Tag Archives: Fall TV

FALL TV UPDATE: CBS

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It has now been over two weeks since the beginning of the 2012 Fall TV Season Premiere bonanza and although some of the dust particles are still airborne, some have settled.  In the grand tradition of its clean, clear (and uber ratings successful) storytelling lines, my CBS season verdicts are as wrapped up as the ending of every one of its CSI/NCIS procedural factory shows.

SURVIVOR

WHAT I SAID THEN:  Returning shows that I will watch and DVR Season Pass: Survivor: Philippines (I made my alliance with Jeff Probst during the finale of Season 1 in 2000 and I don’t break my alliances)

I would be remiss if I did not give a much deserved and overdue shout out to Survivor: Phillippines and the glory of Jeff Probst.  Now in its 25th(!!!) season, Stella (and this new cast) got her groove back.  A three tribe format, the return of compelling fallen veterans (I forgot how much I loved Skupin in Africa before his burning hand in the fire incident), some engaging celebrities (former NL MVP Jeff Kent’s recent alliance with Penner was a classic Survivor power play), have once again reinvigorated and revitalized the tried and true reality competition pioneer.

At the end of the day on the island, Mr. Probst is my most reliable television staple and ultimately central to Survivor’s unrivaled success.  When I think back to the TV landscape of Survivor’s debut in 2000, Jeff Probst is the Survivor who has outlasted (and I daresay outplayed) everyone else.  Other shows have come and gone (my dear friend Tess cannot let me live down the time I spent with Anderson Cooper on The Mole) and Jeff Probst is still expertly administering tribal council q and a’s, live challenge play-by-play in the Marv Albert/Al Michaels league, and go-to punchlines (the “come on in guys” before every challenge is my favorite).  His high end hosting (if you can even call it that – he is so much more than just a host who reads cue cards) is certainly one reason for greatness, but I have another theory as to why Probst is the best.  More often than not, the winners of Survivor (or at least the most compelling contestants to watch) care and try the most.  There is nothing like watching a Boston Rob or a Penner this season treat the game with the reverence it deserves.  They value the Survivor process and how it should be played more than anything and know what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to compete.  Jeff Probst, like the best Survivor players, bleeds Survivor.  Although some aspects of his job are motions (“the tribe has spoken”), he is never going through them.  He plays each moment of his six weeks of filming (and the often unintentionally comedic live reunion show) as it could be the last, as if this grand Survivor adventure could come to an end at any time as fast as it became a phenomenon twelve years ago.  This is why Jeff is always so sensitive to quitters and so reverential to fighters (this season’s three disqualified-due-to-injury returnees especially).  He is fighting for Survivor and we are all witnesses.

VERDICT: (a very easy) full year DVR SEASON PASS

 

AMAZING RACE, PERSON OF INTEREST

WHAT I SAID THEN: Returning shows up for 2012 Season Pass cancellation: The Amazing Race (my most inconsistent staple over the years), Person of Interest (the fact that last season’s final four episodes remain unwatched five months later says something)

Amazing Race is like a home improvement project or the cooking of an elaborate meal.  If you have time and there is nothing else going on, great.  If it doesn’t happen, no worries.  The season premiere debuted last Sunday night and the teams are your standard player combinations (She has not one prosthetic leg but two!  They’re best friends for thirty years – he is 6’6’’ and he is 5’1’’!) and a race around the world is pretty cool, but AR does not ever seem to take it to a next level (I have always thought that some format changes were in order – the $2,000,000,000 twist for a team that wins the first and last leg is not what I had in mind).  Will I continue to watch?  Sure.  If an overtime NFL game goes late and pushes back the start time messing up my DVR, will I care?  Not really.

I feared Person of Interest would fall off the map after my lacksidaisical follow through in finishing season 1.  Because I had a few hours to kill and because the mood seemed right, I watched last year’s season finale and this year’s season premiere back-to-back hoping for a possible change of heart and some renewed momentum going into season 2.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a show that I had lost track of so many months ago feel so fresh.  POI, at its core, is a Batman-like story without the cape and cowl.  (Jim Caviezel’s John Reese is the non-caped crusader.  The great Michael Emerson’s Finch is an Alfred/Oracle hybrid.  Detective Carter is a Batman: Year One Jim Gordon, and the crooked cop (and at times hilarious) Fusco is Harvey Bullock.  Even the Paige Turco recurring character fits in to a Catwoman mold).  Guided by showrunner (and Christopher Nolan brother) Jonathan Nolan, episodes have great television action, interesting guest stars (I am talking about you Astro), a topical premise, and an ever-evolving central mystery that seems to be raising the stakes entering season 2.

VERDICT: Amazing Race is day-to-day and Person of Interest is cleared to play for the season

 

VEGAS, ELEMENTARY

WHAT I SAID THEN: New shows that get a pilot viewing chance: Vegas (I have never been too keen on Dennis Quaid), Elementary (the PBS Sherlock is so good, do I have room for a CBS procedural with Lucy “don’t get it” Liu?)

The Vegas series premiere was more than enough for me to learn that (a) I was right about Dennis Quaid, (b) Michael Chilikis may be pushing five feet, (c) not all period dramas inspired by Mad Men’s excellent use of time period work (see: The Playboy Club, American Dreams), and I will not be watching again.  For a show that has a supposed compelling setting, Dennis Quaid poisons it immediately as the anti-Probst.  He seems keen on a CBS paycheck and the potential for years of syndication residuals and will do the least amount of work necessary to get there.

In marked and wonderful contrast, Elementary is a confection of a television treat.  Going in, my reservations were about the over abundance of incredible Sherlock Holmes in my life (the PBS show is my jam, the Robert Downey Jr. movies are not), my challenges with past Lucy Liu cultural moments (the lyric in Hey Ya! comes to mind), and the CBSification (i.e. the standardizing and dumbing down of content to reach middle America’s older demographic) of what could be a delightful fictional character.

First, as I have learned, I can stand to have more good Sherlock Holmes and this is good Sherlock Holmes.  The move to NYC was a simple act of brilliance and frames the character’s outsider/otherness in a unique way.  He no longer just an oddball – he is an oddball Brit foreigner in a foreign land.  Jonny Lee Miller is a delight in the lead role.  He commands each scene with a real dynamism that I haven’t seen in a network drama in some time.

My Lucy Liu enjoyment may still be a work in progress, but the gender change to Joan Watson and the decision to portray her as Sherlock’s drug rehabilitation counselor is successful.  Their platonic and often contentious back and forth has been a joy to watch in the first two episodes.  This Watson is not relegated to the sidelines, but is rather an obstacle that Sherlock must learn to co-habitate with and utilize to his advantage.  It helps to have the always reliable Aidan Quinn along for the ride as a kind-hearted police captain.  He is a welcome return on Thursday nights at 10 (last season’s early cancellation of the underrated Prime Suspect left the Irishman out of work).

Finally, CBS is allowing Elementary some creative breathing room.  It is whimsical (when was the last time CBS has whimsy on its schedule?) and character focused.  The crime of the week format is intact, but Sherlock Holmes demands a mystery filled with twists and turns, and so far, delivery.

VERDICT: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  Elementary is a who-done-it.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

PARTNERS, MADE IN JERSEY

WHAT I SAID THEN: New shows dead on arrival: Partners, Made in Jersey (nope)

VERDICT: Guilty

 

…NEXT UP: NBC’s Fall Lineup featuring RevolutionThe Office, Parks and Recreation, The Voice, and SNL.

Revolution: All right, all right, all right

I finally got around to watching the pilot of NBC’s Revolution last night.  Since the days of Rambaldi prophecies and SD-6, J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot Production family have been my goto team, my Steven Spielberg of television.  His unique storytelling vision and serialized, comic book sensibility seemed to closely align with my personal TV viewing needs and the idea of a new show “from J.J. Abrams” always unleashes my inner smoke monster.  The perfect storm occurred (mentioned in the aforementioned post) eight years ago when the Lost pilot changed my TV life forever.  At that time, Alias was still doing some of its best work and season 1 of Lost became a pop cultural touchstone.

Unfortunately, “from J.J. Abrams” has increasingly been not all it is cracked up to be.  Six Degrees (I literally forgot about it), What About Brian (never found its footing), or Undercovers (the pre-show buzz was so bad I never gave it a shot) all came and went faster than Nikki and Paulo’s turn on the Oceanic Flight 815 crash site.  Fringe (now in its final season, relegated to the purgatory night of TV that is Friday) has been a slightly more successful beast (at least in the eyes of its loyal but very small fan base), but after giving season 1 a try on dvd, the sci-fi balanced too much on the fiction side of real.

Last season’s TV lineup brought new promise to the J.J. Abrams name.  Two new shows were debuting that each had J.J. Abrams as the executive producer, a fantastic actor from Lost back on the case, and a film actor from one of my favorite movies as one of the stars.  The first of which is Person of Interest, saddled in CBS procedural land which doubles as the land of the TV success factory franchise (although you may not know a soul who watches them: see anything with the CSI or NCIS prefix to name a few of these monster ratings hits).  POI, with Michael Emerson (Ben Linus from Other-ville) as an enigmatic pre-crime watcher and Jim Caviezel (who I have loved on screen in The Count of Monte Cristo and The Thin Red Line) as a Batman-like (without a costume) vigilante action hero, provides a very satisfying, taut hour of television.  Sadly, its less serialized leanings and largely procedural format yield the upkeep of viewing less essential.  I have watched and enjoyed most of season 1, but the final four episodes have literally sat idle, unwatched in my DVR queue since May and let me tell you, I have had many a three hour stretch since to crank them out, but for some reason, I haven’t gotten around to (yielding POI on the DVR season pass death watch for season 2).

The other new “from J.J. Abrams” show last season was Alcatraz.  Debuting in Fox’s American Idol charged midseason lineup, “The Rock” had Jorge Garcia playing the most Hurley-like character imaginable (which was all good), Sam Neil of Jurassic Park (a top 20 film favorite), a cute leading lady played by Sarah Jones, an oft-coma-ed Parminda Nagra who seemed out of place and wanted back on the soccer field or to an er led by Dr. Carter, and a mythology driven/villain of the week format that had real initial promise.  My Alcatraz viewing story closely resembled that of the general populace (a rarity in recent years) – the further in to the thirteen episode run and more we knew about the time traveling mysterious circumstances, the less I cared.  After the finale (I was off the island by then) ratings reached a new low, another J.J. Abrams vehicle had been permanently extinguished.

As you can probably imagine, the journey into the electricity-less land of Revolution must be a lesson in caution and reasonable expectations (especially when NBC is the network).  Pre-pilot buzz has been mostly lukewarm: cool premise and good technical execution, but mostly forgettable actors and missing a heartfelt connection.  I do know that pilots have to be viewed with an understanding that they are often unable to replicate what the show will really be like due to budget difference, the time prep differences, and exposition obligations.  A good pilot does not mean a bad show.  A bad pilot can be a good show and so on.  In the humble opinion of moi, Revolution was a predominantly successful pilot that may have resonated more cinematically than as a serialized TV show.

Here is what it got right:

– The Giancarlo Esposito character, Captain Tom Mellville of the militia, was a welcome return to my TV life.  Since the Gus Fring character “blew up” on Breaking Bad, Mr. Esposito has been a pleasure to watch and its seems no different here.  This is casting at its best.

– Jon Favreau knows how to direct action.  His fighting sword play scenes were great for the medium and gave the pilot its most dramatic moments.

– The Lost connection is much appreciated with Elizabeth Mitchell playing a “did she really die” mom.

– The premise is really interesting.  What would happen to your life if you no longer had any of the technology you use and love?  The dystopian transformation of America set fifteen years in the future is well executed especially the ivy-enhanced Wrigley Field  and the use of cars as large planting pots.  The mystery behind this event (what happened? who did this?) is enough to want to watch more and may have given my stomach a Lost like feeling a la Charlie’s “Where are we?”

– Crossbows rock.

Here is what did not sit well:

– Besides Giancarlo Esposito and Billy Burke (apparently he is in Twilight – don’t care), there were no standout performances or characters in the pilot.  It is going to be an ensemble-piece and in its infancy, it was hard to make the connections.

– From what we do know of the mythology, I am not sure if the writing team can sustain the concept long-term.  It seems ripe for 4-5 episodes, but beyond, the gimmick may fade to black if we don’t care about who is living it.

– There was too much focus on the quest to Chi-Town and not enough on establishing the society and how it has been affected at the familial level.  The need for action early offset the need to care.

– The pacing suffered halfway in – it didn’t move the way you want a pilot to move.

The overall good news, I was pleasantly surprised.  Revolution gave me enough to want to come back for more…and I will.  Its pilot ratings may have been the best news NBC has received since the late 90s, and I am so rooting for it to be a success.  With The Voice as a lead-in extraordinaire (do lead-ins matter anymore anywhere but CBS?), it should have some time to find sure footing and I really hope it does.  In the interim, spending an hour with Juliet and Gus Fring every week continues to be my privilege.  I say I want a Revolution (for now) and (for now) “don’t you know it’s gonna be alright.”

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Although some may anxiously anticipate the beginning of the fall season for the return of the NFL (on the briefest of tangents…I am having serious mixed feelings this year.  See this 2009 Malcolm Gladwell article or read Bishop’s earlier post and you may know why) or the increase in apple cider options at your local supermarket, my fall excitement centers around the official return of primetime network television.  This annual pumpkin pie mush of old favorites, old not-so favorites, promising pilots that never go anywhere (see Flash ForwardThe Nine), pilots premises that are dead on arrival (last year’s The Playboy Club immediately comes to mind), and that one diamond in the rough (that amazing night in 2004 when I first saw Lost remains my most special pilot experience ever) that can become your television staple for many years to come is enough to turn my leaves some beautiful foliage colors.

In the coming days and weeks, I will be carving out my fall TV impressions – the good, the bad, and the potentially life-altering.  Thanks to my trusted EW fall TV preview (an old friend since ’96) and the inspiring words of Master Andy Greenwald of Grantland, I have been able to determine what is getting a shot, what remains a DVR mainstay, and what is just not gonna ever be watched this year…oops.

“A covering all my bases” note: I am aware that most of the best television currently being produced and my favorite shows are on basic (Mad MenBreaking Bad) or pay cable (Game of Thrones, Homeland, Girls).  I know that the chances of finding another Lost or a new comedy that I really enjoy via the big three (plus two) networks (I thought I should get my first NBC dig in early) are similar to the chances that the Miami Dolphins have of winning the AFC East this year if Ryan “competes with Brandon Weeden as the worst starting QB in the league” Tannehill remains their quarterback.

For now, here is my network by network breakdown as I enter the fall TV season:

ABC:

Returning shows that I will watch and DVR Season Pass: Revenge (last season’s surprise survivor), Modern Family

New shows that get immediate DVR Season Pass: Nashville (Connie Britton and some wonderful press), Last Resort (the new show I am most excited for – welcome back to primetime Frank Pembleton)

New shows dead on arrival: 666 Park Avenue (sorry great Terry O’Quinn), The Neighbors

CBS:

Returning shows that I will watch and DVR Season Pass: Survivor: Phillippines (I made my alliance with Jeff Probst during the finale of Season 1 in 2000 and I don’t break my alliances)

Returning shows up for 2012 Season Pass cancellation: The Amazing Race (my most inconsistent staple over the years), Person of Interest (the fact that last season’s final four episodes remain unwatched five months later says something)

New shows that get a pilot viewing chance: Vegas (I have never been too keen on Dennis Quaid), Elementary (the PBS Sherlock is so good, do I have room for a CBS procedural with Lucy “don’t get it” Liu?)

New shows dead on arrival: Partners, Made in Jersey (nope)

CW:

Returning shows…: None.  The last time I turned on the CW was to watch the new 90210 many years ago.  I am not even sure if I know more than one person who actually watches this network.

New shows that get a pilot viewing chance: Arrow (It has the worst time slot to be on, up against Survivor and The X-Factor, so I have some major doubts, but I owe a new DC character at least one shot)

New shows dead on arrival: Emily Owens, M.D., Beauty and the Beast (has there ever been a movie that I loved so much that inspired a TV show that I wanted so little to do with?)

FOX:

Returning that I will watch and DVR Season Pass: The X-Factor (Yes!  A more detailed review is coming, but so far new judges Demi Lovato and Britney Spears are doing great work…)

New shows that get immediate DVR Season Pass: The Mindy Project (Tuesday night is light on my DVR and my time with Mindy on The Office has always been splendid – this is the new comedy that has a chance to be a long-term runner)

New shows dead on arrival: The Mob Doctor (no thank you), Ben and Kate

NBC:

Returning that I will watch and DVR Season Pass: The Office (If it weren’t the final season, I would be out), Parks and Recreation30 Rock, Saturday Night Live

Returning shows up for 2012 Season Pass cancellation: The Voice (like Cee-Lo and Christina in Season 4, I think I am ready to move on)

New shows that get immediate DVR Season Pass: None

New shows that get a pilot viewing chance: Revolution (J.J. and I go way back – see Alias or Lost – but from all I have read, I am not sure I will make it to October), Go On (already tried and already failed)

New shows dead on arrival: The New Normal, Go On, Animal Practice, Guys With Kids, Chicago Fire

Finally, tomorrow night marks the return of the most important fall premiere, America’s fifth major professional sport (which could move up to third with the impending NHL lockout and the fact that MLB is at this point unwatchable), MTV’s The Challenge!  Expect a full preview tomorrow…

Until we meet again, same bat time, same bat channel…