Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fall TV Mathups: What to Watch 2012

Well, faithful Wood's Stock readers (or #Stockers, as I am now going to call you) we have finally reached the end of the fall premiere season, which means it's time to make arbitrary comparisons between freshman TV shows based on categories I invent for my own enjoyment. As a reminder, the scoring is based on a football system. Why? Because it's funner that way.

High-concept serials with a twist

Yes, a "high-concept" serial, by definition, is one that has some sort of unexpected or unique feature, but despite its redundancy adding "with a twist!" just makes everything more exciting. What else is exciting? Crafting a military/political drama that spends a large amount of its plot time underwater (ABC's Last Resort), or tell a "searching-for-my-family" story in a post-apocalyptic dystopia (NBC's Revolution).

Before either of these shows aired, Last Resort was enjoying submarine-sized critical buzz while Revolution – the J.J. Abrams, Jon Favreau blackout extravaganza – was being met with more than just a shred of veiled skepticism. Favreau had, after all, completely blown it recently with Cowboys and Aliens and J.J.'s indomitable stock had fallen slightly after the back-to-back failures of Free Agents and Alcatraz.

Then they premiered to fairly comparable quality, with Revolution enjoying a bump from critical underestimation (and sneaky clever NBC post-olympic scheduling) while Last Resort thudded somewhat as its underperformance failed to meat raised expectations.

Revolution still isn't great and Last Resort isn't terrible, but as often happens the pleasant surprise wins out over the disappointment.

Winner: Revolution by 6, a touchdown with a missed extra point

Crime procedural with a quirky anti-hero

On CBS's Elementary, Sherlock Holmes is a modern day British recovering drug addict whose gifted powers of observation and deductive logic make him a valuable consultant for the NYPD. On CBS's Vegas, Dennis Quaid is a rancher-turned-sherrif who just wants to keep his little desert gambling town safe from the invading (and inevitable) influence of mobsters, money and political machinations.

Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock is the lesser of today's three Holmeses, but it's still fun to watch the greatest detective ever written genius-mumbling his way through seemingly inane clues to catch a killer in modern Manhattan. Throw in Lucy Liu as a female Watson and you have a recipe that doesn't exactly sizzle but sticks to the ribs nonetheless.

Meanwhile on Vegas, Quaid has found the perfect surly character for his aging persona and for Vegas-files like myself it's great to tickle your nostalgia bone by watching lawmen toting shotguns on horseback down Fremont Street. Plus, I like to watch Vegas as though it was a prequel to CSI, even though the two have nothing to do with each other besides being similarly-Nevada-set cogs in the CBS crime procedural machine.

Winner: Elementary by 2 points because of a pesky 2nd-quarter safety Vegas could never quite erase

Sitcoms whose entire reason for being is the mere existence of one or more gay characters

Ryan Murphy, the envelope-pushing creator of Nip/Tuck, Glee and American Horror Story, decided that he was going to single-handedly legalize gay marriage by making a tv show about a group of obnoxious and unlikeable characters and their non-funny dialogue. At least, that's the only explanation I can come up with. It's a Quixotic task, to be sure, and one that he fails completely at doing.

NBC's The New Normal, which revolves around a gay couple who choose to have a baby through a surrogate, leaves no stereotypical-stone unturned, no off-color joke unspoken and no subset of society un-insulted. Arrested Development proved that terrible people can be funny. New Normal merely proves that terrible people can be terrible entertainment.

By comparison, CBS's Partners looks like a holiday marathon of It's A Wonderful Life. The single-camera, laugh-track heavy comedy about a straight man and his gay best friend/architectural business partner/pain in the neck is derivative, uninspired and – in the heaviest compliment I can pay it – harmless. Were it not for the asterisk of being centered around a gay character, Partners would be the exact prototype flavorless conveyor-belt style programming that mainstream middle America gobbles up by the millions (i.e. According to Jim, King of Queens, Last Man Standing, Rules of Engagement). As it stands, Partners is a simple 22-minute bridge from one CBS Monday-night comedy to another, that manages to squeeze in a few chuckle-worthy quips every now and then. Neither is scoring any major points for equality in America, but at least Partners doesn't make you lunge for the remote.

Winner: Partners by a field goal, the only points earned by either team in the entire duration of the game.

Comedies with a largely non-human cast

America, as I'm told, loves monkeys. Loves them. I'd be more baffled by this if I didn't see example after example of how America also loves crap entertainment (lookin' at you 2.5 Men and Bachelorette). So the idea of setting a sitcom in a veterinary clinic and promoting a female Capuchin Monkey named Crystal to series regular seems, objectively, like a stroke of business genius.
Apparently, however, America has limits (or NBC is just THAT unlucky) because no one watched Animal Practice and the show has already been cancelled, meaning the atrocious Whitney – and not the amazing Community – will be moving back to Thursday nights.

Compare that to ABC's The Neighbors, a show about a family that moves into a gated community full of aliens (yes, aliens) that premise-wise sounds like a bad idea wrapped in a disaster and deep fried in liquid doom. Turns out, it's actually kind of funny. Heck, it's way better than The Middle.

Winner: The game is given to The Neighbors due to a forfeit technicality, robbing them of their chance to fight for the win.

Losser: For the second year in a row, the loser is America because Whitney remains.

Charmingly-endearing comedies with a heart

I saved this category for the last because it's the Rose Bowl. As far as I'm concerned, Fox's Ben and Kate and NBC's Go On are the two best freshman offerings from the major broadcast networks.
Each one takes a turn from the typical sitcom genre. Ben and Katie completely sidesteps the overused and over-obvious Will-They-Won't-They relationship by staging the male and female leads as brother and sister, while NBC's Go On is actually a hybrid Dramedy centered around a man experience in group therapy after his wife dies.

Go On has the better ensemble while Ben and Kate has the better supporting characters. Go On has more consistent humor, but Ben and Kate gets you with one-liners. Laura Benanti is gorgeous, but Dakota Johnson is adorable. Matthew Perry is a seasoned pro, but Nat Faxon is a fresh face and one-half of the oscar winning writing partnership of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
How is a person to choose?

My simple answer would be don't, watch them both. But for the sake of the exercise I give the edge to Go On because I love a good ensemble.

Winning: Go On by a late, fourth-quarter field goal.

1 comment:

  1. I love Miller's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. He has the potential to be a great Holmes by the end of the first season.