Thursday, October 20, 2011

TV Matchups: What to Watch

Now that everything has premiered (essentially) and, in most cases, we've had a few episodes to get a feel for what the new TV shows are actually going to be, the Honeymoon, as they say, is over. It was fun to set a couple of weeks aside, by copious amounts of ice cream, and spend the bulk of our free time perched in front of the television absorbing the new offers, but now we have children to raise and errands to run and our discretionary time is finite.

So, like all things in life, we must now decide which shows to allocate our scarce time to. The battle lines are drawn for us and we need only choose a side.

Female-centric primetime soap operas:

It's no secret that I (and the organization I work for) LOVE ABC's Revenge. There is something intrinsically satisfying about watching the wicked wealthy get their nasty comeuppance. The week to week is juicy delicious goodness as Woman-scorned Emily Thorne cuts through a community of Hamptons dwellers like a hot knife through butter. It's absurd, melodramatic, and I love every minute of it.

By comparison, CW's Ringer is an overcooked goose. Sarah Michelle Geller unconvincingly portrays twins that have swapped identities and do little more than look sullenly out of rainy windows and have shaded conversations on horribly green-screen rendered boats.

Winner: Revenge by 35*
*points are given in relative football terms

New York-set crime procedurals with a twist:

I had high hopes for CBS' Person of Interest. It was being produced by J.J. Abrams (a.k.a God), written/created by Jonathon Nolan (a.k.a. brother of the other God, which makes him, like, Poseidon) and starred Lost's Michael Emerson (a.k.a. Benjamin Linus) and Jim Caviezel (a.k.a Jesus, woah, I didn't even plan that). The show circled around a head-twisty concept about solving crimes before they happend and seemed poised to really mess with our heads.

Turns out, it's exposition city and incredibly boring. As fun as it is watching Cav bust heads, the action scenes are few and far between and there's literally not a single character on the show with a personality. That's 44 minutes of facial neutrality and BenLinus pretending to have a limp.

Prime Suspect at NBC also came to the table with a healthy pedigree. It had creator/director Peter Berg (one of my favorite creator directors, I'm not kidding) and the uber-talented Maria Bello as a hard-case female homicide detective (that's the twist, she's a girl) with a chip on her shoulder trying to make it in a man's world. Even though Belo never cracks a smile, she's a talking ball of old fashioned sass and her backup men provide the comic relief.

The show is good, and just seems to be getting better. I have an unwritten rule that I only watch one crime procedural (currently House) that I'm inclined to break for Prime. It has a tone unlike anything I've ever seen on TV and manages to squeeze original drama out of the tiredest of subjects .A recent episode involved a suspected child molester, but avoided the SVU look-a-like contest by focusing on how a man's life is devastated simply by being suspected for a crime he did not commit. Though-feeding stuff.

Plus, the show's star routinely wears an ascot and fedora. #Winning. And, I would argue she's one of the most dynamic female characters to ever headline a network television show. Sadly but not surprisingly, despite being one of the best things on television Prime has struggled to find an audience. If things don't pick up, we probably won't be talking about it much longer.

Winner: Prime Suspect by 14

Single-camera sitcoms written by Whitney Cummings with a female protagonist (or two):

Yes, these two shows really do have that much in common. The difference? One is successful and the other is on NBC. Note: neither category is a value judgment as lots of crap is successful (2 and 1/2 Men, American Idol) and lots of NBC shows are spectacular (Community, 30 Rock).

When Broke Girls premiered, it did so to mostly positive reviews (including this reviewer) and huge ratings numbers. Problem is, the show has never quite left the awkward pilot feel. It's single cam is artificial, it's laugh-track jokes are as over-processed as Kraft Singles and it's supporting cast is as one dimensional as the carpet. Even that is an overstatement since it only has 3 supporting characters, two of which are just walking stereotypes and the other does little more than hold a pickle jar and sexually harass the shows two stars (no joke, for the first 3 episodes he never puts down the pickle jar. What is that?)

This show started good and has drastically deteriorated. On the other hand, Whitney has consistently sucked. The female lead (Cummings in the flesh) is about as unlikeable as a main character can be and the show itself is probably the least-funny comedy you'll ever see. That said, unlike it's sister show on CBS, Whitney at least HAS a supporting cast who, as strange as they may be, can actually produce a chuckle here and there and the scenery at least colorful and not incessantly dirty (like Broke Girls). Whitney premiered at an unimipressive 5 and hasn't moved wheras 2 Broke Girls came in at a 7 and has since dropped to a 3.

Winner: Whitney by a late fourth quarter field goal.
Loser: America

Period pieces set in exotic locales

One's about a squad of Pan Am stewardesses at the dawn of the jet age and the other is about a colony of humans living in the Jurassic age (if that was even a thing, I have my doubts). Originally, Pan Am was set to be competing with The Playboy Club but when that show proved to be the least provocative thing to ever include the name "Playboy" it was yanked from the air.

Incidentally, these two shows have more in common than the far-fetched connection I drew for their category. Both were very high profile premieres for their respective networks and have underperformed in the ratings (Pan Am debuted strong bat has since fallen and Terra Nova has posted upper single digits that would be fine for a sitcom but not for the "most expensive TV show ever created?)

Nova, with its something-for-everyone format, is stuck in a creative limbo as it strives to appeal to the largest possible audience. Its serial Lost-y mythology is clunky and overbearing, it's Dino-action CG sequences look terrible, it's angsty teen love is formulaic and uninspired and it's procedural weekly arcs are, in essence, meh. Episode 3 gave the main characters amnesia in a "race for a cure" that seemed like a bad episode of The X Files or a worse episode of House and Episode 2 involved 44 minutes of the colony being attacked by laughably cartoon Dino-birds. Simply put, it falls short.

Pan Am, on the other hand, is trying to milk every last nostalgic drop out of it's 1960s cow. The girls look great, the "God is in the Details" glamor of early jet travel (cigarettes, personal service, comfortable seats and a lounge in the plane) make for a wish-you-were-here sentiment and the historical backdrops of the Cold War and JFK presidency makes for a nice history lesson. It's a lot of dessert but not a lot of meat and potatoes, yet. The cast is likeable and they have plenty of room to stretch their wings.

In the end, despite the lush landscapes of Nova, it's the Come Fly With Me world of Pan Am that makes me say "I want to go to there."

Winner: Pan Am by 10

1 comment:

  1. It's weird catching up on your blog backwards, but still fun to read. Keep up the reviews for those like me who are out of the loop. :)