Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pilot Review: House of Lies

House of Lies (Sundays at 10:00 on Showtime; premieres January 8)

Showtime has had an incredible track record of late, rivaling (even surpassing, depending on who you ask) that of fellow premium network adversary HBO. Their new drama Homeland was a critic darling this fall and is already making the awards show rounds; The Big C and Nurse Jackie continue to dominate "must see" lists; Dexter's audience grew immensely throughout its most recent (fifth) season; and Weeds was recently renewed for an eighth season, making it the network's longest-running series ever. So they're rolling out a new round of programming in 2012, beginning with the comedy House of Lies.

House of Lies is about Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle), a self-hating and manipulative management consultant, and his co-workers. They work for one of the best consulting firms in the country, and they stop at nothing to win clients and earn their seven figure salaries. Marty must also deal with his ex-wife (Dawn Olivieri), a drug-addicted consultant for a rival firm and the mother of his son; his father (Glynn Turman), a former psychiatrist who takes care of things while Mary is away on business; and his son (Donis Leonard Jr.), a flamboyant and possibly transgendered theatre kid.

Right off the bat, House of Lies isn't very funny, at least not in a laugh-out-loud way. The humor is a bit darker, a bit more subversive. The pilot's strongest moments revolve around this type of humor, and they typically involve the quirky supporting cast; Olivieri's character is especially funny in a horrifying way as the world's worst mother. That's when the show has some spark. Otherwise, it's relatively standard and even dull. The constant pause/cutaway technique employed in which Cheadle directly addresses the camera is 1) not funny, 2) inconsistent and 3) overused. The first example of this comes about one minute into the premiere and lasts for only a few seconds, when Marty says, "Never fuck your ex-wife." The rest of the cutaways have to do with his business, so I'm not sure exactly what purpose they serve: advice? private thoughts? boring inner monologues?

The supporting cast is criminally underused in this first episode. Kristen Bell has but a few lines, none of which are funny, and the same goes for Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson as the remainder of Marty's team. No one makes any sort of impression (I can't even remember their names) because no one is given anything to do, other than Cheadle. He's a great actor, no doubt, and he can easily do both funny and poignant. But carrying a show with an already-dull premise of management consultants might prove to be too much for him, if his borderline-lackluster performance in the pilot is any indication. Donis Leonard Jr. fares the best of everyone in this episode; he has the most fascinating character (a young boy who dresses and acts like a girl) and the most charming scenes. But it's a waste of talent to have gifted comedians like Bell and Schwartz on your show and then to not showcase their abilities.

My biggest issue with House of Lies is that it's just not all that interesting. It's entertaining enough to fill 25 minutes, but it's not something that left me caring to watch again. Management consulting is (apparently, from what I gathered in this episode) a boring profession, and Marty is a relatively boring character. The self-hating, blase womanizer has been done to death, including by House of Lies' partner series Californication. What's the point of doing it again? Creator Matthew Carnahan (who also did the short-lived Courtney Cox series Dirt) doesn't have anything new to say, nor does he have an interesting way in which to say it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

What I'll Be Watching - Winter/Spring 2012

New shows in italics
 
Monday

Gossip Girl (CW)
Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family)
Alcatraz (Fox)
Being Human (SyFy)
It's a Brad, Brad World (Bravo)
Castle (ABC)
RuPaul's Drag Race (Logo)
Smash (NBC)
Touch (Fox)

Tuesday

Glee (Fox)
Ringer (CW)
Tabatha Takes Over (Bravo)
Southland (TNT)
The River (ABC)
Breaking In (Fox)

Wednesday

Mobbed (Fox)
Top Chef: Texas (Bravo)
Revenge (ABC)
Whitney (NBC)
Are You There, Chelsea? (NBC)
Survivor: One World (CBS)
Psych (USA)

Thursday

The Vampire Diaries (CW)
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
The Secret Circle (CW)
Jersey Shore (MTV)
Project Runway All Stars (Lifetime)
The Firm (NBC)

Friday

A Gifted Man (CBS)
Nikita (CW)
Grimm (NBC)
Blue Bloods (CBS)

Sunday

The Cleveland Show (Fox)
Family Guy (Fox)
American Dad! (Fox)
Once Upon a Time (ABC)
The Real Housewives of Atlanta (Bravo)
Pan Am (ABC)
Jerseylicious (Style)
The Walking Dead (AMC)
The Celebrity Apprentice (NBC)
GCB (ABC)
Bob's Burgers (Fox)

There you have it; everything I'll be watching week-in and week-out through the end of March 2012. Of course not all of these shows will be on  the air at the same time; if they were, I would be committed to nothing but TV every hour of every day. But it's still a lot to tackle, so I'm counting on some of the new shows to be duds (I just have a feeling The Firm and Alcatraz are going to be huge disappointments that I won't end up keeping up with...) and for some of the older shows to lose my interest (shows like Pretty Little Liars and The Walking Dead have already started testing my last nerve, while others like Nikita, Gossip Girl, Pan Am and Once Upon a Time just don't make me crave more and therefore might need to go). Anyone looking forward to anything else premiering in the coming months?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Midseason Change-Ups: Fox, CBS, CW

Sorry for the bombardment of new posts, but I had these midseason ones saved as drafts which I just forgot to publish. Enjoy!

Fox

After a disappointing fall showing in which their standing as the highest-rated network was threatened, Fox is looking to some new shows with some name recognition to pull them out of this hole they've fallen into. Fox didn't formally cancel any shows this fall, though two of them are not present on the midseason schedule because they had no way of producing new episodes for spring: Terra Nova and Allen Gregory. Other than that, Fox has a pretty confusing schedule to make room for all of the shows it needs to get on the air since they do not air the 10:00 hour and have three hours per week dedicated to American Idol.

Monday

8:00 - House
9:00 - Alcatraz (beginning January 16)
9:00 - Touch (beginning March 19; preview January 25)

This is looking more and more like the final season of House as Hugh Laurie's contract comes to an end and the ratings flounder. Alcatraz has the benefit of being produced by J.J. Abrams, and Touch stars Kiefer Sutherland. Both shows should do well enough based on the names attached them alone.

Tuesday

8:00 - Glee
8:00 - New Girl (repeats, beginning March 6)
8:30 - Breaking In (beginning March 6)
9:00 - New Girl
9:30 - Raising Hope

Glee will take a brief hiatus as it did last year for about six weeks, when surprise last-minute renewal Breaking In returns for a second season. But Fox likely isn't thinking much of its chances, since it will have a repeat of New Girl as its lead-in rather than a new episode of something else (I Hate My Teenage Daughter, anyone? It still has 10 episodes left to air).

Wednesday

8:00 - American Idol (beginning January 18)
9:00 - Mobbed (through February 8)

American Idol will expand to two hours on February 15, but until then the second hour is occupied by four episodes of Howie Mandel's flash mob reality show Mobbed. It had a great premiere last spring but only a so-so showing this past fall; perhaps it's because flash mobs are being done to death nowadays.

Thursday

8:00 - American Idol (beginning January 19)
9:00 - The Finder (beginning January 12)

Veteran drama Bones is left off the schedule while its spin-off The Finder takes its post-Idol slot. Bones will return in April to finish its abbreviated season (due to the lead's pregnancy).

Friday

8:00 - Kitchen Nightmares
9:00 - Fringe

This will likely be the last season of Fringe, as it routinely comes in 3rd in its timeslot (behind NBC and CBS) and has now reached enough episodes for a syndication deal. I would've preferred to see Mobbed take the 8:00 slot from Kitchen Nightmares, but this series is holding up pretty well so I'm not surprised to see it returning for a spring season.

Sunday

7:30 - The Cleveland Show
8:00 - The Simpson
8:30 - Napoleon Dynamite (beginning January 15)
8:30 - Bob's Burgers (beginning March 11)
9:00 - Family Guy
9:30 - American Dad

Fox has a lot more cartoons to air than it has time to do so. American Dad was off the air so frequently last season that it has a backlog of upwards of 20 episodes to air before they even get to the most recent cycle ordered. Bob's Burgers received a 22 episode order for its sophomore season, but it will likely extend into the summer since it does not return until after Napoleon Dynamite airs all 6 of its episodes. Speaking of Napoleon Dynamite, it's airing two episodes on its first night: one at 8:30 and one at 9:30. It's a good strategy since The Simpsons and Family Guy are both potentially strong lead-ins but with two different senses of humor, but these will be two new episodes instead of an original and a repeat. Then it will air two more repeats over the next eight weeks, even though it only has a six episode order. Seems like a waste of timeslots to me.

CBS

CBS's schedule remained almost entirely intact, save for some minor changes on Thursdays and Fridays. They also, however, left their new show NYC 22 (formerly The 2-2) off the schedule entirely. It says something about CBS's audience that they rarely have a misfire, especially when it comes to dramas; they stick to a formula and have great success within it. The only series not returning from the fall is How to Be a Gentleman.

Thursday

8:00 - The Big Bang Theory
8:30 - Rob (beginning January 12)
9:00 - Person of Interest
10:00 - The Mentalist

Perennial reject Rules of Engagement will once again be swapped out of its slot for a new sitcom, this time for the fish-out-of-water family sitcom Rob, starring Rob Schneider as the only white guy in a Mexican family. Whenever it bombs, Rules of Engagement will return to that timeslot.

Friday

8:00 - A Gifted Man
8:00 - Undercover Boss (beginning February 17)
9:00 - CSI: NY (through February 10)
9:00 - A Gifted Man (February 17 - March 9)
10:00 - Blue Bloods

Despite its ratings struggles, A Gifted Man got an order for an additional 3 episodes as schedule filler. It will return to its regular slot at 8:00 until Undercover Boss switches there (it will air Sundays at 8:00 for 3 weeks in January). Then A Gifted Man will shift back an hour for its final few episodes, its last chance to find an audience once it has a decent lead-in. CSI:NY makes the first steps toward cancellation when it leaves the schedule in February. It hasn't been announced whether or not it will return in March, or if Fridays at 9:00 is where NYC 22 will end up.

The rest of CBS's lineup is the same as the fall.

CW

The CW gave full-season orders to all of its freshmen series and extended orders to all of its returning dramas. So that leaves only Wednesday nights open for its new programming, which includes the final 13-episode season of veteran One Tree Hill and the new fashion reality show Remodeled. Missing from the midseason schedule is the new reality competition series The Frame, which will likely debut in the summer due to its needing to air more than one night per week. So the only change for the schedule is to Wednesdays:

Wednesday

8:00 - One Tree Hill (beginning January 11)
9:00 - Remodeled (beginning January 18)

This is actually misleading because the first two episodes of Remodeled will originally air following 90210 on Tuesday, January 17 and 24. Repeats will air the following nights on the 18th and 25th, with original episodes airing in this timeslot beginning February 1. America's Next Top Model will return to the schedule later in the spring, after Remodeled completes its premiere season.

Midseason Change-Ups: ABC, NBC

ABC

ABC has one of the largest overhauls of midseason. Gone from the schedule completely are Charlie's Angels and Man Up, while Pan Am will be making its final descent before March and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition says goodbye in January. ABC had quite a few unexpected successes in the fall which have led to an overcrowded schedule in the spring after full-season pickups for freshmen Revenge, Once Upon a Time, Suburgatory and Last Man Standing, as well as surprise sophomore hit Happy Endings (though its success is likely based around its slot following one of TV's biggest shows, Modern Family). Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) that left few slots for the many shows ABC had ordered as midseason replacements: early favorite Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 and the new Shonda Rimes series Scandal are both absent from the schedule.

Monday

8:00 - The Bachelor (beginning January 2)
8:00 - Dancing with the Stars (beginning March 19)
10:00 - Castle

No real changes, nothing unexpected.

Tuesday

8:00 - Last Man Standing
8:30 - Work It (beginning January 3)
8:30 - Cougar Town (beginning in March)
9:00 - Celebrity Wife Swap (January 3-31)
9:00 - The River (beginning February 7)
9:00 - Dancing with the Stars Results (beginning March 20)
10:00 - Body of Proof

Lots going on here. Man Up is replaced by the equally-awful-looking Work It, which has already come under fire from critics and social groups for being offensive. Fan-favorite but ratings-challenged Cougar Town returns either after Work It airs all of its episodes or is pulled from the schedule. The highly-anticipated The River completes its entire run of 7 episodes before the new season of Dancing with the Stars takes over in March. Struggling sophomore series Body of Proof somehow remained untouched, perhaps due to the number of episodes it has left to air; but that 10:00 slot would've been great for Scandal...

Wednesday

8:00 - The Middle
8:30 - Suburgatory
9:00 - Modern Family
9:30 - Happy Endings
10:00 - Revenge

No changes here for ABC's strongest night, though I wouldn't be surprised if Apartment 23 takes the 9:30 slot around April...

Thursday

8:00 - Wipeout (beginning January 5)
8:00 - Missing (beginning March 15)
9:00 - Grey's Anatomy
10:00 - Private Practice

Wipeout is the only show ABC has really had any success with in this timeslot, so there's a lot riding on Missing to work there. Otherwise it's back to the drawing board yet again for the fall...

Friday

8:00 - Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
8:00 - Shark Tank (beginning January 20)
9:00 - What Would You Do? (beginning January 20)
10:00 - 20/20

And the veteran reality series Extreme Makeover: Home Edition gives its final bow in January after eight years on the air.

Sunday

8:00 - Once Upon a Time
9:00 - Desperate Housewives
10:00 - Pan Am (through February 19)
10:00 - GCB (beginning March 4)

Despite a strong premiere, Pan Am just couldn't stabilize; it will leave the schedule after airing 13 episodes to make room for GCB (formerly Good Christian Belles). ABC is banking heavily on GCB's success, looking for something to replace Desperate Housewives when it ends this May. It will get a heavy promotional push during the Oscars, and hopefully it will work out for them.

NBC

NBC had yet another rough fall season. Only one new drama received a full-season pickup (Grimm), and the two freshman sitcoms were renewed on mediocre ratings (Up All Night, Whitney). Its flagship series (The Biggest Loser, Law & Order: SVU, The Office) are slipping in the ratings, and they're struggling for even minor hits. Last winter's schedule-filler The Sing Off was a hit in the off-season, but its success failed to translate to the regular season. So NBC will be relying on last season's smash The Voice to carry their midseason schedule, which includes some questionable moves. Low-rated legal drama Harry's Law received a miraculous full-season order, in spite of NBC having a good number of midseason replacements now left off the schedule: Awake, Bent, Best Friends Forever, Betty White's Off Their Rockers.

Monday

8:00 - The Voice (beginning February 6, special debut February 5)
10:00 - Smash (beginning February 6)

After Who's Still Standing? and Fear Factor finish their winter runs, what should be NBC's strongest night takes over. The Voice was huge last year, and it can only be helped by the fact that the season will premiere immediately following the Super Bowl on Sunday and then resume the next night in its regular timeslot. There's also a lot of positive buzz surrounding Smash, the musical drama about the creation of a Broadway show.

Tuesday

8:00 - The Biggest Loser
10:00 - Parenthood
10:00 - Fashion Star (beginning March 6)

Parenthood is NBC's most consistent drama, but it will leave the schedule after February sweeps (much like it did last year) to make room for the new reality show Fashion Star, a competition show which sees undiscovered fashion designers pitching their lines to buyers. It has some star power behind it with Elle Macpherson and Jessica Simpson, but I don't see there being much of an audience for this new series (especially considering all of the other fashion competition shows there are on cable).

Wednesday

8:00 - Whitney
8:30 - Are You There, Chelsea?
9:00 - Harry's Law (through February 1)
9:00 - Rock Center (beginning February 8)
10:00 - Law & Order: SVU

Whitney debuted to some moderate success this fall, but in an effort to save the more beloved of the new sitcoms (Up All Night), NBC has switched its slot to lead-off a new comedy hour with the similarly-themed Are You There, Chelsea? (which is a horrible title; if the original was too long, why not just shorten it to Are You There, Vodka? - so stupid). Brian Williams's newsmagazine Rock Center will make way for Smash on Monday nights, so it takes over the 9:00 slot that same week. Harry's Law gets shipped off to Sundays, though it will be off the air for February sweeps; doesn't make much sense to me...

Thursday

8:00 - 30 Rock (beginning January 12)
8:30 - Parks & Recreation
9:00 - The Office
9:30 - Up All Night
10:00 - The Firm (beginning January 12, premieres January 8)

30 Rock finally returns after Tina Fey's pregnancy to replace Community, which was left off the midseason schedule despite having a full-season order. Up All Night takes the prime slot after The Office, and the new drama The Firm takes over for the now-canceled Prime Suspect. I don't understand why The Firm was put here (it was originally announced for Sundays at 10:00 back in May, a more appropriate timeslot); clearly these dramas aren't working too well following a two-hour comedy block, so why not try other comedies there? NBC has plenty to choose from between the new sitcoms still waiting to be aired and the benched fan-favorite Community. Again, doesn't make much sense to me...

Friday

8:00 - Chuck
8:00 - Who Do You Think You Are? (beginning February 3)
9:00 - Grimm
10:00 - Dateline

Chuck finally gives its swan song on January 27, more than a year after it should've been canceled. Freshman drama Grimm has been NBC's biggest success, pulling better numbers on a Friday than many of its Monday-Thursday shows. NBC made an attempt (a half-assed one) to air Grimm on Thursday night at 10:00, but it ended up with the same exact ratings as on Fridays. So if Fridays can become a stable night for the network, then that's still a win.

Sunday

8:00 - Harry's Law (beginning March 4)
9:00 - The Celebrity Apprentice (beginning February 12)

So here we get the final few episodes of Harry's Law in a timeslot where NBC has not had a successful scripted show in about seven years. This is the slot where The West Wing went to die, so I guess they're doing the same for this show, though it would've been easier (and made more sense) to just not pick up a full season. But I guess they're experimenting, so we'll see how that goes. This season of The Celebrity Apprentice has a crazy cast (and some actual celebrities!), so it should do as well as, if not better than, last season.

Miniseries Review: Bag of Bones

Bag of Bones (Continuing to air on A&E throughout December)

I don't quite understand the allure of Stephen King to both readers and moviewatchers. I've never read one of his books, as they seem overly long and tedious if the film adaptations are any clue. There are obviously some very successful adaptations in the past (The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, etc.), but recent adaptations have failed to achieve that same level of commercial or critical success; The Mist was the last film I'd say was successfully adapted from a King novel, though it was not a box office draw and the ending was completely changed from King's original. So I always wonder, whenever a new King film or miniseries is in the works, why producers keep trying to catch lightning in a bottle. After slugging through Bag of Bones, I'm still wondering.

Michael Noonan (Pierce Brosnan) is a best-selling novelist who is dealing with a bout of writers' block following the untimely death of his pregnant wife, Jo (Annabeth Gish). He decides to spend some time at a lake house which he inherited years ago from his grandfather in the small town of Dark Scores, Maine. While there he realizes that his wife's spirit is with him, though there are some dangerous ghosts haunting the town as well, namely the vengeful spirit of blues singer Sara Tidwell (Anika Noni Rose). As Michael delves further into the mystery of Sara's disappearance, he gets tangled in a decades-old curse concerning his family and the families of many other Dark Scores residents, including that of his new love interest (Melissa George).

The plot is fairly straightforward, as most ghost stories are. The scares can be seen from a mile away, and so can the plot's "twist." So we get four boring hours of Pierce Brosnan talking on the phone, going for jogs, writing a book, rearranging refrigerator magnets, listening to old records, and dreaming... lots and lots of dreaming. Bag of Bones' story could have easily been told in about 90 minutes, so the fact that it's dragged out to more than twice that length is excruciating. To add to the runtime, the already-thin plotline is padded with meaningless dream sequences and unnecessary cameos from Jason Priestley (as Michael's agent) and Matt Frewer (as Michael's brother).

Pierce Brosnan is giving a terribly uncomfortable performance here. It's embarrassing to watch at times, actually, because he's ruining all the good memories we used to have of him as James Bond and Remington Steele. For four hours, he pants and moans and cackles. That's literally all there is to his character, who has no dimension and no real arc. Brosnan harshly overacts the majority of his scenes, particularly the emotional ones. He's also totally mismatched with Melissa George (In Treatment), who is given nothing to do but suddenly be romantically interested (for no reason, and without motive) in a man who looks like her father. The best performance is given by Anika Noni Rose as Sara Tidwell; the problem with her role, however, is that she only really has one scene and it doesn't come until three hours into the series. Prior to that she only gets to sing (though she does it beautifully) old jazz and blues songs, a disembodied voice which Michael falls asleep to. But her one scene in Part Two is wonderful, the only on-pitch performance in the entire event. William Schallert (The Patty Duke Show) is entertaining as the town villain, but his character makes no sense and he isn't given anything to do other than "talk like an evil person!'

When you get down to it, Bag of Bones is a waste of time. It's boring and tedious, without anything to recommend other than a couple decent performances and some nicely done editing. But save yourself the four hours and find something else to watch, even if it's a repeat. Maybe this can put the final nail in the coffin of Stephen King TV miniseries after some awful recent attempts, including this one.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pilot Review: I Hate My Teenage Daughter

I Hate My Teenage Daughter (Wednesdays at 9:30 on Fox)

Full disclosure: the 2-minute promo released in May at the upfronts cracked me up. I laughed out loud quite a few times in that trailer, so I assumed the rest of the show would be just as funny.

It was not.

The show is about two mothers, Annie (Jaime Pressly, My Name is Earl) and Nikki (Katie Finneran, Wonderfalls), and their two obscenely nasty daughters. Both mothers are divorced, living next door to each other, but still in constant contact with their exes in an attempt to bring structure to their kids' lives. Annie harbors a crush on her ex brother-in-law, Jack (Kevin Rahm, Desperate Housewives) and does not know how to confront the subject. Nikki harbors emotions from her adolescence, when she was constantly bullied, and does not want her daughter to have the same experience.

There's not much set-up for anything in the show. We are introduced to barebones background information on the two leading ladies, but it's all surface level. It's ironic there's no set-up for the characters or story, considering how every single joke is set-up/punchline. It's like Saturday morning TV humor. An example: "How can I be a bad parent? I'm never here!" The only funny parts were in that short trailer, unfortunately.

The performances are universally annoying. Jaime Pressly is channeling her character's accent from My Name is Earl and doesn't get very many truly funny moments. Katie Finneran, a seasoned and successful stage actress, is so broad and over-the-top that she seems completely out of place. Director Andy Ackerman, Emmy winner for Cheers and WKRP in Cincinnati, didn't seem to have much of a vision for anything, so it's no surprise that her performance wasn't reined in at all. Kevin Rahm and Eric Sheffer Stevens, as Annie's ex-husband, are dull and lifeless. The only amusing turn in the pilot is from Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911!, Bridesmaids), the school principal who knew Nikki in high school and still acts like they're sixteen. She gives the most subtle performance and plays the comedy better than anyone else on screen. Unfortunately her screen time is limited to two scenes and about 4 total minutes.

I will compliment the writers on truly nailing the personalities of the teenage daughters. Their characterization is spot-on, and the overall relationship between young mothers and their unrelatable teenagers is actually relatable. I just wish they would've taken the comedy in a better direction, because it's not so much funny as it is mildly amusing at times. The rest of the time it's just painful.