Thursday, July 01, 2004

Summer better than others

What ever happened to the good old days when the only thing on television during the summer months was re-runs? Doesn’t my TiVo deserve a vacation, too? Sadly, the vast network and cable cabal have conspired to keep me crazy, lazy and pasty year-round (their malicious plot to render my body corpulent will be the subject of my own de facto sequel to Super Size Me).

Monk has returned to USA for its third season, and after two episodes, it’s off to a very bad start. The first two seasons were likeable, if not exceptional. The mysteries and the way Monk solved them were usually entertaining and clever, the humor light and Tony Shalhoub’s performance endearing (though over-praised and over-rewarded). But that’s all changed this season (granted – two episodes hardly makes a season and one need only revisit this past season of Gilmore Girls to see how a series can recover from a slow start).

The season premiere episode where "Mr. Monk takes Manhattan" wasn’t that bad, though it was hardly up to the series’ standards. However, this past week’s episode, “Mr. Monk and the Panic Room” was just awful. In both episodes (but particularly in “the Panic Room”), the mysteries take backseat to too much pointless filler and unnecessary, unfunny gags.

On the first Austin Powers DVD, Jay Roach and Mike Myers discuss comedy runs that go on so long, they cease being funny, and then go on even longer until they’re funny again over the scene of Austin urinating upon being unfrozen. Some people think that type of run overtook the sequels and is partly to blame for what they see as those movies’ decline in quality. I disagree. I think Roach and Myers used it just enough and in just the right spots. Unfortunately, the writers at Monk have suddenly decided that this should be the only form of humor to use this season (witness the construction site scene in “Manhattan” or the scene where Monk is “trapped” in the panic room - and these are but the most memorable examples). It’s almost embarrassing to watch.

And going back to the lackluster “mysteries,” Mr. Monk did practically no detective work in “the Panic Room.” There were no clues. There were no observations that only an obsessive-compulsive detective could make. His process was literally limited to this: He saw that the monkey-suspect freaked out around bald guys, ergo the only bald guy who had anything to do with the victim must be the killer. Lame.

Part of the reason Monk’s detective skills haven’t been on display in these two episodes is that his condition somehow and inexplicably took a drastic turn for the worse over the hiatus. He’s gotten so crazy now, it’s neither funny nor believable. If he continues at this rate, he’ll become as crazy as Homer Simpson has become stupid. And speaking of becoming increasingly stupid, see the supporting cast of Monk.

On the flip side, Nip/Tuck’s second season is off to a rollicking start. The season premiere was perhaps the best episode yet of this highly entertaining series. If you haven’t been watching, here’s my heads up:

When I first sampled this series last summer, I was expecting an HBO-caliber gritty human drama. I was turned off by the over-the-top characters, dialogue, stories and acting and quit watching after two episodes. Then, after all the critical acclaim and Golden Globe nominations and hearing it described as a guilty pleasure in the tradition of Melrose Place, I decided to give it another chance. Watching it in that frame of mind, what I found was good, engrossing, trashy fun. It is still over the top, but seeing that’s what they were going for, I can embrace it and enjoy the hell out of it – especially Julian McMahon’s magnetic performance as Dr. Christian Troy. He’s one of the most charismatic presences on television (if Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson mated, he’d be their miracle progeny) and it’s an astonishing feat of acting prowess that he pulls off each week that’s excellent on both the camp scale and the real human emotional scale. You can’t help but loathe him and want to be him at the same time, and you get the feeling from McMahon that Dr. Troy feels the same way about himself.

So do yourself a favor and put the first season of Nip/Tuck in your Netflix rental queue (just bump all those foreign films and documentaries down a few notches – come on, it’s summer – if your TiVo can’t get a vacation, at least your mind can). And hurry up, so you can get caught up for what’s already shaping up to be another highly addictive season.


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