Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The New Fall Television Season - Part Four

It's Wednesday of premiere week, and frankly I'm only now starting to realize just how bad my timing was in starting this little series of articles. Oh, well. I guess I'll just press forward anyway, at least assured that I wrote a complete report.

I'm gonna continue today with the FOX broadcasting company, only reporting on their upcoming slate the day after the season premiere of Glee scores a staggering rating of 5.5 in the paramount demographic of Adults 18-49. And that's not the only spectacular performance for a show FOX has had thus far this season. New Monday night drama Lone Star debuted to a spectacularly bad 1.3 in the demo, and less than five million viewers overall.

And already, I have one series that would be a waste of time to cover. On the other hand, Glee is a contemporary example of a truly polarizing show. There are plenty of fans who've taken a shine to it as the initial season swung into high gear, and proving its staying power when it only gets better numbers following a lengthy hiatus (this includes the original airing of the pilot, at the end of the season before it debuted). Not surprisingly, a lot of these fans are women, among them my older sister.

On the other hand, I would like to call back to Community, and one joke in particular that gives Joel McHale's Jeff Winger a lot of relateability to the guys. At the end of one episode, when Jeff undergoes a break-up, Chevy Chase as Pierce is there to comfort him over other issues. He calls back to the girl always choosing the shows they were going to watch, and then Jeff says two lines that guys everywhere can instantly identify with: "I hate Glee. I don't understand the appeal at all."

However, I wouldn't say I identify that much with those lines. On the contrary, the appeal of Glee seems pretty apparent to me. I will give credit where credit is due and admit that at least the cast consists of good singers, which appears to have been the most paramount prerequisite for the show. They all perform to their best effort and the tracks I've heard by them are pretty good, even if they are all covers of popular songs.

Otherwise, I don't really consider myself a fan. The acting is decent, with the exception of Jane Lynch as key antagonist and cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester. Her work is purely fantastic, and she simply owns that role. Furthermore, I tune in when there's a guest star that I like, such as Neil Patrick Harris or Kristin Chenoweth to ensure great performances by highly established Broadway veterans. But otherwise, it simply doesn't pique my interest that much.

As far as that hugely popular series goes, I would like to think I lie on middle ground and at least acknowledge whatever good points it has. I understand the appeal, but would also like to understand why one would hate it. Yes, it's sometimes hokey and silly, but I'm certain there were worse shows. If musical numbers makes= it appeal to women, than I must say it should be allowed to, and it's been successful thus far. (Said success is further bolstered by the counter-programming - it airs against the popular and more guy-driven NCIS on CBS.) I'm not a fan, but I certainly don't hate it either.

Otherwise, the FOX network is stacked with popular show after popular show. Well before Ryan Murphy's Nip/Tuck even launched on the FX cable network, FOX was riding high with American Idol, the original musical-driven hit. This is a show that's been around for so long, that it's only now preparing for a potential closure with judges considering leaving as though they were actors. Paula Abdul ditched her post last year without really looking back, replaced for all of one year by Ellen DeGeneres. Simon Cowell, whose sense of snark played a crucial role in developing the show's place in popular culture has finished his final season as judge and is moving on to newer shows, such as The X Factor. Only this week was it announced that Jennifer Lopez and Steve Tyler have been installed as new judges.

But that show won't be launching until midseason. Even still, it plays a major role in FOX's dominance as a broadcast network. CBS may have more viewers overall, but shows like Idol, Glee, House, and the Sunday night animation block make it a leader in the afore-mentioned key 18-49 demographic.

In the fall though, there aren't a whole lot of new shows launching. In addition to Lone Star, we've only got the debuts of last night's sitcoms Raising Hope and Running Wilde as the slate of new shows on the fall agenda. I would say that both those sitcoms have potential.

Wilde comes from Mitchell Hurwitz, whose Arrested Development still leaves an impression well past its glimpse of a three-season run. This new show sports a lead of Will Arnett, and he seems to be working really hard against a somewhat easy premise. The series revolves around the relationship between a rich jerk and the humanitarian he knew as a kid (Kerri Russell). I have yet to watch the pilot in it's entirety, but I will admit that I love Arrested Development, I like Arnett and I thought Hurwitz didn't get the full benefit of the doubt from Sit Down, Shut Up, and animated sitcom that improved in the episodes beyond its initial prime time run.

And yes, I know the title's an incredibly lame pun, but that's not reason enough to give this the cold shoulder.

On the other hand, I've seen more of Raising Hope, coming from My Name is Earl creator Greg Garcia. That series follows a low-class family and the grandson that one of their sons had with a convict. It follows up on this setup by having the family try their best to raise the baby. What I've seen of the comedy there clicks well enough, even if I don't really see myself calling it the best new comedy of the fall. I'm actually inclined to give it a more through look at on Hulu, just for a more solid opinion.

Other than those two and the bombed premiere of Lone Star, the rest of FOX's lineup includes shows returning either from the prior season, or in the case of Friday night drama The Good Guys from the Summer. Most of the other returning shows tend to be interesting. And perhaps the ones I would like to discuss the most are on Sundays. The NFL overrun segues right into the Animation Domination block that night, covering a medium (yes, medium, not genre) that I only have undying admiration and devotion to. The only downside it that the shows themselves aren't that great, and I will discuss them in their own entry.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The New Fall Television Season - Part Three

Let's move on to ABC.

Admittedly, plenty of their new shows are dull and far too ordinary. In some cases, we're just getting the next procedural drama, meant to play it safe based on similar success stories on other networks. This year's new entries at 10:00 PM/9:00 Central include cop show Detroit 1-8-7 and legal drama The Whole Truth. To be perfectly honest, neither of those shows even register a tiny blip on my personal radar. It was the same last year with the forgotten, which of course only didn't fizzle that quickly because Eastwick was a higher-profile failure. (I'm serious, both those shows were up against Jay Leno, so there was already less competition.) Regardless, I wish the best of luck to these shows, whether they need it or they turn out to be good.

That said, why would I care so much about Disney's on-air propaganda service?

Plenty of reasons.

For one thing, I absolutely love their promos. The spots and trailers presenting the new sneak peeks for the network are just brimming with great energy. It's a similar kind of enthusiasm that peeks through on some of the ABC News programs. You can either say it's the editing, the quick timing throughout, the graphic style of the spots (including unique and distinctive ones between different shows), or the music that undercuts the clips on display. But all-around it really feels one-of-a-kind, a sense that doesn't even stick as well on Disney's sibling networks on cable.

But that isn't to say that their promotions are perfect. I will admit that the banner of "Red Carpet Premiere Week" that ABC is hanging on this first week of the season is a little overdone. Not that there's anything wrong with such a label, in fact this kind of thing needs to be done more in certain other places, say on a kids' network. But to see each of these awesome individual promos end with the reminder "Part of Red Carpet Premiere Week", the end tag just feels out of place. It doesn't quite work that well on a network targeting a wide adult audience.

Still, these promos are good. Sometimes, they've even good enough to turn my opinion around on certain shows. Take, for instance the new drama My Generation. That show establishes a pseudo-documentary style to tell the story of several high school students graduating in the year 2000, and picks up in the present day to follow where they've ended up.

On paper, I couldn't be sold on this concept. For one thing, I couldn't quite relate to the characters on this show, given that I've only graduated from college this year and from high school in 2006. Maybe my older sister would have a better chance since she's a similar age, but I'm much too young. Furthermore, the more I think about it, the more I realize that a whole series based on this premise would be a tough sell, since it would work best in the self-contained medium of a feature film.

Here's a thirty-second promo for the series.

All of a sudden, I'm hyped as all hell for the premiere. It's got me shocked, too.

Last month, ABC was kind enough to offer a sneak preview of another new series, No Ordinary Family. What we've got there is a high-concept family drama, the first from producer Greg Berlanti since his Dirty Sexy Money and Eli Stone...well, fizzled out back in late 2008. Michael Chiklis, who gained wide reverence for his role on the gritty FX police procedural The Shield stars as the father in a family who go on vacation, and survive a plane crash by landing in a strange spring. When they return, each one of them inexplicably develops a different superpower, causing a variety of confused, shocked, and frustrated reactions. Only time will tell if the new lives each of them will lead will bring about any good.

I was one of the thousands lucky enough to snag an online screening of the pilot, and I've gotta say it was quite fantastic. The family dynamic was believable, the integration of the superpowers clean cut and effective, and the action really well-handled. This show suddenly became the one network drama I was looking forward to the most, and I can only hope that this strong premise can carry off into future installments.

And now, we've got returning shows. Really and ironically, given my prior comments on the new procedurals ABC's got lined up, the drama I'm looking forward to the most is Castle. That's a mere cop show following a formula that should be so tiresome that it's simply grating - the screwball romance between a hard-nosed, dead serious female detective and a swinging, somewhat immature playboy of a mystery novelist. This same dynamic already exists on FOX and their cop show, Bones. And there are plenty of other similar shows that aired over the years as well.

But I will admit that I'm still looking forward to tonight's third season starter for Castle, which has the titular novelist suspected of murder, under arrest and, undoubtedly on the lam. Why? The lead on the show is none other than Nathan Fillion, best known for his role as Captain Malcolm Reynolds on Joss Whedon's space opera, Firefly. This is truly a case where the lead actor does more than enough single-handedly to save the show. Fillion is a fantastic talent, and he's just a real joy to watch as our novelist, Richard Castle. His chemistry with Stana Katic, playing Detective Kate Beckett feels so real and legitimate, giving this tired premise enough of kick to more than sustain itself.

In the end, it ends up a real joy to watch, with the twist of this season's first adventure already feeling like pure fun.

But perhaps the biggest accomplishment ABC has made this past season is in their comedies. For years, they've been trying in vain to get the spices right and give us a sitcom worthy of the ones in their history. Last year, the emergence of Cougar Town, The Middle, and Emmy Champion Modern Family finally answered our prayers, after years of According to Jim seemed to put our faith to the ultimate test.

Debra Barone herself, Patricia Heaton dashed back into the spotlight on The Middle, a truly funny and endearing comedy in which she starred as the matriarch of an Indiana family. The byplay between wife and husband, mother and children really stands out brilliantly, and yet blends in well with the unique and engaging personalities of each kid. Particularly enjoyable is youngest son Brick (Atticus Shaffer), with his quirky viewpoint of the world, his intellect and love of reading, and all the truly interesting behavior he exhibits. But perhaps the most likable is Sue (Eden Sher), and her endearing personality. Even though everything she tried out for was a failure, she just keeps pressing ahead in the hopes of one day making a successful landing. Like any great sitcom, The Middle just got funnier and more engaging as time went on.

And that wasn't even the best of it! Need we forget, Modern Family? The pilot of that show was brilliantly funny, offering three distinctive families in a mockumentary setting. One was a standard nuclear family, husband and wife dealing with the standard three kids, different in personality and in challenge. Next we have a gay couple and their newly adopted Asian baby, signs of a more open-minded world, at least as one would hope. And we've got an older man, unafraid to go into the world with new, much younger love, with a son of her own. All of this lead up to a brilliant twist -- these three families are all the same extended family! From that point onward, the show just got funnier and more real with each episode. Resulting in a show worthy of not just the greatest family sitcoms, but some of the best comedies to ever grace television screens.

With such a steep reputation already behind it, what else can ABC offer on Wednesday nights? Well, they're going to try with a more old-fashioned sitcom, complete with an audience laugh track.

Yes, new entry Better With You follows a format that only seems to exist nowadays on CBS, almost enough to leave me so inclined to believe that it's supposed to be a sacrificial lamb of sorts. Okay, I'll admit that such a label is a little extreme. From what I've heard, this new show about three different couples with different levels of experience together, got really great feedback from test audiences prior to its pickup, back when it was the Untitled Shana Goldberg-Meehan Project.

It's promos spotlight the pilot's events wherein the youngest couple announce their engagement, much to the shock of the bride's older sister who still never married the man she's been dating for nine years. When they take this to their parents, they apparently couldn't be happier. The clips in these promos don't look great, but they seem competent enough.

Regardless, I think I'll check this new show out, if only because its the only comedy ABC's pulling out this fall. (But wait until mid-season, when an even funnier-looking show called Mr. Sunshine with Matthew Perry set to debut!) The premise is funny enough, and I remain curious overall about how Better With You will fare in the long run. In my humble opinion, it certainly merits a chance to succeed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The New Fall Television Season - Part Two

On the night before the official start of the new TV season, I think I'll really start to delve into the prospects and potential by looking at NBC first. There are two reasons I chose them to start. First off - they're in last place among the biggest broadcast networks, and have been for several years. They haven't quite been able to maintain a strong, consistent enough thunder since Friends came to a close in 2004, and things only got worse last season. They tried out a big prime time experiment and called it The Jay Leno Show, and it blew up in their face.

Okay, to be fair it accomplished the steady financial stream they were aiming for. The real problem was how the affiliates responded to their local newscasts having a consistently weak ratings performer for a lead-in. In response, NBC pulled cancelled the show in January. Of course, it just resulted in that three-ring media circus over the network falling back on its two-year commitment to Leno in prime time, ending in Conan O'Brien leaving The Tonight Show, and the network. And I think we can all agree in how stupid that monkey business was.

But enough about that. The other reason I've decided to start off with NBC is because they've also launched new shows already as well. The likable dramedy Parenthood started its second season on Tuesday, following part one of the finale of summertime hit America's Got Talent. The next night after the conclusion came a new show, Jimmy Smits legal drama Outlaw. And The Apprentice, returning to its original format preceding the celebrity version (which regardless, returns mid-season), had its two-hour premiere this past Thursday.

I got to sample Outlaw when it debuted on Wednesday night. It was a preview airing with hopes of promoting a series which faces an arduous road ahead in the proverbial black hole time slot of Friday nights, 10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 Central. This was not unlike what I saw four years ago on ABC, with the charming and woefully underrated Anne Heche dramedy Men in Trees getting a similar spotlight. In that case however, the show at least got two whole seasons, a far shorter run than it deserved.

On the other hand, Outlaw doesn't seem to hold a lot of water. The premise has Smits starring as a Supreme Court Justice who quits in the midst of an intense case involving a convicted killer who he doesn't believe got a fair trial. The whole thing came off as pretty slow and dull, and didn't do a whole lot to pique my interest. I don't expect to finish the pilot, or tune in on later weeks before trying other shows.

Not that NBC's other new programs are all that interesting or compelling. What proved interesting in last season's ultimate cancellation decisions is what happened to Law and Order. The venerable crime and legal drama, expected to return for it's landmark and record-scoring Twentieth season ended up being cancelled just as the upfront presentations were about to get running. Apparently, talks broke down at the last minute between NBC and series creator Dick Wolf over financials. Wolf tried to keep the show going by taking it to TNT and even AMC, but that ultimately didn't work out.

Law and Order: SUV will still stick around though, and you can even look for Joan Cusack in the season opener on Wednesday night. NBC has also decided to compensate for this loss in its decision to pick up a spinoff, Law and Order: Los Angeles. To say the very least, it'll certainly be interesting to see how long-standing fans will adapt to the change in setting, bringing about stars like Skeet Ulrich and Terrance Howard with it. Well, at least we can hope that the new series will maintain the dignity we expect from the brand.

Easily the most hyped new show of the season is The Event. This is another effort to generate another major, continuous drama for network television, an event show if you will. NBC's been promoting everything in the pilot, from Blair Underwood as the President confronting an assassination attempt to Jason Ritter hijacking a major domestic flight, like mad over the Summer months, ballyhooing it on a variety of different media. Not a day went by without another outlet begging the question, "What is The Event?"

I will admit, when I saw the initial trailer for The Event back in May during the NBC upfront, I thought it looked really cool and was practically sold on it. But since then, I've been forced to consider some sound advice in an online article I read more than a year ago. This cartoonist in Portland, Oregon brought about the idea that it's possible to completely eradicate any potential buzz or anticipation for a new show through sheer over-promotion. If you follow the link, you can read for yourself, as he cites the 2008 Christian Slater series My Own Worst Enemy as an example.

I must say, he's absolutely right. While I certainly hope The Event can overcome this issue and find success regardless, I personally have tried from all the ballyhooing. I just can't see myself tuning in from the get-go.

Really, the returning shows on NBC I anticipate the most are its comedic offerings. Among them are Chuck, the charming spy action comedy about the nerdy Big Box retail worker who also doubles as a spy. I will admit that I only really caught up with the show for two seasons in a row in June, catching it on demand, and even then it was only the bottom half of the season. Mayhaps I'll keep up better this season, even with How I Met Your Mother demanding my time on Monday nights. After all, there's always Hulu, right?

The last I saw of Chuck Bartowski, he was ready to seek out his mother, delving further into the spy life for years he didn't realize was in his blood. As the third season rolled on, this revelation became all the clearer and it kept dominating Chuck's life more and more. It makes for nice drama, almost competing with the real-life drama of whether or not this show will live to see another season. But I will also admit, the key downside is that it pushes the comedic atmosphere the show started out with further and further away. Hopefully, they will still find a way to keep things light enough, thus maintaining much of the element I initially fell in love with when the show debuted.

And then you have the Thursday night sitcoms. As per usual, they're a blast and more! Sterling show biz satire 30 Rock and business mockumentary about goofy working stiffs The Office, the cornerstones of the critically-hailed Thursday night block, of course will be there.

You've also got new comedy Outsourced, which follows the potentially interesting setting of a call center in India for an American novelty company. On paper, that sounds like the next great sitcom. But if early buzz on the show is any indication, it'll end up the biggest NBC comedy blunder since Kath and Kim. However, I really must admit something. Kath and Kim was deplorable in both previews and execution. On the other hand, the previews for Outsourced don't look nearly as heinous. I might still check that out, although I can only hope that it does turn out fine.

And to cap things off, we've got Community kicking things off each week. It really says a lot that, in a season that also gave us the comedic blessing of Modern Family, NBC's Community still emerged as the absolute crowning new comedy of the year. What other show can take gimmick concepts like a paintball match done like an apocalyptic action flick and make it pure humorous nirvana?

I'm serious, it's a major blast to watch. The promise of zombies on Halloween and stop-motion on Christmas really has me hyped!

It's a real shame that CBS happens to be putting The Big Bang Theory, another pure awesome sitcom, up against Community. As a matter of fact it's more than a shame, it's just really unfair! And why must Bang's studio compound matters by not streaming their show online? Why must I either neglect one one show in favor of the other, or discount my contribution to the audience by watching Community online? Why? Why? WHY?!

Wait a minute...I had no problem with having to watch Chuck online. Should I really feel so differently for Community?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The New Fall Television Season - Part One

This coming Tuesday is the first day of Fall. And starting with that on the same week is the next television season, when the major broadcast television networks initiate their full lineup of shows.

It is the one time of year that sees the most debuts for both brand new series and new seasons of existing shows, a tradition that's lasted for decades. Sure, nowadays you can find great shows on cable channels over the summer months and there are just as many good shows that launch mid-season as well. It's so easy to take this week of premieres every September for granted, even find it a little overwhelming. But, there's still a sense of majesty of that goes along with the changes in the atmosphere, the air and weather with it every Fall. With that, there's just something about a whole new lineup of shows to choose from that comes along with the new season.

In fact, you can say it feels too good to last.

Now, onto the shows themselves. What's truly interesting is just how many already launched in the weeks leading up to the new season. Take
The CW, for example. They've already launched their whole slate of new shows - both of them! Hellcats, which stars former Disney Channel actresses Ashley Tisdale and Alyson Michalka and focuses on a cheer leading team, debuted on September 8. The following night brought Nikita, a new series which re-imagines the old USA Network drama Le Femme Nikita, itself based on the 1992 film of the same name.

I haven't seen Hellcats, but I have watched the pilot of Nikita. The former does not pique my interest, because much like a good chunk of the CW network's shows, Hellcats is targeted at young woman. That is a demographic I am not part of, so I do not intend to watch it let alone give it any kind of judgement.

On the other hand, Nikita has a far wider appeal. It comes off like one of those shows that suggests that even The CW doesn't believe in their whole business plan of focusing on a singular target audience. (Not that there's anything wrong with such a practice, but it fits in far better on a cable channel, when you actually have to pay to see it. It's called narrowcasting for a reason, and the broadcast medium the CW operates on just contradicts it.) It goes farther than Smallville and Supernatural, both dark action shows that at least offer the females attractive male leads, in appealing to a wider audience.

The show itself is quite entertaining, following the premise of Nikita (Maggie Q) escaping from the scrutiny of the government organization, Division that trained her to be a spy, and her ambition to destroy it. The pilot alone suggests a series that follows closely to the style and intensity of the Jason Bourne film series. And the storyline following new recruit Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) adds further tension.

What I regret is not having seen the second episode, even though the competitive nature of your average Thursday night lineup is not yet in full swing. It's even more embarrassing because like the pilot, "2.0" has been given an encore the night after it first aired. I just feel sort of lazy, much like when I haven't bothered to tune into Smallville last season, even though I always home on Friday nights. Perhaps I may make more of an effort to tune in for future installments, but I still have other shows to consider on the other networks.

And indeed, the CW is the easiest of the broadcast networks to consider because it's also the smallest. They don't even offer comedies, they're that small! However, size doesn't justify an attempt to narrowcast, and clearly not a whole lot is meant to appeal to my demo. As I said before, I do like Smallville and I should make more of an effort to watch it, especially since it's far easier than I realize. I even have the finale and the "Absolute Justice" event (meant as major service to DC fans such as myself) queued on iTunes. Sometimes, I even amaze myself in how lazy I can be. But still, I should at least watch "Salvation" before the season starts, as a way to try to do better.

As for the other shows, I reiterate that I'm not the target for most of them. However, I will give Supernatural due credit as a cool enough show, even if I barely watched it. Further, I will admit The Vampire Dairies had a nice pilot and has plenty going for it...and that's about all.