When you're looking for TV worth watching, hot TV shows don't necessarily have to be cool. Sure there's the occasional series handing out a music prize to a hipster rapper or a cooking competition that pretends we all know what ceviche is. However, there's just as much entertainment in shows that don't try to be cutting edge. They just try to give you what you want. Which is why this week's What To Watch list is a mix of both types of programming….
CSI, CBS, Wednesdays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
In human years, CSI is 13 seasons old. In TV years, though, that's more like 127. In other words, this is an old show and one that has been pronounced DOA on more than one occasion. There have been some pretty lean years, especially after William Peterson departed, along with his dry humor and commanding presence. (His replacement, Lawrence Fishburne, always seemed more like that substitute teacher you never really paid attention to.) Still, I've found myself drifting back to it lately, and in many ways, it's as good if not better than it was back in the days when it was the top show on all of television.
Much of the credit goes to two older actors, Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue. They came to the series last year, taking the place of Fishburne and Marg Helgenberger, and have added a sense of lightness to what has always been a very dark show. I never quite understood why a series that featured up-close-and-personal looks at oozing, mutilated corpses was so popular in an era of protests against all the sex and violence dominating primetime. However, with Danson and Shue playing characters that are so much easier to identify with, I get it now. CSI is still pretty gruesome – the last episode I watched began with a dog chewing on human flesh – but its newest additions have given it new energy and levity. I can only hope that I stay this engaging as I get older.
Top Chef: Seattle, Bravo, Wednesdays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
There's this great Thai restaurant not far from where I live that I've been going to for 22 years now. I mention this first because I have to say, there's something to be said for going to a restaurant where the owner knows your name and makes sure you get free appetizers. And secondly, I mention this because this restaurant is a lot like Top Chef. Both have been around a long time. Both keep serving the same stuff. And both do what they do so well, you can still enjoy what they're dishing out.
And, truth be told, this latest season of the best cooking competition show on television has started out with something new and different. Each of this year's contestants had to spend last week at what amounted to a cook-in, competing with several other chefs just for the right to start out in this year's battle in Seattle. Who knows where the season will go from here? Some years are better than others, depending on how much bickering goes on between the chefs (contrary to the usual theory that reality shows thrive when people hate each other, Top Chef does best when everyone gets along). Still, like the Panang Curry at my favorite restaurant, it's always worth trying again no matter how many times you've already had it.
Wedding Band, TBS, Saturdays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
I realize that this is a new series, not an old one. Still, there's something incredibly familiar about it. In the best possible way. The show, about a group of thirtysomethings who play together in a professional wedding band, doesn't try to be anything daring. The first episode, for example, simply revolved around the madcap misadventures that ensue when our boys trying to impress at a big wedding that could mean a step up in their careers.
It takes all of about a minute and a half to get who these characters are. There's group leader Tommy (Brian Austin Green), the perennial bad boy bachelor who realizes his act is getting as old as he is. Alongside him are Eddie (Peter Cambor), the married dad who is both happy and sad to be the Responsible One, and newcomer/playboy Stevie (Harold Perrineau). Backing them all up is drummer Barry (Derek Miller), the party dude who is about two genes away from turning into Jack Black. There's something sweet about the familiarity here. It's nice to have the occasional show that just gives you what you want and expect rather than try to go all dark and edgy. Wedding Band is decent TV comfort food. And who doesn't need the occasional shrimp cocktail appetizer/chicken breast and baked potato entrée every now and then?
American Music Awards, ABC, Sunday, 8 p.m./7 p.m. CT
It's that festive time of year again. The signs are starting to pop up wherever you look, and for the next couple of months, there will be no avoiding the celebrations. Of course, I'm talking about award season. In a few weeks, the endless party parade of Globes and Oscars and Grammys will be in full swing and we'll wonder if there's a single celebrity in Hollywood who can't tell us who they're wearing. And it all begins with the American Music Awards, the first major star back-patting session of the season.
It's probably the smoothest transition into award mode because it's the sort of show where who wins is completely irrelevant. (Seriously, name me three of last year's winners right now.) Rather, this is all about the live performances, which this year include the likes of Taylor Swift Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj and a bunch of other people you won't recognize but your teenagers will. Which, by the way, is the other advantage to watching the American Music Awards. Invest a couple of hours in this event and for the next several weeks at work, you can drop a Linkin Park or Maroon 5 reference and seem much younger and hipper to your coworkers than you actually are.
Castle, ABC, Mondays, 10 p.m./9 p.m. CT
For years now, a horrific virus that has been flitting around the dial to quickly infect and then slowly kill decent TV series. This dreaded disease is known as Moonlghting Syndrome, named after the excellent but ill-fated '80s dramedy where the romantic tension between the two leads led to them sleeping together and destroying the sense of fun that made the show a hit in the first place. It's a tricky balance for a show, sticking with the same old' love-hate relationship between main characters while also trying to keep from repeating itself. Many have tried and failed over the years and after last season's Castle finale finally brought Det. Beckett (Stana Katic) and author Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) together, there was plenty of reason to worry this show could also crash and burn.
Now that we're roughly a third of the way through the show's latest season, though, it looks like there's a happy ending in store. So far, this quirky, police procedural about a mystery writer who helps cops solve crimes has managed to keep its sense of humor intact while still letting the relationship of its lead characters progress naturally. The key is not giving into the temptation to give the romance more airtime than the witty mysteries Beckett and Castle have spent the past four seasons solving together. Watching them banter over dead bodies is more fun than watching them talk about their feelings. It's nice to know Moonlighting Syndrome can be cured. Now, if we could just do something about Wacky Neighbor-itis...