Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Three TV Shows Worth Watching

Rather than dwell on the negative, and spend a lot of primo blogosphere real estate tearing down the worst of what television has to offer, I thought it might be a good idea to mention a few things that TV is doing right. There'll be plenty of time for hatchet jobs later. So here, in no particular order, are three great TV shows that you should be watching:

Smallville Thursday at 8 p.m. on the WB (WHCP, locally)

The legend and mythology of Superman is pretty durable. It's lasted for nearly seven decades in comic books, with a major reboot every generation. It survived translation into the classic "Adventures Of Superman" TV show from the 1950s. Two really great, and two really bad movies in the 1970s and '80s broadened the appeal of the Man Of Steel. There have been several cartoon series, some excellent, some horrid. And there was even the wretched "Lois and Clark" series in the '90s, the less said about the better.

So when it was announced that the WB would do a new television series that would be a cross between "Dawson's Creek" and Superman, fans of the Last Son of Krypton were skeptical, but prepared for a new take on the classic legend. This is a new take on Clark Kent's high school years, with an emphasis on his destiny as the defender of the Earth.

Smallville has turned out to be the best live-action version of the Superman legend ever done. It's taken elements of the classic versions of the story of the alien baby with super powers, and updated it to modern times, without losing any of the charm or sense of wonder of the original story that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster gave us in 1938. The foreshadowing is a key part of the appeal for fans of the comic book. There have been some brilliant moments where you know the writers and producers are paying tribute to a classic comic book story. And they've accomplished this without the use of the famous blue suit.

Even with the arbitrary changes to the comic book that Hollywood seems to be obliged by law to make, Smallville has proven to be remarkably loyal to the spirit of the book. The producers have added elements to the mythology that not only make perfect sense, but also weave Superman's legacy of super-powered enemies into the show in a perfectly logical manner. The respect for the source material is one of the keys to the show's success, and a real treat for comic book geeks like myself. This week, Aquaman shows up!

Smallville sports one of the most-talented casts in prime-time. Tom Welling is a perfect Clark Kent/Superman. Annette O'Toole and John Schneider bring a youthful vigor to his adoptive parents, Jonathon and Martha Kent, that has been missing in previous versions of the story. Michael Rosenbaum proves to be a talent to watch with his multi-faceted portrayal of Lex Luthor, who's destined to become Superman's greatest foe. The entire cast is impressive. It's a mystery why Warners didn't just decide to continue this series, with the same cast, in the Superman feature film. Sadly, they decided to go with a totally different approach with the currently-shooting big screen Superman epic, and it's possible that Smallville may be sacrificed in order to not confuse the public.

Let's hope that isn't the case. Smallville, now in its fifth season, is showing surprising strength on its new night. In the key demographics, it's ranked second behind "Survivor" on CBS. Smallville has been soundly beating "Everybody Hates Chris," "Joey" and "Alias" on a regular basis. Any fan of Superman should be watching this show. Any fan of good adventure shows should be watching Smallville.

Good Eats Weeknights at 7 PM, and Wednesday at 10 p.m. on the Food Network

Shifting Gears, we have the coolest cooking show on TV, Good Eats. Host Alton Brown brings a quirky, informative quality to this cleverly produced series that goes beyond simple "how-to" cooking instruction to a full-blown "why does it work that way" method. Brown is like the cooking show successor to Mr. Wizard. He clearly explains the science of how to prepare and cook food, and you come away with enough knowledge to adapt the lessons to recipes that have nothing to do with the show you've just watched. You also come away entertained. Brown puts his pre-chef background as a cinematographer to work constructing a bright, fun half-hour show that's as packed with comedy and pop culture references as it is with recipes. Even when he's cooking something you find totally repulsive (seafood, in my case), you wind up watching, because the show is still informative and entertaining.

Good Eats is good television.

Rome Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO

I got hooked on Roman history about 15 years ago when Bravo re-ran the old "I Claudius" series (originally on Masterpiece Theater). Since then, I've always enjoyed a good dramatic retelling of the days of the Ceasars. But there was always something missing. It just wasn't a "real" Roman epic unless the actors all spoke with British accents. Blame it on Claudius, I guess. Rome finally fills in that missing piece. This is a wholly satisfying TV show.

There's a reason that HBO's Rome has been so critically acclaimed. It really is that good. It's first-rate drama, impeccably acted, with intelligent scripts and feature-quality direction. Being on HBO, they're free to depict realistic gore, sex and language, but that's not the main reason to watch the show. This series, currently eight-weeks into a 12-episode run, is just about the best thing on TV. Forget the Sopranos, Rome is real Italian drama.

HBO will be running mini marathons of the first eight episodes starting October 23rd at 8 p.m. The remaining episodes will air on the following Tuesday and Friday. If you have Charter Digital, you can also catch up with Rome using their video-on-demand service. The final four episodes start airing on October 30th.

A grand-sweeping historical epic with great acting and production, and also BRITISH ACCENTS -- how can you go wrong? All roads lead to Rome, and all remotes should, too.

That's three quality examples of TV at its best. Check back for more triptychs of terrific television.

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