After 16 of the new shows have premiered, I thought I’d stop and take count on what if any relationship they have to my DVR. Read more…Tags: A Gifted Man, ABC, CBS, Charlie's Angels, FOX, Free Agents, H8R, NBC, Person of Interest, Playboy Club, Prime Suspect, Revenge, Ringer, Secret Circle, The CW, The New Girl, Two Broke Girls, Unforgettable, Up All Night, Whitney, X Factor
Paratexts and extratexts play a key role not only in telling us what to expect, but in setting the genre and tone for a show. I’ve looked at this in past posts (duh – that’s kind of the deal with this blog) and work, but usually with longer form or more elaborate paratexts such as posters, trailers, alternate reality games, and such. What about those most seemingly simple and brief of paratexts, titles?
On one hand, titles may appear to have less room to create meaning for a show. And yet they’re way more mobile than other paratexts, and thus their scope is significant. Many audiences may only see a trailer or poster once, if at all, but titles find their way into lists of new and continuing shows, they can be picked out of a conversation in which most other details are confusing to the uninitiated, they often appear on the bottom of a screen while watching another show, and they find their way into all sorts of other odd places. If they’re evocative, they can do a great deal; if not, there’s a lost opportunity, and often a failed show.
Looking at a few of the new shows’ titles: Read more…Tags: A Gifted Man, ABC, CBS, FOX, I Hate My Teenage Daughter, Last Man Standing, Man Up, Revenge, Unforgettable
Of the new shows this Fall, three are American adaptations of British originals: The X-Factor, Free Agents, and Prime Suspect. What I find interesting, though, is that the promos don’t seem keen to admit to their origins.
It’s not as thought any of them are actively obscuring their origins. The trailer for Free Agents at YouTube, uploaded by NBC, explains below that it’s based off the “cult UK series,” for instance. But none of the three shows’ webpages advertise the fact, nor do any of the trailers themselves. The Brits, in other words, are good enough to copy from, but clearly FOX and NBC don’t feel it’s wise to build the success of the British originals into the promotions for the American shows. Read more…Tags: adaptations, British, FOX, Free Agents, NBC, Prime Suspect, X Factor
Four of the new shows’ advertising, promos, and paratexts have been pretty much dedicated to a simple message: our show stars this one person. It’s a risky move, since you’re banking on the audience caring about that star, and you’re going all-in on the hope that he or she is enough enticement for enough people to watch the show. Compare, for instance, with Person of Interest, which mixes Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson, which is a pretty decent pairing – Christ and Ben Linus! – but its publicity has been quite keen to let us know its creator, too, namely Dark Knight’s Jonathan Nolan.
So which are these shows that think they only need the one star, and what can we say about their chances?
Neatly, they divide into two groups of two: the two that are bringing back television stars of yesteryear (even if that yesteryear is just 8 years ago) – Last Man Standing and Ringer – and the two that are working with relatively new talents – The New Girl and Whitney. Read more…Tags: ABC, FOX, Last Man Standing, NBC, Ringer, Sarah Michelle Gellar, stars, The CW, The New Girl, Tim Allen, Whitney, Whitney Cummings, Zooey Deschanel
Of the many new shows beginning in the next few weeks on American network television, some look promising, some okay, and quite a few bad, but I hope to watch the first episode of them all. The only one for which I foresee needing a barf bucket next to me while watching is The CW’s H8R.
The premise appears simple – find someone who “hates on” a celebrity, send Mario Lopez to get the celebrity, then let the celeb confront the “hater” and win them over. See below for a clip, though if you have some of yesterday’s dinner in your mouth when you’re done, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Why my hate about H8R? Read more…Tags: anti-fans, H8R, The CW, Undercover Boss
In my last post, I noted that the only truly interesting and innovative website for the new network shows this Fall belongs to Terra Nova. Why?
Well, first, let me offer a quick qualifier to the previous statement. Grimm’s website, while largely uneventful and de rigeur, includes what could become a neat little Production Blog, in which various production staff are offered a small amount of space to explain what they do in general and how that works on Grimm. It could provide yet another example of how paratexts teach production literacy, and are invested in a process of multiplying the number of supposed authorial geniuses working on any show … but they have three posts in one month, so perhaps they ran out of geniuses already? Anyways, go see it here.
Back to Terra Nova, though, while not wholly stepping (yet?) into the realm of being an alternate reality game, it does do a good job of setting up the alternate reality in which the show will be set. Almost buried away on the official webpage is a link to become part of the Eleventh Pilgrimage, and by clicking through, one is situated in the futuristic society from which our Terra Novans will depart. The show follows a “pilgrimage” of people from the future who are escaping that hostile future to try and reestablish the past and make better decisions in order to refashion the future (imagine if Wall-E won over the Terminator and the two started hatching ideas). Read more…Tags: ARGs, Terra Nova, transmedia, web pages, websites
I really need to blog more often. What better excuse than the imminent start of a new television season, complete with lots of yummy paratexts to analyze and criticize?
So, without further ado, let me start by discussing the websites for the new network shows.
Overall, they’re a pretty boring lot. You have the standard elements – cast information, character profiles, “sneak peaks” and “exclusive” video that actually seems to be everywhere online, and encouragements to “Friend us now on Facebook!” (when, sorry, Last Man Standing, I don’t want to be your friend) or to follow some or other cast member on Twitter. Most of the sites look like they were put together at speed, too, with little interest in doing anything other than saying, “Hi, look, there’s a show. Wanna watch?” So, overall there’s not too much to discuss.
Terra Nova proves the only true exception, and I’ll get to that in a future post. But in the meantime, I’ve been fascinated by the quizzes and polls that a few lone sites have (The Secret Circle, Playboy Club, Whitney, Prime Suspect, and Up All Night) in addition to the other elements. The quizzes and polls interest me, since they’re subtle ways of suggesting what the show is all about, disciplining our understanding and (since they’re quizzes) “knowledge” about the shows before they hit the air. What do they say?
Sub-dividing, Secret Circle has a “Which Type of Witch Are You?” quiz, in which your answers determine which character you’re most like; Playboy Club and Up All Night have quizzes with actual correct or incorrect answers; and Whitney and Prime Suspect have polls on favorite past shows and characters. Let’s take each in turn. Read more…Tags: gender, lists, Playboy Club, polls, Prime Suspect, quizzes, race, Secret Circle, sexuality, Up All Night, web pages, Whitney
All my comments aside, what have I bothered to stick with, what might I check in on, and what is dead to me?
DVR is set to record Nikita, No Ordinary Family, Detroit 1-8-7, Raising Hope, Running Wilde, and Outsourced … though I may drop Running Wilde after this week unless it gets much better. Lone Star was set to be recorded too, before its demise. Importantly, though, none are in the category of ones I feel I must watch — if the DVR failed to record any of the above, I’d be nonplussed.
If the television’s on anyways, I might watch any of the following: Undercovers, Hawaii Five-0, or The Whole Truth. Blue Bloods and Shit My Dad Says might get very occasional patronage. And I might check in on The Event, since it’s serial drama and I feel I need to check in on it for work. Plus, I feel Better with You and Mike and Molly need checking up on in a few weeks, as might Law and Order: LA (though only the second half, as previously noted), though all out of interest and for work, not out of interest.
Outlaw, Chase, Hellcats, and The Defenders are all well and truly out of my frame of reference now. And My Generation‘s death couldn’t have come too soon.
All in all, therefore, I rank the new season a definitive “meh.”Tags: pilots
The Other Pilots: Outsourced, Blue Bloods, Shit My Dad Says, No Ordinary Family, and Law and Order: L.A.
I’ve been a bit busy, so my final pilot reviews have dragged their heels, but here we go (reminder that three are to be found at Antenna):
I expected to hate this. The clips looked awful, and the concept sounded like yet another opportunity to make fun of Indians. And yet after watching the first two episodes, I’m somewhat intrigued.
Yes, there are definitely some nasty stereotypes. Witness, for instance, how quickly both the Indian and Aussie women fall for Ben Rappaport’s Todd Dempsey, ‘cause we all know how much the rest of the world’s women are just aching for an American man, right? And Manmeet’s (insert shudder at the cheap joke in his name here) reverence for all things American further ups the national chauvinist ante. The dark, brooding, silent Sikh is hardly likely to win the writers an “excellence in diverse and enlightening depictions award” any day soon. And much more.
But there’s also quite a lot of humor that’s directed at America and American culture, represented most clearly in the show by a slew of pointless, gaudy, kitsch novelty items for sale by the team. Dempsey, moreover, is an interesting mix of cultural presumptions and earnest interest in negotiating difference, while Diedrich Bader’s Charlie Davies serves as comic fodder for being less willing to budge culturally, his resulting isolation rendered in the clearest of high-school terms by occupying his own table in the cafeteria.
The show could still be a lot better, but it’s already much better than I expected. It stumbles over itself at times, but at least it’s trying. For a business that makes so much money from the rest of the world, American television has often been so painfully unconcerned with anyone who isn’t American, and so happy to ignore the rest of the world. Outsourced is by no means a stunning postcolonial, politically savvy text, but it’s doing a lot more than do most shows. And it’s actually quite funny, if you can put up with the awkward moments when its chauvinism crashes back on itself. I’ll continue to watch, if only because of its potential, and because I don’t think it’s yet suggested that said potential is dead.
Whose dumb idea was it to cast Donnie Wahlberg in this show? Tom Selleck’s a charismatic guy, Bridget Moynihan is no Connie Britton but she can hold her own, and Will Estes seems likable enough. Then there’s Wahlberg, as drab a detective as one can imagine, boring even when torturing a suspect, and expressing anger with one eyebrow, happiness with the other. But for him, the cast has quite a lot going for it, and then in he comes and the scene flattens.
More broadly, I found the show passable, but little more. The idea to mix family drama and procedural is handled awkwardly at times, but at other times distinguishes the show from the other 156 procedurals on primetime network television in a healthy, even occasionally interesting way. Yet – and it’s a big yet – the whacky introduction of the “Blue Templar,” a secret society operating within the police, and the suggestion that their activities will loom large for the show, did reek somewhat of a shark being placed under the water-ski ramp in the pilot.
I’m not much of a procedural fan anyways, so I set the bar much higher for what will bring me back, and while I could see the show being decent enough for those who like the genre, I won’t be returning.
Okay, I must admit that the title of this show alone bugs me. It highlights how remarkably juvenile and immature American censorship can be. The fact that CBS would commission a show called SHIT My Dad Says, and then refuse to use that title itself, insisting instead on calling it Bleep My Dad Says, makes me laugh and cry at the same time. The other pilots have showed a child being abducted, a woman brutally beaten by a burglar, and have found endless humor in joking about sex … yet we can’t say the word “Shit”?!! Clay Davis, where are you when we need you, my friend?
Moving beyond the title, though, this is not a good sitcom. The production of jokes and one-liners is telegraphed well in advance, to the point that they might as well add a countdown in the top left corner of the screen. Overall, it’s hard to imagine that anyone in the writing team really wanted to be on this team, other than because they needed a job – there’s no great vision, nothing that’s all that exciting, and little to keep either their own or the audience’s attention.
Except for Shatner. I feel sorry seeing him stranded in this mess, but credit where credit is due, he largely makes the thing watchable all by himself. Shatner is a wonderfully talented comic actor, and even when fighting a rather mediocre script and co-stars, he often made me laugh and occasionally made it work. This and this alone could well keep the show alive, long past its time. With apologies to the Shat, though, I’ll be elsewhere.
I need a few more episodes to judge this show better, especially since the pilot is so densely laden with set-up. Besides, as endless superhero movies have proven, scenes in which superheroes realize they have powers are the easy ones to write, whereas the real test of a writer’s abilities come after the realization, when we see what the heroes do with those powers, and how the metaphor of having powers (since it’s always a metaphor for something) maintains itself.
But I’m interested enough to invest in seeing several episodes. Michael Chiklis delivered a good performance, Julie Benz has never been my cup of tea but she always manages to do an okay job in otherwise excellent shows, and I have a real weak spot for Romany Malko, who made both Weeds and Forty Year-Old Virgin so much better with his comic presence, and who once again makes his scenes fun and funny here. The daughter is shrill and very annoying at present, but that could hopefully resolve itself once she finds reason to do something other than talk down to everyone else on screen.
The show struggles a bit at making the family drama fit into the superhero show, and its continued success or eventual failure will likely rely heavily on how well it manages to balance these elements in the future. For now, it’s fun, and it’s especially refreshing to see a superhero show that doesn’t take itself so darn seriously.
I foresee problems for the latest in this franchise, and I blame the casting. It’s simply too back-end heavy. Alfred Molina is a good actor, and though Terence Howard doesn’t appear in the pilot, the idea of the two of them swapping out the DA role in the show is tantalizing, as both men really know how to command a camera’s and audience’s attention and interest. But the detectives are boring, and thus I can’t see myself being willing to sit through half an hour of hum drum, poorly paced, monotonous delivery until we get to the good part. This seems a violation of the franchise recipe, too: consider SVU, in which Christopher Meloni, Emmy winner Mariska Hargitay, Ice T, and Richard Belzer provide a wonderfully quirky and interesting detective team. Or think of many of the other strong character actors like Jerry Orbach who have anchored the first half-hour of others in the franchise. And then we get Skeet Ulrich, fresh from the Keanu Reeves Don’t Move Your Face School of Acting, and Corey Stoll, who might be okay, but has nothing much to work with.
Moving the franchise to LA was no doubt meant to make it sexy. At least, the pilot wants to promise as much, with LA night clubs, reality television stars, young starlets, multi-million dollar houses perched on the hills overlooking the city, and so forth. And yet despite all that, it began as remarkably boring, with the pacing all wrong. Dialogue seemed to sit in the air, scenes dragged on, and even the night club scene seemed fuelled more by downers than uppers. Oddly, too, as though composing a four hour-long French film, the director often paused on wistful looks into the distance for no particular reason. Molina rescued the affair, sped it up, added acting heft, and got the story back on track. Once in the courts, no less, the plot settled into a more familiar Law and Order style, complete with twists, rebuttals, and tension. But when I’m already not enough of a fan of the franchise to watch its other incarnations, I can’t see why I’d want to watch this one, unless it’s the second half, once Ulrich is out and Molina or Howard is in.Tags: ABC, Blue Bloods, CBS, Law and Order: Los Angeles, NBC, No Ordinary Family, Outsourced, pilots, Shit My Dad Says
Okay, let’s start this review with an apology, to The Defenders. I maligned you, Jim and Jerry, by suggesting that you’d combined to offer us the worst new show of the season. But wow, My Generation really takes that title with ease, reducing The Defenders to the status of merely somewhat bad in comparison.
If Lost had been written by My Generation’s staff, the pilot might’ve contained dialogue like this:
Sun: “Jin, I never told you I can speak English, but I can.”
Jin: “That’s alright. I know I’ve been bad, but I’ve been struggling to be a better person, and to be worthy of you. I love you deeply.”
Sayid: “What a coincidence, since sometimes I also try to be better to prove to myself I might’ve been worthy of the woman I love”
Sawyer: “Who are you, Goldilocks?”
Jacob: “I’m the guardian of the island.”
Hurley: “What an awesome-sound job. I think I’d like to do that one day. But who would be my deputy? I have no idea. Oh well, maybe someone will fall from the sky or something like that.”
… and so forth.
My Generation has no art to its exposition, only the painfully predictable (e.g: character who says he wants a large family + same character going to become a sperm donor = character who finds out he’s infertile) and annoying stereotypes. First, each character is subtitled as “The Brain,” “The Jock,” or so forth, as if the audience is too stupid to remember eight or nine names. Then the stereotypes take a racial tinge, as The Jock just happens to be the black guy and The Wallflower just happens to be the Asian woman. And that’s just the beginning of the clichés. I’d list a few more, but it’s actually quite hard to pull one out from the densely intricate network of clichés into which each is placed: the show is like a huge Jenga structure of clichés.
I’ve heard people refer to My Generation as a soap, but soaps often pay quite careful attention to slow exposition and to taking time to do things. By contrast, even My Generation’s sense of character history betrays its inability to be patient: we’re told that the day after the Supreme Court victory that gave Bush the presidency, The Brain changed her major from something scientific to Pre-Law. Next, we hear that the day after 9/11, The Jock signed up to go to Iraq. And for a perfect three, the day after one character’s father was sentenced to jail as part of the Enron scandal, another’s father killed himself. What’s the freakin’ rush? Couldn’t one of them have at least spent a week to consider something?
I’ve also heard it referred to as a fictionalized Seven Up series, which is horribly insulting to a documentary that is profound, beautiful, often surprising, and one of the better things offered by television. When, in Seven Up, we see a young Neil giddy with excitement as he explains his play, we don’t see his heart-wrenching depression on the horizon; if it was My Generation, Neil would be seen sitting in a corner of the school yard, head in hands, staring blankly into the distance. And then in the midst of his eventual depression, we’d hear him note that the city council was messed up and that “someone ought to do something about it.” Then the day after, he’d quit homelessness, move to Austin for some spurious reason, and become a city council member.
Not all of the performances are bad, though there’s so little room to move with this script. Wooden interactions are the norm, like an amateur play in which the actors are struggling to remember their lines and thus always deliver them a little late and a lot flat. Michael Stahl-David as Steven Foster is alright, I suppose. Daniella Alonso as Brenda Serrano is okay. Anne Son as Caroline Chung is actually quite awesome.
But do yourself a favor and don’t watch it.
Finally, can I just say that any guy who spends his evenings sitting around watching videos of himself getting crowned Prom King ten years earlier is a MAJOR LOSER.Tags: ABC, My Generation, pilots