Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fall TV Scorecard: Week 4

Nashville (ABC)

It's been interesting to watch the string of musical TV shows that have rolled out since Glee blew up three years ago. Last season gave us Smash, a "Let's Put on a Broadway Show!" drama that struggled to work it's auto-tuned music into the plot (Let's go to the Karaoke bar...again!) and now we have ABC's Nashville, the new season's most well-reviewed drama (so far) that pits an older Faith Hill-type country legend against a new flash-in-the-pan country/pop post-teen label monster. The two women (Friday Night Lights' Connie Britton and Heroes' Hayden Panettiere) spar over band-members, lovers, concert billing and sparkly dresses with Britton coming off as an overall nice though slightly self-absorbed musician who may have missed her exit sign and Panettiere coming off as a completely self-absorbed hack in a pushup bra.

The rest of the show is rounded out by a bunch of secondary characters -- a jealous husband, a former flame, a controlling father, an old producer -- and secondary plots -- a new tour, declining record sales, mayoral politics and the changing face of American country music -- but the main action is the grunge match that will play out between the old school and the new school, personified by the two well-cast and charismatic leading ladies.

It's not exactly my cup of tee, partly because I hate country music and partly because I feel like they ripped of The Civil Wars without giving Joy and John any credit, but the production value is top notch, the universe is elaborate and, most notably, the music sounds good. Unlike the obviously lip-synced and uber-polished nonsense that permeates Glee and Smash, Nashville's smartly-limited musical pieces actually sound like they could possibly be a human being singing into a microphone. I know, crazy right? I also give bonus points to the show for calling out modern country music for what it is, lazily written and produced drivel written by unsung musicians and made famous by no-talent faces.

Grade: B
Class: Subscribe if you like country music, Keep an Eye On if you don't.

Chicago Fire (NBC)

From producer Dick Wolf (Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: CI, Law & Order: UK, Law & Order: LA, Law & Order: Trial by Jury) comes a series that looks and feels a lot like L&O but instead of solving crimes they fight fires. Chicago Fire has been largely panned by critics, with many expecting a thinly-veiled pleasure at waiting for the show to be axed (PUN!). I'm not sure all of the criticism is warranted but then again, CF isn't particularly good either.

Starring Jesse Spencer (who inexplicably looks and sounds younger than he did on House) and a cast of people you've never heard of with largely forgettable faces, Chicago Fire's 44-minute pilot is packed with about 230 minutes of melodrama. I'm not sure how they do this, it's much like the old commercials for Golden Grams, but literally every second of screen time is filled with strained relationships, sexual tensions, feelings of inadequacy, physical toll, emotional anguish and what have you. Each and every character seems to be dealing with some sort of baggage and in what comes closest to being comedy the chief of the show's fire station rattles of one cliched caricature line of dialogue after another.

The set pieces are impressive, and the show must cost a boat-load of money to produce, but even in Chicago, you don't see multiple high-rise fires every day. At the rate these guys are working, CF might have better luck suggesting that Chicago has descended into some sort of post-apocolyptic wasteland by the time season 1 wraps. My advice would be to somehow add some levity, but it probably won't last that long.

 Grade: C
Class: Kill and Bury

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