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
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
I don’t have too much to say about Undercovers – it was kind of fun, the leads were relatively good, the script was okay, and so all in all it was good. ish. I just can’t get too excited about it. I wanted to – I like J. J. Abrams’ stuff, and I’m happy to see a show with two black leads, especially when they get to be both action heroes and romantic leads. I will probably watch again, and not even begrudgingly. But right now it’s just so-so.
The Defenders, though, surprised me. You see, I expected to dislike it, ‘cause, well, Jim Belushi’s not my favorite actor, and I didn’t have much faith in his ability to carry a show. But to be fair to Belushi, the show was already awful before his character was even introduced about five minutes in. Jerry O’Connell’s character did all the work of making it crap himself. Oh Vern Tessio, my old friend, what’s happened to you?
It spurts and jars between wanting to be sincere and wanting to be playful, between aspiring to be Law and Order: Las Vegas and aspiring to be Boston Legal. But it fails abysmally at each end of the spectrum. On one hand, Belushi’s over-acting — underscored by music that clearly feels it needs to improve his performance but that makes it even worse — is laughable and aggressively bad. O’Connell’s annoying playboy character flicked my anti-fan switch, and several times came back to make sure it was still on, but Belushi added the wattage and sent jolts of revulsion through the television screen. On the other hand, the comedy, gimmicks, courtroom stunts, and playfulness are juvenile. One eyebrow raise of Shatner, Spader, Bergen, Valley, Bowen, Clemenson, or pretty much any walk-on in Boston Legal was more amusing.
I’m kind of happy, though. None of the new shows have really excited me so far; some have interested me; some seem wholly meh; and Hellcats really tried to be bad. But I haven’t been able to really throw my weight behind my dislike of any of the new shows. We now have a winner. CBS even taunted me with its supreme skill at creating crap legal drama by cutting from the end of the show to a bumper for Justin Beiber guest-starring on CSI.Tags: CBS, NBC, pilots, The Defenders, Undercovers
My mini-reviews of Chase and Mike and Molly will appear over at Antenna, along with other thoughts on all the new shows from a neat group of people, so I’d point you all there.
As for my Monday, that leaves me with Hawaii 5-0, Lone Star, and The Event. All after the fold … Read more…Tags: CBS, FOX, Hawaii Five-O, heroes, Lone Star, Lost, NBC, pilots, The Event
Rather than organize these by network, which would be a bit obvious and boring, how about instead I list them from least interesting (to me) to most interesting?
This means that we start with the tough, three-way battle for the title of Worst New Drama. Our contestants? NBC’s Love Bites, ABC’s My Generation, and The CW’s Hellcats. Love Bites has a horrible trailer, and whoever made it really should be embarrassed, since it left me deeply confused. I get that it’s an anthology romcom that promises to demean a new group of stars each week with trite dialogue and plots, but it’s unclear whether the women we meet at the beginning are part of a continuous frame, if Greg Grunberg is either, and if so how they relate to the other stories. It just shifts gears without explaining how or why. It also has a really bad voiceover and looked more like a tampon ad than a show; indeed, if you’ve seen the playful UbyKotex attack on the obnoxiousness of tampon ads, you’ve seen an effective satire of Love Bites. Oh, okay, we’ll give it the title, shall we?
That said, in terms of paint by numbers programming and obnoxiousness, My Generation is really throwing a hail Mary pass to the end zone. The premise is that a group of people who graduated together ten years ago are now being checked up on. Filmed documentary style, yet fictional (the fiction is evident from the patent stupidity and formulaic quality), it revels in its self-importance, as if this is this is the new Up Series, telling us all about aging, dreams, potential, realization, life, plans, and The Things That Matter. As an exercise, get out a piece of paper now, write down ten of the most formulaic, trite high school characters you could imagine; then, keeping with the theme of trite, imagine where they’ll be in ten years; and I guarantee you’ve now created something on par with the writing behind this show, at least if the trailer’s to be believed.
In third place for worst show is Hellcats. The title alone bugs me. With Cougar Town already on the air, did we really need another show whose title animalizes women? Apparently so. The show also perplexes me, since it seems a very small toggle of The Beautiful Life, a show that died a remarkably quick death last year for The CW. Only it’s cheerleaders now, not models. This seems a move in the wrong direction: surely the model’s life is more aspirational than that of a cheerleader? Perhaps that’s why our central character is a street-wise, edgy blond who is forced into cheerleading to get a scholarship to become a lawyer (‘cause we all know that nothing impresses a law firm more than cheerleading on the CV!), and yet who makes lots of critical comments about cheerleaders. She’s a character that The CW is specializing in – utter insiders who think they’re outsiders. I’m inclined to bemoan the creation of a generation who think they’re facing great struggles, and who want the sympathy for it, when they’re some of the planet’s most privileged individuals, but that way lies Grumpy Old Man territory, and I need to keep faith that the audience is more complex than what’s on the screen, lest I give up all hope in life. Suffice it to say, meanwhile, that Hellcats and I will not be BFFs. It’s only third worst since I’m least in its target demo, so I’ll give it a break.
Blue Bloods’ trailer made Tom Selleck look past his shelf-life. It also contains one of the more vapid promotional comments I’ve heard, from Selleck: “This show is very exciting. It’s got plots. It’s got action. It’s got all that stuff.” “All that stuff,” eh? Sounds like a great work of art to me! Anyways, it’s a family cop drama set in New York with an Irish family, from a pair of Sopranos scribes, and also starring Donnie Wahlberg. Magnum PI and the New Kid on the Block just ain’t doin’ it for me. It seemed a little more sophisticated than the average cop show, and I’ll leave room that it may rise to greatness, but at the moment, it’s just a big “Meh” from me.
I was disappointed by Undercovers, the new J. J. Abrams show. Maybe this is a case of the trailer hurting the show, or maybe it shows that the editor was really frisky when s/he made it, but it’s far too much sexual intrigue and not enough spy intrigue (or heck, not even enough family intrigue). I expect way more from the guy behind Alias, but when the show’s title is that cheesy, maybe my hopes are foolish. Chuck is a great, fun spy dramedy from a prominent showrunner, but it’s struggled in the ratings; I wonder how this one will do when it looks worse in almost every respect. I’m really excited to see network TV greenlight a drama with two African-Americans as the leads, but equally concerned that if it fails (because it’s not that good), some bonehead execs will see it as a sign of the unmarketability of such a casting model for a show.
Nikita is the other new spy drama, with Maggie Q showing prowess as a hunter and killer, yet struggling with the ability to keep more than lingerie or underwear on at any given time. Again, I’m happy to see a non-white lead for such a show, especially on The CW, who came a very distant fifth out of the five major networks last year in terms of non-white series regulars. It feels like Alias with more contemporary music, and also looks more action-packed and plot-driven than Undercovers’ somewhat basic premise. It’ll need more going on in it than just a scowling Shane West, and I’m not underestimating The CW’s ability to disappoint me, but for now I’ll sign up for an episode or two.
When Flash Forward concluded with another blackout, I half expected for one of them to see “the event.” Certainly, the new serial show, The Event, has a similar visual style and cryptic “what’s happening, man?” element to it. It also has a really annoying trailer, showing us various fascinating incidences, only to tell us these are not “the event.” The suggestion, I get it, is that The Event is so monumental that all these other things (like an assassination attempt on a President in the over-theatrical form of flying a jumbo jet into him) are small potatoes, but it’s a tenuous, dangerous strategy for a trailer to take to deliberately withhold telling you what it’s all about (imagine: “Grey’s Anatomy is not about lawyers freeing the wrongly accused, it’s not about a loveable old man who moves in with his son to humorous consequences, and it’s not about enjoyable television”). And when the NBC press release announces, “Their futures are on a collision course in a global conspiracy that could ultimately change the fate of mankind,” I really should be checking out by now. But it’s high concept, it’s serial, and now that Lost’s gone, what am I gonna do with myself? Okay, NBC, I’ll check it out, but if it really is the V meets Flash Forward hybrid that your trailer suggests it is, I’m gone.
Consider Me Interested
David Lyons didn’t do much to impress me on ER, so I’m wary of The Cape, given that it’s centered on him. All the same, the Unbreakable fan in me finds it hard not to be drawn in by this tale of a man who must leave his family and assume the role of a superhero called The Cape, named after the hero in a comic he read to his son. Summer Glau also stars, which should ensure it some extra viewers, though personally I don’t know what the hoopla is all about with her. I like the world they set up – vaguely Gothamesque in its dysfunctionality and need for a hero. And thus while I’m aware it may just be a pastiche of other things that I like, and wholly unable to deliver when push comes to shove, for now I’m casually interested.
Terra Nova has no trailer, and only sketchy details, but there’s enough to hook me for now. A Steven Spielberg production, the show finds a family sent back in time as part of a mission, with others, to correct humankind due to the imminent death of the human species. If I set aside my skepticism that any well-funded entity would care enough about the species, not just their own selfish selves, to correct our course through time, this sounds kind of cool. Could be dumb, very dumb. But I’m eager to hear more.
No Ordinary Family is the second of the superhero stories to join television, and though he has experience as Ben Grimm / The Thing in the Fantastic Four movies, I’m especially fascinated by the somewhat odd casting of Michael Chiklis, and eager to see what he can do after The Shield. He’s the father of an Incredibles type family, who after exposure to something superhero-ish, all gain powers. Julie Benz (Dexter Morgan’s wife in Dexter, or Darla in Buffy, depending upon your preference) also stars. Smallville used to be interesting, before everyone started wearing PVC and Clark showed his ability to leap a shark in a single bound, and I’m hoping this could be an early season Smallville, yet with a little more adult grit, and with a family element. I’ll be watching.
And tied for most interesting-to-me is Lonestar. This show may be utter crap, but for now I pay homage to whoever made the trailer, since it really is quite excellent. We’re presented with a character who seemingly has two loving wives, each not knowing of the other’s existence. But before this seems like Big Love, we’re introduced to his nasty father who is the kingpin in a con he’s running with one or both. Except the son wants out. On paper or read on a computer screen, it sounds kind of dull, no? And yet the trailer had me really interested. He seemed like a fascinating, original character, and the trailer offered just enough pictures of the surroundings to suggest that it’ll be visually interesting too, examining the location as much as the characters, and situating one within the other. All this could be the product of very good editing, but kudos to the editor, since you got me in the door.
And that’s it. I’ll be back to discuss scheduling all this stuff later, but I hope some of this helps you decide what to watch and what not to watch this Fall. I’ll try to watch each pilot too, and be back with more in Fall.Tags: ABC, Blue Bloods, CBS, drama, Hellcats, Lonestar, Love Bites, My Generation, NBC, new shows, Nikita, No Ordinary Family, Terra Nova, The Cape, The CW, The Event, Undercovers, upfronts
Note to network TV: there are already enough procedurals. CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, Criminal Minds, Law and Order: SVU, Bones, House, The Good Wife, Medium, The Mentalist, NCIS, NCIS: LA, and (debatably) Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice are enough. Really. CBS, I’m talking to you in particular.
Perhaps I should’ve sent out the note before the Upfronts, since procedurals are all the rage for next year, with 4.5 new lawyer procedurals, 5.5 new cop procedurals, and 2 new doctor procedurals. Instead of breaking them down by network, let’s look at them in those terms:
“I Didn’t Do It!”: Lawyer Shows
Outlaw and Harry’s Law should both be treated together, since their trailers were clearly cut from the same cloth. Both star a biggish name talent (Jimmy Smits and Kathy Bates respectively) as successful individuals who tire of their regular job and hence who change gears to help a poor, innocent African-American in their first case. Both are serious with a touch of sass, both are transformed into better humans by their experiences, and both want their own Green Mile moments. Both shows count on the talents of their stars, but Smits was unable to pull the trick with Cane, even with Nestor Carbonell at his side, and Harry’s Law risks splitting the vote with The Good Wife or losing out to it since the latter is a better show by most appearances. Consider me bored on both accounts, though with David E. Kelley behind Harry’s Law, maybe it’ll do better than I think, and become more funny and charming than it seems at present?
The Defenders’ claim that few lawyer shows depict the defense seems somewhat amusing in the context of a season with these other shows, and as much as I will always love Stand By Me, Jerry O’Connell is no Jimmy Smits or Kathy Bates, and Jim Belushi delivered his best performance in K9, which isn’t saying much. Amusingly in the trailer, after Belushi notes O’Connell’s strength as a comedian, O’Connell deadpans that he signed on largely for the experience of working with Belushi – a great joke if ever I heard one. I’d schedule the wrap party for this one early in the season, though I would’ve said the same with According to Jim, so maybe the Belushi Protection Society will keep this one on a feeding tube for a while longer. It’s unclear if it means to be funny or serious, both or neither, so it’s tonally vapid … in addition to seeming boring.
The Whole Truth promises the seemingly bold move of offering both sides of a case. But we’ve seen this before, and if the trailer’s anything to go by, this will result in head-spinning and/or gimmicky back-and-forth editing that could wear thin by the end of the second episode. Rob Morrow stars, but his former affability seems lost in an attempt to be a big boy lawyer. Once again, I’m unimpressed.
And, crossing the cop/lawer boundary is Law and Order: Los Angeles. There’s no trailer here, just a CGI teaser, so it’s hard to judge. But perhaps the tired, dead, horse-kicking series needs the jolt of a new visual style and a new location. Alternately, perhaps we’ve all seen LA in way too many crime dramas and cop shows already. I refuse to judge at this point.
“Book ‘em, Danno!”: Cop Shows
After falling for Lost’s Jin and Sun something fierce, it’s hard not to be intrigued by Daniel Dae Kim’s latest outing, Hawaii Five-O. With Grace Park costarring, no less, it’s a perfect fan Lost/BSG collision. The trailer didn’t do much for me, and suggested little more than a regular cop show, without the CGI bells and whistles that the CSI franchise brought into the picture. But it’ll have the advantage of a great location in Hawaii, and if they use that location and film it half as well as the folks at Lost did, it might at least pull a CSI: Miami and look too beautiful to cancel. Meanwhile, I owe Daniel Dae Kim at least a couple of episodes of watching.
CBS, ever mindful of their need to program 80% procedurals, has also commissioned an as-yet-unnamed Criminal Minds spinoff, which just seems wrong. No network should be allowed more than two cop show franchises. Surely there are only so many 50 year-old guys in the country and eventually their supply as viewers will run out? No trailer, just a premise, and an uninspiring one at that.
Bound to have more edge is FOX’s Ride-Along, from The Shield’s Shawn Ryan. Set in Chicago with a distinct Southland feel to it, it might be a good test of whether NBC just flubbed the delivery with Southland or whether it was the audience’s fault all along. At the same time, ABC’s Detroit 1-8-7 tries to offer a similarly gritty, NYPD Blue meets The Wire image of Detroit, starring Michael Imperioli. Both shows clearly have pretensions of being life-like, cutting-edge, and finger-on-the-pulse, and the latter in particular has an appealing visual style. Whether network TV can pull off this level of realism remains to be seen, and I’d rather hold judgment till I’ve seen more.
Finally, Chase follows a team of US Marshals led by a tough, kickass woman. Jerry Bruckheimer produced, yet penned by Jennifer Johnson. It’s a reasonably well-edited trailer, promising intrigue, action, and tough cookies, but see the note that opens this post to see why I’m unlikely to care.
“Ouch!”: Doctor Shows
After NBC’s Mercy and Trauma were tossed from their steeds this year, ABC is offering its own pair of medical dramas, no doubt buoyed by its success with Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, and hence sure that it can do better.
Body of Proof seems to have been made by the same team who did the Harry’s Law and Outlaw trailers, or at least written by the same machine. Many years after leaving China Beach, Dana Delany’s back headlining her own medical drama, as a neurosurgeon who has to leave her job and become a medical examiner. The former automaton now finds her humanity with corpses. If that irony sounds too heavy-handed to you, you’re not alone, so I propose that if the first four episodes repeat the irony more than twice, the show is dead to me.
Off the Map is the more intriguing offering, from ABC’s own Shonda Rhimes and co-writers, starring Wonderfalls’ Caroline Dharvernas, yet set in the South American jungle in a Medicins Sans Frontiers set-up. I repeat my interest in shows filmed and set outside the US, and hence hope that it works, but as with Outsourced, I worry about the significant potential for it to reel out stereotype after Othering after boneheaded prejudice. Let’s hope it pulls it off and avoids those ailments. It’s also interesting to see a trailer for a Rhimes production that doesn’t put the sexual intrigue first and foremost. I’m still skeptical, but at least I’m curious too.
And those are the procedurals. For our last installment, I’ll discuss other dramas (and dramedies).Tags: ABC, Body of Proof, CBS, Chase, Criminal Minds, Detroit 1-8-7, FOX, Harry's Law, Hawaii Five-O, Law and Order: Los Angeles, NBC, new shows, Off the Map, Outlaw, procedurals, Ride-Along, The Defenders, The Whole Truth, upfronts
What new shows lie ahead? Last week’s Upfronts gave us the answer. The allure of so many new shows is impossible for me to resist, and thus this is the first in a four part series discussing the new network shows for Fall. I’m not discussing summer additions, since most of those have already offered previews and various trailers or other promotional materials, so they’re more established, and since I have to cut it off somewhere. I’m also not discussing new cable shows, despite the cable channels being part of the Upfronts this year (as Amanda Lotz describes here), since there are so many channels that it becomes impossible to know when to stop.
Those warnings, offered, let’s begin.
And I start with the large crop of new comedies, 13 between the Big Four to be exact (The CW doesn’t believe in [intentional] comedy anymore, so it seems). This is a huge freshman class, and it suggests the degree to which all that crap about sitcoms being dead was so very wrong. Indeed, and as the third installment in this series suggests too, 2010-2011 promises to be just as full of procedurals and comedies as any point in television history.
The problem with evaluating new sitcoms is that the trailers must establish the sit(uation) in the sitcom, and to do so they nearly always create little more than archetypes and stereotypes. The challenge for any comedy is to live and breathe beyond those types, to play with and around them, and to be original in doing so, and sometimes none of that happens until the pilot is done and dusted. So I’m hesitant to crown any of these excellent at this point. But I’m more than happy to crown some of them as horrific.
Let’s start with NBC (see their trailers here), who as Derek Kompare notes here in his post on the network’s attempts to change its brand identity as Erstwhile Loser at these Upfronts, has a lot to prove and a lot to play for.
- Friends with Benefits looks painfully bad, and if nothing is scheduled against it that you like, please take up a hobby because it could hurt you. Luckily, its title is bad enough to warn you away, I hope. It reeks of the network trying to announce that it’s cool and hip, but that hip is the broken hip on the cool cadaver of comedy. I don’t really get who they’re pitching this at: in an age of CW and Internet porn, surely anyone who wants titillation can find it elsewhere, so what’s left in this tepid looking show but a badly-executed would-be romcom? I don’t plan on finding out. Though I will give points for the Yo-Yo Ma gag.
- The Paul Reiser Show doesn’t look as puke-drenched, but it is a bit sad to see Reiser once more riding the Seinfeld coattails (Mad About You being the original Kenny Bania), this time trying to do something Curb Your Enthusiasm-like. It’s meta and it’s singlecam, and but he’s Paul Reiser, not Larry David (and as Seinfeld told us, listening to Bania is like being beaten with a bag of oranges). This is the kind of format that cable will always do way better, which makes me wonder if someone in the NBC-Universal cable division was filling in for an NBC exec the day this one got greenlit. Oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine unobjectionable, blah comedy, but I’d like something more.
- Perfect Couples, which focuses on three different young couples, is only meh for me – not bad, not good. Best case scenario: it learns from How I Met Your Mother how to do funny couples humor and delivers to the same audience. Worst case scenario: it looks like a really bad hybrid of HIMYM and Friends that burns out after the he says/she says humor runs dry. The tester: if they make jokes about men and women’s different reactions to the prospect of going shopping in the first three episodes, it’s gonna be bad (‘cause they already did the “she takes all the space in the bed” joke in the trailer, so thin ice has been courted already).
- Outsourced is a clear example of what I mention above, regarding pilots and types. Set in a call center in India, this show’s potential to peddle endless Indian stereotypes uncritically and moronically is vast. But it’s also a very rare beast in being an American show (a sitcom, no less!) set outside America with predominantly non-American characters, so the upside is worth tuning in for. I’m not getting my hopes up, but it would be nice if it works.
Overall, then, I just don’t see NBC returning to greatness with these comedies, though with The Office, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, and Community, that’s not their problem, so tune in later for discussion of their dramas.
ABC has three new comedies of its own (see all their trailers here), stoked on by the success of Modern Family and Cougar Town (and the impressiveness of The Middle, albeit to middling ratings):
- Mr. Sunshine, starring Matthew Perry as the manager of a sports arena, has me very excited. Why? Allison Janney. I looooove Allison Janney. CJ Cregg was one of the very best characters on television, and Janney is brilliant in all things. She also has history opposite Perry. This looks like it could be a smart comedy, and it’s certainly something different (a manager of a sports arena? Pa Brady never did that!), which may doom it on network TV, and maybe I’m letting my love of Janney carry this too far, but a person has to believe in something, and I believe in Allison Janney. The trailer looks like Sports Night meets The Larry Sanders Show.
- Happy Endings, however, looks to be in competition with Friends with Benefits for lamest new comedy. Elisha Cuthbert stars as … oh, I don’t care, and neither should you. She is close to a polar opposite to Janney in terms of acting skills. Trailers for comedies risk taking the only funny bits in the show, but here there are none, a sadly telling indicator of the horror that lies ahead. Don’t get me wrong – romcoms can be good, but this isn’t.
- Better Together strikes me as a very conventional sitcom. Kind of like Perfect Couples, it offers three couples, here a sister and her recent fiancé, a longtime unmarried couple, and their parents. With a fairly decent cast of sitcom-ready actors, it looks competent, if unspectacular, the kind of show I might find amusing yet not feel I need to follow. Dharma and Greg for the 2010s.
In terms of branding, I give the gold star to FOX (see all their clips here), who are launching four new comedies, three of which are exactly the kind of comedies you’d expect from the network.
- When people said that My Name is Earl should’ve gone to FOX, where it would’ve been a better tonal fit, clearly Greg Garcia listened and took Raising Hope there. Once more offering a seriously messed up hero and supporting characters, the show follows the arrival of a new baby in the lead’s life. Suitably irreverent, edgy, and very funny, this show looks quite good, I must admit, and it will nicely fit the Earl-sized hole in my viewing schedule. Any show with a flashback scene of a baby riding down a street with his head sticking out the bottom of a car must be good, right?
- Running Wilde also brings back a great talent to the small box, in the form of Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz, with Will Arnett starring no less. Arnett is so fun to watch on screen, and the plot seems suitably ludicrous that I will definitely be watching when it starts. Offbeat, strange, and overdone in fun ways, it could be very good.
- Mixed Signals is another Friends/HIMYM-type show in a year with many of them. It seems fairly adept, perhaps the best of the bunch, yet I’m not sure the market analysis that’s told all these execs that people really, really want more of these types of shows is right, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see most fall my the wayside. Perhaps the studios are simply moving romcoms to TV and away from film since they don’t think they’ll succeed in 3D.
- Bob’s Burgers is another animated sitcom, but miraculously NOT from Seth McFarlane. The bits I saw seemed resolutely Adult Swim-y in their bit-ishness and low grade visual style. I’m guessing this is too cheap looking for network TV, and I give it a short life, especially if it’s as ho-hum as the clips suggest.
CBS only has two new comedies (see them here):
- Shit My Dad Says promised to be amusing if only to hear how people read the title on network TV. And it stars William Shatner as an irascible, opinionated old guy. So I expected a lot more, but the trailer is resolutely unfunny. Wow, who would’ve thought that a Twitter feed wasn’t enough to build a show off? At this point, studios should be more respectful of The Shat – don’t let this be his last role, CBS!
- Mike and Molly bothers me, since it seems entirely premised on the fact that its stars are heavy (even the title graphics, at present, are of a scale). Fat jokes are fine for five minute segments in a stand-up routine (or for Twitter feeds?), but as the basis of a show, the format seems too doomed to the bi-polar swing between self-loathing and inspirational “we’re all beautiful” platitudes. I’d rather a show like Roseanne where the stars are heavy but just get on with being funny about a variety of topics. I’d hold out more hope that they move away from that premise in due time, but it’s from Chuck Lorre, so comic genius and sophistication don’t seem to be in the cards.
And those are the comedies. Next up: reality television.Tags: ABC, Aliison Janney, Better Together, Bob's Burgers, CBS, FOX, Friends with Benefits, Happy Endings, Mike and Molly, Mixed Signals, Mr. Sunshine, NBC, new shows, Outsourced, Paul Reiser Show, Perfect Couples, Raising Hope, Running Wilde, Shit My Dad Says, upfronts
CBS’s turn to unveil their schedule came yesterday. But first, fellow Extratextual Ivan Askwith just posted some neat thoughts about serial television, and I’d hate for them to be swallowed amidst my upfront posts, so please scroll down to read those too.
As for CBS, there’s no eleventh hour reprieve for The Eleventh Hour, Without a Trace vanished, The Ex List is now on the ex-show list, Worst Week certainly had its worst week, The Unit got a bullet between the eyes, Harper’s Island experienced a horrific end too, and Game Show in My Head will remain in the head.
However, Patricia Arquette went from speaking to the dead to reincarnating the dead, as her Medium, just a day after getting tossed by NBC, is now on CBS. It will be on a new Women Who Talk to Dead People Friday, along with Ghost Whisperer.
Below the fold are CBS’ new shows, and that whole “rescued from death” theme is prevalent:CBS, Medium, NCIS, upfronts
As premier dates rapidly approach, let me offer the fourth of five installments, with my reactions to three of CBS’s pilots. None are much to write home about, but they are something to blog about, so here we go, below the fold: Read more…Tags: Big Bang Theory, Cane, CBS, fall previews, pilots, Viva Laughlin