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…Tags: A to Z, ABC, black-ish, CBS, Forever, FOX, Gotham, How to Get Away With Murder, Madam Secretary, Mysteries of Laura, NBC, NCIS: New Orleans, Red Band Society, Scorpion, Selfie
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…Tags: ABC, Betrayal, CBS, CW, NBC, Originals, pilots, Sean Saves the World, Super Fun Night, The Millers, We Are Men, Welcome to the Family
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.
~ABC, Agents of SHIELD, Back in the Game, CBS, Crazy Ones, FOX, Masterchef Junior, Michael J Fox Show, Mom, NBC, Trophy Wife
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
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
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
Law and Order constructs the district attorneys as wonderful crusaders for justice, putting evildoers behind bars. Granted, the DAs occasionally get it wrong, and go after an innocent man or woman, but these are posed as rare instances. And their opposing council are nearly always turds, bleeding heart liberal annoyances, and/or cynical amoral individuals out for a quick buck or fame. Outlaw, on the other hand, will frame Jimmy Smit’s Cyrus Garza as a protector of the maligned and as someone who makes the plotting cruel system accountable by giving them a voice and hence frustrating The Man’s oppression of the little guy. Again, occasionally he’ll defend a guilty party, but his basic moral mission will remain intact. And along the way, he’ll face down prosecutors who want the whole world behind bars, who don’t realize racism when they see it, and so forth.
What The Whole Truth wants, though, is for us to identify with both lawyers in every case. They obviously can’t both be right. So instead, each week, one of our two leads is going to be backing the wrong horse. For a few episodes, I could see this working alright, as we allow that they’re just duped occasionally, but once we realize that Maura Tierney is on a rampage through innocent victims of the system, and Rob Morrow is regularly defending murderers, rapists, and so forth, and that they do so continually, what will become of audience identification with them? The casting is wise in this respect, as they’re both likable actors: what’s not to like about Abi from ER and Dr. Joel Fleischman from Northern Exposure? They come to us intertextually built for identification.
But surely it’ll be hard to continue feeling for either of them when we see Tierney ask for hate crime status erroneously, as in this episode, or when we see Morrow try every little trick to get the kind of guy who sleeps with prostitutes and goes after his students when his wife is dying of cancer, as in this episode. Especially if each episode (or even just some of them) end as does the pilot, with the two chatting about watching Chinatown over a drink, oblivious to the fact that someone Morrow thought was innocent could be in jail for life, or no doubt in future weeks, to the fact that Tierney’s just let a killer go loose. While I want to celebrate a show that doesn’t reduce everything to the simple “right vs. wrong,” “two sides of every story” binaristic view of the world, and while I’d love if the show could really challenge the morals and ethics of the business, ultimately it seems to be bucking a golden rule of lawyer dramas, which is that we need to be able to root for good guys going after bad guys, and doing so without enough sign that it will actually embrace moral ambiguity (if for no other reason than the show’s set-up seems to promise a “right” and “wrong” side to each case each week).
Add to this a rather poorly filmed show (too many quick edits, insulting flashbacks to earlier testimony in the closing arguments [do they honestly think I forgot what happened five minutes ago on screen?]), and I have little faith in this show either doing well in the long run with a wide audience, or in it giving me much either. So I think I’ll pass. Sorry Abi and Joel.Tags: ABC, The Whole Truth
My Name is Earl and I were good friends. It gave television comedy one of its best characters in Randy Hickey, and often made me laugh. Then NBC axed it to create room for, what, Jay Leno and Outsourced? The buzz for a while was that FOX might pick it up, given that it always was more of a FOX-style sitcom, and while, alas, that didn’t happen, Greg Garcia and FOX did hook up for Raising Hope. I’ve been looking forward to this as a result.
It had far fewer laugh out loud moments than Earl often gave me, and its pacing was a little awkward (evidence either of a show that’s finding its legs, whose legs are pulled in different directions by the creative and economic team behind it, or simply of something that’s not all that good). The lead character, played by Lucas Neff, is likeable, if a little too comfortable with letting those around him provide most of the comedy instead of taking the job upon himself. The supporting cast is good, full of many Earl refugees or bit-part-ers (is that Kenny running the supermarket?), and of course Chloris Leachman. I feel like I’ve seen a bunch of this before, and the payoff from the pilot wasn’t huge, though I was amused at some parts (even if the clips spoiled the best jokes). So for now, I guess I’m just along for the ride because I want it to be good, and because it still could be.
I also need to remind myself that sitcom pilots are rarely good – they just kind of stumble out of the block, rolled up in character types and already-familiar scenarios, and/or trying way too hard to use a scant 22 minutes to set up everything. I’ve rarely fallen for a sitcom at the pilot stage. Or am I just creating excuses for the show already?
The other two shows after the fold…
~ABC, Detroit 1-8-7, FOX, pilots, Raising Hope, Running Wilde