Monday, September 30, 2013

How I Met Your Mother "Last Time in New York" Review

Well, the good feelings about last week's two episode premiere are gone.

The final season's longest wedding weekend ever is still in the early stages. "Last Time in New York" showed the drawbacks of the season's structure. The elderly relatives of the family arrived at the Farhampton Inn. Barney and Robin feared marriage would mean the end of sex in their relationship. The soon-to-be-married couple dashed around the Inn looking for a room while avoiding their elderly relatives, because their relatives are old and slow and prone to chewing one's ear off. HIMYM models the elderly after zombies. It's terrible.

Ted and Lily sit in the Inn's bar for all three acts, talking about Ted's list of things to do before he leaves for Chicago on Monday. Josh Radnor wears sad face for nearly the whole episode. Alyson Hanigan continues drinking water in every scene. The list allows the characters to work through Important Issues that weren't dealt with last and haven't been dealt with this season; namely, Ted's sadness over the impending marriage between Barney and Robin. For Ted, Robin's the one, but she's really the one for Barney. Ted hasn't gotten over Barney being the one. Ted's feelings about the situation is a well-trod arc. He hasn't been cool with the idea of them together for years. The difference now, though, is that Ted needs to accept the idea or risk losing his "best bro" and Robin. Ted doesn't think it a possibility, which is why he's leaving for Chicago. Now, of course, he's going to meet his wife by the end of the weekend, which means it's not about Chicago at all, but rather Ted resolving the issues he needs for his eyes to be wide open for when he sees her and loves her.

Final seasons are about saying goodbye. Ted's list is also an easy way for Carter Bays and Craig Thomas to run a montage of Ted's failures with women over the last eight seasons. Lily suggests he not say goodbye to things he likes doing, which is drinking with his buddies and strolling around Manhattan, but to the things he didn't like that made him sad. A designed scene of poignancy is Lily's lecture about life to Ted. The last item on his list is 'one last life lecture from Lily.' Lily tells Ted it won't be her last lecture to him, but it will be that. If not that, then it will be one of the last, because the show is ending and these characters won't be around anymore.

So, Ted's story is the first instance of nostalgia this season. The second act's of the Ted's list story is decent. The sword fight scene between Marshall and Ted is performed well, it's entertaining and fun. Marshall's passionate bit about The Princess Diary should spark some online discussion. The second sword fight between Lily and Robin wasn't enjoyable. The payoff was worse. The whiskey hijinx is the stuff of a ninth season sitcom low on ideas.

The A story was about Barney and Robin finding another reason to marry. Weekly lessons about why their marriage works will get tiresome. Barney and Robin are discovering new reasons every hour because of the timeframe. The sub-story with the elderly relatives failed from the moment Barney said the shuttle carrying all of the old relatives arrived, as if the elderly are attracted to buses the way they respond instantly to the utterance of Mandy Patankan. I think the idea is decent, but HIMYM's execution of decent ideas usually suck. Groups of people are reduced to stereotypes in HIMYM. The people of Wisconsin are reduced to mute brain-dead cheese heads who need only; Eastern Europeans are soulless brutes; pretty girls will fall for the stupidest ploys by men; and etc.

Barney and Robin are a boring pair, in addition to being a bad pair. The A story focused on the old idea that sex stops once a couple marries. The lesson Barney and Robin learned from Robin's great-grandparents is really simplistic: they'll continue to have sex because they love each other and will continue to love each other for as long they both shall live. Is this all it'll be for the rest of the season?

The episodes ends with Barney telling Ted he Knows about the carousel. Ted drops the whiskey bottle he's just decided to open, which represents Ted's decision to try to move past his feelings and to wish his friends well in their life together. The end left me with the feeling I felt since the elderly bus arrived at the Farhampton Inn: this season will be a slog and a challenge.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Crazy Ones "Pilot" Review

Robin Williams can play zany, funny, outrageous, schizophrenic, ground, sad, animated genie, crazy homeless guy, and by play I don't mean he can play each individually. Williams can play all at the same in a mad burst of energy. Robin William’s style isn't for everyone. He's super-charged. He's like the only actor who lended his voice to an animated character who was more bombastic than the animated character. I think Robin Williams would wear the genie out.

Robin Williams stars in David E. Kelley's newest sitcom about a down-on-its-luck advertising agency that's losing credibility and clients. He dominates the action. Critics mostly focused on his performance in reviews. The set design includes a giant portrait of the Robin Williams character. The Crazy Ones is the Robin Williams vehicle. He didn't want to play Dungeons & Dragons on Harmontown, but he's more than happy to accept a high salary to work for/with David E. Kelley.

David E. Kelley lets Robin be Robin for the episode. He's zany and funny for awhile. James Wolk works really well with him. Their off-the-cuff song during a meeting with Kelly Clarkson is inspired and fun. James Wolk stole hearts and minds as Bob Benson this past summer on Mad Men. Wolk went from playing the bland guy on that president show Greg Berlanti created, which USA aired in summer 2012, to the mysterious and dynamic Bob Benson. Wolk's terrific in his few scenes. The sexually charged recording with Kelly Clarkson is the best part of the "Pilot." Kelly Clarkson, whom the agency is trying to get for a jingle, wants to re-do her image so she can sex about sex. Oh, Kelly Clarkson sings about sex all right. I'd watch Robin Williams and James Wolk woo clients weekly.

Sarah Michelle Gellar also stars in the series as the daughter of the Robin Williams character. Most notably, Sarah Michelle Gellar sings in the third act of the episode in a desperate attempt to keep Kelly Clarkson's services. The firm is desperate. Sarah didn't want to sing for "Once More, With Feeling," the season six musical episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Sarah sang, though, and sang really well in "Once More, With Feeling." The "Pilot" is limiting for Sarah, unfortunately. She's the complete package as an actress. On Buffy, she could make you laugh and cry, and do both those things at the same time. On The Crazy Ones, she plays the straight woman to Robin Williams and James Wolk. The secretary gets funnier lines than Sarah. Sarah can be funny; let Sarah be funny, David E. Kelley.

The heart of the series is the father/daughter relationship. Like many modern sitcoms, The Crazy Ones is silly fun for 2/3s of the episode until the third act arrives and one needs a dose of heart to remember what feeling feels like. Robin Williams works with the material very well. Sarah Michelle Gellar's always been wonderful in heartfelt moments. I think The Crazy Ones has a winning formula. It's fun, funny, and heartfelt. Robin Williams, James Wolk, and SMG make a great team.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

7 Thoughts on Broadchurch Season 1

7 Thoughts about Season 1 of Broadchurch

1. We think we've seen Broadchurch before. Murder mystery. Small town. Complicated male lead cop character. The conceit and premise shares much in common with many cop/mystery shows that came before, e.g. The Killing, most recently. Broadchurch isn't extremely different, but it's different enough to stand out. It sinks its claws in you with each episode, or, rather, wraps around you like a snake, or, even, it infects you and affects you. It's quiet and mournful. Broadchurch is really sad. The mystery of Danny Lattimer's killer is almost secondary to unraveling the mystery of what's inside each surviving character. Danny's death unravels the town. David Tennant's sickly, stubborn, sad, and regretful; Alec Hardy is the D.I. on the case. Hardy's a synthesis of the show's themes. Hardy believes anyone can kill under the 'right' circumstances, i.e. that we're all capable of taking a life--priest, father, newspaper store owner, etc. Broadchurch examines the town and its inhabitants with a Dostoevskian eye.

The fictional Broadchurch is the quintessential idyllic small town, located in southwestern England where everyone knows each other. For example, Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller is Hardy's second on the case, the mother of Danny's best friend in school, aunt to the up-and-coming journalist. Danny's murder reveals a fundamental truth about human interaction: no one really knows each other; people conceal things big and small from friends and family; we're all small islands unto ourselves. People Ellie's interacted with for most of her life can't be trusted. The case hardens her and removes her from the warm and friendly feelings she had previous to the murder. The search for the killer destroys lives, damages relationships, and even causes a man's suicide. Trusted friends become suspects. Mark Lattimer, Danny's father, becomes a suspect because he doesn't want to reveal he had sex with another woman the night of his son's death. The townspeople act ugly--mob mentalities, public judgments that are unforgiving.

The writing has a firm grasp on the psychology of the characters. Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of the 19th century Russian titans, has been labeled the first psychological writing. Dostoevsky unraveled the deep depths of Man. He understood animal could never be as artfully cruel as Man. His characters are fully alive, good and bad, capable of wonderful acts and incomprehensible evil. Broadchurch doesn't have the exact kind of characters of a Dostoevsky novel. On a smaller and quieter scale, though, Chris Chinball gets at the heart of man's heart as a battlefield the devil and God use. Jack Wilson's crime would've been normal in 19th century Russia, but the town turns on himself for misunderstanding what Jack served time in prison for. What separates the town from Danny's killer?

2. Hardy's the lone character who actually 'sees' what's around him. The other characters are too close, too involved in each other's lives. Hardy is not attached; his eye is not skewed by life-long attachments and relationships and bias. I mentioned earlier the character's a synthesis of the show's themes. Hardy has a secret; he's not a saintly detective; he doesn't do enough to protect Jack, and he comes hard at Nigel. He's regretful about a case that went bad and didn't get resolved, and he suffers from heart disease. The Danny case literally tries to kill him each day. His colleagues want him to leave the case, to save himself, but he's like Dostoevsky's Dmitri Karamazov in spirit. Dmitri accepts punishment for his father's murder because he feels he's "committed the act in his heart already"; more apropos, though loosely connected, would be a comparison between Hardy and Crime & Punishment's Porfiry Petrovitch. Petrovitch wants Raskolnikov to confess for the sake of Christian repentance. Hardy wants to find the killer, to hear a confession, not for the killer's sake but for his own, his own absolution for failing the family of the murdered little girl.

Hardy offered his confession about what happened in the last town but the confession brought him no peace, no relief. Perhaps finding Danny's killer won't absolve him of his guilt. Hardy's confessions one of a few in Broadchurch that also brings no peace to the confessor. Reverend Paul's not helped by his admission of alcoholism. Susan's confession about her family, her long-lost son, brings her no peace, nor does it bring peace to Nige. It causes more pain, more heartache. Beth's grief over Danny, when she talks about him and it, doesn't relieve it. Broadchurch is like a collection of snapshots of small town, like what happens behind closed doors, and what people do to not feel sad.

3. A confession did not bring peace to Hardy, though, or to Ellie Miller. Joe Miller, Ellie's wife, needed to confess like Raskolnikov, but confession did not lead to catharsis. Just more pain and rawness. Hardy tells Ellie that one can never see what's inside the heart of a man. Ellie can just cry. Broadchurch has been defined by the secrets of the town. Each week brought out a new and terrible one. Of course the finale would have the most brutal of secrets. Everything connects in a wave during the finale. In episode 7, Ellie's dumbfounded that Susan didn't know what went on in her house. An episode later, Ellie's the one who didn't know. Why didn't I see what was there the whole time? Why didn't I view events and clues like Alec Hardy? Another piece of brilliance in the writing is that it leaves one feeling that way, that it takes you deep within the town, makes the viewer part of it, and infects one with the blindness that infected the town.

4. The most devastating collection of scenes of the series happen after Ellie learns the truth about her husband. Olivia Colman's performance during Ellie's meeting with Joe is visceral. Jodie Whittaker didn't disappoint in the entire series, especially not in the scene where Hardy tells the Lattimers who killed Danny and why. David Tennant's quite understated in the finale. The words carry enough weight on the page. He's restrained, consoling, comforting, and accepting. Ellie regrets having not listened to Hardy's warnings. I already mentioned Hardy's advantage as the outsider and the eyes of Broadchurch, seeing what no one else could, and so it follows he's the most together in the end. He's together and is able to sit on a bench and accept he's done as Detective Inspector.

5. The media's role in the narrative is/was intense. Its portrayal is split between vilifying/scathing and responsible/accountable. The national media initially declines to cover the story for a number of appalling reasons. The Lattimers reach out to the national journalist, Karen, so the country won't forget what happened to their boy and to help aid in finding the killer. The national media is villainous. The editors take liberties with the story, change facts for the sake of the narrative, and help ruin a life. England's history with media is messy. The paparazzi were ruled responsible in Princess Diana's death. The local media's portrayed differently--warm, responsible, accountable. Oly's interest in Karen and her paper wanes after Jack's suicide. The media then faded from the narrative, until the finale. Karen wipes away a tear upon hearing the truth. The news hits Oly right in the family.

6. Reverend Paul is a figure and representative of the church. The church's role is cold and distant. Paul's not a comfort in the days after Danny's death. Beth's questions of why God would take her son are met with weak answers about Danny being recalled to heaven, of the importance of maintaining faith in a plan. Hardy suspects Paul after he sees him touching the hand of Tom at memorial luncheon, which then leads to Paul's admittance of a past with alcoholism. I think it's interesting how Paul's scenes are lighted. The scene's never warm with him around. There's a shot in either the 5th or 6th episode in which he's in frame from a distant, as distant and remote as the church has become to many people. By the finale, though, Paul brings together the town and surrounding communities in Danny's memory.

7.  Broadchurch is the prettiest show I've ever watched (second to LOST, third to ANGEL). The beauty of West Bay, Dorset, England is staggering and almost unfair. The coastline looks transported from paradise. Many, many shots left my mouth agape and unable to force words out of it. The finale opens with a staggering and stunning shot of David Tennant framed against the cliffs along the shoreline at dawn. The next shot is of the clouds hovering above the glistening ocean. The shots at night are brilliant. Watch everything around Joe Miller placing Danny on the beach--the mist off the ocean, the light against the dark; or watch the sequence of Hardy following the beeping of Danny's phone, the fateful path to the killer. The sound design complements the dream-like sequence dreadfully. Had the series not captivated me narratively, I would've continued watching for its look. It's simply gorgeous. The final images of the beacons of fire lit across the linked communities seemed perfect. The images mean a number of things. Immediately, to me, I connected fire with warmth. The beacons were symbols of warmth, of love, of healing coming to Broadchurch. No, no one really knows what lurks in the hearts of man, but we must try and love each other anyway.

Back in the Game "Pilot" Review

The early-to-mid-90s were populated with family sports comedies about outcast children finding a team where they fit because of a nice coach. The parents were separated by simple characteristics. If a parent pushed a kid, that parent was the villain. Every other parent supported his or her child unconditionally. By the end of the movie, the villainous parent would stop being villainous and recognize his or her child beyond that child's athletic ability. These movies were set in small towns, suburban or rural. The communities were tight-knight, the families nuclear, and the single parents actively becoming coupled with the help of the team. In the rare story where the single parent did not find coupling, the single parent's defined and celebrated by singledom, by devotion and love and care for the child/children.

Back in the Game feels like an homage to those movies--The Big Green and the Little Giants, to name two of the family sports comedies that embraced the outcast and elevated the single parent. Terry, portrayed by Maggie Lawson, is a single mom trying to do right by her son while battling her conflicting emotions about her father, "The Cannon," portrayed by James Caan. Terry tells a new friend her father 'crippled her' emotionally growing up. The Cannon took Terry through Mexico while he coached, abandoned her, cheated on her mother, but she's living with him because her own life hasn't been the stuff of domestic dreams. She's sorting through her issues with her dad as she raises her son, who's in the heater that is middle school. Terry wants her son to have a childhood, to have a present parent, and to do what he wants to do with his life. Danny, her son, wants to play baseball because a girl he likes likes baseball players. But when he doesn't make the team, Terry decides to create her own team for her son's sake and for the other unwanted boys. Michelle Lawson is the Rick Moranis of the 2010s, or, rather, a grown-up Ice Box had the Rick Moranis character gone down the wrong path after beating his brother in the Big Game.

The Cannon's the type of character a parent hears about at a little league game, the type of character one thinks exists mostly in fictional television. The Cannon doesn't endear himself to Michelle during the episode. He's the type to whip his junk out at games to win a fight--he's like an older Randy Marsh. Terry's bothered by The Cannon's scrutiny over her son's ability to play baseball. Danny's a great character, witty, fearless, but he's bad on the baseball field. He's the type of kid who'll kiss a bully to make the bully uncomfortable. He's an idealized modern kid, able to handle disappointments from within school with poise and grace. Terry doesn't need to worry, because the kid is aces. Terry mostly projects due to her bad childhood.

Danny, in fact, the perfect kid to lead the new little league team Terry's able to start after beating Mean Dad in a bat-off. Mean Dad criticizes her son and demeans women in a playful, sitcomy, broad way. The little league team is populated by the most cliche boys: the 'fat' kid, the twins, the foreigner, the effeminate boy, etc. None of the boys can field a ground ball without injuring themselves. Terry watches the hijinx of uncoordinated children with her face in scrunched concern. The practice sequence is like the first act of any underdog family sports comedy where the coach wonders what he or she got him or her self into.

The other emotional storyline of the series, the relationship between father and daughter, is nicely written. James Caan's a veteran of acting. Maggie Lawson's very adept at conveying Terry's past without that past dominating her character's arc. Lawson helps the character feel more formed, e.g. how she conveys vulnerability and toughness effortlessly. (I won't refer to the specific scene Lawson shined most bright, but you'll know it when you see it.)

I think Back in the Game is promising. The sports element is fun and a throwback to the mid-90s. James Caan and Maggie Lawson work well together. Their characters have a substantive story that's light-hearted and emotional. The middle school element's well-drawn. Danny's pretty great. One of my adages is good characters (and especially great characters) make ordinary shows better. Back in the Game is ordinary, but the characters stand-out. That's enough.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. "Pilot" Review

Today is good: a Joss Whedon series is back in primetime.

Unlike his last two series, Firefly and Dollhouse, no reports of the network ordering a re-shot pilot hit the Deadlines and TVLines of the internet. Joss Whedon directed one of the biggest movies of all-time (2012's The Avengers); now, he pretty much runs Marvel Studios. He polishes Captain America and Thor and oversees the biggest brand of Marvel right now--The Avengers. Critics and bloggers didn't doubt Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would get ordered to series. Critics and bloggers wondered when they'd get to watch the first episode. Joss was always the underdog. Buffy and ANGEL got amazing runs on the small, and now defunct, WB. FOX botched Firefly from the "Serenity" on. Dollhouse, a tremendously underrated gem of a series, got two seasons. FOX didn't stand in the way. People simply didn't watch the show. For years and years it seemed like Joss had to fight for every thing he wanted made.

Joss lost a lot of those fights. ANGEL didn't get a sixth season. Cancellation worries for the previous three seasons of the show motivated Joss to ask then-WB president, Jordan Levin, to make a decision on the series. Levin cancelled the series on Valentine's Day 2004. With six episodes left to shoot, Joss and Jeff Bell, along with Drew Goddard and Steven S. DeKnight, and Sarah Craft and Elizabeth Fain, and not to mention a terrific production crew, put together a memorable final run. Cabin in the Woods took 3 years to hit the theaters. The rumored Rupert Giles series never got off the ground; ditto the Buffy animated series. Warner Brothers abandoned Whedon's Wonder Woman project. Firefly got cancelled. So, then, Joss got Firefly made into a movie; Joss spun ANGEL, Firefly, and Dollhouse into comics; he made Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog as a protest after the 2008 writer's strike; and he got a well-deserved break when Marvel hired him to write and direct The Avengers.

Now, in 2013, Joss Whedon's on covers of magazines, known by people who wouldn't have known a thing about him three years ago. He's having the kind of success that allows him to make a Much Ado About Nothing adaptation during his vacation from Avengers post-production. Whedon's always been an obsessive worker. He ran Buffy, ANGEL, and Firefly at the same time. He's told the media he doesn't watch TV because he's busy making it (or an awesome movie). During pre-production and the writing of Avengers 2, he created and developed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with his brother, Jed Whedon, and sister-in-law, Maurissa Tanchereon, in addition to directing the "Pilot." The man is an inspiration.

Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. follows a decent amount of superhero shows. Superhero shows haven't found success in the last 5-6 years. I don't know why people flock to theaters for a superhero movie but ignore superheroes on the small screen. Whedon's shows, though brilliant and innovative and original, haven't found success. Buffy and ANGEL had modest numbers on TheWB and got a combined 12 seasons because TheWB's great numbers were another's network's 'okay, cancel the show.' Anyone reading probably knows the Firefly story. I already mentioned Dollhouse's ratings failure. I trust that people will follow the Marvel brand. No, superhero shows haven't had success in the past; however, those shows didn't have Joss' name and this creative team. I'm absolutely optimistic about the show's success just from the brand and the Whedon element.

The "Pilot" is also terrific. The new dramas this fall don't stand out. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does. The writing is excellent. The story moves through exposition and action seamlessly. There's a helpful explanation of S.H.I.E.L.D. early on so that the story can move to character. Character absolutely matters the most on this show. The first episode lightly touches on the mystery of Coulson's resurrection, and it's set after the final battle in The Avengers, The show's less about saving the world than it is about living in a world that's been changed and adapting to it. It's a world where the heroes have toy lines and adults crave to be what they saw on television--these amazing people with the strength to save the world from aliens. J. August Richards' Mike is a near-perfect character for first story. Mike's a down-on-his-luck, recently divorced dad, raising his son alone. He's unemployed. The system's beaten him down. He attaches a 'centipede' product to his arm that gives him the power of superheroes--strength, agility, speed, durability.

The product has a fatal downside--combustion. Its users will overload and explode. Mike changes as the story progresses. He's more violent and confrontational. He becomes desperate. Pretty soon S.H.I.E.L.D. can either kill him or watch him explode and kill a whole lot more people. Mike seeks the help of anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. activist, Skye, but she's already working with the agency she doesn't trust. Coulson wants to find the Mikes of the world and help. Death is not the ideal solution. The bad guys in comics that meet an end on the last page aren't the bad guys in Marvel's TV show. Mike's speech before he's 'taken down' touches on a number of issues about the 21st century, the job market, the truth that government has failed its people, and the struggle to maintain one's humanity and goodness through hard times. Mike's about to explode, he's beaten his old boss badly, and he's in tears because he thought what was inside would negate the negative effects of the drug. He thinks of himself as a hero, and Coulson agrees. Mike's not killed, he's contained. He'll be rehabilitated and reunited with his family.

J. August Richards is incredibly moving as he delivers what's essentially the show's mission statement. The reason why so many die-hard Whedon fans exist and have championed his works for over a decade is there in Mike's speech. The idea that people are worth saving and worth fighting for is incredibly powerful and moving and inspiring. Joss helped me be a better person as a teenager. Watching Angel fight his demons for five seasons helped me fight whatever demons I had, then and now. His writing's timeless. I'd like for people to be entertained by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I really want people to feel touched and transformed and changed by it. I want for people to feel less alone for having watched it. I want them to feel what I felt watching Mike's speech.

I'm not intimately familiar with the world of Marvel, but I'm quite familiar with a Joss Whedon show. The dialogue is terrific. The makeshift family is formed by the end of the episode. Drs. Fitz and Simmons might rival Dollhouse's absurdly smart Topher (but probably not; Topher's amazing). Chloe Bennett's Skye is witty and smart. Bennett and Clark Gregg work well together. One of the best scenes of the "Pilot" revolves around truth serum. Coulson injects Brett Dalton's Agent Grant Ward with it so Skye can ask what she wants to know. The scene's wonderful because of the performances and the reversal of what usually happens in an interrogation scene on TV. It's a perfect example of what Joss and his writers do so well. The fight scenes may yet best Arrow for Best Fights on a network drama. Grant's fight early in the episode recalled the fights from ANGEL and Buffy. Later, Ming-Na Wen's Melinda May has a River Tam type fight with a bad guy carrying a gun (who is part of the mysterious organization powering ordinary folk such as Mike and the guy who exploded in the first scene of the episode).

I loved the "Pilot." I don't care that I haven't seen a bulk of the new shows yet--Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the best new show of the fall season. It's funny, emotional, action-packed, clever, witty, and mysterious. Coulson's resurrection is a mystery S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson thinks Fury faked his death. Ron Glass' cryptic line reveals something much different happened to Coulson. I'm definitely sticking around to find out what happened.

Other Thoughts:

-J. August Richards played Charles Gunn for four seasons (plus the final 3 in season one) in ANGEL. Ron Glass played Shepherd Book on Firefly. I would like to see both actors back in future episodes.

-I'll argue Joss already created two successful shows about superheroes: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and ANGEL. Xander calls Buffy his hero in "The Freshman," after all.

-Joss and Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tanchereon wrote the "Pilot." Joss Whedon directed it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How I Met Your Mother "The Locket"/"Coming Back" Review

Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have annoyed me for the last four years as show runners and head writers of How I Met Your Mother. A once clever series devolved into a convoluted mess with each renewal and 24 episode cycle. The characters, once lovable, became increasingly loathsome. The structure of the series, a mix of flash-backs and flash-forwards woven in with the present, allowed for really creative storytelling in the early seasons, but the structure became a crutch for the series. The storytelling got lazier, and the characters were broad caricatures of what they once were. I've enjoyed each successive season of HIMYM less than the previous one.

Season 9, the final season of How I Met Your Mother, opens with Ted and Lily on the road to Farhampton for the wedding. A relatively easy drive to Long Island is disrupted by Ted's penchant for long and unnecessary detours. Lily demands he let her out at the train station, after she bangs her head in the car in hopes of knocking herself out. In that moment, I've never related more to a character during the entire run of the series. The opening scene's very meta, of course. A later conversation between Lily and the mother frames Ted's behavioral quirks as charming. The future mother loves what annoys Lily about Ted. So it follows Bays and Thomas must be charming for their seemingly never-ending story about how one guy meets his wife, the mother of his children. I've gotta side with Lily here. I should've gotten out of the car years ago.

I didn't get out the car years ago; no, I've watched the series for some time now and have regularly written about it since 2010. HIMYM's final season has several challenges. The framing device of the wedding already seems problematic and about what I expected. The plot devices are a-plenty, and the worst clichés and tropes of bad romantic comedies that end in a third act wedding are already hinted at and inevitable. Marshall can't get to the wedding because it's a 24 episode season covering a long weekend, and, well, there's gotta be conflicts. He gets kicked off a plane for not turning his phone off; the last flight to New York is cancelled because of a major east coast storm that's closing airports along the east coast, which is absurd since the east coast in spring is a dream. Barney and Robin can't be sure of each other's convictions on the marriage weekend. Through two episodes, none of the characters' rooms have been completely cleaned. Plus, Barney and Robin are still together, and that's not good.

"The Locket" and "Coming Back" aren't full of problematic story choices and lazy plotting, though. Jason Segal seems renewed by a new paycheck and is making the most out of a disastrous storyline. Alyson Hanigan's really fun in the first two episodes. Her performance looks effortless, whereas in the last few seasons Hanigan's performance looked forced. The new sets are a nice departure from the apartment, the bar, and the smallest street in Manhattan. The brightest spot in the first two episodes of the final season is the future mother, the lovely and delightful Cristin Milioti. The major concern about meeting the mother was about whether or not the mother would be all that Ted wanted and the audience.

Through two episodes, the mother is pretty damn cool. Milioti brings a light and airy presence to the scenes. She's the sun peeking through the clouds that've hovered over the series for the last three seasons. Bays and Thomas don't overwrite the character. Her scenes and interactions are simple. The mother and Lily have a sweet story in "The Locket" in which Lily's calmed by Ted's future wife and given a hug and cookies. "Coming Back" concludes with a flash-forward of Ted and the mother sitting in the bar at the Farhampton Inn because Ted promised he'd bring her there when they met. Radnor and Milioti have undeniable chemistry. Radnor looks at differently than he looks at Robin. Ted looks at Robin with a pained, regretful expression--it's the expression of love lost, of wanting someone by your side so badly but knowing and accepting that someone will never be by your side. Ted looks at his wife completely differently. He doesn't look at her as much as he looks into her. Radnor's gaze at her is more important than the writing and the blocking of the scene. The look is everything. A show titled How I Met Your Mother should be remembered for how Ted met his mother, and not just 'meeting' the mother which is as simple as a smile and a hello at a train station, but how he MET her and grew to know and love her.

Unfortunately, the longest wedding awaits. Barney and Robin have an awful story in "The Locket" in which they briefly think they may be cousins. "The Locket" ends with an awful tease. Ted went to Los Angeles to get Robin's locket. Sarah Chalke's Stella will evidently be seen again, maybe by November sweeps. Future Ted hints he's the wildcard at the wedding. It's worth noting Ted looks pained throughout the two episodes. Robin's going to try sneaking out of a window at some point. The relationship between Barney and Robin could've worked in season five, but the writers bailed on the pairing really early. Last season didn't endear me to the reunited couple. I still dislike the characters together in the first two episodes. Barney's belief in marriage temporarily stems from his brother's marriage. For a second it seemed like Bays and Thomas would waste more time with the stock sitcom 'X character doesn't know why Y and Z know and hijinx ensues,' but they aren't THAT sadistic.

A lot of HIMYM is still the same, which is probably fine for many individuals. (That's bad for me). The Ted/mother story is potentially worthwhile. I'm not sure it'll be enough to make enduring the series the last several years of watching and writing about it worthwhile. I hope so, though. There are many scenes ahead I'm not looking forward to and many wedding-related elements that'll make me want to concuss myself. Gosh darn it, though, Cristin Milioti is charming. It's a new season. I'm feeling fresh. I'm hoping for the best.

Other Thoughts:

-I rarely laugh during an episode, but the rent-a-car scene with the Herm cracked me up. Marshall’s travel nightmare makes no sense. I like how HIMYM’s Minnesota has one rental car place in the entire state.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dads "Pilot" Review

Dads uses a traditional structure to tell a story, which is rather rare in the medium right now. The laugh track isn't ancient, but the fade-in and fade-out for every scene is reminiscent of older sitcoms and much older films. The editing of Dads makes it seem a bit amateur, as if the show runners and director couldn't decide how one scene connects to the next. Instead of writing more fluidly, post-production chose the easiest solution. Dads, off the bat, feels choppy. It's a collection of vignettes rather than a whole story--and it's not funny.

Dads is the critics choice for worst new sitcom of the fall 2013 television season. Many of the new shows don't seem that necessary to watch, but no show is necessary to watch. FOX's decision to order the show to series is a no-brainer. Market the Ted connection, the Seth MacFarlane empire connection, and show off Seth Green, as well as an attractive Asian-American actress in a sexy schoolgirl outfit, cross your fingers, and hope people tune in for any or all of what I listed.

The titular Dads are stereotypically drawn and written. The Dads are aloof, out of touch, disconnected from their sons, etc. The one dad ruins a lucrative investment deal for his son's video game project, while the other father (to Seth Green's Eli) is so disconnected with his son that he ruins a surprise birthday party for him without knowing he did because he forgot the day of his son's birth. Eli and his father don't bond by episode's end. An act 3 resolution does put the characters closer together thanks to that third act atonement. Eli feels like he's a failure who can't ascend beyond the trappings of failure his father instilled in him. His father feels like he's a failure because he couldn't pay his mortgage and the bank foreclosed on his house.

Dads follows a long tradition of shows or movies about a character's poor relationship with his father. Hollywood writers work out their daddy issues through storytelling. Anton Chekhov opined that one doesn't write to solve a problem but to state the problem. Dads isn't the type of show that will lead to catharsis for the writers if troubled by a bad relationship with their fathers. The storytelling and humor is lazy. Maybe Dads should've hired Justin Halpern to write for the series just because he could write better than 'stereotypical Dad joke about grunting/resistance to paying the bill at the end of a meal/being out of touch with popular culture, particularly video games.'

FOX wants Dads to appeal to the broadest audience possible. Broad comedy's not my favorite. I like niche, deadpan, meta shows such as Community and Arrested Development. I pretty much worship at the altar of Dan Harmon. Mike Scully's involved in Dads. I enjoyed his work on The Simpsons, but he's not going to break the sitcom to see what's really there. Dads is simply an unremarkable, broad, and boring sitcom. You’re not missing a thing.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine "Pilot" Review

Michael Schur, Dan Goor, Andy Samberg, and Andre Braugher make a more promising team than the one fictional Ray Holt puts together in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Michael Schur wrote for The Office, co-created Parks & Recreation, and Dan Goor's written for late night as well as Parks & Recreation. Schur and Goor are Harvard graduates. Andy Samberg's the lead in a sitcom just a year after leaving Saturday Night Live, which puts him up there with the more successful alums of SNL. Andre Braugher could do a dramatic reading of an instruction manual, find an audience, and that audience would be riveted by the dramatic reading of the instruction manual.

Michael Schur spoke about creating Parks & Recreation, with Greg Daniel, on a Nerdist Writers Panel. What stood out from the story was the way Schur and Daniels decided to pitch the Parks & Rec idea over the others. NBC asked for an Office spin-off. Schur and Daniels wanted to tell a story about government officials, but the type of officials that dealt with the small stuff. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a sitcom, but it is procedural, yet it shares its style, or rather owes its style, to Parks & Recreation. Its breezy tone, comic sense, and playful dialogue are a welcome departure from the dreary police dramas that populate prime-time. The case-of-the-"Pilot" is grave but silly. Detectives Diz and Peralta investigate the murder of a man. Peralta, the "gifted but lazy detective," deduces a deli worker murdered the man during a botched robbery of the man's expensive ham.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine's main setting is the police office in the 99th district of Brooklyn. Schur's and Goor's script is about establishing the characters more than anything else. Peralta and his partner have sexual tension. Charles, the clumsy detective, is smitten with the tough no-nonsense female cop in the department. Terry Crews' Terry Jeffords leads the detectives, but he's afraid of active duty, and he's gun shy, on the account of being a new father of twin girls. Andre Braugher portrays Captain Ray Holt, the first openly gay captain in the NYPD. He's dedicated to making the 99th district the best in the borough because he feels like he needs to as openly gay captain. His early problem is his best detective. Jake Peralta, played by Andy Samberg, likes to goof off. The two characters clash until Peralta atones with the father in the third act. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is similar to The Office and Parks & Recs, specifically in regards to character dynamics, and the dynamic an office setting provides for comedy writers.

FOX gave away the best jokes and sight gags in the previews, which is an observation rather than a criticism. Plenty of sitcoms promise laughs in previews but don't deliver laughs. The previews included the jokes so you'd tune in and learn about the characters. Andy Sambergs plays to type. Schur and Goor wrote the Andy Samberg type character. Peralta's goofy, aloof, prone to distractions, but he has heart, and he feels pride in making more arrests than his partner. He's the goofball with a heart, slapstick with substance. Braugher doesn't play the typical straight man (perhaps that's a piece of subversive characterization--the straight man is not a straight man). He's not Rawls to Samberg's McNulty, though Schur compared Samberg's Peralta to McNulty. In response to Peralta's choice not to wear pants in the records room, Holt invites the office in to see pantless Peralta. The central partnership is well-defined in 21 minutes.

Secondary characters and their relationships get enough screen time to connect and relate with the audience. There's the guy in love with a girl who may not be into him but actually is into him. The administrator in the office is quirky, "out there," a character that'd fit in at Dunder-Mifflin. She's the go-to for inappropriate humor or the kind of humor that takes you by surprise. She's also good for exposition. From her, we learn the reason why Diaz and Peralta compete for arrests. It's a sex-bet. Charles blows his chance to take tough cop to a classic film festival and is comforted by the sounds of the administrator making the sounds of an exploding bomb. I like her.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine's not a groundbreaking sitcom. It's essentially a buddy cop story, but way more light-hearted and tight-knit than buddy cop movies. Essentially, the series is like what Parks & Recs would look like if the Pawnee team solved crime instead of parks and recreation headaches.

Other Thoughts:
-I got the biggest laugh from the maintenance scene in the third act as the detectives pursued their suspect, Ratko. Santiago pointed to her badge and vest to signal the maintenance worker should step aside. The worker points at her 'badge' on the back of her uniform and refuses to movie. I never expected that joke, and I've never seen that type of joke anywhere.

-Joe Lo Trujilo portrays the clumsy Charles Boyle. Trujilo’s been the best part of Judd Apatow movies for years, whether directed by Apatow or produced by Apatow. Trujilo stole Role Models with his terrifically masculine performance.

-I’m curious about the show’s ratings performance in the coming weeks. Joss Whedon’s Agents of S.H.I.E.LD.. Premieres next Tuesday. Whedon’s past shows are amazing but didn’t get great numbers. The Marvel brand might attract quite a few more eyes. Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs to compete against Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as the CBS juggernaut, NCIS. FOX sitcoms usually struggle. Going against NCIS could hurt.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sleepy Hollow "Pilot" Review

Sleepy Hollow is basically a mess through one episode. Washington Irving's classic short story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," has been updated for modern audiences. Modernity mandates throwing one too many ingredients into the pot. Executives want to stand out. Storytellers want to stand out. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Making an absolute decision about Sleepy Hollow after one episode is impossible.

Sleepy Hollow's first episode is a classic premise pilot. The writers crammed in a lot of story and beats into 41 or 42 minutes of TV. The "Pilot" is full of flashbacks, intrigue, "twists," mythology and world-building. The heroine of the series is Abbie, a lieutenant and aspiring federal agent, and she's more like Ichobad Crane than she'd like. Ichobad Crane's been transported 250 years in time to present day America after the Headless Horseman woke up from his watery slumber. Ichobad seems crazy since he babbles about General George Washington, a Headless Horseman, the Revolutionary War, enslavement and the abolitionist movement, and no one believes him but Abbie. Abbie watched her sheriff, and partner, get murdered by a being without a head. She can't tell anyone what she truly saw because that'd be crazy. The Headless Horseman isn't the lone crazy thing she's seen. As a girl she was in a forest with her sister when four white trees appeared. The girls blacked out. Her sister lost her mind, and Abbie's tried to get on with her life. Ichobad's babblings are as crazy as what Abbie remembers. She feels protective of Crane and battles her new boss for his involvement in the case.

Sleepy Hollow's first episode is quite polished and professional. Orci and Kurtzman have their names on nearly as many shows as J.J. Abrams. Those gentlemen know how to write to begin a series. The story of the first episode unfolds smoothly and an idea of what the series will be weekly is neatly laid out. The Sheriff, portrayed by Clancy Brown, is the only other man in Sleepy Hollow intent on solving the town's lingering mysteries. A key scene early on is Abbie's playful teasing of August's dedication to the job even when off the clock. After August's death, Abbie looks through old case files while listening to his recorded documentation of what he believes and what he wants to solve. Abbie wanted to leave the town for Quantico but staying in Sleepy Hollow is personally important. By staying she can honor her boss' life and help her sister understand and get rid of the demons.

Ichobad Crane plays as sidekick in the "Pilot." Half the fun of watching Sleepy Hollow will be the 'fish-out-of-the-water' element. There's a scene in which he's riding in a police cruiser and utterly taken by the automatic windows (the fish-out-of-water stuff basically like the second act of Thor, or, well, any fish-out-of-water story you've watched or read). The character writing's strong overall. Ichobad and Abbie are well-defined. The boss is a bit one-dimensional, but the developing story should lead to further development for that character. Tom Mison's terrific as Ichobad Crane. His accent is thick and distinct; his mannerisms and reactions to what Crane sees around feel authentic.

Less stable would be the mythology and world of the series. The mythology is a mess. Hollywood, both the movie and television business, bought up a bunch of updated versions of classic stories and found success a few years ago. If something works for one studio, other studios will follow. Classic stories are classics not because of convolution but because of simplicity. Ichobad Crane cut off the head of Death, aka the headless horseman, while on the verge of death. Crane's witch wife linked him with the headless horseman so that the horseman, one of the four of the apocalypse, wouldn't succeed in bringing ancient evil everywhere (or something). His wife, Katrina, was burnt at the stake. Of course, Katrina can exchange incredibly helpful exposition to Ichobad from beyond the grave, in a sort of bleak limbo that looks like the set of Silent Hill, about the link between Crane, the Horseman, the bible, ancient evils, etc. The mythological nonsense is part of the horseman's goal to retrieve his head, one of the few holdovers from Irving's classic story.

I don't crave more mythology from Sleepy Hollow than maybe two scenes per the first and last acts. Sleepy Hollow seems more like Elementary than Grimm, mostly because of the male-female dynamic. Perhaps a better comparison is Bones, which airs before Sleepy Hollow. August's case files will carry the series through a full season, if successful. The Headless Horseman can't murder in the daylight. Audiences won't have to deal with the Horseman weekly, I presume. The Horseman is another challenge for the series. He's very, very uninteresting. Making a murderous headless horseman interesting is difficult, but I think Washington Irving did all right.

The most important element of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow is the town's haunting atmosphere. Episode one dwells on the mythology and establishment and definition of the characters. Les Wiseman's direction is stylistic, but he didn't make the town a character. Sunnydale's a character in Buffy. Los Angeles is a character in ANGEL. Sleepy Hollow's the name of the show, but its lifeless as an active setting, and character, in the series. The town's the key.

Friday, September 6, 2013

2013 Fall TV Preview: the Returning Shows on FOX

We've reached the end of the 2013 Fall TV Preview. Instead of writing about the FOX network, I'm going to share a scene from a movie I directed five years ago that's mostly a discussion of the FOX network. Now you can insult me and criticize me instead of me always criticizing other people's work!

BONES returns Monday, September 16 at 8PM

Booth and Bones find a friend in the priesthood. The priest will help counsel the couple. Oh, he's an ex-priest now working as a bartender. A wedding's in the works for Bones and Booth. Apparently, the wedding will happen. I've found absolutely nothing about Bones solving murders. The early going of the season seems focused on romance.

NEW GIRL returns Tuesday, September 17 at 9PM

I've heard a few interviews with New Girl creator, Liz Meriweather. I really dig listening to her talking about writing the show, the challenges and joys writing, what went into going with a certain choice over something else. I like hearing about the creative process. The amount of thought and import that went into the decision for Jess and Nick to kiss matched the intentisty of the fan base. Schmidt's going to choose between women this season. Ms. Meriweather is excited to tell the story because she doesn't know what'll happen. She really doesn't. So, yeah, she's a rad show runner. I wish all the success possible for New Girl.

THE MINDY PROJECT returns Tuesday, September 17 at 9:30PM

James Franco guest stars in the season premiere. Franco won't stick around because his price must be astronomical for TV. He remembers where he started, which is nice. Mindy has a new hair-do.

GLEE returns Thursday, September 26 at 9PM

A trusted friend told me 'a whole lotta nothing' happened last season and that the writers introduced themes they never had serious intentions of following for an extended period of time. This season opens with a two part Beatle episode. The third episode will bid goodbye to Finn while paying tribute to Cory Monteith's life. Rachel's broadway dreams go in an unanticipated direction. I really thought her dreams of broadway would go smoothly.

THE SIMPSONS returns Sunday, September 29 at 8PM

Lisa's joining the cheerleading team in the 25th season. Wow. Bart's going to act rebellious and Marge will blame KISS. Homer will sell stock for a bowling ball. The Treehouse of Horror airs the first Sunday in October.

BOB'S BURGERS returns Sunday, September 29 at 8:30PM

There were reports about an Archer/Bob's Burger crossover last season. The crossover is happening this season.

FAMILY GUY returns Sunday, September 29 at 9PM

A Griffin family member will die this season, and Cleveland will move back to Quahog. Yvette Nicole Brown, Peter Dinklage, Liam Neeson, Lauren Bacall, among many more, lent their voices to various episodes in season 12.

AMERICAN DAD  returns Sunday, September 29 at 9:30PM

RAISING HOPE returns Friday, November 8 at 9PM

I don't think Raising Hope airs Friday at 9PM throughout its 4th season. A new FOX sitcom or drama will flop. Molly Shannon signed on for a multi-episode guest stint.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2013 Fall TV Preview: the Returning Shows on NBC

I documented NBC's woes last week. Other bloggers and critics have documented NBC's woes. The network's like a kid that's get picked on, and then the sweetest mother in the world tries to help that child fit in and feel included. There isn't the sweetest mother blogger. Anyone writing about NBC anywhere is piling on. I'm sort of excited for the day The CW beats NBC. It'll probably never happen.

CHICAGO FIRE returns on Tuesday, September 24 at 10PM

Treat Williams WILL return for season two. There's baby drama for Lauren German's character. Lauren German and Treat Williams are enough for me to watch bits and pieces of an episode. Another character's mourning the death of his beloved while punishing himself for not saving her from the fatal fire. Casey and Dawson will explore their relationship over the course of the season because that's what many other writers decide to do with couplings.

REVOLUTION returns on Wednesday, September 25 at 8PM

The important question wasn't "What happens with the lights go off?" but "What happens when a hit (for NBC) goes off the air for months?" Well, the answer's simple: a second season happens. Kripke said two cities will be destroyed, including Philadelphia (to which I respond, ala Xander Harris, "Hey!). The characters will go back to the basics of survival. NBC will hope a summer hiatus hasn't nuked its audience for Revolution. Kripke's other show, Supernatural, is entering season 9. If Revolution maintains decent numbers, I bet it could last 7-8 seasons. (This is baseless speculation).

LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT returns on Wednesday, September 25 at 9PM

Season 14 ended with a gun pointed at Oliva's head. Season 15 opens with what happened followed by an exploration of how the incident changed her. Is Ice T still a cast member?

PARKS AND RECREATION returns on Thursday, September 26 at 8PM

Season six kicks off in London, England. Just once I'd like to watch a series open a season in any other city in the world instead of London. Michael Schur jokingly bemoaned the happiness of the characters going into season six. The threat of cancellation got the writers to make happen what fans wanted to happen. Season six's story about Leslie dealing with her best friend's departure seems really sweet and heartfelt.

PARENTHOOD returns on Thursday, September 26 at 10PM

Wondering what to expect in season 5? A lump in your throat, tears rolling down your face, your hand reaching for a box of tissues near you, a hug from a friend or spouse, etc. I watched parts of season four and felt incredibly moved by the cancer storyline. I'm going to watch the series from the beginning. A family drama hasn't moved me like Parenthood since Greg Berlanti's Everwood.

GRIMM returns on Thursday, October 25 at 9PM

Grimm's second season lasted from August 2012 through May 2012, with a four month hiatus between November and its return in March. David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf seem content in telling procedural stories with just a dash of serialized storytelling. The two-part finale is abrupt. The show suffered from long storylines that spun in place too long. Silas Weir Mitchell told TVLine the first two episodes have much zombie fighting while also describing the episodes as 'cinematically big.' Grimm's very enjoyable on a week-to-basis, though frustrating at times. Guintoli's an underrated leading man. Silas Weir Mitchell's under-recognized as Monroe. Monroe's relationship with Bree Turner's Rosalee could soften Henry Higgins to love.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2013 Fall TV Preview: the Returning Shows on The CW & CBS

The CW and CBS are complete opposites. The CW shouldn't be in business, and CBS is THE business. The CW aims for teenagers to lose their shit on social media. CBS aims for the median age of the people in my office. I've never understood the Blue Bloods audience more than in the last year. My interest in The CW is odd and possibly unhealthy. I'm endlessly fascinated with its shows and attractive actors. I'll watch Reign just for Adelaide Kane. I'm not endlessly fascinated by CBS. CBS lulls me to sleep. I never wrote about Elementary's "Pilot" because I went to sleep mid-episode. I never watched any episode after The Gifted Man's "Pilot" because I went to sleep mid-episode. The best part about CBS this season is its decision to let How I Met Your Mother end.


HART OF DIXIE returns Monday, October 7 at 8PM

Hart of Dixie is a sweet and charming show. I haven't watched an episode in a year and a half, but I feel happy when I think about the small-town quirks and Rachel Bilson's smile. Leila Gerstien, the series creator, talked exclusively about pairings and where each pairing will be in the new season. Zoe went to New York City for a fellowship in the finale, leaving her two men scratching their heads (the scrathing their heads bit is my speculation).

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST returns Monday, October 7 at 9PM

Season 2 picks up 3 months after season 1. Kristin Kreuk's Catherine is in a bad place. Vincent's abscense hasn't helped her. Kreuk, at Comic-Con, spoke about Catherine needing to find identity without Vincent. I think every writer for every CW show should find their female characters identity outside of their male attachments.

SUPERNATURAL returns Tuesday, October 8 at 9PM

Supernatural's the last show from TheWB days. The show runner, Jeremy Carver, wants a tenth season and possibly and eleventh and twelfth. Sam's sick after the performed ritual. More fallen angels are heading to earth. I think I read Castiel will have no powers when the season opens. Mind you, what I'm typing is confusing to me.

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES returns Thursday, October 3 at 8PM

The Mystic Falls gang heads to college in season five. College is a dangerous setting for TV writers because TV writers usually botch the college setting. The first promo for season five doesn't preview the potential college hijinx. Maybe the narrative hasn't jumped that far ahead. Elena and Damon open the season as a couple without a sire bond. Silas is around for--sigh--awhile yet while Stefan's under water. The Originals have gone to New Orleans. I'm looking forward to an Originals-free TVD season.

ARROW returns Wednesday, October 9 at 9PM

Summer Glau and The Flash are coming to the second season of last year's best new network drama. Arrow took the superhero movie structure and made it work on a weekly basis. Season 1 ended with Tommy's death, his father's death, and more intrigue in the flashbacks. Season 2's probably going to be bigger and better than season two if it follows recent superhero success. Spiderman 2 set the standard of quality for sequels. Amell is capable of more than building his six-pack of abs. His comedic and dramatic chops are on par with a young David Boreanaz. I'd like the writers to give Willa Holland's Thea an actual arc.

THE CARRIE DIARIES returns Friday, October 25 at 9PM

Lindsey Gort's portraying the younger Samantha Jones, Sex & The City's most beloved character. Expect Carrie and Samantha to meet in the season premiere.

NIKITA returns in late fall for its final episodes.


HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER returns Monday, September 23 at 8PM

Final season! Final season! Final season! Season 8 concluded with the introduction of the mother. Season 9's set entirely during Robin and Barney's wedding weekend. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas said the audience will learn about the mother through flashbacks, flashforwards, and the present. Josh Radnor and Cristi Miloti will share scenes. I'm skeptical of the structure for the season. HIMYM's been terrible since season 5. The dangling plot threads from season 8 presumably won't be resolved until sometime in 2014, whether early or in May, during the finale. I'm watching it, and I'm writing about it.

2 BROKE GIRLS returns Monday, September 23 at 9PM

The girls will stage a soft opening for their cupcake business in the premiere.

NCIS returns Tuesday, September 24 at 8PM

TV's #1 rated drama had some turnover in the casting over the summer. Cote de Pablo left the series because she wanted to leave the series, leaving a lot of money to do so. The season premiere will wrap up the character's story. Presumably the writers will write the character's exit so that she can come back for a series finale, or a special arc.

NCIS: LOS ANGELES returns Tuesday, September 24 at 9PM

(from the CBS website) "Chris O'Donnell (Special Agent G. Callen), Linda Hunt (Henrietta "Hetty" Lange), Barrett Foa (Tech Operator Eric Beale) and Renée Felice Smith (Intelligence Analyst Nell Jones). While Sam and Deeks recover from traumatic torture that will have a lasting impact on their personal and professional relationships, the NCIS: LA team searches for stolen nuclear weapons, on the fifth season premiere."

CRIMINAL MINDS returns Wednesday, September 25 at 9PM

(from the CBS press release, July 2013) NEW SEASON: Series will mark its 200th episode this season. Esai Morales will recur as new Section Chief Matt Cruz, who has a previous working relationship with JJ. Also, Camryn Manheim will guest star as the protective mother of an UnSub in a two episode arc; and Joe Mantegna will direct his first episode of the series.

CSI returns Wednesday, September 25 at 10PM

George Eads had a spat with a CSI writer and will not be in a number of episodes this season. The Eads news item is more interesting to me than the tease about a death in the CSI family that'll rock Ted Danson's D.B. Russell.

THE BIG BANG THEORY returns Thursday, September 26 at 8PM

When Leonard's away, Penny and Sheldon will hug. For whatever reason, Sheldon will feel crushed by Leonard's return. The show's bound to pair Sheldon and Penny in some kind of romance, right? If not now then when the writers get really desperate for ideas.

TWO AND A HALF MEN returns Thursday, September 27 at 9:30PM

Angus T. Jones is really gone?

ELEMENTARY returns on Thursday, September 26 at 10PM

"Step Nine," the title of the season premiere, was shot in London. Watson and Sherlock want to meet his old mentor for guidance. Wait. Sherlock doesn't need guidance. He's Sherlock Holmes. Mycroft's going to tell some secrets about his brother. Oh yeah, Sherlock and Watson will solve a mystery in the premiere.

HAWAII FIVE-O returns Friday, September 27 at 9PM

H5-O's ratings weren't up to snuff on Monday nights. CBS moved it to Friday because it succeeds in international markets. The premiere seems exiciting. McGarrett turns on his own and threatens Kono's safety all for the sake of finding his mother. He's working with Wo-Fat, or some such plot thing. An original character from the 1970s show will help McGarrett be an ass.

BLUE BLOODS returns Friday, September 27 at 10PM

(From "Frank (Tom Selleck) visits the graves of fallen police officers, after reflecting on a recent armed robbery that ended with the death of an NYPD police officer, on the fourth season premiere." Selleck looks slick in shades.

THE GOOD WIFE returns Sunday, September 29 at 9PM

I'm going to drink a sot of vitamin D milk each time I read the word 'explosive' or 'explosion.' There will be an explosion this season, but I'm not sure if it'll be an actual explosion or a figurative explosion. Co-creator Robert King said to expect civil war in season five. Characters will leave. Alicia's planning to LEAVE THE FIRM. Whoa.

THE MENTALIST returns Sunday, September 29 at 10PM

The Red John storyline's long since been resolved, right? NOPE. Red John's yet to be unmasked. The Mentalist is now worse than Once Upon A Time's seemingly never-ending Peter Pan/Henry story upcoming in its third season. James Hibbard, who writes for Entertainment Weekly, is confident Red John's identity gets revealed.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

2013 Fall TV Preview: the Returning Shows on Cable & Premium

The fall television season for cable begins tonight, actually. Luther's four night run premieres at 10PM on BBC America. There are plenty of options for primetime entertainment until Christmas, including reality television, which I do not preview.


CHINA, IL returns Sunday, September 22 at 11:30PM

THE HEART, SHE HOLLER returns Wednesday, September 11 at 12:15AM


THE WALKING DEAD returns Sunday, October 13 at 9PM (and TALKING DEAD returns the same night at 11PM, which is then followed by Kevin Smith's Comic Book Men at 11:30pm)

The Walking Dead's third season received tremendous hype. Anticipation about the governor, Michonne, and the prison was fever pitch. Glen Mazarra was supported by fans and critics. Both felt he knew what went wrong under Daranbont. Mazarra left the series after finishing post on season three. Scott Gimple replaced him as show-runner. Critics pointed to episodes he'd written as a sign he'd continue to steer the show in a good direction. We're the outsiders though. Credits are just credits. Many show runners don't like to jump someone's credit. TV writing's entirely collaborative. What matters more than individual scripts is the Idea and the execution of it, of mapping and arcing a season. Darabont and Mazarre couldn't figure out how to sustain 13 episodes of The Walking Dead. Season 3 concluded weakly. Season 4 previews promise more action, more zombies, confrontations, new characters, and it looks like fun. Season 3 looked fun, and was fun, until the second half hit a wall. I'd like for writers to break a show and write it like they'll never get to tell stories again. The Walking Dead needs to put together a whole season.

I'm really looking forward to Larry Gilliard Jr.'s role this season.


LUTHER returns Tuesday, September 3 at 10PM

Idris Elba doesn't want series three to be the end of Luther. A fourth series (season) and a film is a possibility. Elba's gotten into major motion pictures, but he excels on TV. He's limited in movies. He's good in Prometheus and Pacific Rim. He's just there, in a odd costume, in Thor. In The Wire, he dominated the screen as Stringer; he dominates it more as Luther. Luther runs for four consecutive nights--the 3rd through the 6th.

DOCTOR WHO returns Saturday, November 23 at 9PM

Pete Capaldi's the new doctor, replacing Matt Smith, for the newest season. Matt Smith promised fans they'd forget about him as the doctor. Fans adored Matt Smith. I'm ignorant of all-things-Doctor-Who, but I'll talk to you endlessly about the six seasons of Dawson's Creek. So, there's that.

RIPPER STREET returns Sunday, December 1 at 10PM

BBC America's enjoying a great period of success and critical acclaim. Ripper Street's part of the reason BBC America's recent success. The eight episode second season premiered in January in the United Kingdom and should fit well in the winter here in the U.S.A. where it can be dreary and depressing like the streets of 19th century England.


TOSH.0 returns Tuesday, September 3 at 10PM

BRICKLBERRY returns Tuesday, September 3 at 10:30PM

I may appreciate Brickleberry's comedy after camping in Yosemite National Park for a night in mid-August. Chances are slim I'll actually watch an episode. The amount of content available to consume and watch is overwhelming. In the premiere, Woody becomes an evangelist. Okay, I might watch that.

KEY & PEELE returns Wednesday, September 18 at 10:30PM

Let me turn it towards Key & Peele fans in an attempt to open up an interaction with potential commenters. Please link seven of the best Key & Peele sketches. I'd like to watch Key & Peele.

SOUTH PARK returns Wednesday, September 25 at 10PM

Trey Parker and Matt Stone changed it up in their 17th year of writing, producing, directing and voicing South Park. South Park's season won't be split between the spring and the fall. Instead, Trey and Matt will produce 10 episodes every fall. South Park's still going strong nearly two decades later.


30 FOR 30 returns Tuesday, October 1 at 8PM

The new documentaries for 30 for 30 cover the NBA and ABA merger, the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan rivalry, and the New York Islanders. Kevin Connolly ('E' from Entourage) directed the Islanders documentary. The new documentaries also cover the career of Jimmy Connors, Sugar Ray Leonard's bouts with Robert Duran, and big wave surfer Eddie Aikau (I heard about him from The Rock, on TNT's The Hero).


SONS OF ANARCHY returns Tuesday, September 10 at 10PM


IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA returns Wednesday, September 4 at 10PM

It's Always Sunny moves to its shiny new network and to a shiny new night. The Paddy's gang will compete with South Park sooner than later. The promos for the new season reveal nothing about what to expect. The promos have used a French expressionistic style, which does not work for the show. Experimentation is cool though.

THE LEAGUE returns Wednesday, September 4 at 10:30PM

TOTALLY BIASED WITH W. KAMAU BELL returns Wednesday, September 4


BOARDWALK EMPIRE returns Sunday, September 8 at 9PM on HBO

EASTBOUND & DOWN returns Sunday, September 29 at 10PM

The multi-twist conclusion to season three lost me as it happened. Fake-deaths rarely work in the long term in any narrative medium. Writers have to do the leg work to restore the familiar formula. Kenny's family and friends (only Stevie actually) will learn the truth. The watchability of the season will be decided after the truth comes out. I'm intensely disinterested in watching fake-death fallout. Aside from that potential weakness, I get a kick out of the series. Danny McBride's great as foul-mouthed Kenny Powers. HBO's said season four is the last. I figure Kenny's going to get his happy ending, right? But it's totally possible Kenny will not get his happy ending and that the lasting message from the series is about how people don't change.

TREME returns Sunday, December 1 at 9PM

HBO gave David Simon and Eric Overmyer a lump sum to make a final season. Simon and Overmyer were able to stretch the money out over five final episodes. I like Treme as much, or maybe even more, than The Wire. Last season was excellent. I think the familiarity with the characters, the town, et al, is why season three stood out and joined the ranks of the best single seasons of television. Treme can be sad, joyful, mournful, rhasphodic. It focuses on people doing the best with what they can on a day-to-day basis, finding joy admist their sadness and struggles in music, art, dance, cooking, or any kind of creation. Time will tell whether Treme has the success of The Wire after its finale. I'd doubt it. Too many folk made up their minds about Treme. If you give this show a chance, you'll be rewarded. I'll be sad to say goodbye.


FOYLE'S WAR returns Sunday, September 15 at 9PM

Foyle's War is a returning series? Really? British writers seemingly create every detective or thriller series as a perioid piece set in in the war era or post-war era.

FRONTLINE returns Tuesday, September 17 at 10PM

I'm not certain, but I think Frontline's airing the concussions documentary to launch the fall run. ESPN pulled out of the project after the NFL pressured the company to--these are the drawbacks of a business partnership with a league. ESPN reporters expressed disappointment in the decision. ESPN doesn't want to cause harm to its very lucrative relationship with the NFL. The concussion is a problem a settlement won't erase. Former players will get the necessary medical benefits they need to help them maintain a healthy quality of life, but the season starts Thursday. Players will continue to get concussed. Players will continue playing days after the concussion. The documentary's sure to open even more eyes about the dangerous consequences of playing a game, but I'm interested in a solution. Any solution would be complicated to figure out without a massive change to the game and the business. It's messy.


HOMELAND returns Sunday, September 29 at 9PM

Critics and fans were typically more down on Homeland in its second season, but a decent final stretch seemed to save the show from a 'sophomore slump' distinction. Expect some aftermath from the terrorist attack on the intelligence apparatus. Carrie and Saul will find themselves swept up in a media firestorm, while Brody hides out in various Off-Broadway productions as an extra.


HAVEN returns Friday, September 13 at 10PM

Haven's gotten a lot of mileage out of a short story collection. What's new for season 4? Colin Ferguson's joined the cast. He starred as the sheriff in Eureka. Audrey disappeared into the magic barn. Speculation abounds about what she'll be when she emerges from the barn. I listened to a Nerdist Writers Panel with the Jaws screenwriter. He said a story can do anything as long as it makes sense within that world. Walking into a magic barn to stop something catastrophic? Cool.


MAJOR CRIMES returns Monday, November 25 at 9PM

Major Crimes resumes its second season in late November. TNT renewed it from a third season.


WHITE COLLAR returns Thursday, October 17 at 9PM

PSYCH returns Sunday, December 15 at 9PM

Tomorrow: the returning shows on The CW & CBS

Monday, September 2, 2013

2013 Fall TV Preview: the Returning Shows on ABC

Welcome to Week 2 of the 2013 Fall TV Preview. Week 1 was wildly success (I'm lying; it wasn't). ABC kicks things off for the third year in a row. I wrote about the critics disdain for ABC president Paul Lee last week, but they acknowledge ABC's success with its veteran shows. Revenge and Once Upon A Time enter season three this month. Grey's Anatomy is entering its tenth season. Castle's on season six. The Neighbors and Nashville got a second season. ABC struggles to develop and maintain new shows. I don't know why. How futile is network analysis with the growth of streaming servies such as Hulu and Netflix? Network analysis is interesting and worthwhile, but network executives must feel a sense of unease and panic about the future of making profit from TV shows in the old model. ABC's goal will to end its streak of fourth place finishes. No network wants to be one spot better than The CW--that's embarrassing.

LAST MAN STANDING returns on Friday, September 20 at 8PM

Google Last Man Standing. Auto-complete suggests 'last man standing cancelled' as the second best search item. The Duck Dynasty family will try acting in a different kind of scripted series this season on Last Man Standing when they guest-star. The heavily bearded men and Tim Allen should make for good on-screen chemistry. From what I read on Zap2It, Tim Allen's character is again threatened by the women in his life. It's very possible Zap2It's as clueless as I am about Last Man Standing and just hoped typing out the premise of the series would work in the article. I thought Last Man Standing moved away from threatened masculinity into generic family sitcom.

THE NEIGHBORS returns on Friday, September 20 at 8:30PM (NEW NIGHT)

I wrote about two episodes of The Neighbors last season and would've watched the series weekly if not for my attempt to cover an overwhelming amount of TV. I don't think my viewership of The Neighbors is essential to me. I won't fall into despair for missing the series. TV sites don't bother too much with the story of a show in its news items or previews. Casting news and spoilers are the most important news item. I've no idea what's in store for season 2. I know the blonde actress from Secret Life (Megan Park) who made it on The Soup a lot joins the series.

CASTLE returns on Monday, September 23 at 10PM

Series creator Andrew Marlowe didn't lie about Castle and Beckett's coupling last season. This season, their relationship may take the next step to engagement. Season 5 concluded with Castle's marriage proposal, but fans have waited three months for Beckett's answer. I don't watch Castle, but I'll guess what her answer will be: she'll neither say yes or no, instead delaying it only for the two to have a romantic scene of affirmation to end the premiere.

THE MIDDLE returns on Wednesday, September 25 at 8PM

The Middle's entering its fifth season. Modern Family hogs the critical acclaim, I suppose. Rachel Dratch was cast as a middle school principal for the fifth season.

MODERN FAMILY returns on Wednesday, September 25 at 9PM

Fifth seasons are potentially messy and problematic. By season five, many stories have been told, many personal arcs have been completed, and lazy ideas like 'wedding' make it to the final draft. Modern Family created a marketing campaign around a pregnancy, though, so I doubt their audience will scoff at a wedding. I'm just that guy, I guess. Adam DeVine, from Workaholics, joined the cast. Fred Willard's going to get more screen time.

NASHVILLE returns on Wednesday, September 25 at 10PM

Rayna's in a coma after the accident in the season finale. The writers can't keep Rayna in a coma that long. Connie Britton's much better speaking dialogue, moving around, than when she's not moving around and speaking dialogue. Last season's finale included a marriage proposal and a sex tape scandal. Why not go soap broke after settling on a coma storyline for the second season. ABC president Paul Lee promised Jolene and Rayna's rivalry will 'come to a head.'

GREY'S ANATOMY returns on Thursday, September 26 at 9PM

The season 10 premiere spans 2 hours and features a mudslide. Last season opened with the aftermath of an exploded bomb. Is this show still a hospital drama? The Grey's doctors will treat a bunch of firefighters, if I read what I read correctly. 10 seasons is an impressive feat. It's the longest running scripted drama (unless Supernatural's been on a few weeks longer). Sandra Oh will leave the series during the season. I'm sure something horrible will befall her character. How many original characters remain?

ONCE UPON A TIME returns on Sunday, September 30 at 8PM

I quit on OUAT 11 episodes into season 2. I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't take the crappy special effects, the absurd amount of characters and storylines, and the sense that none of it mattered and none of it was going anywhere. I read the little myrmaid will be introduced into the story. Evil Peter Pan wants Henry, but it'll take 11 episodes to understand Pan's interest in the kid. Are you kidding me? 11 episodes? Using 11 episodes to explain evil Peter Pan's intentions is why I'll never watch Once Upon a Time again. Co-creator Adam Horowitz said the adventure to Neverland is its own story with comedy, adventure, romance, and unnecessarily long plot developments. No one needs an 11 hour Peter Pan movie.

REVENGE returns on Sunday, September 29 at 9PM

Season 2 of Revenge was a miserable experience. Mike Kelley and his room couldn't create enough stories to justify a 22 episode order. Plot threads dragged and then dropped when something more interesting came up. I still don't know how the Jennifer Jason Leigh plot line resolved. Did it resolve? Mike Kelley departed the show. The new show runner must justify a 22 episode order. It's all that matters. Don't make your audience aware they are wasting their time watching television. Make it worthwhile enough to help people forget they're wasting their time. I wrote about the first two seasons of the show, but I've bid it goodbye.

SCANDAL returns on Thursday, October 2 at 10PM

Recappers and reviewers need to find a different adjective to describe cliffhangers. If I ever use 'explosive' to describe a cliffhanger, I deserve spam from the DISH network. A simple perusal of the internet about the Scandal finale results in recaps about the explosive cliffhanger. I think a bomb went off. In fact, Olivia learned her dad plotted to kill her; plus, she needed to decide whether or not to continue with her affair with the president. Those plot points aren't explosive. Surprising? Yes. Use surprising. Another headline for season promises a 'shocking' premiere. Of course. Expect shocking storytelling and Lisa Kudrow.

Tomorrow: the returning shows across the cable and premium channels.

About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.