Well, now the first-runs are done for the 1999-2000 year and we've entered the Dark Days. I'm one of the few Arizonans who actually supports Daylight Savings Time. I figure if we were to spring ahead like the rest of the country, that would be one less hour we'd have to wait for the next TV season to start in the fall.
Even worse, with the Olympics joining the baseball playoffs and World Series on the fall schedule, some shows won't resume first-run episodes until the November sweeps. What are we supposed to do, sit around as a family and talk to each other? In the same room?
Actually, the Olympics are high drama, and I love them. Since they're in Australia this year, they won't be on until our autumn, which is their spring, which is why they're called the Summer Olympics. And, for having mentioned that, I now have to send International Olympic Committee head Juan Antonio Samaranch a 12-cent, under-the-table bribe in unmarked American coins. After which the U.S. Justice department will refuse to issue indictments.
As for this past season:
Best Drama: There are some great drama series on TV. Law & Order and NYPD Blue had great seasons. ER and The Practice each slipped a notch, but are still outstanding, as is The X-Files. But head-and-shoulders above the rest is newcomer The West Wing.
Writer-director-producer Aaron Sorkin has performed a miracle by taking a cliché-waiting-to-happen format and infusing it with wit and zeal and some of the most intelligent writing in television history. With all that has oozed out of the White House over the past 30 years, it would have seemed impossible to keep the viewers interested and surprised over an entire season, but Sorkin, et al, did that and so much more.
You know how you'll be watching something and all of a sudden you realize that your face hurts from smiling so hard at how entertaining the thing is? Well, I do, anyway. The show is uniformly smart and never, ever attempts to write down to the stereotypical eighth-grade TV viewer. They expect you to know the location of Pakistan, the definition of filibuster, and the convoluted process through which one becomes a Supreme Court justice.
The sight of Martin Sheen coldly telling his advisors that if a downed U.S. pilot isn't found alive, the U.S. will invade Baghdad is almost as chilling as Henry Fonda bombing New York City in Seven Days In May.
Wing should dominate the Emmys in September and Sorkin should have several writing nominations.
Now, having said all that, I hated the way the series ended its season with a ridiculous assassination attempt. Young skinheads with an unbelievably great spot from which to shoot, open fire on the entire cast of the show, leaving us to wonder who was the target, who got shot, blah, blah, blah. A terribly disappointing end to a spectacular first season.
Best Comedy: Malcolm In The Middle breathed life into a dying sitcom genre with a sort-of-updated version of Married: With Children, just without all the dumb sex jokes.
The title character in Malcolm is a boy genius, segregated at school with all the other Krelboins (this year's word for "nerd"), and forced to balance that with a reform-school older brother and two younger brothers who want to grow up to become a thug and a pyromaniac, respectively. The roost is ruled by an iron-lunged mother and a passive dad whose body is so hairy it has to be shaved on a regular basis, all too often on camera.
The pilot episode involved Malcolm's best friend--an asthmatic, legally-blind, black kid in a wheelchair--getting punched by the school bully. It's one of the funniest scenes in TV history.
Another Fox latecomer, Titus, is also very funny. The tale of an even-more dysfunctional family, it's summed up by the tagline, "After you've driven your alcoholic father to your mother's parole hearing, what else is there?"
Frasier bounced back this year and will probably win the Emmy again, and the sweetly funny Will & Grace proved that you can have an entertaining series with gay characters without driving people away with ham-fisted political messages. Are you listening, Ellen?
Best Guilty Pleasure: JAG. It's flag-waving, it's corny, it'säjust so much fun. Plus, my friend Stew thinks star Catherine Bell has "high babe-iosity."
(Stew, ostensibly an African-American, was born in Douglas and raised in Newport, Rhode Island, and says things like babe-iosity all the time. We recently had an intervention where we strapped him down and played Funkadelic records for 12 hours straight. It didn't work.)
Worst Show On TV: Ally McBeal. Maybe the worst show of all time. How David Kelley got the Academy to allow it in the Comedy Series category last year--and then to have it win!--will be one of the great mysteries of the ages. Maybe he showed naked pictures of his wife, Michelle Pfeiffer, around. Apparently, the only people who watch this show are morning drive-time deejays, who hype it incessantly. It is God-awful.
Best Thing On PBS: They had a great thing on Admiral Byrd on The American Experience and a creepy look at ants on Nova, but by far my favorite was a Nova on this guy who combined arcane mathematical formulae to come up with a way to beat the stock market. He became fabulously wealthy, formed a consortium that used the system to rake in billions, then saw it all fall apart when a real-estate scandal in Taiwan caused the entire Pacific Rim economy to unravel.
See, you can't get rich watching TV, but you can watch rich people get poor, and that's almost as much fun.