Teen … or in this case, adult … angst

It’s “advertise the fall series” time on TV, and there’s a common theme …

They’re all pretty much the same freaking thing. Just like Invasion, Surface, the 4400 and all the other dramas on TV, they’re all various permutations of the “gee, this situation sucks, so let’s see how many complications we can add” formula that has served 24 and Lost so well. You could call it the “sitdram” formatthey’re mostly serials based on that dreary situation and various attempts to get out of it that only lead to secret hatches, murdered relatives, conspiracy-minded presidents and teens who end up realizing too late that the woman they think was their mom actually killed the real mom when the real mom showed up … yes, I’m lumping Desperate Housewives in here, because brief outbursts of comedy and occasional glimpses of Eva Longoria in glammed-up revealing outfits don’t hide the fact that it is, at its heart, another convoluted depressing drama.

Let’s run through the list, as compiled at About.com:

– Brothers & Sisters: “Shocking family secrets are revealed along the way!”

Men in Trees: OK, this sounds different — Anne Heche as a jilted woman rediscovering the meaning of life in Alaska.

The Nine: Our lives are forever changed after being held hostage. How many seasons to they expect to milk out of that premise?

Six Degrees: This could be different and kind of interesting if done right, but my hunch it won’t progress beyond the “Hey, my life could’ve been so different” premise, and I fear they’ll serialize it.

Smith: CBS’ answer to The Sopranos.

Jericho: Oh dear crap. A small town thinks it’s the last outpost of civilization because they think there was a nuclear blast? I’ll assume for the moment that they’ve lost all telephone, television and radio contact with the outside world, but wouldn’t it occur to anyone that someplace in the world — New Zealand springs to mind — isn’t likely to be affected by a nuclear explosion in the United States or any circumstances that could’ve brought that about? “Oh no, they blew up Kansas City! That’s the only other populated area on Earth!”

Shark: James Woods as an on-the-edge DA … OK, that might be worth it.

Runaway: It’s a family drama — the whole family is running from the bad guys.

Vanished: Title says it all, doesn’t it?

Standoff: Assuming they don’t focus on the same standoff all season, this is a least a little different than the serials.

Justice: Part Murder One, part Boomtown — might be interesting.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: I’ve heard about this show. It’s a drama? About Saturday Night Live?

– Heroes: At least the good guys are the ones with superpowers, not the aliens or miscellaneous bad guys.

Kidnapped: Everyone’s a suspect!

Friday Night Lights: Texas football — definitely different.

So I count eight shows that fall into the “serialized tales of woe” category.

Now perhaps the TV programmers aren’t to blame. Maybe these just look alike in the marketing.

But somewhere along the line, there’s a distinct lack of originality, coupled with the belief that in the post-9/11 world, we all want to escape to fantasy worlds that are bleaker than the reality of this decade so far!

Before you say, “Hey, they’re dramas, they’re supposed to be sad,” consider what passed for “drama” back in the ’70s and ’80s. (Coincidentally, we’re watching the new VH1 show on the ’70s, so I’ll have plenty of material without doing actual research.) Here’s a sampler:

Magnum, P.I.: Everything wrapped up in time to get a good zinger between Magnum and Higgins at the end.
CHiPs: “But Ponch, we have to catch the car thief in time to get Billy to the BMX race and throw down some sanitized dance moves in the disco!”
L.A. Law: “But Arnie, you’ve slept with all the women in the firm and all your clients! How am I supposed to bill those hours?”
Dallas: All fun and games until it was time for a cliffhanger, when someone was just gonna have to die.
Miami Vice: The ultimate in style, now fodder for a film that appears from the trailers to have forgotten everything that made the show unique. (And apparently, the trailer isn’t far off the mark.)

Sure, there were thought-provoking serialized dramas as well (Kung Fu, Knight Rider, The Incredible Hulk). But they didn’t dominate the airwaves, and they didn’t seem as determined as these shows to give you nightmares. Some of the ads for Invasion made me so creeped-out I’d have to walk to Chipotle and eat a whole bag of chips to properly re-ground myself in reality.

And what’s wrong with a TV drama that has a sense of humor? Without the snarking celeste music of Grey’s Anatomy?


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