In times past I made big elaborate lists on my blog of the fall television I was going to watch, using the Fall TV Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly as a guide. I formatted the whole list as a table cell grid with times and shows, highlighted what I was going watch, what was new and when shows premiered. A little obsessed I was.
Over time, Entertainment Weekly progressed in their presentation of the Fall TV issue, too. I was thrilled when they started printing the time grids for each day of the week, with new shows highlighted, so I could abandon my online mock-up. I cut out their days, pasted them all together and had a solid television week with my shows highlighted that I kept next to the couch so I could set the VCR, and later the DVR for my programs.
Now EW prints each day’s chart, but also provides a single chart at the end of their fall section with all the days on it, and when all the shows premiere. How handy – rip it out and you’re ready; no cut and paste.
It’s hard to deny how much stuff I get done in the summer time when there are fewer new shows on – writing, organizing, walking around the neighborhood or around the city. Stuff done in the yard, time spent with friends, classes in new interests I’ve taken. I proposed to myself that I limit my television viewing to 5 shows this year. Well, maybe 5 hours, to allow for some 30 minute sitcoms. Perusing the fall list – 6 1/2 hours covers shows that we watched last year that I thought might be worth seeing again. Hmmm. More crunching required.
But eliminating new shows from the list wasn’t really hard this year. I’ve said in the past the television was getting better, and it is. Lots of shows have better writing, more plausible characters and plots you can take seriously. There’s lots of goods stuff on.
This year seems really thin, though, judging solely by the write-ups of freshman programs. (I know, I should “watch the shows and give them a chance before judging!” But who the hell has time for that?) Let’s look at what Entertainment Weekly calls the “5 Best New Shows.”
1) Hawaii Five-0
Let me go off on a tangent right away here – I’m so tired of cop shows. Apparently there are 5 main professions on the other side of the TV machine. Cop, lawyer, doctor, spy, and housewife. I know the first four are “high action” professions and the 5th good for relatable family drama, but surely people in other occupations have action in their lives, or family relationships. I wonder if there’s a correlation between people’s perception of current crime statistics and the number of cop shows on television.
Few people make detergent in TV land. Run an aquarium supply store, paint the stripes on the road, work in an unemployment office, design golf courses. All are occupations I’d like to see on my television machine – and maybe urban farmer thrown in. I want to see occupations fundamentally different from mine, only partly because I want to see how people do the stuff they do. Perhaps those jobs would be boring in a documentary, but they’re all interesting enough to drive plot in a scripted drama.
Specifically about this show – Hawaii Five-0 – the actors being interviewed about it are painstaking in their efforts to emphasize how different their show is from other remakes, and from the original. “This is a completely different show for a completely different time. Hopefully, this one is gonna stick,” says star Alex O’Loughlin. Wow, he sounds so convinced himself, doesn’t he? Five bucks says he hasn’t completely unpacked.
And the things they highlight about what’s different and makes this show The One – one of the male characters from the previous version is now female – played by Grace Parks no less, who famously already did that in Battlestar Galactica… Gee that’s creative. Let’s make a guy into a woman! That’s edgy! And they’ve dropped lots of the story lines, but kept the cheesy theme, and the even cheesier signature line – “Book’em, Danno!” I would be waiting all episode for that line to to cringe when I heard it.
2) Lone Star
Let me read you the description, and you tell me what it sounds like to you: “The sharp, understatedly debonair James Wolk is a con man juggling two identities, trying to go straight while also using his skills as a dissembler to succeed in business.”
Did you see what I saw? “Mad Men, but set in the present.” I’m already watching Mad Men done well, I don’t need to see it ripped off.
3) Blue Bloods
“A crackling drama about a family whose members are all involved in law enforcement…” Oy. More cops. And a family, so you know, they can have family drama, too. Why it’s the best of both worlds! Next.
4) Raising Hope
“Raising Hope… makes shrewd everyday-America observations and gets laughs without ridiculing its characters. Lucas Neff’s Jimmy is a twenty-something single dad living with his parents)…”
Hello, “Modern Family” and “$#*! My Dad Says” fusion with Cloris Leachman playing Betty’s White’s comeback role. I’m bored with you just reading your description.
5) Boardwalk Empire
A 1920’s period drama (my interest peaks) about mobsters (and immediately goes away) with Steve Buscemi the lead gangster and romantic figure (I come close to losing my lunch.) Steve Buscemi in romantic situations? Even his WIFE doesn’t want to see that. Can I have Deadwood back, please? If you’re just going to go for another elaborately designed period drama, HBO, fire back up the wild west set. I miss my Calamity Jane. Come on.
Those are the best new shows this season? Wow, the networks really have trouble finding new writers, I guess. Maybe you should consider hiring different kinds of people – like, hey, maybe some women. I hear that Amy Sherman-Palladino has a bunch of good ideas in the hopper. Get her.
And it’s not very hard to play “guess what the pitch was” for the “3 more to keep an eye on” sidebar that Entertainment Weekly also highlights:
You don’t have to read the description to see what the pitch was – just look at the promo picture in the article. Man in his boxers and undershirt, women in a white men’s shirt with no pants, both brandishing guns – that’s the movie poster of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for Mr. and Mrs. Smith. But wait, these two are black. So you read the description to discover – the plot is a black Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Hell, when I can tell what the pitch for the show was without even reading the description, you really need to change more stuff about the plot you’re lifting wholesale. Really. I like the idea of a black couple leading a show – brava on that one. But the references in the description to the conflict between the two over their job – must we? Can’t we have a couple that actually gets along, where there isn’t relationship drama? You already have drama from being a spy show. You don’t need relationship conflict. The “Nick and Nora” couple who always get along and who’s relationship is based on humor and mutual respect used to be a common sight in movies and occasionally on television. Now that couple scenario seems long dead and I really miss it. I think one show with a couple that sticks together through thick and thin would really hit big if someone would just write it.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
2) No Ordinary Family
Family suddenly gets superpowers. Dad (Michael Chiklis) has super-human strength. Mom gets super speed. Daughter can read minds. Son JJ becomes a genius. The review even namechecks Heroes as an “inspiration” but I see a live-action Incredibles, with a little “Fantastic Four” thrown in. Perhaps the presence of Chiklis is what makes that really noticeable. I like superhero tv shows, but Heroes really makes me too gunshy about this one to try it, especially when they weren’t creative enough to come up with an original idea as a premise.
3) The Event
This is the only one I’m tempted to add to my list at all, and even then, it’s on the bubble. It’s mystery epic along the lines of Lost and FlashFoward. As much as I adore that premise, as I’m complained here in the past – you can’t announce that its a mystery show. You have to let people discover it’s a mystery. Lost was presented as an airplane disaster show. Upon first viewing, people thought it might be referencing 9/11 with the airplane crash, and as the first few episodes aired, they thought it might be a scripted version of Survivor. It wasn’t until that frickin’ monster showed up that people thought was a dinosaur – that’s when they sat up and payed attention. And even then, the theories were all “It’s Land of the Lost!” They landed on a dinosaur island! People actually operated on that theory up until they found the hatch.
Lost had people guessing from the first, and guessing wrongly, with blind alleys all through the first season. Of course, the writers really had no idea what the hell they were going and end it up with “and then they all when to heaven! Amen! The End!” So maybe Lost is not the best role models. But I was with them through the whole thing. Even though it got religious and stupid.
So The Event starts out with a guy who’s girlfriend is missing. That’s small enough, simple enough. But the fact that they’re already advertising that “the president of the united states doesn’t even know what the event is!” does not bode well. I don’t believe in global conspiracies because nobody is bright enough to carry something like that off on a global scale. Even if everyone is smart enough to understand what the point is, once your group gets bigger than a few people, everyone has their own agenda and starts working for themselves anyway.
Hell, people aren’t even bright enough to write good TV shows when they have bunches of people working on them altogether. Nobody anywhere on the staff of these looks up and says “hey, this show is really shite, you know? Why am I here?”
That’s a good question. I think I’ll be somewhere else, at least to start this season. Maybe I’ll hear water cooler buzz and find out I’m wrong about my first impressions.