Archive for the ‘new shows’ Category

Fall Pilots 2014, Second Report Card

October 24th, 2014 | Jonathan Gray

Continuing with my reviews of the class of 2014 …


The Sitcoms

Bad Judges, wherein bad means "bad ass" (leftmost), "unwatchable" (center), "horrifically and heinously inept" (rightmost, in more ways than one)

Bad Judges, wherein bad means “bad ass” (leftmost), “not good” (center), “horrifically and heinously inept” (rightmost, in more ways than one)

Part of the problem with Bad Judge is that they don’t really go for it, and when television already has Judge Judy in stripped syndication, why would I need to tune in weekly for a rather milquetoast version? Sure, the main character drinks, she has sex and talks about it, and she says inappropriate things to kids sometimes, but from Judy to Cartman, Roseanne to Homer, television’s had so many more performances that are legitimately carnivalesque. And when we learn that she really has a heart of gold, and just wants to go all Blind Side and help the poor, struggling black boys of the world, eesh, I was done. Sitcom pilots are notoriously paint-by-numbers, but this show was an especially poor collection of clichés and trite sentiment.       More after the fold: Read more…

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Fall Pilots, 2014: Midterm Report

October 1st, 2014 | Jonathan Gray

new-tv-oAkh. Again it’s been a long time since I blogged. But such is life. Onward:

We’re now almost half way through the new network shows, with ABC’s Forever, black-ish, and How to Get Away With Murder, CBS’ Madam Secretary, Scorpion, and NCIS: New Orleans, FOX’s Utopia, Red Band Society, and Gotham, and NBC’s Mysteries of Laura having premiered. I’ve also seen ABC’s Selfie and NBC’s A to Z already, since they’re on UVerse On Demand. My wonderful colleagues at Antenna have been reviewing them (see here for a hub post), but I thought I’d chime in here on everything except Fox’s Utopia (sounded bad, everyone says it’s bad, so I’m not even going to bother). Read on, below the fold. Read more…

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Fall Pilot Score Card — Week Three

October 13th, 2013 | Jonathan Gray


Yikes, I’m getting behind. So much so that We Are Men was cancelled before my review. Ooops. Sorry. So here we go (Ironside to come later).



Wow, now that is some bad acting. In the final scene, the plot twist is revealed, as we learn that the protagonist’s husband will be facing off in a very public lawsuit against her new boyfriend. I consider the fact that I was still awake by that point quite an achievement, since that was arguably the only interesting moment of an otherwise thoroughly dull, trite script acted out by actors who aren’t up to the task. No, I lie, there was another moment. When the protagonist (played by Hannah Ware) gets a hotel room with her new man, and just as they’re about to consummate things, she gets a call from her husband who is looking for a kid’s book that their child loves. We then cut back to a chilled-out protagonist and man lying on the bed and chatting, as she describes the plot from this book. I’m currently reading the book – Giraffes Can’t Dance – to my daughter many a night, so my ears perked up at its mention. I don’t know how to feel about it being used as a metaphor for the protagonist’s need to find the man who will let her flourish. That said, I’m not surprised to see the writers are experts on stories that put people to sleep.  More shows below: Read more…

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Fall Pilot Score Card — Week Two

October 2nd, 2013 | Jonathan Gray


Week 2 had a LOT of shows, so after noting that my reviews for Hostages, The Blacklist, Lucky 7, and The Goldbergs are elsewhere (follow the links), let’s get down to it:

First up was Mom, the latest move in Chuck Lorre’s master plan to fill American television with uninspired comedy. Mom beats Dad, not only in the show, where the fathers are piss-poor, but in a battle of networks, where Dads is just plain old bad. But being better than Dads is hardly much to brag about: so is leprosy. Ultimately, it may smooth out, but right now this isn’t even a sitcom: it’s just a series of jokes, and is one of the choppier pilots I’ve seen. Anna Faris is okay (though the opening scene’s supreme lameness left her needing to fight her way back up from the bottom all episode long), and might be able to hold a show, and Allison Janney is always great, though the television gods clearly hate me and Janney and are punishing us both for something by bringing CJ Cregg down to this. Won’t someone give her a better vehicle, since we all know she can drive? I’ve read reviews from those touched by the mother-daughter love, but I didn’t really see that show – the show I saw just strung together a whole bunch of jokes about sex and private parts that I’m sure I would have found really hilarious when I was nine: “I saw you at McDonald’s going down on a Filet-o-Fish,” “That’s a castrated chicken they beat with a hammer,” “My daughter’s an easy lay, and it’s not my fault” (which sets up the later “What did you do tonight?” “Watch TV” “Is your TV on your ceiling?”), “Don’t lie to the woman who washes your sheets,” “My mother taught me how to beat a cavity search and still feel like a lady,” “It is nice to see you wearing underwear. And not on your head,” “What time do you get off work? I could use a lap to cry on,” and the interchange “I think I may’ve found a way to pay you back for childcare” “Trust me, you can’t sell that much semen.” I’m sure it’ll do fine, since everything Lorre touches does fine. Luckily that means it doesn’t need my support, so I won’t be forthcoming with it.


Read more…

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Fall Pilot Score Card – Week One

September 22nd, 2013 | Jonathan Gray


It’s Fall Premiere time in the US. And so it’s time to review them.


At one point in May, I remember seeing a bunch of trailers and thinking the season looked great; since I’ve seen more, though, the paratexts have been uninspiring, and I now have very little excitement. Indeed, I had intended to write posts on their ads, posters, websites, etc., as I’ve tried to do sometimes in the past, but they were remarkably ho-hum. Most of the posters for these shows are boring, I’ve seen no inventive marketing (though I’m in Madison, not New York anymore, so perhaps there’s more there?), and the websites are as dull as they come, lacking any bells or whistles in most cases. So I’m left with the shows alone, since I’ve simply gotten too bored when looking at the paratexts.


My colleagues at Antenna are reviewing all of the premieres in groups (see Week 1′s FOX reviews here and here), and I’ll be contributing a few, so I’d highly recommend folk head over there. But for my own opinions on Week 1:



Sleepy Hollow is remarkably silly. The backstory seems designed to allow all sorts of other wrinkles and unbelievabilities further on down the road, but there’s still a point in the pilot in which a large amount is data-dumped, and all I could think was that midichlorians made more sense and seemed less obtrusive. Apparently when your blood mixes with that of a horseman of the Apocalypse, you both become linked and you can’t die. Or something like that. There was also a wife who was a witch. And George Washington. Frankly, trying to remember the backstory makes it feel a lot like it happened in a dream after I ate and drank too much. This sounds like I hate the show, but I don’t. Instead, right now I see the show as walking a thin line between being utterly stupid in a fun, campy way and being utterly stupid in a change-the-channel way. The performances are fine, if unspectacular. It gets points for beheading The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) in the first few minutes (and will get many more points if the tapes Abby’s listening to include him discussing a beheading with a head which at this time has no name, to which he responds “I know his name,” and Queen music is cued), and it’s shot well and looks nice. But here’s my problem: procedurals, for me, are preeminently shows that one can dip in and out of over the course of a season, and between the silliness of its serialized elements (I don’t care about his wife’s coven, or about finding out whether George Washington was a zombie vampire slave-freeing wizard) and the utter familiarity of its procedural elements (partner with quirky backstory assigned to work with a very competent yet ultimately rather boring partner) mixed with the sense that all those elements have been done better elsewhere (Castle, Bones, X-Files, Grimm, Law and Order: SVU, …), I have nothing encouraging me to come back next week, and little encouraging me to drop in thereafter. I’d certainly watch another episode, so it’s not “bad” per se. And I’m not ruling out that it could iron out some kinks, find its tempo and character, and become much better (especially if it plays for camp more). For now, though, fill in your beheading metaphor here for its status with me.



Dads came next, and what a big steaming pile of shit this show was. Seriously. We were all meant to hate it because of its racism, and/or because Seth MacFarlane needs to leave American television alone for a while. But even before the racist jokes (about Chinese men with small penises. Wow. Comedy gold) started flying, the show had already been profoundly unfunny. And this format just doesn’t work for MacFarlane – robbed of the ability to cut away to endless flashbacks and dream sequences, required to keep a plot going, and without animated figures to distance ourselves from the sadness of the behavior in front of us, the show didn’t allow MacFarlane to be MacFarlane. I can often laugh a lot at Family Guy, I’ll sheepishly admit, but nothing here was funny. All the more cloying, then, that a live studio audience was guffawing at every step, look, and phrase. That studio audience bugged me for two other reasons: one, they coded it male early on (with the hooting and hollering at Brenda Song dressed up as a fetishized Japanese school girl), and douchebag male at that; two, it was ever-present. If you listen to the best shows with live studio audiences, the audiences don’t sound like they’re laughing their asses off at every joke, as the sound editor knows when to turn the volume down and trust the comedy to work by itself. Here, the sound editor knows the show sucks, and knows it sorely needs the help, so that laughter is constantly there, constantly loud. The performances are bad, too: Seth Green is so many miles away from lovable Oz, and seems not to know what to do between lines – a problem I shared when I did Drama in Grade 8. The fathers are so badly typed that I can’t remember anything they said or did. Giovanni Ribisi just looks constipated in most scenes. Brenda Song seems flummoxed by no longer being the most annoying person on screen. So, yeah, I don’t like this one. Sadly, when the show is cancelled, its defenders will say it was because of political correctness. And if the message sent to Hollywood is not to greenlight racist shows, I guess I’m okay with that. But in truth it’ll be cancelled since it’s just not at all funny, not even on its own MacFarlane-y terms.



Brooklyn Nine-Nine was next, and since it follows Dads, I stumbled into it reeling, and needing a laugh. I have a soft spot for Andy Samberg, and like Andre Braugher, so I was expecting to laugh too. But it was Terry Jeffords who pulled me in, with a quick line about his young twins Cagney and Lacey. After half an hour of Dads, it was so very nice to laugh once again, to know that there was levity in the world. On the whole, I liked this. It’s not without its problems. For one, I don’t really care about them solving crimes, and I hope the show doesn’t care either; I want to believe that they solved one in the pilot to establish Samberg as a competent cop, and that they’ll now move away from that, but if I’m wrong, this will be a bad genre hybrid. And the structure was creaky at times, more bit-y than it should be. That a sitcom pilot didn’t have time to come into its own, though, is no real surprise, so I’ll allow it that. Indeed, sitcom pilots are so often so very bad. Even many shows I came to love began on a hammy, or at best mediocre, footing. And thus I don’t really expect much from a sitcom pilot, except for a few laughs and the promise of more. On that scale, this succeeded. Samburg’s performativity annoys many, but I like it, especially when reeled in and isolated by the straight-man performance by Braugher, and indeed by everyone else in the show, except the delightfully insane Chelsea Peretti. I liked this mix of comic styles, and liked how my laughs seemed spread out between the cast – a good sign not just of a strong cast, but of good writers who can work with that cast and feed them good material. The show is not a revelation, and I feel no need to play missionary and insist you watch it, but for now I like it quite a bit, and am keen to see more.


In sum, Week One offered a so-so show, a crap show, and a good one. Now onto Week Two …


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What My DVR Thinks of the New Shows

September 25th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

What’s in a Title?

September 17th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

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…

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The Brits are Coming … But Don’t Tell

September 15th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

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…

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Banking on One Pony: The New Girl, Last Man Standing, Ringer, Whitney

September 13th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

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…

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(Pre)Hating on H8R

September 11th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

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…

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