Screen Savor: Monday TV

All of a sudden, Mondays are as crowded as Thursdays — as far as
my viewing schedule goes, anyway. I used to check whether Castle and How I Met Your Mother were repeats, then either in-between or instead of them catch up with other shows on tape or online. With 24 and Chuck back on the schedule, plus the new, ballyhooed Life Unexpected, the night is more likely to feed the backlog than help clear it out.

Photo and logo © 2009 ABC Studios.

Castle, airing 10-11 p.m. on ABC, is basically the same show I reviewed back in August. Fine by me.

We did get a big "mythology" moment just last week, when a new case dovetailed with the unsolved murder of Det. Beckett's mother. It left little — but, yes, some
— room for further exploitation, a surprising development so early in a series that by design has no real backstory to address beyond what made its lead cop become a cop; I just hope this doesn't mean that any sweeps stunts or season-ending cliffhangers deemed necessary will revolve exclusively around artificially pushing together or pulling apart the Beckett/Castle duo, who are pretty much right where they should be until we're rewarded with their inevitable series-ending romance.

The show has also found Castle's personal sphere colliding more often with his now open-ended ride-along stint in Beckett's NYPD Homicide team — both intentionally (as when Castle's daughter interns at the precinct or goes to Beckett for girl talk) and otherwise (as when foul play strikes the high-society set, including the bridal party of Castle's college sweetheart). Mostly, though, the domestic scenes are grace notes to the flirtatious banter between Nathan Fillion as Castle and Stana Katic as Beckett, the irreverent morgue humor among the supporting cast on the street or at the station, and the sometimes grisly but usually gripping enough murder-mystery of the week.
Castle is very satisfying television.

Promotional poster © 2010 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

24 kicked off its new season last week with what's become the traditional four hours over two consecutive nights; it settles into its weekly Monday slot tonight at 9 p.m. on Fox.

I've toyed with ditching the show on occasion, and for a couple of seasons in there I wish I actually had, but both its trademark unevenness and its trademark immediacy (only the latter is intentional, of course) in a way make
24 work contrary to most serial fiction. A lot of purposefully complex or just plain long-running TV and comic-book series depend on knowledge of loads of previous characters and plot points; you may not have seen or read those stories, and if you did you may not have enjoyed them, but you'd better either remember their details or be prepared to do some research to re-enter the Star Trek, X-Men, or General Hospital universe. Where those franchises are all about churning out new stories, mining and often cannibalizing what has gone before as part of a never-ending saga, 24 by its definition each year has resolutions set up as goalposts from the start but invariably relies on subplots and misdirections that are often made up as the season takes shape; you don't actually have to know much of what goes on in the middle episodes, but except for laughers like the infamous Season 2 cougar sighting the urgency of those split-screen scenes and that ticking clock sure make them exciting at the time.

So with CTU disbanded and all but about three of its perennial characters having bit the dust, I would have been fine with last season being
24's last season. The show broke ground in both style and content, but I've probably seen the best of what it has to offer; surely, the longer it goes on the more unbelievable it is that Jack Bauer and even moreso our nation's psyche can endure any further figurative or literal bombshells without the narrative better reflecting their impact: Over the past nine years — which, granted, I think have corresponded to more than a dozen years in-story, based on references to time elapsed between seasons — a nuclear device has been detonated in the heartland; Air Force One has gone down, incapacitating the President; the Secretary of Defense has been kidnapped by terrorists; a former President, the first black man elected to the position, has been assassinated; the Cabinet has voted to temporarily remove another President from power; internment camps for Muslims were temporarily enacted; yet another President has been in cahoots with an extragovernmental cabal, then left office permanently only to be stabbed by his ex-wife when the worst he got was house arrest; the air-traffic control grid has been seized by terrorists, who caused planes to crash into one another over Washington in an attempt to deter the country's first female President from intervening in a situation overseas; and the White House has been rather ridiculously invaded by the leader of that coup with the President held at gunpoint on live television. Yeah. And that's just from mulling it over without doing the Google, not to mention without tacking on the real-world terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001, which occurred after the first season of 24 began production but fallout from which has been referenced on the show. We saw Bauer break down privately under the weight of what his job has cost him in an achingly powerful performance from Kiefer Sutherland at the end of Season 3, but the world at large is reset to more-or-less business as usual each year to a greater extent, it feels to me, than even humanity's tendencies towards compartmentalization and self-absorption would allow.

At least the reconstituted CTU in Season 8 has tech that's visually on par with
CSI, although it's good to see Jack Bauer sticking with his shoulder bag. While I can't imagine many folks are trying 24 for the first time this far in, I should explain that CTU stands for Counter-Terrorist Unit and is 24's fictional domestic branch of the CIA; Jack once worked out of the very active LA division and has gone undercover, gone apparently rogue, or gone on to greener pastures many times over, but ol' JB's middle initial must be O because he's now in NYC — with plans to join his daughter's family on a flight back to LA this very night — just as an old informant turns up with news of an imminent assassination attempt that will scuttle negotiations between the US and the leader of Fakenamistan over deposits of unobtainium in...

No, I shouldn't joke about even make-believe "peace in the Middle East". But from the way that phrase is thrown around, you'd think the talks were more directly about the conflict among and around Israel, the Palestinians, and neighboring Arab or Muslim states instead of a treaty with a stand-in for Iran to provide aid in exchange for a cessation of nuclear ambitions. And I'll continue the
24 talk later because I don't want the now-flickering Internet connection to drop out before I can post a recommendation for the night's new critical darling.

Promotional poster © 2010 The CW Network LLC.

Life Unexpected, airing 9-10 p.m. on The CW opposite 24, premiered last week after months of hype from the network and excited TV-beat writers.

My current CW diet consists exclusively of the delicious
Supernatural. Its predecessors, UPN and The WB, had larger cultural ramifications but for me likewise mattered mostly due to what the trade mags dismissively refer to as "genre" offerings — namely Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, even if the latter especially was so much more than a fantasy series; I didn't follow any of the teen-centered family or surrogate-family series beyond Buffy and Gilmore Girls (both of which I fell for belatedly but hard) unless you count the first-rate, last-place Veronica Mars in that category as well.

While it's unlikely to live up to the direct comparisons to
Gilmore on which it's being sold, Life is lucky to have at its center Britt Robertson — the strongest of the kids on CBS's Swingtown, who were in turn the most compelling part of that show. The pilot, available to play at the CW website at least until tonight's episode goes up, introduces Robertson as Lux, whose pinball existence in the foster-care system explains her sass and independence if not her quirky-chic wardrobe (I've known some truly devoted foster parents, but it's made clear that Lux has been stuck with families who just want her for the check). She aims to track down her biological parents for their signatures so that she can become emancipated on her 16th birthday, only it turns out that Mom and Dad — who haven't seen each other since high school — were no older than Lux is now when she was born, and in fact they still haven't "grown up": One lives above the bar he owns, the other is a radio talk jockey who's been speaking to her daughter over the air every morning without knowing it and who just got engaged to her co-host in a potentially misplaced bid at moving on in life.

You're welcome to ponder the show's tightrope act in offering the very lifestyles that make Cate and Baze, Lux's folks, cool and relatable (to their kid and, presumably, most of the target demographic) as evidence of their arrested development and lack of fitness for child-rearing, but one hopes that surprising emotional maturity will be coaxed out of all corners of the motley crew that assembles for Lux's birthday party at the premiere's conclusion. I hear that tonight's episode moves on nicely from the established premise and look forward to giving
Unexpected a chance. How about you?


SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

This is spoilery, just as a warning to anyone who hasn't seen Castle.

I love Castle (as you know) and I didn't feel that the revelations from this last episode wrapped up Beckett's story, but rather deepened the mystery. They've known since the S1 finale that her mother was killed by a professional and this only confirmed that, but we still don't know what her mother did, why someone would hire a professional to kill her or who that someone is. Now the only lead they ever had is gone.

That's my opinion anyway. Wow, that came out more passionate than I anticipated. it's just tv, it's just tv

There, all better.
I have never watched 24, but often wanted to. My manager is a monstrous fan. Maybe I'll make a deal that I'll watch 24 if he'll watch Lost :)

And on a sidenote, I've started watching Buffy as SO many people (including yourself) have recommended and am loving it. Not moving through it as quickly as I would like - not even through the first season - but then I figure it will give me something to do to drown my Lost withdrawal symptoms.

Blam said...

I'm glad you're checking out Buffy (and enjoying it). One thing I'd love to do with Nik's gang to ease the Lost withdrawal and keep the community together is do a (re)watch of Buffy or Alias with her guides at a manageable, non-frantic pace. 24 is, you've probably heard, at times kinda violent, although on DVD I'd imagine you can zoom through some nasty stuff. As for Castle not exactly wrapping up that backstory, the more I've thought about it the more I agree that it could be explored in various directions, but unless we're introduced to some huge, unexpected conspiracy, which seems out-of-character for the show, I'm still surprised that the actual killer was identified and confronted so early on even though questions obviously remain. I haven't posted on Chuck in almost a year, by the way, but that's another Monday show you'd probably like if you're looking for still more TV to watch. 8^)

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

Oh and I would totally love to do a Buffy rewatch with everybody! That would be SO much fun!

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

We watched Chuck way back at the beginning for a little while, but I haven't seen it in ages. It's another one on my very lengthy list of shows to get to someday.

It's hard, because I work every single Monday night (the only consistent thing in my schedule) so I have to watch Castle online or remember to record it.

Joan Crawford said...

This post keeps disappearing so I will type as fast as mine troll fingers can manage! I would absolutely be down with a Buffy Rewatch. For me, it will just be a "watch" as I never got to see it the first time.

I really can't handle the fact that Lost is going to be over :(

Arben said...

Blam, SonshineMusic, other Castle watchers:
I'm taking part in an ABC Studios Q&A on Castle and have been asked to submit Qs. We don't know exactly which members of the cast and creative team will take part yet, but you can post general or specific questions here or E-mail them to me at...