I watched the series premiere of The Onion SportsDome with a friend of mine who was in town for the BCS National Championship (which I don't want to talk about). The first few minutes were solid, with a few quick jokes ("The Phillie Phanatic has been arrested for molesting thousands of children in front of huge crowds over the years"), an introduction to the sportscasters that should improve as those characters develop, and some decent bits on the Miami Heat and insane former NFL players.
Then, for one glorious three minute span, the frantic pace of SportsDome hit on all cylinders. The first story, about Shaquille O'Neal suffering a series of heart attacks during a game, was the first time the show elicited full-on laughs, which lead into a 40-second bit covering the last three years of Major League Soccer action, and finally peaked with a play-by-play from the National Crystal Meth Hallucination League.
By the end, we had to pause the show, because we couldn't breathe. It was the hardest I've laughed in as long as I can remember. We were glad when the show didn't maintain that high level, because it would've been too much. Maybe in 20 years humans will have evolved to the point that a half hour of machine gun paced comedy would be acceptable.
You can view the meth clip here, and it's plenty brilliant, but the show's Ritalin pace and Sportscenter cuts add to the hilarity.
OK. Enough sports. It's been an awful seven days, Tucson. Here's your weekly dose of escapism.
The Ricky Gervais Show (Season Premiere): Friday, Jan. 14. 9 p.m. on HBO
If you've never been exposed to the peculiar mind of Karl Pilkington and the mockery he's subjected to by The Office creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, you are in for a treat. Five years ago, the duo legitimized podcasts simply by talking to Pilkington, an Englishman with non-sensical perspectives on everything from primates to common idioms. Now many of those conversations are animated, and Karl's weird little world is played out on screen in the style of old Hanna Barbera cartoons. If you have been exposed to those amazing podcasts, here's a chance to experience them all over again.
Saturday Night Live: Saturday, Jan. 15. 11:30 p.m. on NBC
Finally, Cee Lo Green will exact revenge for Gwyneth Paltrow neutering the best song of 2010 on Glee by totally upstaging her as he hosts SNL ... oh, that's right, he won't be able to say "f*** you" either.
Big Love (Season Premiere): Sunday, Jan. 16. 9 p.m. on HBO
Season 3 of HBO's polygamist-centric drama was the soap opera as high art, 10 hours of TV vacuum packed with crackerjack tension and energy. Each episode felt like a season finale in the best possible way. It was spectacular.
Then came Season 4. First, they replaced an awesome opening credit sequence with one that was darker and...well...still pretty awesome. With one less episode to work with, Big Love's writers were left with too many plotlines and not enough time. Even star Chloe Sevigny admitted the season was "awful". The ambition may have rightfully cost the show some credibility, but Season 4 still had its moments, particularly a touching romantic storyline between two gay men repressed by their religion, and a beautifully rendered scene of a Mormon temple ceremony that had the LDS Church apoplectic.
With its fifth and final season, creators Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer will attempt to get the narrative back on track and go out with a bang. For all its faults, it's quite possible Season 4 was just a meandering set-up for the last 10 episodes. I hope so, because at its best Big Love was simultaneously overblown and dramatically taut, and those first three seasons were a joy to watch. Sadly, the show will have to cope with the loss of Amanda Seyfried, who lent the show many of its best moments as eldest Henrickson daughter, but there are plenty of other great actors to pick up the slack. To get you in the mood, here's a clip from Season 3 which, with its combination of Scissor Sisters, grief-dancing, and Ginnifer Goodwin in a nightie, has a little something for everyone.
American Idol (Season Premiere): Wednesday, Jan. 19. 8 p.m. on Fox.
How often do you get to see an American icon begin a long, slow decline into pop culture purgatory? Without the villainy, brutal honesty and impeccable taste of Simon Cowell, American Idol will surely be irrelevant in a few seasons, but there will be a car crash appeal to watching it all fall apart. Or maybe Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez surprise us all as the Jon Stewart to Cowell's Craig Kilborn. Except Kilborn was never good, so that's a bad example. At very least, the early episodes are fun, because you can laugh at what happens when the unstoppable force of unchecked ambition (mingled with an utter lack of self-awareness and talent) meets the immovable object of what it takes to become a pop star. Will this year end in another Carrie Underwood, or another Jordin Sparks? Only time, charisma, and the ridiculously poor taste of the American public will tell for sure. Whoever it is, let's pray they take the stage away from that hack Taylor Swift.