Surprise: ‘The Simpsons’ isn’t the best show in its timeslot
By Kim Reed
Special to MSNBC.com
Updated: 6:51 a.m. ET Sept.09, 2003
Sept. 8 - Just like it was back in high school, TV popularity is often impossible to explain. Once a show gets a good rep, it can coast on it for years. It’s time for viewers to ask the question: Is the most popular show in its timeslot really the best?
There will never, ever, be a rose ceremony on ‘The King of Queens.’
SURE, “Law & Order” and “The Simpsons” are critically acclaimed. “The Bachelor” and “American Idol” draw in the reality fans (and hey, they’re better than another season of “Temptation Island”), and “That ’70s Show” has viewers gazing at the Me Decade through orange-shag colored glasses.
But maybe it’s time to see what’s on one of the other channels. Here are five shows you’re probably not watching, with reasons to dump the more popular series for the personality-filled wallflower.
"ALIAS," NOT "LAW & ORDER’"
What more does “Alias” (ABC, Sunday, 9 p.m. ET) creator J.J. Abrams have to do to get you to watch his show? Some viewers complained that the show was too complicated, so in an astounding post-Super Bowl episode last season, Abrams completely dismantled all ongoing storylines, simplified the structure of the show into good guys vs. bad guys, and somehow managed to do so without alienating his longtime viewers.InsertArt(2000153)Here’s all you need to know: The good guys are the C.I.A. The bad guys are anyone who is working against the C.I.A., usually more for their own nefarious purposes than for another country’s interest. Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) is a C.I.A. agent whose specialties include dressing up in really cool undercover disguises, beating up the bad guys, and extricating herself from impossible situations without messing up her hair very much.
At the end of last season, it looked like Sydney was finally going to get a chance to be happy with her boyfriend, Vaughn (played by Garner’s off-screen squeeze, Michael Vartan). In the final scene of the season, Sydney woke up in the streets of Tokyo, alone and confused. Vaughn was brought in to explain that Sydney had been missing for two years. And he’d married another woman because Sydney was presumed dead. Gasp! And double gasp! So even if you’ve never watched the show before, it won’t matter, because this season is going to be all about explaining where Sydney was for two years, and how Vaughn could marry another in that time period. He had better have a great explanation.
Why you should watch it instead of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”: What, you don’t get enough “Law & Order” in your life? Also, one of these days Vincent D’Onofrio is going to chew up all of the scenery, and then they will be forced to present the show on a bare stage.
"GILMORE GIRLS," NOT "IDOL"
Now entering its fourth season, “Gilmore Girls” (WB, Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET) is the most intelligent show on the WB, although that isn’t saying much. Still, the dialogue is sharp and the characters are layered. Even when mom Lorelei Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) are acting self-absorbed (most of the time lately), the real magic of this show lies in the supporting cast.
Watching it actually makes you feel like you’re living in Stars Hollow, the fictional small-town home of the Gilmores. Each minor character is distinct and colorful, and give the impression that the writers gave some thought to each character’s backstory instead of just sticking in a random extra for a cheap gag.
This is the perfect time to start watching “Gilmore Girls” because this season, Rory has dumped her loser boyfriend Jess, and will go off to college at nearby Yale. Dorm life promises a whole new cast of interesting and quirky characters to enjoy.
Why you should watch it instead of “American Idol”: Because Ryan Seacrest is annoying. Because Simon’s wisecracks are played out. Because all you really need to do is flip over to ‘Idol’ during ‘Gilmore’s’ commercials to see everything you need to know.
KING OF QUEENS, NOT BACHELOR
“The King of Queens (CBS, Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET) was actually a ratings winner in its former timeslot, as part of CBS’s Monday night comedy powerhouse. But now it’s moving days and times as CBS tries to extend their ratings reign to a new night. And this show deserves the critical acclaim given to its less funny cousin, “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
The plotlines are sometimes cliched, but they really just serve as a vehicle for the cast to show off their comedic chops. The characters have just enough weight to avoid falling into the trap of “dumb fat guy with a hot wife.” Kevin James as Doug Heffernan comes up with unique line readings, and Leah Remini as Carrie Heffernan says it all with one twist of her lips and raise of her eyebrows. And suddenly, when you get comfortable with the comedy, “The King of Queens” gets all heartfelt on you, such as last season’s storyline that involved Carrie’s unplanned pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage. And yet the show managed to avoid falling into “Very Special Episode” territory.
Why you should watch it instead of “The Bachelor”: There will never, ever, be a rose ceremony on “The King of Queens.”
"AMERICAN DREAMS," NOT "SIMPSONS"
The promos for “American Dreams” (NBC, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET) had it all wrong. From watching the commercials, you might get the impression that this show is all about a young girl in 1960s Philadelphia who gets to dance on American Bandstand. Okay, it is about that. But the show is at heart a great family drama in the tradition of “Once & Again” or “Party of Five.”
(MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)
The heart of this show is the interaction between the members of the Pryor family: Traditional father Jack, unfulfilled mother Helen, golden boy J.J., dancer Meg, brainiac Patty, and polio-stricken youngest brother Will.
The Pryors struggle with the issues of America in the 1960s (racism, religion, the role of women), but these same issues face many families today. Far from being just about issues, the show captures the American drive to give the next generation more, and what happens when those children want something different than their parents had imagined. Plus there are fun musical numbers.
Why you should watch it instead of “The Simpsons”: “The Simpsons” doesn’t really seem like appointment television now that reruns are shown in syndication 10-12 times per day in most markets.
‘ED,’ NOT ‘THAT ’70S SHOW’
Charming is the only word I can to describe “Ed” (NBC, Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET) and yet it always seems to be on the brink of cancellation. Perhaps some viewers were turned off by the “will they or won’t they” vacillating between Ed (Tom Cavanaugh) and Carol (Julie Bowen), but that seemed to be resolved at the end of last season when Ed and Carol confessed their true feelings for each other and kissed each other.
(MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)
The true heart of the series isn’t the Ed and Carol relationship; it’s the interactions between all of the characters. The scenes of Ed and his friends hanging out in the local tavern, or the bowling alley, are the most enjoyable ones. And the show’s appeal spans generations: Last week, my father and I were reviewing our favorite shows. “Ed” was the only one that was on both of our lists.
Why you should watch it instead of “That ’70s Show”: Come on. Ashton Kutcher’s been phoning it in for years.Kim Reed is a freelance writer based in upstate New York.