Posts Tagged ‘ blacklist ’

The Upfronts 2016: NBC

nbc network logoI don’t watch anything from NBC, actually I’m beginning to realise I don’t watch much network TV at all! NBC are rapidly just filling their schedules with cheesy procedurals tied together by being set in Chicago. Their drama line up isn’t particularly inspiring and their comedies have basically all been cancelled, mostly after less than a whole season. It’s not looking particularly good for them, and the lack of trailers for their new shows isn’t really indicating a lot of confidence either.

Cancelled
heroesrebornHow many times can Heroes get cancelled? Well at least twice according to current evidence. I didn’t make it past the first episode of the resurrection, either because it wasn’t very good or because actually Heroes was always smug and not that good and I didn’t notice at the time. Mysteries of Laura starred Deborah Messing in some of the worst casting I’ve ever seen, but surprisingly made it through the second season before being bumped off. Sitcom Undateable’s third season was apparently entirely live episodes, but that wasn’t exciting enough to get it renewed again.

Cancelled in the middle of their first seasons were: Crowded, a comedy about a re-filled empty nest; Game of Silence a drama I’d never heard of; Heartbeat a medical drama starring Melissa George as the world’s least likely transplant specialist; The Player, action about gambling/crime organisation; and utterly generic sitcom Truth be Told. Comedies You, Me and the Apocalypse, a Sky/NBC joint effort and Telenovela, set behind the scenes of a Spanish soap opera, are winners relatively speaking because they at least made it all the way through their first seasons before being cancelled.

Oh and variety show, Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, (based on Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway!) was apparently misnamed and won’t be back either.

Renewed
blacklistNBC is basically now powered by Chicago’s emergency services – Fire (renewed for fifth season), PD (third) and Med (second) will all return. The Blacklist got a long way for me just on the watchability of James Spader, but I eventually lost interest. My lack of viewing hasn’t sopped its renewal for season four though. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit continues ever onwards into season 18, one of the few procedurals that I’ve never actually watched. Every year when it’s renewed, this time for a sixth season, I think I should have a look at Grimm again, and every year I forget 5 minutes after posting the article.

Only three of the freshman shows got pick-ups for a second series, which with the six cancellations doesn’t make a terribly good year for NBC. Blindspot was a ratings hit, I did watch the pilot but was utterly uninspired by it. Shades of Blue is the Jennifer Lopez cop drama which doesn’t seem to be getting much press but is picked up anyway, and the above mentioned Chicago Med makes the third

nightshiftSummer shows are out of sync on renewals so their upcoming seasons were actually all announced last year. The Night Shift is a somewhat mediocre medical drama that I rather liked the first season for the actors in it and the occasional quirkiness, but I no longer get the channel it airs on and I’ve not seen the second season; the third season starts in June. The first season Aquarius wasn’t quite what it could have been, but with David Duchovny leading, it’s very watchable and the second season starts soon.

New/Resurrected
The Good Place – Kristen Bell is accidentally sent to heaven where she doesn’t quite fit in with the no swearing, no drinking, always nice crowd. I love Kristen Bell, and Ted Danson back in comedy land is something to be celebrated, but the trailer didn’t make me want to watch any more.

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This is Us – a dramedy about people born on the same day. It looks like a collection of made for TV movies. Nothing interesting at all.

Timeless – a time travelling criminal is trying to destroy America and a historian, a scientist and a soldier are trying to stop him. Created by Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and Eric Kripke (Supernatural) I had high hopes for this, but the trailer didn’t do much for me.

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Chicago Justice – We’ve run out of emergency services (I don’t think the landscape necessstates Coast Guard or Mountain Rescue) so this is set in the State’s Attorney office. Presumably in 2020 I’ll be making snide remarks about Chicago Refuse Collection or Chicago Tax Auditors.

The Blacklist: Redemption – Given that the only reason to watch the original was James Spader a spin-off doesn’t seem like a particularly inspiring idea, one centred around Liz’s annoying pretend-husband Tom seems even less ideal.

Emerald City – NBC attempting to muscle in on the ‘magic’ of Once Upon a Time with a character list including Dorothy, The Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio – now that’s good casting!), Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the East. Doesn’t seem to be much more information on how it fits in with the books, but there’s plenty of material.

Trial and Error – “fish out of water” comedy with a New York lawyer in a small town in the South. There’s lots of “quirky” characters and the press release genuinely says “Making a Murderer can be funny”.

Marlon – “loosely inspired by the real life of star Marlon Wayans”, who I’ve never heard of. Usual blather about a bloke trying to be a father despite being the biggest kid of all. Because that stereotype never gets old.

Midnight, Texas – Base on the book series by Charlene Harris (True Blood), it seems to be a murder mystery set in a tiny Texas town full of paranormal people – witches, psychics. Sounds interesting enough.

Powerless – set in the DC Comic Universe, but based in a normal office of an insurance company who have to deal with life in a world of superheroes. It’s a fun idea, and stars Danny Pudi (Community) and Alan Tudyk (Firefly) which has potential, but it could just be a painful Office wannabe.

Taken – oh god, it’s a prequel series to the Liam Neeson film series. As if those weren’t repetitive and awful enough by themselves!

The Wall – oh my god, is this the same as the Hole in the Wall that was on the BBC? If it is, apparently Chris Hardwick (The Talking Dead) is the new Dale Winton!

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2014/15 Season

I’m getting worse and worse at actually writing stuff promptly. So my end of year wrap up comes after several of the 2015/16 shows have already started. Oh well, better late than never. I’m only talking about US shows here, I think I’m going to move the UK series so that I look at them at the end of the year. Frankly that’s pretty arbitrary but I watch so little UK television that adding it to the list just looked embarrassing. Also I’m focussing more on the returning shows as all the new things got their own little article last week.

Things I’ve watched

The Affair: S1
American Horror Story: Freak Show (S4)
The Americans: S3 (in progress)
Aquarius (in progress)
The Blacklist: S2 (half)
Criminal Minds: S10 (failed to review)
CSI: S15
Defiance: S3 (in progress)
Downton Abbey: S5
Forever: S1 (half)
Game of Thrones: S5 (half)
The Good Wife: S6
Grey’s Anatomy: S11
Jane the Virgin: S1 (review pending)
Justified: S6
Mad Men: S7 Part 2
Madam Secretary: S1 (half)
Marvel’s Agent Carter: S1
Marvel’s Agents of Shield: S2
NCIS: Los Angeles: S6 (failed to review)
The Newsroom: S3
Orange is the New Black: S3 (review pending)
Orphan Black: S3 (just starting)
Penny Dreadful: S2
Perception: S3 (failed to review)
Scandal: S4
Stalker: S1 (failed to review)
Transparent: S1
The Walking Dead: S5

So that’s 27 series, although four of them I only watched part of the season before giving up and four are still in progress. I think that’s probably about 340 episodes? It felt like I watched less television this year, but actually it’s up on last year’s count of 20 series. I think though that a lot of what I watched was just less memorable so it doesn’t feel like I’ve watched as much. 20 episodes each of Criminal Minds, NCIS LA, CSI and Scandal all add up pretty quickly, yet take up remarkably little space in my brain.

I watched six new shows to completion this year, an additional two I made it half way through and actually Orange is the New Black and Justified were both new series for me too which I binge watched from the start and then caught up to the current season. So 10 shows that appear on this year’s list but weren’t on last year’s. In the other direction there were 9 series that I watched last year which didn’t return. Five I chose not to pick up again: Castle (I just got bored with it), The Big Bang Theory (I just missed the start and never felt like catching up), The Following (just too ridiculous), Extant (I don’t think I even got through the whole first season) and The Lost Ship (couldn’t be bothered) . Two I haven’t got round to yet: House of Cards: S3 (it’s in my new Netflix queue) and The Night Shift: S2 (still no UK distributer). Almost Human was cancelled and Fargo didn’t broadcast any new episodes.

The more I think about the list of shows I’ve watched, the more underwhelmed I am with the year. Did I miss something? Have I watched so much TV that I’ve over-dosed and its lost its appeal? I just don’t think anything this year was outstanding. Even the shows that I list below for plaudits are mostly ongoing series that have just continued doing what they do, well. Where were the paradigm shifts? The big evolutions? The watercooler moments? It just feels like a very flat year.

Best Shows
Orange_Is_the_New_Black_Title_CardOrange is the New Black was a show that I’d wanted to watch from the get-go, but couldn’t justify the Netflix cost for. I finally caught up on the first season on dvd and then binged the second and third over a week or so when I finally gave in and signed up to Netflix. The lightness of the humour and the positivity of the relationships is starkly contrasted with the bleakness of the characters’ situations. The acting and writing is wonderful, the slow reveals of characters’ pasts through flashbacks is particularly clever and the whole thing is fresh, original and utterly compelling.

Justified_2010_IntertitleJustified was a great discovery for me, which I should thank Sky Boxsets for. I caught up with the first five seasons in just a few weeks and then got to watch the final season as it broadcast. I loved the whole series, but was particularly impressed that rather than fade away, the final season was actually one of the best. It focussed back on the main trio of characters and played out the uncertainty of “good”, “bad” and “somewehre in between” to the very end. A masterclass in how to close out a series.

americansThe Americans has been slow to reach the UK so I’m only about half way through, but it continues to be absolutely fascinating. The focus is alwasys on the emotional impact of the secrets and lies all the characters have to tell, which is good for me because I often struggle to remember the details of the various conspiracies and am far more interested in watching the phenomenal Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell acting. I feel a bit of a cheat putting something on here that’s only half way through, but it seems unlikely it will take a nosedive now!

Honourable mention: Defiance got off to a surprisingly brutal but very interesting start. There’s so little science fiction on television outside the super-hero genre that it’s a huge relief that this one doesn’t suck.

Favourite Shows
greys anatomyGrey’s Anatomy – only 4 of the original cast are left by the end of season 11. Each time someone leaves I think the show will struggle without them, that their gap will be unfillable, but each time the characters and relationships mature and evolve, not to replace the missing person, but to grow around the gap and evolve the show into something new. I love how the characters have grown, how the relationships mature and how nothing in the past is forgotten, but all makes a part of the present. Yes, it’s a daft soap opera with unbelievable stuff happening, but if you accept that key premise, everything else makes perfect sense. It’s like a comfortable blanket at the end of the day.

Agent_Carter_Series_LogoMarvel’s Agent Carter – while Agents of SHIELD did improve this year it’s still got a lot of problems and the pressure of being a headline show for both ABC and Marvel isn’t helping it. Agent Carter however didn’t have any of the pressure or any of the problems and quietly came along with a phenomenal central cahracter and hugely entertaining story.

Honourable mention: Jane the Virgin was a breath of fresh, if extremely cheesy, air.

Same old, same old (in a mostly good way)
The Walking DeadThe Walking Dead – The relentless pace of The Walking Dead never stops (ironic, given the increasingly shambling nature of the zombies). In the space of twenty odd episodes an incredible amount happened and it’s only through the efficiency of the writing and the talent of the actors that all the characters manage to develop and every nuance is clear. I do wish that we could catch our breath a little, and that the characters could actually find some brief respite and happiness, but I guess that wouldn’t be The Walking Dead.

pennydreadfulPenny Dreadful continues to be an under-watched and under-appreciated gem. The period detail is stunning and the interweaving of various literary characters is fascinating. It’s definitely a show that benefits from watching in chunks though as it is quite easy to lose track of the many different threads.

Mostly honourable mention: Orphan Black has got off to a strong start to season 3 (I’m about 3 episodes in) but its storyline is becoming more convoluted and I hope it’s not going to get lost.

Same old, same old (in a middling way)
CriminalMindsCriminal Minds – I didn’t even bother to review Criminal Minds this year because I honestly have nothing to say and very little recollection of what happened. I mean, I guess it’s safe and familiar (as much as that’s weird to say about a graphically brutal series about serial killers) and it’s not that I want it to be cancelled or dramatically changed, but 10 seasons later it needs some energy.

csiCSI – the final season trundled along much as the last half dozen or so had gone. Unremarkable stories, increasingly losing touch with the actual science and credibility that the show was founded on. Mind you (spoiler alert) having just yesterday watched the final feature length episode, the last season comparatively the creative highpoint of the show.

Middlingly honourable mention: NCIS: Los Angeles continues to have fun with its characters but struggle when it comes to memorable and engaging plots.

Same old, same old (in a bad way)
scandalScandal – oh good lord. It just keeps getting stupider and stupider. The core relationships are all stunningly unhealthy and I endlessly wonder why any of them (friends, colleagues or lovers) stay together when they’re clearly all phenomenally bad for each other and in fact the rest of humanity. I think I might be done.

Game of ThronesGame of Thrones – I’ve finally given up. There’s way too many characters that I really don’t care about, too many drawn out plots that aren’t going anywhere and a complete absence of any real fantasy. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Dishonourable mention: not even James Spader was enough to make me stick with The Blacklist as its convoluted mess of a story left me completely confused and utterly uninterested in who was trustworthy or not.

What happened there?! (in a very bad way)
goodwifeThe Good Wife – I hate seeing The Good Wife down in this section, but the more I think about it, the more frustrated I was by this season. I’d been really looking forward to seeing what would happen with Cary and Alicia’s firm, particularly with Diane joining them… and I was cheated out of it by a ‘too fast’ change of direction that saw Alicia running for State’s Attorney. The ongoing ridiculous arguments with the old firm was just pantomime and Cary’s legal problems were just contrived and frustrating. There’s still a lot of good about the show, but all the major storylines were miss-steps.

The Upfronts 2015: NBC

nbc network logoOuch, 11 cancellations at NBC, with renewals of only 7 series (well, 8 if you count the resurrection of Heroes. Their new offerings almost universally tanked, the only one picked up was Mysteries of Laura which isn’t exactly topping anyone’s “must-watch” list. I don’t have a great deal of enthusiasm for their upcoming things either and NBC, like Fox are putting a lot of hope in resurrecting old series.

What’s Finished or Cancelled
Woohoo – nothing I watch at NBC was cancelled.
Parks and Recreation has been on my to-watch list for a long time and I’m gradually making my way through season 1 having been promised it gets better. Parenthood was one I also wanted to see but never managed to catch it. Both series at least were aware that these would be their last seasons (7 and 6 respectively) so got to wrap up properly.
New series that were cancelled were Marry Me, One Big Happy, Allegiance, State of Affairs, Constantine, The Slap, A to Z and Bad Judge (after 5 episodes), so relatively speaking About a Boy was a big success given it got to season 2.

What’s Returning
blacklistThe Blacklist season 2 is currently backing up on my Sky Box, even the overwhelming charm of James Spader isn’t drawing me into the plodding conspiracy stories. Chicago Fire is renewed for a fourth season; season 1 was a guilty pleasure, but not pleasurable enough for me to bother with season 2, or the spin off Chicago PD, (renewed for season 3) and Chicago Med will add to the family (I guess next year we’ll get Chicago Coast Guard? Mountain Rescue?). I’m more likely to catch up on The Night Shift, which is a little more fun and gets renewed for season 3. Also renewed: Law and Order: SVU will be back for season 17, The Mysteries of Laura (2), Grimm (5). Undateable is renewed for an all live third season.
Hannibal season 3 starts in June, as does the Charles Manson drama Aquarias so they are out of sync with upfront announcements.

New this Autumn

Blindspot: a woman is found naked in Times Square, covered in tattoos and missing her memories. One of the tattoos names an FBI agent who is equally clueless about what’s going on. They investigate and I would imagine things continue to be complicated. Interesting idea, but I got a bit tired thinking about how it would play out with continual one-step-forward-cliffhanger-one-step-back regularity.


Heartbreaker: Based on the real life heart transplant surgeon Dr Kathy Maliato (Melissa George), she’s a fantastic doctor with a “racy” personal life. Good grief NBC who wrote this crap? Anyway, yet another attempt to make a new Grey’s Anatomy, but utterly lacking the talent of Shonda Rhimes.


The Player: A former military operative is a security expert drawn into a game where people gamble on whether he can stop crimes. He tries to fight them from the inside, and there’s also a dead wife to be avenged. The trailer is well put together and has some nicely shot action, but I didn’t get a great deal of personality coming through. I’ll give it a try.


People are Talking: two sets of couples, both neighbours and friends are a “wildly outspoken foursome”. Heaven help us all. The laugh track on the trailer alone is reason to never go near this.

Heroes: Reborn, like X-Files at Fox this isn’t exactly new and didn’t exactly go out on a critical high. Unlike X-Files it’s mostly a new cast, but nostalgia will likely drag me back for a bit.

New Midseason

Chicago Med: Chicago Fire and Chicago PD worked, so apply the same recipe to medicine and you’ve got a solid but utterly unremarkable procedural I’d imagine. Oh hang on, Oliver Platt is in it!

Coach: Coach was a sitcom that ran from 1989-1997 about a college football team, it’s now being resurrected, focussing on the original Coach’s son. Craig T. Nelson will return to his Emmy winning role and I guess if it worked then, it will probably work now.

Crowded: Having briefly emptying their nest, Mike and Martine are not thrilled when their two daughters and Mike’s parents all decide to move in with them. It stars Carrie Preston, who is hilarious in The Good Wife (Elspeth!), but sitcoms rarely work out well for either me or NBC as a whole.

Game of Silence: A successful attorney is suddenly confronted with secrets from his childhood he thought were buried. Sounds awful.

Hot and Bothered: Behind the scenes at a latino soap opera. Stars Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives) but sounds awful.

Shades of Blue: Jennifer Lopez is a “sexy New York detective (and single mother)” who “fell in” with dirty cops, got caught by the FBI and now has to secretly work for them to catch the others. Really Mr NBC press release writer, we really had to know that she’s “sexy”, is that a core element of the plot. For pities sake.

Superstore: a family of employees at a super-sized megastore have hi-larious hijinks. Stars America Ferrara (Ugly Betty) who deserves better than this sounds.

You, Me and the End of the World: a one-hour comedy drama with a great cast It’s got a great sounding cast (Rob Lowe, Jenna Fischer and Megan Mullally) but the blurb makes me want to root for the end of the world:
“The news that a comet is on an unavoidable collision course with Earth sets in motion the most hilariously unexpected chain of events imaginable.. the story follows an eclectic group of seemingly unconnected characters around the world as their lives start to intersect in the most unexpected ways. When we say eclectic, we mean a rebellious priest, an unhinged white supremacist, a mild-mannered bank manager, a germ-phobic cyber-terrorist and an American five-star general. Some of these misfits are destined to make it to a bunker deep beneath the English suburbs of Slough and, as a result, will become the hugely unlikely (and totally unsuitable) future of mankind. Wouldn’t that be a disaster!”.
Still, not every day you see Slough referenced in an American television series.

2013-14 – New Shows

2013_2014I rather arbitrarily describe the television year for US shows as starting in September (UK shows I cover separately). By my estimates on Wikipedia there were 51 ‘serious’ new drama shows this year (my list was a bit arbitrary as I excluded stuff on smaller channels or that were imported from outside US or that I’d never heard of in the slightest), and I’ve watched 26 pilots, so I’m pretty happy with a 50% hit rate. As this is about US shows, there were a lot that haven’t or won’t make it to UK broadcasters, which in some cases is a shame but in a lot of others is no loss whatsoever.

Of the 52 pilots I identified, 25 were renewed for a second season and a further 7 haven’t been confirmed either way (many of the summer premiers are still broadcasting after all) which seems to me like a pretty good rate of success. But that’s quite heavily skewed to cable channels like HBO etc. Of 29 drama premiers on the five major networks, only 9 of them were picked up for a second season.

I watched 29 pilots (including 3 comedies) and only made it through the whole season of 7 of them. Frankly, I don’t think it was a very good year, last year I watched 23 pilots and 8 whole seasons. There was just nothing outstanding, even the ones that I did stick with, only Fargo would I really describe as great; Almost Human, Penny Dreadful and Blacklist were thoroughly entertaining and SHIELD had some highs amidst the frustrations. But frankly that’s a pretty lacklustre summary. Where are the stars, the headline grabbers, the must-talkabout shows? The only new shows that have fallen into that category this year have been British, this lot are all just a bit mediocre.

Shows I stuck with

  • almost_humanAlmost Human – a very ropey start killed this series before it realised the strength it had in it’s two central characters and actors. It was more ‘fun’ than ‘good’, many of the plots were mediocre retellings of standard tropes, but the bickering between the two cops was worth tuning in for.
  • The Blacklist – this show is all about James Spader, he’s wonderfully charismatic and unpredictable to watch. The ongoing story and mystery is also fairly engaging, although the ‘criminal of the week’ is generally pretty disposable.
  • agentsfoshieldMarvel’s Agents of SHIELD – not nearly as good as it should be. It did get better as the series went on and the story got bigger, but certainly the early episodes were extremely amateur. It could desperately do with more involvement from Joss Whedon, but the building blocks are there, so hopefully season 2 will buck up.
  • Fargo – it took me two attempts to get into the show, but that turned out to be a good thing, because by the time I came back to it, I could watch the whole thing in big blocks. The tone and setting and characters are all just the right level of quirky and contrast wonderfully with the bleak subject matter. Wrapping up the storyline makes for a very satisfying series, but it’s a shame we don’t get to spend more time with them.
  • nightshiftThe Night Shift – I’m about half way through this one too, mostly watched in the last couple of days. It’s far from excellent (the medicine is particularly improbable to anyone who’s watched an episode of ER let alone been in one) but the characters are interesting and the whole thing trots along at the perfect level for background watching while doing other boring tasks.
  • Extant – I’m about half way through this series on Amazon Instant Video and it’s passing the time. That’s pretty faint praise, but I can’t seem to get excited about it despite the interesting story and great actors that are involved.
  • Penny Dreadful – entertaining, engaging and disposable, does exactly what it sets out to do and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Shows that I may watch/return to

the100

  • The 100 – More teenagers. It’s was nowhere near as painful as the Tomorrow People, but I was again somewhat unenthused by the genericness of it. I may give it another couple of episodes to see if it can do anything original.
  • Sleepy Hollow – I watched about half this season before a recording failed and then I never quite got round to going back to it. I enjoyed each episode, but never really got fully engaged with the sprawling mythology. I may return to it in the future.
  • chicagopdChicago PD – just like Chicago Fire, this does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s rather by-the-numbers, but those numbers work for a reason.
  • Trophy Wife – I never actually reviewed it properly, because I watched it through somewhat dodgy methods, but this was actually a really charming and funny little sitcom. I’m biased because of my love of Bradley Whitford of course, but it’s a real shame that this series wasn’t better promoted and scheduled and got cancelled after its first season.
  • crisisCrisis – a nice idea and solidly delivered, the fact that it’s a contained story means that its cancellation doesn’t matter so much and effectively turns it into a mini-series which I may seek out at some point.
  • Resurrection – the pilot set up some nice ideas and it was certainly more interesting than the French Les Revenants which has pretty much the same plot, I’ve got the series stacking up on my sky plus, but I’ve not actually had sufficient enthusiasm to watch it yet.
  • rakeRake – playing up the charm and the humour makes this a pretty easy watch, but that may have got grating after a while.
  • Halt and Catch Fire – I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, but maybe it will grow on me. I’ll pick it up when it comes to the UK.
  • Black Sails – Like Pirates of the Caribbean without the annoying Johnny Depp. I’m going to add it to my “things to watch while baking” list.

Shows that weren’t my thing

masters_of_sex

  • Masters of Sex – I think it’s probably a superb series, but I didn’t like it. It’s an interesting idea, but I would have found it more interesting if they’d skipped the ‘obvious’ option of having the central characters get caught up in a relationship.
  • Intelligence – Fine, but the chip implanted in someone’s brain was already being turned into a magical fix-all even in the first episode and I immediately felt the writers didn’t have the restraint or skill to establish or stick to any rules of how it could be used, rather than just a magic thing that powers plots and dramatic timing.
  • truedetectiveTrue Detective – I didn’t get on with the style and found Matthew McConaughey’s character supremely irritating. I just decided that life was too short to force myself to sit through this no matter how Good it was.
  • Looking – the male, gay equivalent of Girls. It was less hateful than that series, and I made it through a couple of episodes before the awkwardness of the characters just made me cringe too much.

Shows that just weren’t good enough

  • starcrossedStar-Crossed – bland and derivative.
  • Ironside – generic, cliché and really, really boring.
  • Dracula – it was bright and full of energy but it was also a mess, with characters jumping about, loads of questions and very uneven tone. The whole thing felt very cheap and C-list, but it was potentially entertaining if only as something to mock.
  • legendsLegends – nice idea, but some disappointing choices undermined it. Also, I wasn’t convinced Sean Bean could pull off the complexity of the different roles.
  • Hostages – I didn’t like the story, I didn’t like the characters, I didn’t like the writing and I didn’t like the tone.
  • Tomorrow People – again, just very generic characters partnered with pretty much every superhero power in the box. No spark, no self-awareness, just built by committee.
  • reignReign – completely unbalanced, lurching from silly frippery to pretty brutal historical issues, either one could have been fun, but combined it was just a mess.
  • Believe – oops, I never wrote this one up. For a show about an adorable child, this wasn’t too bad, but fundamentally it was about a precocious child with super-powers and I’m not sure I can get past that.
  • Silicon Valley – I didn’t even make it through the whole first episode before I had to switch it off. Stereotype characters in awkward situations, I just don’t get the attraction.

I edited this post on 8th September because I’d left Penny Dreadful off the list. 

The Blacklist: Season 1

blacklistThis is the type of show that lives and dies with its star. The plot itself is pretty generic, the supporting cast relatively disposable, and there’s not really much in the way of directorial style to pull it all together. It’s all about the star. And these people knew exactly what they were doing when they built the entire show around James Spader.

What Spader does is make the show fun. There are plenty of gritty dramas and procedurals out there with moody heroes or anti-heroes who are “doing what has to be done, for truth, justice and the American way” or whatever. But while Red Reddington definitely has a mission, he also has a huge amount of fun along the way. His confidence in his own knowledge and abilities somehow doesn’t make him obnoxious, or maybe it does, it’s just that the fact the boring FBI agents he’s surrounded by find him spectacularly annoying and hence I find joy in watching their frustration.

Most importantly, he’s utterly unpredictable. You can never guess what Reddington will do, or how Spader will play something. He may opt to deliver earth shattering dialogue with a wink and a smile, or a soliloquy on the artistic merit of a painting as if it’s the most important thing in the world. He can be utterly chilling while talking about wine or light and joking while threatening to murder your family. He’s all over the place, but in a very very good way.

His unwilling partner gets the less glamorous job of playing the straight man, and I know some people have been pretty critical of her, but I actually maintained my positivity for her from the pilot. Her reactions may have been a lot more predictable and obvious than Red, but they were always appropriate and Megan Boone’s performance was always spot on. When she was emotional, I empathised and when she was cold, I believed that people should be afraid.

I guess I have to comment on the rest of the show, which just ain’t that great if you look at it coldly. The supervillain of the week was a bit variable, many of them seeming rather too easy to take down or just too gimmicky to really be credible. The ongoing mystery/conspiracy storyline frankly got rather too convoluted for me quite quickly and I rapidly gave up on it, although that didn’t really matter that much. The storyline with Liz’s husband was reasonably well done, bouncing back and forth a couple of times, but moving forward a lot faster than I’d expected it to.
The supporting characters are all pretty flat, most of them never raising beyond stereotype. Ressler starts to show flashes of humanity, but the other agents are very weak, particularly the outright awful Agent Cooper and the thankless role that Parminder Nagra got lumbered with. There’s a couple of slots open for new characters next year, it’d be nice to see some women that neither slept with Red nor were completely useless.

This is certainly in contention to be my favourite new show of the year, and James Spader will definitely be on my list of favourite performances of the year. Without him, it’s a mediocre drama which I doubt would have made it onto anyone’s radar. With him though, it’s a joy to watch.

The Blacklist: Pilot Review

Red Reddington is a fixer for criminals – he knows everyone and everything and has just turned himself into the FBI. But he’ll only talk to Agent Elizabeth Keen, who is about to have a very interesting first day at work.

This was one of the most intriguing trailers and proposals of the upfronts and I’m very happy to see that the pilot not only lived up to the promise of the trailer, but actually exceeded it.

What isn’t really surprising is that James Spader is terrific. He always manages to bring something unexpected to characters and Red is no different. The character/actor is never anything other than completely in control of the situation, even when handcuffed in a cage. What could have turned into a comedy super-villain in lesser hands becomes an intriguing multi-faceted character from the very first scene when he shows a tiny sliver of nervousness at walking into the hands of the police. His dry delivery manages to both lighten the tone and make you see the truth of a situation all at the same.

What was slightly more surprising is that relative unknown Megan Boone is every bit his equal. She gets plenty to do in the pilot and nails quiet and loud emotional moments, but also convincingly puts on the brave and stern FBI face when needed. I actually genuinely liked her character.

The trailer I linked to above is not the main one that NBC put out, which I avoided because it gave away pretty much the whole pilot in 4 minutes. Half of the joy of the show was being unaware of the zigs and zags that were coming. It’s a bit like a roller-coaster – nothing is truly surprising, you know there are twists and turns coming, but the first ride is always the best. I was really impressed at the way a number of questions are introduced, but it didn’t feel manipulative, “we can string you along forever because you have to know the answer to these mysteries.” It all felt quite organic.

It’s pretty early going, but being objective (and trying to look past my Joss Whedon obsession) this is going to take some beating as my favourite pilot of the year. It did everything it needed to do – introduced interesting characters, gave a good indication of what we can expect week-to-week and got me hooked on some interesting larger mysteries to run over the season(s), all while having some fun and action along the way. Fingers crossed it keeps it up.

The Blacklist airs on Sky Living on Friday nights and is available on Sky Go. It has been picked up for a full first season.

The Upfronts – NBC

nbc network logoThe Peacock network, best known for… um… While other networks have a bit of a personality to them, I’ve never quite been able to look at a show and say “that belongs on NBC”. Judging by the number of cancellations they have, they’re not so sure themselves. Also given the lack of trailers with most of their new shows, I’m not sensing a massive amount of confidence in having found the answer.

What’s out
smashBig shows bowing out are 30 Rock and The Office, both solid performers (although I can’t stand either of ’em) that have come to the end of their run. At the opposite end of the spectrum is a bunch of stuff that never really got started. Matthew Perry notches up another failed show with the cancellation of Go On, while 1600 Penn, Animal Practice, The New Normal and Guys With Kids were all terrible looking freshman comedies although not as bad as Next Caller it would seem given that it was canned before airing a single episode. Do No Harm was an uninspiring drama and Deception was apparently a “prime time soap opera” and I’d never heard of it. Up All Night and Whitney both bow out after 2 seasons. The only cancellation I’m a smidge sad about is Smash, which wobbled about too much and never lived up to the hype, but I kind of loved it anyway (although I haven’t seen the second season).

What’s returning
CommunityLaw and Order still maintains a television presence as Special Victims Unit goes into its fifteenth season! Critical favourites Community, Parks and Recreation and Parenthood could all easily have been pushed out, but NBC is sticking with them. Chicago Fire has been a big success (firemen saving lives and taking their tops off, who knew?) and will spawn a spin-off. Grimm gets a third season and Revolution a second. Still on the fence though is Hannibal which only started very recently.

What’s new
The Blacklist – Raymond Reddington (James Spader, Boston Legal) is one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, but now he’s turned himself in, and is handing the FBI criminals. It looks a bit Following, a bit Silence of the Lambs and I was utterly hooked by the trailer. James Spader is a fantastic piece of casting and I’m perilously close to actually being excited about this one.

The Michael J. Fox Show – Mike Henry (Michael J. Fox, come on, I’m not telling you what he’s been in!), was a top news anchor who’s returning to work after 5 years of dealing with his Parkinson’s Disease and kids. It’s weirdly semi-autobiographical and is trying to find a fine line between self-indulgent, inspiring and manipulative. Given the title… I’m not sure it’s been successful. But Fox’s talent may make it work.

Ironside – a remaking/re-imagining of the 1960’s series. It’s pretty much a standard New York police drama, just with the lead character in a wheelchair. That’s not to say that modulation isn’t an interesting or an important one, just that it feels perilously close to a gimmick.

Sean Saves the World – Pretty standard ‘balancing work with parenting’ thing, it’s just that Sean (Sean Hayes, Will and Grace) is long divorced and gay and his teenage daughter has only just moved in with him. Oh and there’s a difficult mother too. It’s the least funny thing I’ve seen all day and that’s saying something.

Welcome to the Family – Dan (Mike O’Malley, Glee) and Karina (Mary McCormack, The West Wing) think they can finally start their lives again when their daughter graduates and heads to college. The plan falls through when she returns home pregnant. Now the baby’s dad and his parents are on the doorstep and no one gets along. The only thing going for this is the cast and that it’s not as hideous as Sean Saves the World. I still won’t be watching though.

Dracula – Dracula (Jonathan Rhy Meyers, The Tudors) is bringing electricity to 19th Century London, but he’s also pursuing those who made him a vampire. I’ll be honest, I’m confused by both the trailer and the synopsis provided in the press release. It looks expensive, but also a bit rubbish.

About a Boy – Based on the Nick Hornby book (and presumably the Hugh Grant film), “man-child” Will discovers that women find single dad’s irresistible and sets up a deal with his 11 year old neighbour. Sounds annoying, but then I actually liked the film. Mind you I’m not sure the relatively unknown David Walton (Bent? Perfect Couples?) has Hugh Grant’s screen presence.

Believe – I’ll start with the good news, it’s written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) and Exec Produced by J.J. Abrams. The bad news is that the blurb is so awful I lost the will to live half way through. It’s something about a 10 year old girl with ‘magical powers’ like telekinesis and predicting the future who tours from city to city with her protector, a former death row inmate. It sounds cheesy, but maybe the names attached can pull it off, without a trailer it’s hard to predict.

Chicago PD – a spin-off from Chicago Fire based in the local police department with the beat officers and the intelligence unit combating organised crime. Hank Voight (Jason Beghe, Californication) and Antonio Dawson (Jon Seda, Treme) from Chicago Fire will transplant to this series and it will be interesting to see how the former, a villain on Fire, will be allowed to grow. For some reason there are no other fire department shows on television, and Chicago Fire filled that gap well, but given the plethora of cop dramas, I’m not sure that there’s anything special enough to make this stand out.

Crisis – A bus load of teenagers from an elite school are taken hostage, their parents are diplomats, CEOs and even the President, so how far will they go to get their children back, and what will that mean for the country. It’s an interesting and different concept, giving plenty of material for both the families and the officials. It stars Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding) and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) so it’s certainly got potential.

Crossbones – 1715, Blackbeard (John Malkovich, Being Himself) reigns over an island of pirates. An undercover assassin is sent after him, but finds that maybe Blackbeard isn’t as clearly evil as he seems. It’s a pretty original setting for a television show, but without a trailer, it’s hard to get particularly excited by a synopsis that falls a bit flat.

The Family Guide – the Fisher family are pretty unusual, Dad (J.K. Simmons, The Closer) is blind, Mom (Parker Posey, Louie) is rebelling because she didn’t when she was a teenager, daughter is obsessed with the 80s and son has always been his dad’s eyes but is now being replaced by a dog. It’s narrated from the future by the adult son, looking back the time where they all “discover who we needed to be”. Sigh.

The Night Shift – The night shift at San Antonio Memorial is home to a “special breed” of doctors, now not just challenged to save lives, but also to save money. I like the idea, but the names attached are all a little C-list with Eoin Macken (Gwain from Merlin), Ken Leung (Miles from Lost), Brendan Fehr (Michael from Roswell) and Freddy Rodriguez (Rico from Six Feet Under) – all fun in their roles, but the lack of heavy weights undermines everything a bit.

Undateable – Danny (Chris D’Elia, Whitney) takes on a group of romantically challenged friends in an attempt to teach them everything he knows about love. Sounds hideous.

Links
NBC has more information about all their shows on their website. I guess the trailers may turn up there at some point. The press release and schedule summary are at the Futon Critic.