Sunday, January 25, 2009

The New Sunday Night Viewing Choices on HBO and Showtime

It's no Dexter-Mad Men-TrueBlood line-up, but this January has brought new episodes of several favorites, as well as a much-touted Showtime original. The Flaming Nose is all over Season 2 of HBO's droll Flight of the Conchords, which we have loved from the beginning and are thrilled to see it back again. I've previously read that this season has been much harder to produce and that they may call it quits after this one, and this recent article from the New York Times details the trials of basically making a sitcom and one or two music videos for each new episode. At least the effort is worth it, with FoTC's Bret and Jemaine and the touchingly ambitious Murray back once again with their charmingly off-center efforts to crack into music stardom. (I have had occasion to watch/listen to some of this week's Australian Open Tennis and at least one of the announcers sounds just like Murray -- adorable!)

HBO also brings us Season 3 of the suburban polygamy drama Big Love, starring Bill Paxton as the husband of three lusty wives each with unique problems and several of his kids. It's never less than fascinating, veering from near soap opera to a masculine business-oriented story to teenage concerns and back again. You don't often get the chance to see terrific actresses like Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and all the others of that calibre, and the entire cast is filled with unusual faces and unique talents who don't look or act like standard Hollywood issue talent. Bill Paxton manages to be sympathetic, beleagured, sexy and pious all at the same time, and he's the force that keeps his family -- and this show -- together.

Showtime last week premiered its much-touted and much-previewed Spielberg-produced, and Juno's Diablo Cody-written half-hour comedy (I think it's a comedy...not sure really) The United States of Tara, about a suburban housewife with multiple personality disorder. I think star Toni Collette can do no wrong, but screenwriter Cody bugs me so I confess to a bit of a negative bias against this, try as I might to be open to its charms. I totally get the crazy thrill of watching Collette veer between her various personas, including a prim homemaker, a loutish redneck male, and a sexy firecracker of a teen girl, plus her own likable artistic self. It's a terrific tour-de-force of trick acting and I'm sure that soon we'll be made more interested in how Tara's family -- a husband played by John Corbett who is the poster boy for a sexy but caring hetero male (Northern Exposure, Sex and the City), her sensitive son (loves to cook) and her rebellious daughter -- manage to come to terms with her unusual predicament. On one hand I want to like this because of Toni Collette, and on the other I want to hate it because of Ms. Cody. I will at least give it a go, though, whichever way the chips eventually fall.

Showtime also brings on the announced last season of its hot lesbian-centric melodrama The L Word, with as attractive a female cast as you'll find anywhere -- Jennifer Beales, Pam Grier, Mia Kirschner, Katherine Moennig, Rachel Shelley, Laurel Holloman, et al -- and they are all talented actresses, too. If you haven't been with this series since the beginning it may seem impenetrable (no particular pun intended), but you could always watch older episodes on the LOGO network or just plunge right in and figure things out as you go along. I've been following it on and off and have liked all of the episodes I've ever seen. So follow this one to the finale and you will no doubt be hooked.

It's actually shocking how quickly television produces, offers and eats up new material these days. We are surely in an age of incredible television choice, and you almost have to wonder how long can it last. We have learned to be content with seasons of only 12 episodes for shows on anything but the broadcast networks -- what a burden for them to bear! -- and no sooner are we through with being astounded at one success than we crave another. It's all about the economics, of course, and at this point we're all going to have to concede that cable and pay networks seem to have the advantage, including the ability to play with limits of taste and language that the broadcast nets don't, and probably shouldn't, go beyond. But still we have Lost, 24, House, do they do it?

Enjoy this boom while it lasts! Will advertisers be able to keep paying for the commercials that keep the commercial nets afloat? Will we only be able to see expensive shows on nets which can rely on constant subscriber fees? I don't know, but I surely thank goodness for every minute of great television out there!


Stella said...

There IS so much good stuff on TV right now. My cable bill gets bigger every month--what shall we add this time? SHO? MAX? Arggh! Anyway, we do live in a time of great choice and some great acting and writing.

Don't forget In Treatment Season Two starts up on Sunday and Monday nights in April. Season One should be available soon on HBO, so check it out if you missed it the first time around. It, too, is amazing TV.

Lisa said...

Hello Stella! Are you new to us here? Welcome!!! Yes, In Treatment is terrific and we liked it a lot last year, especially Byrnne's melancholy presence! Thanks for commenting and hope to see you here again!!

Jane said...

Stella, if your cable bill is creeping up, you might consider giving them a call and see if they will get it back down to a more reasonable level. There is a lot of competition out there for wired cable (finally) including satellite and phone delivery. You might be surprised at how willing they would be to knock $10-$30 bucks off your monthly. I just experienced this over the past week.

Hooray for great Sunday night TV!

Jane said...

Regarding Flight of the Conchords, I would like to put a plug in for Mel, their "#1 Fan". Mel is seriously unhinged and a celebrity stalker, but she has a charming overbite. You can tell that Bret and Jermaine are terrified of her, but they are too polite to give her the brush off. I love the secondary characters like Mel and their Indian friend who lives with his parents.