Fall TV Watch: Tonight the new season can be said to be truly underway
I haven't watched this official season preview of Season 5 of Homeland, which launches tonight, for fear of of spoilers. I started watching one of the series of preview clips CBS has posted in advance of tonight's Season 7 premiere of The Good Wife, and within about three seconds star Julianna Margulies had revealed more than I wanted to know before watching the show.
However bleak the new TV season becomes, it doesn't seem to crap up Sunday night. Tonight we have the season premieres of both The Good Wife and Homeland, and it's a good bet that, however I finally decide to finagle my DVR schedule -- it's complicated by the usual start-time derby CBS puts people who insist on watching The Good Wife through with their goddamn NFL game pushing the schedule back -- I expect I'll have watched both by the time I go to bed.
Plus there's the start of Season 2 of Showtime's The Affair (I had very mixed feelings about Season 1, but I watched the whole thing, and I'll probably stick with it, at least for a while). And a new episode of HBO's Project Greenlight, And of course a new episode of John Oliver's HBO Last Week Tonight.
By the time I go to bed I'll likely also have watched the new episode(s) of the current Masterpiece Classic offering, Indian Summers (at least on my PBS station), about life among the rulers and the ruled in the Raj of the '30s, as the independence movement was only beginning to form. By the end of last week's episode, I would have liked nothing better than to be able to go right into another episode. There were enough characters whose situations had grabbed my interest to the point where I really wanted to see more. And I still do!
Which is sometimes the best test of my relationship to a show. How badly do I want to see more of it?
I've already suggested my answers in the cases of The Good Wife and Homeland. Both shows are such familiar commodities that there seems hardly any point in going into them now, except perhaps to make the basic points:
• In its six seasons to date, The Good Wife seems to me to have cemented its standing as one of the all-time great TV dramas.
• I divine from (a) my enthusiasm carrying over from the end of Season 4 of Homeland and (b) my eagerness for the start of Season 5 that I think it's a substantially better show than most people seem to.
In both cases, the explanation seems to me basically the same: a core cast of characters I'm really interested in and care about -- both people who've been with us the whole way and people who've been brought in at the relevant opportunities -- and stories that make me want to see how they react and what happens to them. Chalk it up to the overriding vision and season-by-season vigilance of the creative overseers, and of course to the teams of writers and actors.
As I mentioned the other day, The Big Bang Theory is another show that involves me in this way -- to such an extent that I usually manage to block out the hideous un-laugh-like noise that disfigures every episode. It doesn't surprise me that this ghastly intrusion may cause many viewers not to realize how good a show this is that's trying to happen while its producers seem to be apologizing for the crap they're fobbing off on us.
I did actually watch the premiere of the show CBS has paired with BBT, Life in Pieces, an extended-family comedy that obviously makes you think of Modern Family, and I thought it wasn't terrible. I thought, this is something I would watch again. And I almost certainly will, but I have a feeling Episode 2 may sit on the DVR for a while until I get around to it.
The same sort of thing happened to me with HBO's Doll and Em. I somehow missed its whole first season, and didn't become aware of it until HBO posted the whole thing on On Demand, obviously in anticipation of the launch of the second season. And via On Demand, I loved the first season. I devoured it.
Em (Emily Mortimer) and Doll (Dolly Wells)
In Season 1, Emily was about to start production on a film that, whatever its problems, has the professional attraction of riding squarely on her shoulders (and in the course of the season -- spoiler alert! -- we got some glimmering of the kind of pressure that puts on an actor) when she was confronted by Doll back in England in crashed-and-burning breakdown mode, and asked her to come to L.A. to work as her assistant on the film, and tensions built into all those years of separate evolution begin to surface.
I congratulated myself on my unintentionally brilliant timing: I would be able to segue right into Season 2.Only it didn't work out that way. I thought the first episode of Season 2 was interesting, as Doll and Em resolved to create a project they can work on, together, as equals. But I noticed that I didn't pounce on Episode 2. And now I seem I'm falling behind, in what is, after all, only a six-episode season. Oh, I'll get to the others eventually. But I'm in no rush. Maybe I'll pick up at a point where the show once again really grabs me, and we'll finish together, the show and I, in a rush.
I'm in sort of the same situation with the CBS drama Limitless, about a guy Jake McDorman) who stumbles into an experimental drug that for a limited time makes his brain work like gangbusters. He winds up in trouble with the law, in the person of an FBI agent played by Jennifer Carpenter, our old friend from Dexter, who was so good as Dexter's succeeding-but-always-fucking-up cop sister Deb. The thing is, the drug -- unbeknownst to the guy -- has devastating side effects, except the other thing is that he appears to be somehow immune, which makes him invaluable as a test subject. If you're not quite believing this, neither am I, quite. But I'd probably have an easier time with it if I was being made to care more about the characters.
In the case of Doll and Em, for example, I wonder if my current less enthusiastic reaction has to do with the fact that, for me at least, Emily Mortimer as an actress usually has strong personal appeal; it's a cinch to care about most of the characters she plays. And Dolly Wells, not so much, and if I have to work to muster emotional support for the emotionally needier Doll character, it's apparently a challenge I'm not rushing into.
As a matter of fact, the show that, before the return of The Good Wife, I've found myself most looking forward to this summer is Showtime's rerun of the whole of its Queer as Folk, its many-season drama, developed for American television by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, about a group of largely LGBT folk in Pittsburgh, but also including a fair number of non-LGBT characters, of which the network has been showing back-to-back episodes Monday nights into Tuesday mornings at 11pm and midnight, at least in my time zone. Earlier on, Showtime was showing whole masses of episodes on a couple of weekend nights, running into the wee or even not-so-wee hours of the morning, and I waa having the TV on, drifting in and out of sleep, watching as much as I could, and wanting more. Since they scaled back to the two episodes per week, I've been feeling majorly deprived, having to wait till late nigh Monday each week for a mere two episodes.
The North American Queer as Folk gang: Standing: Peter Paige (Emmett), Scott Lowell (Ted), Gale Harold (Brian), Robert Gant (Ben), Thea Gill (Lindsay), and Hal Sparks (Michael). Sitting: Randy Harrison (Justin) and Michelle Clunie (Melanie). Unaccountably missing: Sharon Gless (Michael's mother, Debbie).
When I started rewatching the Queer as Folk episodes, I found that the more I watched, the more I became reinvested in the characters, and the more personally I took each succeeding episode. This might be worth talking about at some point, especially in connection with the English Queer as Folk on which the American version was based, especially since almost everything I've heard about the two versions, purporting to "compare" them, seemed to me -- once I finally caught up with the U.K. version -- idiotic. But for now what matters about the American Queer as Folk is that it presents a large and diverse cast of characters I find it ridiculously easy to care about, and scripts and direction that make me want to see what happens next.
I think it's worth noting that when Queer as Folk aired originally, my understanding was that it had a significant core of non-gay fans. I'd like to think this was partly because some people were genuinely curious about what the lives of gay and lesbian folk looked like, but probably even more because the characters and stories made a lot of viewers really wanted to see what happened to these people next.