Tune in, turn on, drop out, but maintain your GPA

by John Kim | 10/4/04 5:00am

Television just isn't a high priority for Dartmouth students these days. Network programming has become increasingly pathetic, and moreover, there's that pesky "not flunking out" issue that gets in the way. The 2004 fall season certainly isn't going to change anything; in fact, the schedule this year could be the worst in quite some time.

Still, college students need ways to put off work, and blitz can be checked only so often. Thus, here is an attempt to discern the TV cream from the crap, in order to better manage those precious few hours of procrastination.

On Monday, "Everybody Loves Raymond" enters its final season on CBS, while ABC presents more "Monday Night Football." NBC responds with "LAX," a Heather Locklear airport drama that continues the unfortunate trend of hack writers picking random occupations and basing entire series around them.

A highlight is the underrated father-son drama "Everwood," now in its third season on the WB. Admittedly, the WB's brand of drama is not always palatable; "One Tree Hill" is a particularly nauseating example. Yet "Everwood," for all its angst, earns its emotion honestly, and the current teen pregnancy storyline looks to add an interesting dimension to the show.

Two reality programs about boxing will be unveiled on Tuesday: Fox's "The Next Great Champ" featuring human punching bag Oscar De La Hoya, and NBC's "The Contender" with Rocky Balboa himself. Both will be axed within three months.

The only promising Tuesday debut is UPN's "Veronica Mars," which has an absurd premise ("Nancy Drew with a harder edge") but also a certain "Buffy"-like spunk. Sadly, UPN is where clever programming goes to die, and consequently, "Mars" will likely vanish faster than Sarah Michelle Gellar's movie career.

On Wednesday, CBS trots out "CSI: New York," which is basically "CSI" with different buildings and a seriously slumming Gary Sinise.

Also worth watching is ABC's new "Lost," which could be a sleeper hit if creator J.J. Abrams curbs his recent penchant for asinine plot twists.

Of course, for those who like familiarity, NBC brings back Wednesday staple "Law and Order" for its 142nd season, with Dennis Farina replacing the venerable Jerry Orbach.

Thursdays are a dogfight with every network looking to fill the "Friends" vacuum. At 9 p.m., NBC has another season of "The Apprentice," with 18 more famewhores competing for the chance to become a useless figurehead in one of Donald Trump's companies. CBS counters with "CSI" natch.

At 8 p.m., CBS presents "Survivor," and the word is that someone just may form an alliance. Meanwhile, Fox has the sophomore season of "The O.C.," a show that started auspiciously but soon grew tedious when it became obvious that Mischa Barton could not generate sparks if given a bucket of water and a hair dryer.

NBC counters with Matt LeBlanc and the much-hyped "Joey," but the sitcom has yet to impress. One wonders why Drea de Matteo chose this over her "Sopranos" gig; it's the same as if Derek Jeter suddenly decided to become a New York Met. Still, NBC will give "Joey" plenty of time; hopefully, the show can realize its latent potential.

Friday is understandably a slow television night, but one drama deserves VCR consideration: CBS's "Joan of Arcadia," coming off a successful, Emmy-nominated first season. On the surface, "Joan" sounds hokey. (Teenage girl talks to God? Big whoop.) Yet "Joan" is remarkably poignant, and the God issue is handled deftly so that even the non-religious can enjoy it. Moreover, Amber Tamblyn as the titular Joan,is the finest young actress since Evan Rachel Wood.

Saturday is of interest only to those who enjoy redneck shenanigans or Hilary Duff movies. Let's move on.

"The Simpsons," entering a mind-boggling 16th season, used to own Sundays. It has become a veritable staple of Sunday night television, because it has held that slot for so long. And it's on basically every night of the week in reruns anyway. Yet tragically, this landmark show has somehow become culturally irrelevant. Remember when Lauryn Hill used to be cool, before success drove her crackers? Observe crazy Lauryn Hill now, yelling randomly at people in the middle of her coherence-free songs, and you have a labored but apt metaphor for what "The Simpsons" has become.

Alternatively, the overlooked "Arrested Development" comes back for a second season, hoping that its Emmy for Best Comedy will turn its Nielsen fortunes around.

The lack of love for "Arrested Development" is indeed frustrating, as a better sitcom does not currently exist. The writing is brilliant and the cast is hilarious; "Development" deserves a bigger audience.

On a closing note, after years of critical plaudits, two-time Emmy winner "The Amazing Race" finally gained popular acclaim over the summer, and is now awaiting a favorable time slot, having been relegated previously to Saturday night. Don't miss this show when it arrives; it's the finest hour on television and the small screen equivalent of crack.

Graduating is overrated anyway.