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
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
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 …
~Tags: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Dads, FOX, pilots, Sleepy Hollow
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
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
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
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