Wednesday, March 31, 2010

V Series Re-Premiere Review

What did they do to this show?

V premiered back in November with huge numbers, but even before the first episode the show had gone on hiatus to fix production issues. It sounded like code for "our show sucks and we want to try to fix it before it's too late." But then the first four episodes aired, and they weren't bad at all; they were sleek, moderately paced, and interesting. There was enough drama to balance out the action, and the characters were being painted as "real" so that we'd care about them.

Now fast forward four months to the show's return (but there were so few episodes and so much time in between that it really should just be called the second season or the re-premiere or something), and I'm utterly confused about what has happened. This is clearly not the same series that we were given back in November. It's so insanely fast-paced and quick that I can't tell you a single thing that happened in the episode; it felt like I was watching images as I passed them in a car going 80. I think the resistance recruited some new guy, who the Vs have some sort of connection to (I think? Either way, they framed this guy for the R6 explosion); I think Erica's son spent the entire episode in a memory machine; and I think Val tried to eat a dead rat at some point too. Oh, and Anna had really weird sex with a meathead V before eating the camera.

Speaking of the camera, this episode's director should be fired immediately. His style consisted of exactly two shots:

1) Extreme closeups. And I mean extreme. They were so close you couldn't tell who was speaking; they were no more than a nose and a mouth, and maybe one eye.

2) Spinning shots. As in the camera did not stop spinning in circles. I swear I got motion sickness about 15 minutes in to the episode. And it didn't help that half the spinning shots were clearly of a green screen with the V ship added in post production.

But my biggest problem is with the characters. Erica is suddenly Buffy, beating the shit out of a V who attacks her in her home; Jack is nothing more than a sweating, panting mess; and Chuck is a pushover, not even trying to fight Anna anymore.

The characters and plot have now taken a backseat to the special effects and action scenes, of which there are plenty. This new style of V makes the show seem like it was designed for an audience with a 5 second attention span.

Oh, right. That would be most of America, wouldn't it?

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Best Shows You're Not Watching

1. Mercy (Wednesdays at 8:00 on NBC)

This show started off very weak, both commercially and critically. Its main charcter, Veronica, was hard to like in the beginning; she has just returned from Iraq to find her marriage in shambles, her army boyfriend following her back to New Jersey and her father developing Alzheimer's. Understandably, she was portrayed as distant and cold, but that's not what an audience wants. We need a loveable main character, especially if that character is female.

However, Veronica started to grow up and the supporting cast began to shine. The storylines became more engaging (a recent episode featured Veronica murdering a burglar while she is preparing for a date, and the effects of the murder on her PTSD), and the tone became more even. It developed itself into more of a relationship drama (that of friends, family and lovers) rather than a medical drama. Then James Van Der Beek came on board as a cocky new doctor with a dark secret, and the whole thing sort of gelled. Mercy is now one of my favorite shows on the air, which is a shame considering it is very likely to be canceled by May.

2. RuPaul's Drag Race (Mondays at 9:00 on Logo, with repeats Tuesdays at 9:00 on VH1)

I'll say it: this is the best reality show on television. It so perfectly blends elements of successful competition shows (Project Runway, America's Next Top Model) while simultaneously mocking them. For example, the contestants (all aspiring drag queens) receive She-Mail instead of Tyra Mail. The results are stunning: the challenges are always perfect, especially considering these queens are competing to basically be the next RuPaul. Why wouldn't Ru model the challenges after her own career? Past ones have included singing live in a rocker chick getup, making a dress out of curtains (a la Gone With the Wind), playing both the bride and groom in a drag wedding, and impersonating celebrities on a brilliantly kitschy game show called Snatch Game.

There are dozens of laughs in any given episode as Ru (out of drag) mentors the queens and later judges them (in drag), along with a panel of absolutely amazing guest judges; past guests have included Kathy Griffin, Jackie Collins, Henry Rollins, Terri Nunn, Dita Von Teese, Martha Wash, Alec Mapa and Kathy Najimy. And next episode's guest judges are (shut the hell up) Cloris Leachman and Debbie Reynolds! The pure joy this show illicits from me is incomparable and contagious. It's campy, cheesy, fun and really... what more do you need in a reality show? Tune in, you won't be disappointed.

3. FlashForward (Thursdays at 8:00 on ABC)

At this point, there's probably no saving this show either. It started strong with the biggest scripted premiere of the season, but its ratings quickly fell when the storyline got boring. Luckily the 3 month hiatus the show took has been for the better so far. Questions are finally being answered, the action sequences are back and that sense of urgency that made the first few episodes sizzle has returned.

Granted, we aren't much closer to figuring out what the blackout was and who caused it (since the first episode back pretty much put the kabosh on the "big reveal" in the season's first half of Lloyd and Simon being the cause), but the journey is getting a bit more exciting. The writers also seemed to remember the fact that there once was a character named Al on the show who broke all the rules, so they've stopped ignoring the fact that the flash forwards really don't necessarily have to happen. That has added yet another layer of drama which was sorely missing while Mark and Demetri were chasing sketchy leads in Hong Kong and Bryce was whining about true love. This was supposed to be the kind of mindfuck show that could ultimately replace Lost, but it's only now beginning to build toward its potential. If you jumped ship when it got sappy and slow, give it another shot.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mini Pilot Reviews: Sons of Tucson, Justified, Life, Jerseylicious

Sons of Tucson (Sundays at 9:30 on Fox)

What a terrible, terrible show. This sitcom tries so hard to make you laugh, but it's just painful. Three young boys are in need of a father figure, as their real father has just been sent to prison and their mother is MIA. So they ask the desperate loser working at the local sporting goods store to pose as their father so they can enroll in school. Oh, and they pay him.

What the hell? You need a father, so you go enlist the help of the biggest douche you can find? The guy lives out of his car and works 20 minutes a day selling balls. Sure, that's a great idea! To top it all off, this guy has money problems and owes some dangerous people a few grand... great paternal role model! Seriously though, sitcoms don't have to make sense. They just have to be funny. Unfortunately, this one doesn't make sense and it's not funny. Tyler Labine is playing the same character as he did on Reaper, except he's much more annoying when he's the constant center of attention. Actually, annoying is the perfect word to describe this entire show. Hopefully Fox will do better next season, because Sons of Tucson is a turd.

Justified (Tuesdays @ 10:00 on FX)

This isn't typically the kind of show that I gravitate toward, but I had room on my TiVo to record so I gave it a shot. I'm glad I did, because this intense little show is great. Timothy Olyphant is so powerful on screen; as Raylan Givens, he doesn't even need to speak to let you know he means business, and that opening scene at a Miami restaurant was proof of it. Olyphant spoke maybe 6 lines in the entire scene, but just seeing him stare at his victim like an animal about to attack its prey was perfect. And without Olyphant, I don't Justified would be as successful as it is.

It's a fairly simple plot: a US Marshall gets into trouble for killing a criminal at a crowded restaurant and is punished by being assigned to a small town in Kentucky, which just happens to be near his backwoods hometown. I fear that this series may become a bit boring over time, especially if it falls into the trap of being a basic procedural. The writers did plant some seeds that bear further scrutiny as the series progresses (Raylan's relationship with his father, his relationship with his old friends, etc) , and I hope they turn into a serialized arc rather than elements of continuity in a season full of otherwise stand-alone episodes. Because there is definitely something special boiling here. The pilot was exciting... hopefully there is more to come.

Life (Sundays at 9:00 on Discovery)

Having never seen Planet Earth, I didn't really know what to expect from this series other than pretty pictures. What it actually is... is BREATHTAKING pictures. But there is also a very clever throughline to each episode; the first episode touched upon the challenges of life that every creature faces, both big and small. Sure, it helps that the camera work is impeccable and the baby goats are cute; but at its heart this show really is about life: the beautiful, the ugly, the heartbreaking, the challenging, the strange. Everything on earth is connected, and seeing these amazing creatures face adversity and adapt to their surroundings gives Life a feeling of importance beyond the pretty pictures.

Jerseylicious (Sundays at 10:00 on Style)

I like my reality shows real. I don't want to feel like I'm watching a giant setup or a bunch of terrible actors reciting clearly scripted one-liners. Unfortunately, that's what Jerseylicious is. Obviously meant to capitalize on the success of Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey, this show continues to exploit my home state by introducing us to a group of women working at a hair salon. The setup is obvious as the main cast member, Olivia, interviews for a makeup artist position at the Gatsby Salon and receives a callback for the night after. She "inadvertently" runs into her arch nemesis in the lobby, who just so happens to be applying for a hairstylist position at the same salon. She also gets a callback for the next night. And guess what? THEY BOTH GET HIRED! I know, you didn't see it coming, right?

The whole thing reeks of falsehood; the setup is as fake as Olivia's tan, and the confessional interviews seem to be more scripted than most sitcoms. Jerseylicious is just trying too hard to fill the void left in viewers' hearts since Jersey Shore went off the air two months ago, but it was the fact that those people had no idea what they were doing and saying was ridiculous; they were just being themselves, living their outrageous lives. But the girls of Jerseylicious are all too conscious of the fact that they are starring on a reality show and are on a mission to become the next Snooki.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Most Interesting Pilots: Dramas

Unfortunately for us, the viewers, there are many new drama pilots in development for the fall. I say "unfortunately" because most of them are either police procedurals (187 Detroit, Body of Evidence, Boston's Finest, Edgar Floats, The Gates, True Blue, Hawaii Five-O, I Witness, The Odds, Reagan's Law, Breakout Kings, Ridealong, Prime Suspect, The Rockford Files, The Quickening, Uncle Nigel, the Criminal Minds spin-off) or legal dramas (The Whole Truth, Defenders, Pleading Guilty, Kindreds, Rex Is Not Your Lawyer, Rough Justice, Facing Kate, Franklin & Bash). There are, however, some interesting ideas that stand apart from the pack.

DRAMAS

1. The Cape (NBC)

I love superhero-themed shows, and this one should be no different. From the sound of it, the tone will be pretty dark and probably have more of a "graphic novel" feel than a comic book feel. As in, this is about a guy who masquerades as a vigilante in order to clear his name of a crime he didn't commit; he's not running around showing off superpowers. I'm thinking more along the lines of The Dark Knight rather than Superman. Plus, this would be a great replacement for Heroes if NBC decides to can it. And Summer Glau, the reigning queen of the genre television series, was just cast. I'm there.

2. The Event (NBC)


This one sounds like a mix of Lost, Flash Forward and The Nine. It tells the story, from multiple perspectives, of a man fighting mysterious circumstances which become part of a larger conspiracy. Vague, but intriguing. Throw in the fact that it has one of the best ensemble casts of any pilot this season (Blair Underwood, Jason Ritter, Scott Patterson, Wes Ramsey, Emmy-nominee Laura Innes, Emmy-winner Zeljko Ivanek and many others), and I'm hooked.

3. Betwixt (CW)


Obviously planned as a potential companion for their hit series The Vampire Diaries, this show is also based on a young-adult book; this time around, the teens are changelings (children of fairies) with intertwined destinies who are just discovering their true nature. It sounds silly, and it probably will be; but I'm glad the CW is still catering to its leftover WB audience members with these series. With Supernatural and Smallville likely entering their final seasons this fall, Betwixt and The Vampire Diaries seem like perfect cult-show replacements with which to begin building a new paranormal audience.

4. Hellcats (CW)

Finally someone is bringing Bring It On to television. This seems like a really "duh" idea: a series about the inner-workings of college competitive cheerleading. There's plenty of opportunity for drama, comedy, sports action, everything. There is clearly a market for this type of show, as direct-to-DVD sequels to Bring It On continue to rake in money, and the CW is the ideal network to launch something along those same lines but with perhaps just a little bit more intelligence and edge (which would be more in line with the original film than with its silly sequels). Regardless, I loved Bring It On so I'll probably love this show as well.

5. Generation Y (ABC)

From the creator of last season's extremely underrated police dramedy The Unusuals, the details of this series are sparse. It's about a group of adults in Austin whose life stories are told in both the present and 10 years in the past. It's another ensemble drama, and while it may not have the star-power of The Event, it may make up for that fact with more interesting characters (the best part of The Unusuals) and a more emotional impact. I'm curious to see how it unfolds.

6. Matadors (ABC)

So this could be classified as one of those abhorrent "legal dramas" I mentioned earlier, but I'd like to think that this one has the most promise. It's about two long-feuding, powerful families in Chicago: one associated with the DA's office, and the other populates the city's most influential law firm. I hope, however, that this series will stay away from the courtroom drama and focus more on the family aspect of the show; tense relationship dramas are always more interesting than retreads of Law & Order. The producers have already taken a step in the right direction with the cast, which includes David Strathairn and Jason Behr.

7. No Ordinary Family (ABC)

Despite a truly awful title, I'm intrigued by this pilot. It will be duking it out with The Event for best ensemble cast (this one has Golden Globe and Emmy-winner Michael Chiklis, Julie Benz, Kay Panabaker, Romany Malco and Autumn Reeser), and it's also tinged with a bit of the unusual: it's about a family who discovers they have special abilities. It could go the route of the WB's failed Birds of Prey, or it could go the way of Pixar's wildly successful The Incredibles. Again, not much is known about this one, but with such an exciting cast and such an exciting creative team (Greg Berlanti, Jon Harmon Feldman and David Semel) there can only be good things in store for this one.

8. Cutthroat (ABC)

So this one is basically Weeds but more of a drama and on network TV: a single mother in Beverly Hills runs an international drug cartel. I'm not familiar with anyone in the cast, but I expect good things from creators Michelle Fazekas and Tara Butters (Reaper).

9. The Miraculous Year (HBO)

There is nothing not right about this pilot. It's being directed by the first ever female Best Director Oscar winner, Kathryn Bigelow, and it tells the story of a self-destructive Broadway composer and his family. A brilliant director + a unique storytelling device + musicals + HBO = my most anticipated pilot of the year.

10. The Untitled Wyoming Pilot (CW)

Even though it it currently titleless and seemingly boring, this pilot about a horse trainer who takes over a Wyoming ranch and becomes the caretaker for his younger siblings has potential for greatness. It sounds like a loving throwback to ye olde WB shows like Gilmore Girls and Everwood, and I'm a sucker for a touching family drama. Plus it stars one of my favorite character actors, Alan Ruck, and the always-solid young actor Sean Faris. There's something potentially profound brewing here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Most Interesting Pilots: Comedies

All across America hopeful young actors and actresses are gearing up for their first tastes of pilot season. In any given season dozens and dozens of drama and comedy pilots are greenlit by the networks before the big guys ultimately decide whose dreams of becoming a TV star come true and whose fizzle out until next March and April.

This season there are decidedly fewer pilots in production and even fewer interesting pilots in production. I guess even the major networks are feeling the heat of the current recession. But I've gone through the descriptions of the pilots currently greenlit, and here are ones I think have promise.

COMEDIES

1. Shit My Dad Says (CBS)

If you've read the Twitter feed of the same title, you know why this show will be funny. The only hesitation I have is that it seems a little raunchy for network television, where the language will need to be toned down considerably and therefore so will a lot of the humor. But I have faith in William Shatner as the straightforward father, so we'll see.

2. Open Books (CBS)

Patti LuPone and Laura Benanti, both Tony winners for the 2008 Broadway revival of Gypsy, are teamed once again as mother and daughter. The pairing proved fortuitous once, and I can't imagine it not working again. Plus it has a decent couple from the Will & Grace team behind it (director James Burrows and writer/producer Gail Lerner); so if this show about a book editor and her friends is anywhere near as funny as that one then we're in for a huge treat.

3. Wright vs. Wrong (ABC)

Debra Messing back in a half-hour sitcom. As a Republican pundit. With an assistant named Crystal Ball. Count me in.

4. It Takes a Village (ABC)

ABC seems to be looking for a companion to its new monster hit Modern Family with this pilot order. With Cougar Town disappointing lately (ratings-wise) off of its Modern Family lead-in, it seems like this new sitcom would be a perfect fit for its slot. It's about a former couple trying to raise their 15 year-old son. Both the mother and father have moved on: she to a new sports fanatic husband, he to another man (the incredibly hot Cheyenne Jackson). It's high-time that we have more gay characters on television, and pairing one gay-friendly sitcom with another makes sense.

5. Nevermind Nirvana (FOX)

For once, Fox's comedy pilots seem far more interesting than their drama pilots; they are also far more numerous than their drama pilots. Nevermind Nirvana takes the "fish out of water" concept and applies it to the Middle East, where we are given the story of two Indian brothers: one who angers his family by dating a white woman and the other who enters an arranged marriage. It doesn't particularly sound like fodder for a sitcom, but if this is a half-hour each week of Koothrapali-esque comedy then I'll be watching for sure.

6. Security (FOX)

The world of computer hacking, normally only found in spy thrillers and action films, is given a comedic twist here. It sounds like Fox's response to the wildly popular CBS show The Big Bang Theory, but with genius hackers instead of genius scientists. It's created and produced by Adam F. Goldberg, writer of the hilarious and geektastic film Fanboys, and it stars Reaper's wonderful leading man Bret Harrison. It definitely has potential to go places.

7. Wilde Kingdom (FOX)

Will Arnett is too funny to not be on television anymore, and playing a rich Beverly Hills jackass is right up his alley. Casting Keri Russell as his outlandish character's foil (a charitable tree-hugger) is just too good to pass up.

8. Beach Lane (NBC)

Matthew Broderick stars in this pilot about a celebrity author living in the Hamptons who is approached by his irresponsible millionaire neighbor to run the town's struggling newspaper. It doesn't sound like a laugh-riot, but Matthew Broderick has never starred in his own TV show and has only had a handful of guest appearances in his entire career. I'm intrigued as to why he picked this particular pilot as his starting point. So I have faith that he chose wisely and that there's something there that just isn't evident in the initial synopsis.

9. Nathan vs. Nurture (NBC)

The star of ABC's criminally underwatched gem Better Off Ted, Jay Harrington, stars alongside Bill Pullman as a heart surgeon who decides to find his biological parents 35 years after being adopted.... only to find they had 3 other kids and kept them. There is some opportunity for extremely funny and extremely awkward situations here, and I can't wait to see Jay Harrington back in action playing those scenes.

10. The Pink House (NBC)

I can't decide if I think this is a really good or a really bad idea. Two friends take the next step and move to Los Angeles to begin their post-college lives. It's a pretty vague premise, and I'm assuming most of the show's humor will come from the fact they will (presumably) be living in a pink house and therefore be thought to be lovers. It could either be really funny or really offensive.