It's the start of something vaguely resembling a TV season! I watch some shows! Consider each paragraph below to be minor spoilers for the current season, and mega spoilers for previous seasons!
Parks & Rec: This is off to a great start. I was a bit surprised that they have so completely dropped the Scott romance from last season, but I think it's a great move on their part - they need to be focusing on the city council race, and it's very in keeping with those characters to put aside their personal feelings for Leslie's political ambitions. I'm loving seeing Andy back in Agent Burt Macklin Mode. Everything with Entertainment 720 is just hilarious - I'm particularly getting a ton of chuckles out of it because a lot of what's absurd about that place is very similar to too many start-ups out here in Silicon Valley. The Tammy One story has been creepy and funny. I'm enjoying the way that this show can let characters continue to evolve, while still remaining true to what we know about them.
Community: I've been enjoying this so far, though it hasn't been as crazy-good as the heights of last season. It feels a bit like they're trying to identify an overarching plot for the season, similar to the Pierce saga of last season, but haven't found it yet... the pilot was leaning on John Goodman and the financial straits of the college, but they haven't done much else with that. Still... the journey Chang has been on has been amazing, and has carried some of the weaker material within the study group. The nested interior monologues with him and the Dean were just wonderful. Oh, and we have Omar! Omar! I stumbled from my couch in shock and delight when I recognized him in the pilot. Anyways... there are a lot of good ingredients in here, and I'm optimistic that Harmon is building to something excellent.
Dexter: The start of this season has me really excited at the season's potential. That said, I'm ALWAYS excited by the first few episodes of a new Dexter season. The first two seasons were completely amazing. The last three have been interesting but flawed. So far, I'm liking what's going on with the main cast. Angel and LaGuerta were a huge drag on the show, and their split will hopefully free us from the pointless bickering. Quinn has always annoyed me, and I'm glad that he's out of Deb's life. Deb getting appointed to Lieutenant feels a bit like jumping the shark, but I'm reserving judgment - as Dexter noted in a voice-over, it could make things very interesting if the department has to hunt him again. And Masuka's sideshow is funny as ever. As for the main plot: it's pretty clear that the primary theme this year will be religion. I was a bit bummed about that in the pilot - it felt like it was continuing the thread from last season (one of MANY things that the season introduced and then COMPLETELY dropped), and the show doesn't have much interesting to say about it. But, I felt like we got a more nuanced perspective in the second episode, plus the apocalyptic work of Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks could be pretty cool. (Incidentally, did you catch that the detectives briefly listed Santa Muerte as one of the possible culprits in the murder? I presume that means that we might see the group return, which could be very cool - I thought that the Santa Muerte plot last season was more interesting than the main plot, and think there could be a lot of potential there. Still, this show has thrashed through showrunners so frequently that I've given up on the hope of a strong through-plot connecting multiple seasons.)
Archer: That was a bit of a tease, wasn't it? Season 3 starts, shows 3 episodes, then goes off the air until 2012. These were great, though. It continues Season 2's trend towards more serial storytelling, and caps off Season 2's game-changing finale with an extended coda that kind of acts as a reset button while also honoring that finale. Oh, and David Cross showed up, which means that Archer continues to move closer to becoming the true reunion of the Arrested Development cast. What else... these episodes were obviously more action-y than others have been, and in general there tends to be a bit of a trade off between action-heavy episodes and the funniest episodes, but the through-line was strong and the jokes have been great. I feel like I'm still trying to get a handle on Archer's character... he's incredibly dumb, but he isn't stupid. The best example of that yet might be the scene where he's discussing blood types with Lana. He's had a solid education, and KNOWS things, but still manages to be incredibly dense. (Oh, and I got a huge kick out of the repeated joke in the last episode about the "Columbia" incident, where Mallory did NOT bail him out, and which led to a great and typically understated punchline in the episode's last moments.) It's going to be really hard to top last season, which is some of the best and most consistently good comedy I've seen in years, but so far they're off to a fine start.
Louie: Okay, now we're moving away from what's showing now and over to what I've been watching. With all the praise that the show has been getting, I've finally gone back to watch Season One, and am close to done with Season Two. It's amazing. It's a really funny show, but interestingly enough, one of the things I like about it most is how un-funny it feels comfortable being. Some episodes will go through long, sometimes agonizing, sections with no jokes, just unpleasant things happening or Louie suffering through indignities. This will often lead up to a strong humorous payoff (like the fart joke in this season's pilot), but just as often it ends up doing something powerful and non-comic, like the bullying episode from last season, or the religion episode. The standup alone is worth the price of admission, but the core show is a really remarkable blend of humor and raw, heartfelt humanism.
Arrested Development: I started re-watching the show back during the summer hiatus, and am up to season two. I was getting all depressed again about how they had canceled the show, and so am doubly delighted that it seems to be coming back. As usual, I feel required to be the negative voice of reason - no studio has yet agreed to do this, and nobody has agreed to distribute it, which means that there's no money and nobody is actually in a position to do anything yet. Still, the pre-requisites seem to all be in place, and it sounds like some competition between Hulu and Netflix might help drive production. Whatever it takes! I can't wait to see this.
Luther: This had briefly caught my interest when I'd first heard about it, then I forgot that it existed. (Easy to do with a BBC drama.) It's gotten some more publicity now that Season 2 has started airing on BBC America, so I'm currently watching the first season. Well, I've only seen the pilot so far, but it was really good. First of all, Idris Elba is just an incredible actor. (I'm tempted to say something like, "Idris Elba was the best actor on The Wire", but that's kind of like saying "Cat's Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut's best book" or "Revolver is the best album from The Beatles" - arguably true, but misses the point.) As for the show itself - it's a very dark cop show. I don't think that an American network show could get away with showing the kind of carnage that's on display here - heck, I don't think any of the killings in Dexter have been as bloody as what happened to that dog. The acting is really sharp, and it looks like there will be a good mix of procedural-type stuff for individual episodes and more long-running character arcs. Oh! And I was SO HAPPY when the theme song kicked in - it's "Paradise Circus", off of Massive Attack's latest album "Heligoland." I think I've mentioned before that I kept watching "House" through the first season largely on the strength of the "Teardrop" opening theme and Hugh Laurie's performance. Well... this show also has a phenomenal lead actor and a great theme song, so let's hope it stays strong!
Speaking of House - I'm currently one or two full seasons behind. I do plan to catch up, but at this point, I'd rather just wait and do the seasons in big chunks. I tend to enjoy TV more when I'm watching it that way, and I no longer feel as compelled to track weekly developments on the show.
Also speaking of House - I got to hear Hugh Laurie play at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this year and, well, he was incredible! It always blows my mind when I think of how little America knows of his talents - they see his dramatic side on House, but I think he's one of the best comic actors of our generation, plus he's a really talented musician. If you ever get the chance, check out "A Bit of Fry and Laurie," which has wonderful sketch comedy (vaguely Python-esque without feeling derivative), and also some terrific Hugh Laurie musical numbers. Anyways... he's currently promoting "Let Them Talk," a celebration of New Orleans blues. PBS recently aired a Great Performances special that combines footage of some concerts he performed in the Big Easy with a documentary travelogue as he retraces the blues route, not unlike a shorter and more specialized version of Stephen Fry's American documentary.
Also on a music note: You absolutely must check out Radiohead's hour-long special on The Colbert Report. My mind is still spinning, both from the awesome songs, and the fact that it happened at all - who would have thought that the best venue for the best band of our times is a satirical news show? Well, it is. The performances were the highlight, but they had a lot of fun sparring with Stephen in the sessions as well. Oh, and be sure to check out the web site for a few other songs that didn't make the cut of the show, including a great version of "Good Morning Mister Magpie," which I think is my favorite track off of King Of Limbs.
Futurama: Wow, that was a really long season! There were, what, like 26 episodes? I actually didn't watch the show before it was canceled (I know, heresy, shame on me), but I've gotten into it since, and was pretty happy with it. The last episode with lots of different animation styles was particularly fun - it went from 1920's Betty Boop-ish cartooning through an AWESOME retro 1980's video game sprite-based animation to a hilarious shonen anime spoof.
I don't think I've yet plugged Norm MacDonald's latest special, Me Doing Stand Up. It's excellent. Norm is a bit of an acquired taste (heh... I initially wrote "a required taste," which may also be true), and people either love him or hate him, but if you can tap into his style of humor, the special is very rewarding. It includes one extended bit, on missing persons, that may be the funniest and most audacious bit of standup I've seen this side of Louis C.K. all year.
Oh, yeah - Patton Oswalt had a special, too! That one is also great. It felt a bit safer than Norm's, and didn't amaze me quite as much as his earlier specials, but he's still incredibly funny.
I'm still waiting on a few other shows to start back up. Hm... I think Bored to Death just re-started, or is due soon? That's been pretty good - not one of my favorites, but I've always enjoyed watching it. I feel like I've been waiting forever for The Venture Brothers. There was recently a one-off special, "From the Ladle to the Grave," that whetted my appetite and then laughed at me as I ineffectually raged at needing to wait still longer for the next season. And, a second season of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret has been approved, though I don't know when we'll get to see that. Based on what David Cross has said elsewhere, it seems like this next season may be the last one, continuing its really faithful adherence to British television norms.
I think that's it! The TV lineup seems pretty strong, and I'm not even watching what I repeatedly hear is the best show on television, Breaking Bad. The golden age of long-form televised storytelling continues!