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
Outlaw
The Cape
The Event
The Shadowline
The Whole Truth
Vera

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: Falling Skies

I’ve watched the first two episodes of Falling Skies, it’s not really a two-parter but that’s how they were shown in the US. Putting the two together is quite interesting as it nicely demonstrates that each episode is stand-alone, with a beginning middle and end, but there’s also a very strong thread running through to give an overall arc.

Reviewing science fiction shows these days poses an interesting dilemma – as a science fiction fan, with so little science fiction on the television, do I give what few shows there are an easy ride? I suspect I do. A science fiction show really doesn’t have to be very good to make me watch it, particularly as my housemates almost exclusively only watch science fiction and we are running desperately short of things to watch. It’s almost a given that I’ll watch at least the first few episodes of an sf show, whereas a procedural really has to impress on its pilot to make me watch more.

So with the bar set firmly at ankle height, it would take a particular level of incompetence to fail to get over it. The good news is that not only does Falling Skies not trip over, it actually manages a pretty good clearance. We’re not talking pole jumping medals admittedly, but it’s off to a solid and enjoyable start.

The concept gives the show a pretty good run up (to extend the metaphor even further) – 8 months after aliens invade and make a real mess of the planet, a bunch of survivors are going about what has become of their daily lives. It’s not about the big flashy early days of invasion, but about the daily trudge of finding shelter and food, and maybe as a sideline trying to come up with a plan to reclaim the planet, but mostly the food bit.

Neither is the show about a particularly remarkable group of survivors, they’re just a bunch of people thrown together. They’re over the shell-shock and grief stage, but that they haven’t forgotten that their lives used to be ‘normal. Their doctor is a paediatrician who finds herself doing emergency surgery on shrapnel and gunshot wounds and falling into a position as leader of the civilians. Their military leader is grizzly and several years out of service, his second is a military historian with minimal practical experience and a couple of kids to worry about. Thirteen year olds are soldiers, teenagers are scouts and everyone has to pitch in.

There’s an awful lot that will be familiar to anyone who’s watched anything in the alien invasion genre before. There’s the conflict between military and civilian; arguments about whether it’s better to fight a resistance or to keep your head down and focus on survival; and the standard collection of reprobates doing things that you’d rather hope the last survivors of mankind would have been above. But there’s also some careful avoidance of cliché, the academic is not only a pretty good tactician but a solid front line soldier, villains are not stupid and everyone is capable of reason, forgiveness and thoughtfulness.

The first episode was a little heavy on the action side of thing, feeling a little bit too much like a computer game at times, but the second episode had a bit more meat to it, making an interesting balance. Overall, I laughed, I cared about the characters, the action wasn’t exactly edge-of the-seat stuff, but it was fast and well done, and there were some interesting dilemmas to ponder and discuss. I’m quite looking forward to seeing what it does next.

Falling Skies starts Tuesday 5th July, 9pm on FX