overthinking the idiot box

May 16, 2005

A chronicle of that most co-dependent of relationships: a girl and her TiVo

Bride of TiVo
The Bride's Version of the Widow's Walk

by Liz Shannon Miller

In New England, right on the coastline, many houses in harbor towns have what are commonly referred to as Widow's Walks: railed sections of the roofs where, ostensibly, the long-ago wives of sailors and fishermen could pace back and forth, forever scanning the horizon for a sign of their loved ones.

In Los Angeles, in a small apartment in West Hollywood, a TiVo's Season Pass list is laden down with shows that list no upcoming episodes. Forever scanning the upcoming schedule, Senor TiVo keeps watch for those programs once beloved and now on hiatus, perhaps never to be seen again.

It is a lonely vigil indeed. Fortunately, L.A. is much warmer than the coast of Maine.

This is all by way of saying that I won't be deleting Eyes from my TiVo for quite some time, despite its removal from ABC's schedule during May sweeps. Why the holdout? Because I feel guilty. I didn't realize what I had until it was gone. And I refuse to give up on that most quirky of detective shows.

Eyes, for you millions of Americans who didn't watch, was — no, IS — subtle. I don't mean subtle in a Masterpiece Theater/Mr. Darcy sort of way — I mean subtle in the way its quality sneaks up on you. When I first watched the pilot, it didn't really register on my radar. The visual style was sharp, a bit reminiscent of '70s caper films but with a modern gloss. Some of the dialogue was amusing, some of the characters intriguing and the last five minutes packed quite a punch. But beyond that, I just wasn't that invested. Just another show I wouldn't really have time to watch. So I was prepared to let Eyes go.

Yellow dot limbo...
But like I said, those last five minutes were pretty intriguing. Guns to the head, secret surveillance tapes being heard. So Senor TiVo did his thing for Episode No. 2, which then proceeded to linger in yellow-dot limbo for a week — I just couldn't get inspired to watch the show.

But when I asked a co-worker if the second episode was worth watching, she replied, "Well, did you like the pilot?" And when I thought about it, I realized that I had. It had been fun. So I watched Episode 2. And Episode 3. And by Episode 4, I was officially a fan.

There are a lot of things to like about Eyes. The mysteries are as a rule fairly intriguing, the interaction between characters unique. Sure, Eric Mabius is possibly the Most Smarmy Man Alive (and not in a hot way), but A.J. Langer (Rayanne on My So-Called Life!), as an ex-military newbie investigator, carries herself with a fascinating combination of competence and uncertainty and Rick Worthy's baritone-voiced crazy gay investigator goes against stereotype in the most intriguing ...

Oh, who am I kidding? It's all about Tim Daly. Boyfriend's got it going on. The character of Harlan Judd, in his own words, is "an amoral, opportunistic, greedy bastard" — but he's a bastard with good intentions (occasionally) and, most importantly, a man who loves his work. Whether spitting out a bite of jelly doughnut or blackmailing a judge at his dining room table, Tim Daly always looks like he's having fun, even in his most dangerous moments, and always makes sure to exit with a smile. It's a charming performance that nearly went completely over my head at first. Subtle. Not flashy. The humor and the danger tempered together in a most intriguing combination — a perfect match for the show's tone.

But, potentially, one could argue that the stuff that distinguishes Eyes from its ABC brethren — like the fact that it's not painfully over-acted or painfully dumb — is what's keeping it from finding that same success.
Eyes fits seamlessly into the recent slate of ABC programming — a fresh twist on the standard lawyer/doctor/detective genre, with a heavy emphasis on style. But while Eyes is so similar to the mold established by ratings smashes Boston Legal, Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, its low ratings knocked it off ABC's schedule. Why hasn't it been successful in the Nielson game? It would be easy to just assume that the Law & Order/CSI: NY bitchfight that is 10 PM on Wednesdays has no room for a fun little show about PIs. But, potentially, one could argue that the stuff that distinguishes Eyes from its ABC brethren — like the fact that it's not painfully over-acted or painfully dumb — is what's keeping it from finding that same success.

Beneath the surface of Harlan Judd's bleached white smile, there's a darkness that even Wisteria Lane can't top. It might be that the best thing about Eyes — the subtle genius of Tim Daly's performance — is what keeps the average viewer from connecting with the show. The eternal Catch-22: Being smart and clever rarely gets you far if people are used to hanging around after Alias for some Wife Swapping.

And this is yet another reason why we need a chicken in every pot and a TiVo in every living room — the DVR gives us a chance to be patient, to take our time in passing judgment. When the risk in trying something new is deflated (because if it sucks we can just fast-forward through it — hell, we don't even have to watch it all the way through), we can really give a show the chance to make its charms known. And before you know it you're scanning the To-Do list, hoping against hope that maybe ABC will have a little mercy, just this once, and that there will be more Daly for me, someday.

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Return to Vol. 1, Episode 4.