2010-2011 – New Shows

I watched 30ish pilots this year, most of which I gave full reviews of. Last year I did 27 and this year most of the extra ones come from some random British series that I watched but didn’t pick up. Even with giving up on comedy pilots for the most part it was still a bit of a slog frankly with an awful lot of mediocrity out there.

Things I watched:

  • Blue Bloods – Frankly not very good – an interesting concept, but badly written. Just saved by the wonderful Tom Selleck
  • Downton Abbey – excellent fun, perfect for Sunday evening family viewing
  • Game of Thrones – Very entertaining and an impressive production
  • Mad Dogs – A great cast in a relatively mediocre production, thankfully very short
  • Outcasts – Entertaining, but massively flawed writing and plot holes. Not massively disappointed that it was cancelled.
  • Terriers – Charming, hilarious, interesting, entertaining and criminally cancelled
  • The Big C – hilarious and moving
  • The Walking Dead – The novelty made me watch it, but it was horribly cliché and flat

Two things jump out at me from that list. The fist thing is that genre shows get a bit of a free pass from me in that they only have to be not awful to get me to watch them. The second thing is there’s only one network show on the list, and even that one wasn’t very good. Other than that everything is either British, or on cable in the US; and they’re all short seasons. That’s not good, not good at all.

Might watch

  • Harry’s Law – the worrying preachiness of the pilot put me off, but given it survived a season, Kathy Bates might lure me back again
  • Hawaii Five-O – bright and entertaining popcorn action, I meant to watch it but I failed to catch it as it went past. I do intend to catch up though
  • Falling Skies – I enjoyed the pilot, but haven’t actually got around to watching the rest of it yet
  • Bedlam – Terrible Sky drama where Will Young was the best thing about it. I still have the last two episodes on the Sky box but haven’t quite got desperate enough to watch them.

Might’ve watched if they hadn’t been cancelled, might pick them up on dvd at some point

  • Chicago Code – OK, unremarkable, and then cancelled
  • Detroit 1-8-7 – solidly entertaining police procedural in a sea of mediocrity. Cancelled anyway
  • Hellcats – The pilot at least was entertaining in an awful Glee kind of way, it aired on MTV over here which was deeply annoying. Then it was cancelled.
  • Off the Map – It wasn’t as good as it wanted to be, but I enjoyed the pilot. It never seemed to make it to the UK at all due to its early cancellation I guess.

Not my thing

  • Being Human – not as good as the UK version, and I’m already 2 years behind on that
  • Boardwalk Empire – beautifully shot and acted and all that, but too slow
  • Exile – well acted and intriguing, I meant to watch the rest of the series but it disappeared from iplayer too fast and I wasn’t devastated
  • Nikita – felt like it was trying very hard (and maybe even succeeding) at being the next Alias, but given I never got round to watching that series I didn’t feel like committing to this one.

Just not very good

Body of Proof
Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour
Law & Order: Los Angeles
Lone Star
My Generation
No Ordinary Family
The Cape
The Event
The Shadowline
The Whole Truth

Not a great year
I just don’t think this was a very good year for new television. Looking back at last year’s freshman there are a lot of stand-outs, both critical successes like Justified, The Good Wife and Treme and ratings hits like Glee, NCIS: LA and The Vampire Diaries. There are a few direct comparisons this year (Boardwalk Empire is this year’s Treme, Hawaii Five-O this year’s NCIS:LA), but overall there’s an awful lot of mediocre going on.

Where’s the creativity? Even things that television executives hail as new and exciting aren’t really. The Walking Dead is a remake of just about every zombie film out there, Game of Thrones is a bog standard fantasy epic – Lord of the Rings for the smaller screen with less pointy ears. Next year’s most hotly anticipated show seems set to follow the trend with Terra Nova bringing Jurassic Park to the TV.

Superheroes are out – there was a flurry of superhero shows and none of them were any good. People keep trying to find the magic of the early season of Heroes and the massive success that’s being found by Marvel and DC Comics at the cinema, but no one’s managed it yet. Here’s an idea, stop pissing off Joss Whedon and get him to do one, after he’s done making millions with The Avengers that is.

Procedurals ain’t doing so well either. I enjoy procedurals but it’s been a while since a good one came along. Maybe the market is still too saturated, because even the ones that had potential and critical praise couldn’t find enough viewers to make a go of it.

Finally, they’re still all desperately trying to find the next Lost – people keep trying, but the high concept stuff just doesn’t seem to catch. High concept is something that can be explained in a sentence (“Lost: a plane crashes on island”, “Inception: you can enter and control people’s dreams”). This year’s main attempt, The Event, was a little too high concept I think “Something happens” really is a bit too high, I gave up after about four episodes – for a show called The Event – something should bloody well happen.


Pilot Review: Boardwalk Empire

Prohibition is arriving to 1920s Atlantic City and the politicians, workers, war veterans, mobsters and federal agents all have to work out what that means.

This isn’t just HBO. This is HBO directed and produced by Martin Scorsese. That means a number of things:

1) It’s gorgeous. It’s gorgeous to look at, a period drama with scale and depth to everything, whole streets full of dressed sets, massive venues with dozens of costumed extras. It looks like a movie, it probably cost about the same. And because it’s HBO it’s got a beautifully poetic title sequence, nowhere but cable would dedicate two minute of their runtime to lingering shots of floating bottles.

2) It’s got a big name star. Steve Buschemi makes it feel even more like a film. He’s not generally a leading man, he always seems a bit too weird and ‘big’ to headline something, but here the role is perfect for him. He gets to do the flamboyant, madly gesticulating rants, but also gets to do quiet moments full of emotion.

3) It’s morally ambiguous. I won’t be too specific, because part of the joy of the first episode is trying to work out where everyone sits in the massive grey area between good and bad. In some ways it would be nice to see something with the quality and grown-up-ness of a cable show that actually has clear cut good and bad guys, but I guess what I really want is for the quality to go to network shows, rather than the black and white to go to cable.

4) It’s gonna win awards. A cable drama is a big deal, a Martin Scorsese thing is a big deal, combine the two and I expect to see nominations all over the place. Particularly for Buschemi who really is the heart and soul of the show, even if it’s a slightly tarnished one. I suspect that when the supporting cast get a chance, they’ll all flourish too, but I found a lot of them unremarkable in the pilot.

5) It’s not exactly forgiving. I didn’t really know much about the period or the location, and I’m not sure that by the end I knew a great deal more. That’s kind of interesting as it really felt like each thing I found out was a major discovery, but it makes it quite hard work to watch.

6) It’s kind of dull. It’s all very worthy, very good and all, but at nearly an hour and a half it was a bit of a slog to get through. There’s a lot of staring at the beautiful production values and watching people emote, but not so much real action.

The lure of Buschemi’s performance may be enough to get me to watch a couple more episodes when it makes it to the UK, and it’s possible that a regular hour long episode won’t suffer from the same drag as the double-length pilot. However I was kind of hoping this would be more like Deadwood, fascinating period detail surrounding interesting characters and amazing dialogue. But it seemed more like Treme, a probably an excellent piece of programming that I don’t really have much interest in pursuing.

TV Squad: “Watch it if you loved: Shows like ‘Deadwood,’ ‘Rome’ and ‘The Pacific,’ richly detailed historical dramas with characters whose plights are deeply compelling. If you like a well-paced story and a sense of total immersion in another world or another time, this is the show for you.”
CliqueClack: “The long pilot was excellent, in my opinion, and I think the show has a lot of potential. I was most impressed with the production value. HBO has a good reputation for making cinematic television, but I would put Boardwalk Empire against any period piece film when it comes down to quality of the cinematography, direction, and production.”

Links: Official site, wikipedia, tv.com, imdb