Sunday, September 29, 2013

TV Watch: This new season can't be as terrifyingly bleak as it looks -- can it?


OMG, another season of Eastbound and Down? Can there be any more vivid or irrefutable proof that there is no god?

by Ken

I know there's a ritual to expressing scorn and sorrow at the new TV season, but really, I don't recall anything like this. It's true that I didn't exactly keep up to date on the networks' new-season announcements, but eventually I tried making up for lost effort by seeking out season previews, hoping to be directed to shows that at least somebody had hopes for. Instead I find shows I was being warned against -- as if I needed much more warning.

I realized this might be a season of epicly catastrophic proportions Thursday night when I found myself trying to decide how to handle the overlapping premieres of the new Robin Williams show and the new Michael J. Fox show, and finally watched a couple of minutes of the former and fled. My assumption had been that these guys, having been around the business a season or 20, wouldn't be subjecting themselves to this ordeal if somebody hadn't put together a show with at least a fighting chance. I realize now that this must have been an unwarranted unassumption.

Besides -- thinking for a moment like a TV programmer -- does anyone under the age of 50 even know who these guys are? What on earth was the point of dragging them into this process with shows thrown up around them which seemed to have been scooped out of cans of sitcom filling? Maybe it was just the heaps of development money that flow to everyone involved in the development process? With the thought that nobody knows why a show succeeds or fails, so maybe it'll stick anyway, and then there's be some bigger money?

Believe it or not, I watched parts of two episodes of Dads, on the strength of the presences of Martin Mull and Peter Riegert. Ay-yay-yay. I've seen the promos for Chuck Lorre's latest, Mom, and I'm hard put to imagine how Allison Janney got roped into making such a spectacle of herself. (A friend argued that she isn't funny, which I think is wrong. She has been intermittently hilarious in her previous TV assignments, but never by playing funny. Give her material that she can play legitimately, and she can nail it; watching her mug is painful.

I could go on and on about this season from hell. I mean, Master Chef Kids? Well, if Rachael and Guy can play with the small fry, I guess they're now fair game. How about putting them back in sweat shops where they belong? But then, unwatchability seems to be the watchword at Food Network -- if Alton Brown can be roped (shamed?) into participating in the likes of Cutthroat Kitchen, the only question left is how low can they aim?

So let me just put it to you, has anyone found anything they would actually go out of their way to watch again?

And based on the evidence of other returning shows, I'm even nervous about tonight's Good Wife season premiere. I'll give a pass (a C, say) to the How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory season double-premieres, but something lower (D? D-?) to Two Broke Girls and New Girl, plus an incomplete to Two and a Half Men -- on the ground that perhaps it will turn out that the writers had a reason for inventing a daughter of Charlie, by which I mean a reason that might lead to potentially interesting and, you know, humorous situations. (There was some potential in grandma Evelyn's response, but Holland Taylor seems able to make something of whatever the writers feed her. I don't know how far this can be milked, though.)

The Blue Bloods season premiere was an episode so bad it's worth talking about -- a little. This is a show I've wished would be better -- less mushy in its plotting and less sloppy-sentimental in the Reagan family portraitizing. So here they come with an episode that reduces everyone to stick figures. For its central dramatic situation seemed awfuly familiar: the family wracked by internal conflict, with prosecutor Erin (Bridget Moynihan) scorned for refusing to indict the suspect in a cop murder for the picky-picky reason that there is (oops!) no actual evidence. It seemed so familiar, in fact, that I actually checked the program guide to make sure this was really a new episode.

I guess I must have been thinking of the episode in which Danny's wife Linda (Amy Carlson), a nurse, refused to violate basic medical principles and allow Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) to interrogate a patient. But I can't help thinking even that wasn't the only time this plot device has been used. But this week's took the cake for preposterousness. The only "evidence" was a phony eyewitness identification of the suspect as having been at the scene. Erin recognized the flimsiness of the testimony of an elderly woman who didn't seem to have especiall good eyesight making an identification in the dark when she herself didn't seem convinced of anything more than that the suspect might be the man she saw.

And Erin didn't know the half of it. We actually saw Danny show the woman a photo array in which he proceeded to point out how all the men but one didn't match pieces of description she had offered, and even crossed out the photos that didn't match, until there was only one photo left. How the hell did this get on TV? You're not going to tell me that such things go on, are you? First off, how in hell was a photo array put together with five men who contradicted the witness's description? Then for a cop to manipulate the witness's response that way! As far as I can see, this goes beyond the unethical to the criminal. And when it came to the actual lineup, how the hell did Danny get away with coercing the witness from her tentative it-could-be-him it it's-him. And to top it all off, the slimeball has the unmitigated gall to treat his sister as if she's an eager cop-killer coddler -- and his family supports him!

And the situation on cable looks grim too . . .

HBO's Boardwalk Empire is back with a new season that suggests that the creative team thought and thought where to go from there, and never came up with an answer. Plus, I see there's yet another season of the unspeakably revolting Eastbound and Down, built on the premise that human beings are fecal matter, if not worse, and we're going to rub you nose in it, and you're going to laugh. And now I see that the HBO development geniuses have come up with the idea of having us laugh at Stephen Merchant being hopeless with women. I may eventually look at an episode, but on the whole I'm thinking, no sale.

With the return of Showtime's Homeland looming tonight, I realize I'm even less prepared to look at any more of it than I was with Dexter. I know there were people who never signed on to the Homeland ethos to being with, but Claire Danes wasn't always this grotesque a specimen of self-parody, was she? Just the though of watching her do more of those hideous faces gives me the willies.

Looking ahead, I see that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and House creator David Shore are collaborating on a show that CBS has bought for 2014-15 (with a 13-episode order!) --
based on a spec script that was written by Gilligan a decade ago. Shore is expected to do a second pass on the script to update it, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and will serve as showrunner on the series, while Gilligan is reportedly interested in directing the pilot.

Battle Creek centers on two detectives with very different world views who are teamed up. They must answer the question: is cynicism, guile and deception enough to clean up the semi-mean streets of Battle Creek, Michigan in the face of a complete lack of resources; or is the exact opposite true – it takes naïveté, trust and a boatload of resources?
Once upon a time I would have thought that with guys of the pedigree of Vince Gilligan and David Shore doing the creating, this can't be as dreadful as it sounds. Now I'm prepared to believe the worst.

It can't all be as bleak as it's looking now. There must be something watchable buried in the muck. But what this all says about the viewing audience, or the programmers' view of the viewing audience, is terrifying.


For a "Sunday Classics" fix anytime, visit the stand-alone "Sunday Classics with Ken."



At 9:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't watched a sitcom in maybe 25 years. As the laugh tracks got louder and more insistent that the merest throwaway line is deserving of guffaws and literal offhand glances rate a deep chuckle, I fled.

It helped that sitcoms aren't all that funny anymore. I tried with Big Bang Theory because I like Jim Parsons, but the weak dialogue was drowned out by the laugh track. The Office was a super annoying apologia for cubicle slavery, with loathsome characters. I even hated Seinfeld. Sitcoms are lousy with loathsome people. Or absurd people, and not in a funny, ha-ha way. Or idiot situations. Or ambulatory cliches. Or generic clone actors. Except for Jennifer Aniston, who was separated at birth from Odo on Deep Space Nine.

The series I've most enjoyed seeing again is Elementary. It continues to deploy a great ensemble cast, terrific chemistry between the leads, wonderful location production, interesting stories and adult relationships played by excellent actors.

I checked out Agents of SHIELD and it was okay, but certainly not the breathtaking triumph predicted by the obsessive fans of Joss Whedon. I think he must be the singular most overrated producer these days. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was supposed to be such a breakthrough original, but it was imitating Xena, Warrior Princess every step of the way.

Sleepy Hollow is this season's guilty pleasure for me. I usually despise supernatural, Christian bible themes. You know, Book of Revelation crap, grunting demons with horns, bullshit like that. But the leads have great chemistry, the actor playing Ichabod Crane is eye candy who can act, the historical and fish-out-of-water aspects are fun -- so I'm in for now. John Cho is a bonus. And the production is quite good.

At 12:32 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Thanks, Anon. As it happens I liked The Office a lot and love Big Bang Theory, for whatever that's worth.

I did kind of notice Sleepy Hollow, though with a good deal of nervousness. You've emboldened me to give it a shot.


At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote: "As it happens I liked The Office a lot and love Big Bang Theory, for whatever that's worth."

Well, you know what they say, "De gustibus non est disputandum."

Cheers! (And not the sitcom!)


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