

Last week was busy; my parents came into town this past weekend to visit and do a belated Christmas with my niece, and the weekend before we were celebrating my husband's grandmother's birthday. In the midst of family gatherings, we've been making an effort to catch up on our DVR backlog. I don't think there are any real spoilers for any of the shows listed, but just in case, I've put each one behind an LJ-cut.

True Blood
I had four co-workers nudging me to watch True Blood. I mentioned it at the family get-together this past weekend, and said, "It starts off kind of trashy." My mother was surprised that I was watching it. "My co-workers recommended it," I explained. "They don't know you very well, then," she responded. "I think they thought the vampire angle would get me in the door, since they knew I watched Buffy," I clarified. One co-worker kind of apologized, saying that she didn't mean to raise my expectations -- that this was summer paperback material, not Buffy 2.0. (And I haven't forgotten that BtVS' first season wasn't stellar, either. Definitely not Joss' best work.) That helped. I might've enjoyed it a bit more knowing it was popcorn-level going in. A friend told me he dropped it after three episodes, and I can understand why. However, it does improve a bit in the latter half of the season.

I'd say that True Blood is better than Smallville, but that's damning with faint praise. It's a mixed bag -- there's good stuff, but you have to sift through some cheesy wish fulfillment (the graveyard reunion scene was just ridiculous), and a lot of gratuitous sex to get to it. The Jason Stackhouse storyline really seems like a thinly-veiled excuse to go the "Hey, we're on HBO! Let's get nakey!" route. I'm no prude, but I just found his plotline really dull.

If you can make it through the boring bits, the show does have some things going for it: quirky humor, brief stints by acclaimed character actors, an extremely catchy theme song, a surprising amount of authentic Southern culture for a Hollywood production, and, perhaps most importantly, interesting vampires. They seem significantly more dangerous and ruthless than those in the Whedonverse, and I like that. There's no Slayer here to keep things safe. More vampire society and less Jason Stackhouse, and the show would improve considerably. The latter just feels like filler ... like something they're using to stretch the plot to 12 episodes when it really should be around nine. Especially during the first part of Season 1, I felt like we were fighting through extraneous scenes to get to actual plot.

I'm hoping that the success of the show in Alan Ball's (Six Feet Under) hands will encourage him to continue to diverge from the novels and forge his own path with the story. Honestly, though, I couldn't recommend it right now in good conscience. I'm hoping that Season 1 was just exposition, and that Season 2 will be stronger. I do plan to watch it at least through the end of the next season. It's okay popcorn, but I just don't have room for a lot of popcorn in my life. My time is too limited to give to a show that wastes so much time on a supporting character's uninteresting storyline. I like some of it: I just want there to be more of the stuff I like, and less of the stuff I don't so that it doesn't feel like a guilty pleasure. I want it to be better than it currently is. Maybe Joss should get together with HBO.

Mission Impossible III
The only movie in the bunch. It had been sitting on the DVR for a while, and I watched it with my parents. Not too bad. I just mentioned okay popcorn: this is much better popcorn entertainment. I liked J.J. Abrams' pacing, and it was nice to see up-and-coming actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers in a supporting role. I think it probably improved my perception of the film to have watched it well after the big Tom Cruise firestorm that was going on at the time. The big leap to the building holding the Macguffin was gasp-inducing, at least when watching it with my mildly-acrophobic father; the manhole scene was flashy fun. My only real criticism is that Philip Seymour Hoffman was kind of wasted as the villain -- he just didn't have much screen time.

Damages
I'm caught up on Damages, and I like the season so far. So, we now have an Oscar nominee and two Oscar winners in the cast? Television has come a long way. My co-worker suspects that Frobisher is Julia's father. I don't believe for a second that Michael Hewes is really straightened out. Is Lila really out of the picture, and was she just a stalker after all? Just a red herring to misdirect us about David's murder? Many questions persist, but I feel confident, given last season's finale, that the writers have a tight grip on the plot threads.

Battlestar Galactica
I don't have too much to say about Episode 14, "A Disquiet Follows my Soul." It makes sense that mutiny is part of the aftermath, and Zarek has always been an opportunist waiting to make his move. The new information about Cally and Tyrol's kid feels like a retcon: "Oops, we have one too many Cylon children running around." There were some good moments with Bill Adama and Laura Roslin, and a rather interesting scene between Kara Thrace and Felix Gaeta. Actually, Gaeta's development is probably the most interesting thing about this episode.

Fringe
Just watched the pilot: we've got 11 more episodes recorded. My first impression of it was a bit more positive than my husband's. I found a lot that was comfortably familiar: there's a generous helping of X-Files and a fair amount of Alias in the mix. The justification for Peter Bishop staying seemed very weak (actually, that character seemed kind of meh), but it's a pilot, so I'm marginally more tolerant. Another minor complaint: what was up with all the "sweethearts" and "honeys" directed at Olivia Dunham? It felt overemphasized and jarringly out of place. If that was some sort of hamhanded "she's in a man's world" treatment, it really didn't seem to fit, and I hope it doesn't continue. As far as the cast goes, I was pleasantly surprised to see Mark Valley from Boston Legal as John Scott, and I hope he'll get to display a little more range in this role than he did as Brad Chase. I find myself wondering if John Noble is attracted to playing insane fathers who have issues with their sons, or if it's the reverse -- that he got cast based on Denethor. We'll see how it progresses.

Just as we've made a little progress in clearing off the DVR, The Closer starts back tonight. We haven't been watching Heroes. I forgot to set it up as a series recording when we got the new DVR. Truthfully, I just didn't care much anymore and something had to go to make room for other things. It can be difficult to keep both one's water cooler viewing and one's personal must-see TV viewing current. Despite that, I'm going to squeeze Dollhouse in somehow.

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