2009-2010 – New Shows

Not including the comedies, I’ve watched 27 pilots this year, I’m discounting the sitcoms, ‘cos I’ve finally come to the realisation that I just don’t like them. Of those 27 I ended up watching the whole season of eight of those shows and partially watching another two of them before giving up. There are seven shows that I might pick up at some point and that leaves eleven that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. Twelve of the shows have been cancelled, most of the ones I wasn’t going to bother with and a few of the ones I did.

Watched Might Watch Not Gonna Watch
Defying Gravity The Gates The Beautiful Life: TBL
Glee The Good Guys The Deep End
FlashForward Justified Eastwick
The Good Wife Life Unexpected The Forgotten
NCIS: Los Angeles Parenthood Happy Town
Stargate Universe The Vampire Diaries Human Target
Trauma Mercy
White Collar Miami Medical
Past Life
Caprica Three Rivers
V Treme

The Good
The successes this year have been quite spectacular, Glee and The Good Wife have both been critical and popular success. Both are refreshing and enjoyable, the difference being that The Good Wife is really rather good, and Glee is really rather terrible. NCIS: LA meanwhile has been a big hit ratings-wise and is pretty entertaining. It delivered exactly what it promised as a cash in on a successful franchise and, for me, outshone its older sibling.

Stargate Universe has been a big success for sci-fi channel, managing to breathe new life into the 16 year old Stargate franchise without pissing off the old fans. I was critical of the pilot, but actually mostly impressed by the series as a whole and am looking forward to next season. White Collar was enjoyable, well written, with some great characters and has been a success for the relatively small channel it’s shown on. I enjoyed watching it, but it’s not quite remarkable enough to have spurred me to start watching the second season yet.

The Bad
I don’t really mean the bad shows here (that’s saved for the ugly section) more the things that didn’t work.

I was disappointed at the cancellations of Trauma and Defying Gravity, both of which I thought were well made, different, interesting and never really given a chance. Meanwhile V and Caprica I gave multiple chances and eventually gave up on (for reasons I explained in more detail over here).

There’s a number of other shows in my ‘might watch at some point’ list where I liked the pilots a lot, but just didn’t quite have sufficient enthusiasm to keep watching. A few didn’t quite have enough spark (Life Unexpected and Parenthood), a couple I just didn’t quite get along with (Justified and The Good Guys) and a couple were too cheesy even for me (The Gates and Vampire Diaries). Human Target is a tolerable addition to the genre of ‘cheesy, mindless, disposable action’, but I tend to satisfy my cravings for that through movies where the actors are better looking.

The other show I’m going to put in the ‘bad’ category is Treme. I just didn’t get on with it. I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t know who anyone was, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, I didn’t particularly like the music and generally found the whole thing a bit depressing. But the reason that I’m putting it in the ‘bad’ category, not the ‘ugly’ is because I think I’m probably missing something, I think it’s entirely probable the show is wonderful and that I just don’t get it. My loss, but life’s too short for me to watch something I didn’t like.

The ugly
There’s been some pretty public and miserable showings (FlashForward, I’m looking at you). The number of cancelled shows, some of which had big names, big budgets and big promotion behind them is a bit shameful. I feel quite smug about the fact that almost all the shows that I decided not to watch have been cancelled.

The biggest genre of casualties were the procedurals, Medical shows Miami Medical and Three Rivers only made it to 13 episodes, Mercy and Trauma at least it saw out the season, but neither was renewed. Legal show The Deep End couldn’t compare to it’s much more mature sibling The Good Wife and crime procedurals The Forgotten and Past Lives were doomed from the start with a terrible title and terrible premise respectively.

The other cancellations weren’t really any big surprise to anyone I don’t think. Happy Town suffered from trying too hard to be Twin Peaks and being dumped into the unforgiving summer schedules. I didn’t mind the pilot, but it was obvious from the start it wasn’t going to see out its storyline, so why bother watching at all, and yes, I do realise that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve no idea what went wrong with Eastwick, but I wasn’t particularly enthused about the pilot, and I guess no one else was either. The Beautiful Life: TBL meanwhile had so many things wrong with it, the mystery is how it ever got on the screen to start with.

What about next year?
Everyone is looking for the next CSI, the next Grey’s Anatomy and the next Lost, and marketing departments aren’t doing the shows any favours by trying to push the similarities. After this year where everyone was trying to copy the recent smash hits, the networks seem to have just gone back to the people who created those hits in the first place and asked them “please could we have some more”. Next season has a new medical series from Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), a new police drama from Shawn Ryan (The Shield), a new legal thing from David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice) and spin-offs in the shape of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour and Law & Order: Los Angeles. It seems everyone’s playing it safe and sticking with what, and who, they know.

Of course the holy grail isn’t to emulate, but to innovate – to come up with the new foundation of a franchise, or something so wildly different it breaks genres. It could be that a period where TV is going through massive changes in the way it’s watched, distributed and paid for and everyone is looking at their accountants nervously isn’t the best time to take a chance, but maybe with the unbelievable success of Glee, network executives will be a little bit more willing to take a chance. The line between genius and rubbish is pretty thin and I’m looking forward to seeing things on both sides of the line when pilots start up again in just a few weeks.


Three golden rules for science fiction

What’s gone wrong with science fiction shows this year? It looked set to be a good year, with a spattering of returning shows and a good crop of new ones coming in. Sitting at the end of the year looking at the list though, there are very few successes, a lot of mediocrity and a couple of high profile failures.

The most embarrassing failure of all has been FlashForward. Promoted to death as the new Lost, launched with a pretty decent pilot it barely made it out of the gate before its ratings collapsed and the critics turned on it. For me there are three big problems with FlashForward, and they’re representative of what’s been wrong with some of the other sf shows this year.

Yes, yes Mr Showrunner* you’ve got Big Ideas – parallel universes, complex analogies, virtual reality, fate and whatnot. You’ve also got a big budget and a giant marketing team. But you have to actually deliver that. If you’re presenting yourself as smart, you need to BE smart.

I need to have confidence in the people that are making a show that they know what they’re doing, where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. It doesn’t matter if every episode is action and excitement melded into a perfect 45 minutes, if the next week you contradict everything that happened I’m rapidly going to get annoyed. But at the same time it doesn’t matter if you have an amazing plan for a five year series if every episode is really dull, I’ll rapidly get bored. It’s a difficult middle ground to hit, but it is achievable – go back to and watch Babylon 5. That’s how you create a masterpiece.

2Charisma vacuums
My god there’ve been some boring characters this year! The lead character of FlashForward was just a kind of gaping, well paid hole where an engaging person should be. The cast of V looked so good on paper, but as it turned out by the end of the first episode the only ones I found interesting were the aliens (notably the Firefly duo of Morena Baccarin and Alan Tudyk). If on careful consideration I’ve evaluated your entire ensemble and have decided that in fact the best thing for you is to be eaten by the invading alien force, you’ve rather failed in your mission. I lasted half a dozen episodes and then gave up. Sure, the show is shiny and some interesting ideas, but if I don’t care about anyone, I’m not gonna bother.

3Lighten up!
The other big failure of the year for me was Caprica. I’m a big fan of Battlestar and thought this could be really interesting – same concept, different setting, characters and philosophy. Six or so episodes in and I just couldn’t take it anymore. Battlestar was never exactly laugh a minute, but at least they blew stuff up periodically and appreciated a nice fist fight or sarcastic aside. Caprica was the most depressing, soul destroyingly slow thing I’ve seen in a very long time. Battlestar seemed to be about hope in the face of overwhelming destruction, Caprica was about doom in the face of overwhelming shininess.

When it works… it works
Caprica and FlashForward both got good pilot reviews from me and then failed to deliver. On the flip side, Stargate Universe got a poor pilot review and then I cheerfully ate my words for the season review. The Stargate showrunners have been at this a while and I should have had more faith. They pulled it all together – it was smart AND fun, happy AND sad, sometimes characters moved forwards, sometimes they moved backwards, but they actually seemed like real people who it would be interesting to have coffee with. The confidence from the showrunners was quiet and reassuring – ‘we know what we’re doing, just trust us’.

I personally thought Defying Gravity had a lot of things going for it. I found it interesting and entertaining. This is one I think where the show was let down by everything around it – it wasn’t on the right network, it wasn’t marketed right and it was kind of doomed from the start. I think if it had been on the sci-fi channel we’d probably still be watching it, but Grey’s Anatomy in space was gonna be a tough sell.

Warehouse 13 is a truly awful show. The plots are all over the place and the production is often terrible with poor blue screening and budget effects. But it somehow manages to actually pass all three tests and ends up being one of the staple shows in our house just because it’s so entertaining! The characters are likeable, the dialogue snappy, the stories follow on from each other and no one is taking themselves seriously, it’s like some sort of ugly mongrel that you can’t help but love.

When it doesn’t, it’s kind of sad
Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse should have worked. It has great characters, an original plot, some fun episodes and a showrunner with a built in fanbase and a lot of success under his belt. But, much as it pains me to say it, I think it failed on the smugness test. It put a lot of emphasis on the long term plot and asked for a lot of trust, which only those of us with an unhealthy obsession with Joss had any faith he could deliver. To everyone else the cocky attitude of “you’re watching something special and you don’t know it yet” was too patronising.

Although I adore Supernatural, I find I have to also put this season into the “kind of sad” category, because it too failed a couple of the rules. It often drifted away from being fun to watch, the endless misery of the apocalypse does get you down after a while. The smugness also occasionally overwhelmed, it took the season a long time to get started, spending way too much time wallowing and mucking about before finally squashing a lot of plot into the final half dozen episodes. It’s a real shame, because I think the first four seasons managed a really good balance of the rules, I have high hopes for season six though.

And there’s no coming back once you’ve lost me
Of course the gaping hole in this review is the assessment of Lost. This year of television will probably be remembered as the year that Lost ended. But I can’t comment on it, because I stopped watching three years ago, when the smugness became too much for me. I don’t know whether it redeemed itself, maybe it really was as good as it purported to be. Maybe one day I’ll go back and watch it all again. Today is not that day though.

* I did a check, although sadly imdb doesn’t seem to list ‘showrunner’ as a job title, despite the fact that it’s referred to in the press a lot, so I looked at ‘creators’ and ‘executive producers’ (and no I don’t really know what they do). Of the shows I have name-checked (and Doctor Who and Fringe which were mentioned and then edited out) in this article there are a total of seventeen people listed as show creators, only one is a woman (Jane Espenson on Warehouse 13). Of the 43 executive producers listed, there are seven women (including Jane Espenson again for Caprica). These are not good percentages people.

FlashForward: Season 1

Sometimes you watch a one season show and come to the end angry that your show isn’t coming back, othertimes you get there and you feel that although the show won’t come back, it made an impact and did enough. Other times you reach the end and as the closing credits play for the last time, you think to yourself “well that was an epic waste of everyone’s time, energy and talent”. Guess which one FlashForward falls into?

Reading back over my review of the pilot is quite sad, I was filled with such hope, which all came to nothing. I am quietly smug though that while I liked the pilot, I highlighted two big problem areas which would later come to be the show’s undoing – uninteresting characters, and untrustworthy writing.

The characters started out lacking spark, and as the season went on many of them didn’t change. There were a couple of them that had moments where they stopped being single issue, whiny, faintly useless lumps, but only brief moments. The biggest problem though was the big black hole of a charisma vacuum where a leading man should have been. Joseph Fiennes’ Mark Benford alternated between quietly tormented and dementedly psychotic and yet somehow managed to be dull throughout. I really was routing for his wife to leave him and shack up with the British scientist as he was a lot more interesting.

The other thing I was worried about was that a show like this needs to give its viewers confidence that the writers know where they’re going, that they’re not just making it up as they go along. In my piece about the mid-season relaunch I was a bit more optimistic, seeing that they’d ‘retconned’ some stuff so it made more sense and taking things in a slightly new direction. I think they stuck with that reasonably well for the rest of the season, but it did turn out to be too little too late. The giant conspiracy stuff also got away from me a bit, I lost track of it all and didn’t care enough to catch up.

There really was a bit too much going on, a giant conspiracy, something about military contractors, scientists, and dozens of character threads. Too many of the plots were completely isolated – the love triangle of Bryce searching for the girl of his flashforward while developing a friendship with another girl, it was a sweet story, but had nothing to do with anything else. Likewise the story of Benford’s sponsor and his MIA daughter didn’t connect back strongly enough to make it feel like their arc was anything other than filler. I get that those stories are there to illustrate how the flashforwards changed people’s lives, but it would have been nice if there’d been more linking.

Likewise the balance between the intellectual stuff and the action could have been handled more smoothly. As I commented mid-season, the intellectual stuff was quite interesting, but they didn’t do enough of it. I had far more interesting conversations with friends about the philosophy of alternate timelines and pre-destined behaviour than was ever hinted at in the show. Meanwhile the action was just a bit dull, each time they got in a big gun battle I just found myself dozing off; the good guys were invincible and the bad guys were faceless and useless.

This was demonstrated pretty impressively in the finale. All the stuff with the gun battle in the FBI building that Benford had seen was just really boring, distracting from the really interesting stuff about the flashforwards. This was the whole reason I’d kept watching, I wanted to see people experience the two minutes that they’d seen so long ago come true (or not). I thought it was pretty well handled, there were enough twists that it wasn’t predictable, but not so many that it felt like it was cheating. I was impressed and intrigued that the next flashforward came so soon but showed a time so far in the future – giving the series a new lease of life for the second season and a new twist seeing how people deal with a flashforward to 2 years away, instead of just a few months. But of course we’re not going to see any of that, so all I’m left with is a faint sense of frustration.

There are some single-season shows I will happily recommend to people (Firefly, Wonderfalls, Studio 60 etc), FlashForward will not be one of them. It will go down in my memory as a great ‘could have been’. The show just never really came together properly, it always felt too much like the writers were constructing a recipe “two scoops romance, one cup action, three tablespoons of philosophy” but then forgot to actually bake it together to make a cake at the end of it. Maybe there was too much network meddling, maybe the showrunners just weren’t invested enough, or maybe everyone was just trying too hard, but for whatever reason FlashForward was an embarrassing failure – critically, creatively and commercially.

Is anyone still watching FlashForward? Not so much

US Ratings data from wikipedia, UK from BARB.co.uk.

Links: NY Daily News – ‘FlashForward’ series finale is one of the worst in TV history
SciFi Wire – 5 reasons why FlashForward deserved to fail
CliqueClack – finale review

The Upfronts: ABC

What’s Out
It’s carnage at ABC with eight cancellations including the planned conclusion of Lost. New shows didn’t do very well The Deep End, Romantically Challenged and Happy Town didn’t make it into double digits, The Forgotten only made it to 15. Relatively speaking that makes FlashForward a massive success, finishing a full season before getting canned, but given the amount of publicity for the show, its ever declining ratings have been a bit of an embarrassment.

Scrubs attempted a complete relaunch this year following the departure of Zach Braff, but it didn’t seem to work so it’s quietly sidling off the schedule with its tail between its legs. Lost at the other extreme declared years in advance when it would be finishing and it’s going out as one of the most publicised and talked about shows of the decade. Better Off Ted meanwhile has apparently been on the air two years, I have no idea what it was about and it won’t be back so I won’t bother finding out.

What’s Back
ABC have had a massive success with their new sitcoms, Modern Family, Cougar Town and The Middle will return and form the bulk of their Wednesday night of comedy. Sunday’s and Thursdays likewise stay the same with the guilty pleasures of Desperate Housewives, Brothers and Sisters, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice all returning. Castle (AKA the thing with Nathan Fillion) has become a slightly surprising success and returns as well.

The biggest surprise however is that V is the only freshman drama to survive. There’s been talk that it would come down to a straight choice between V and FlashForward and I suspect that V won not necessarily because it’s better, but because it was less publicly embarrassing. I’m struggling to find the enthusiasm to finish the first season and I have a suspicion that although it’s got a second season, it won’t get a third.

What’s New

  • No Ordinary Family: One superhero show gets cancelled and two come along to replace it apparently. While Heroes was all about epic destinies and whatnots and NBC’s The Cape is more on the dark and broody side, No Ordinary Family seems to be more like The Incredibles. Julie Benz and Michael Chiklis as leads are enough to get me to tune in.
  • Better Together: It’s yet another sitcom about three couples at different stages of their relationships. It has a laughter track and I had to stop the trailer half way through because it was so bloody awful.
  • The Whole Truth: The trick here is that it’s going to show both the prosecution and the defence, showing both sides of each case. I like this idea, I’m hoping it means there’s going to be real suspense about which side will win, rather than Perry Mason always winning. The trailer is a little over the top with the deep booming voice-over, “A totally new type of legal drama” is overselling a little but it has potential.
  • My Generation: ABC really need to tone down the cheese factor in their trailers. My Generation looks like a pretty interesting idea, a look at how a group of people’s lives have changed between high school ten years ago and being grown ups today, looked at through documentary style footage. It looks interesting, but “A TV series like nothing you’ve seen before. This is about their lives. OUR lives” makes me want to vomit a bit.
  • Body of Proof: Maybe the world doesn’t need another forensics show, but I really liked the trailer and really really liked Dana Delany in it. Few characters are jumping out as I watch 20odd trailers over just a couple of days, but she instantly intrigued me.
  • Detroit 1-8-7: The description says it’s a drama/comedy – but I didn’t see anything in the trailer that made it seem like a comedy to me. The documentary style looks interesting, although the motif may be a bit overused if it’s on both this and My Generation. It may be interesting, but they’re going to have to be careful with the tone, the subjects are a bit grim to have too many silly voices used as comedy.
  • Mr Sunshine: Matthew Perry and Allison Janney. If this sucks I will kill myself.
  • Happy Endings: “It’s a comedy about lovers, friends and everything they go through to stay together”. Oh goody, another one of those.
  • Off the Map: Shonda Rhimes takes Grey’s Anatomy into the jungle. I can’t really think of more to say about it, that description entirely covers the plot, characters, dialogue and even the soundtrack.

Links: TV Squad coverage, The Futon Critic, The TV Addict

Is anyone still watching FlashForward?

FlashForward Ratings Graph
Is anyone still watching? Not so much in the US. (ratings in millions)

I’ve just seen the two-part episode which heralds the return of the series for its run to the finish line. The two halves of the season have had quite a big gap between them, allowing a change of staff behind the scenes and a chance to address some of the many criticisms. What amuses me is that if I go back to September, a lot of what I said about the pilot equally applies to these new episodes… interesting with potential to go either way. The problem is that following the pilot were nine stunningly mediocre episodes, will the next nine episodes be any different?

The key factor with this kind of show, is faith in the writers; if you don’t believe that the writers have a plan, if you feel that they’re just making it up as they go along, then what’s the point of paying attention? There’s no joy in looking for clues in early episodes, because the chances are they don’t mean anything, they’re just random cryptic things that will be reverse engineered into a plot at the end. Whereas if you believe the writers know how it’s going to end, have it all mapped out on a piece of paper in a safe somewhere, suddenly everything becomes meaningful, even the red herrings. It means you can talk about the show and try to work it out; it makes it engaging and satisfying.

But it’s not good enough to just have a start and an end, there also has to be an idea for to make the story into 22 episodes (or five seasons) without either giving everything away too early, or having massive amounts of pointless padding. FlashForward and Lost both fell into the same problem, there were questions the characters should be asking, but the writers can’t have them ask those questions, because that would give away the answer too soon. So you have to make your characters look dumb and put up with your audience shouting at the television. I like being smarter than other people, but it gets tedious after a while and a slightly worrying comment about the world if I can outwit a crack FBI team.

The science and philosophy of the show is also troubled. One of the central questions for the characters has been, are the flashforwards fixed or are they just one possible future? But for me the answer has been obvious all along – the flashforwards cannot possibly come true, because everyone knows exactly when they will be. So now that you know it’s happening, you’ll probably be doing something different. Some of them can still come true, but for people just sitting home watching tv, or doing every day stuff, well that’s not going to happen is it? But no one in the show ever says that! Nor do most of them do obvious things like sell their houses, move country, or cut their hair, it’s pretty trivial to realise that the flashforwards are increasingly invalid. That could raise questions about how maybe by trying to escape your future, you actually cause it to happen. But again, I seem to think more about that than any of the characters or writers do.

The big board of clues is a nice McGuffin, and could easily have made the episodes more structured and reliable. Each week would be about studying one of the clues, following it through to find out why it’s on the board, gradually building the solution to the mystery. I can understand why the writers wanted to avoid that, it sounds a bit too procedural/monster-of-the-week, but I really think it would have worked as a structure to hang the story from. Too much of the first half of the season just felt like characters and writers equally just blundering around blindly. I came away from too many episodes feeling that nothing had happened.

In some ways the mid-season two acts as a second pilot for the series. it makes a real effort to fix things people have complained about. The characters do finally ask and answer some questions, moving the plot forwards, but also highlighting that they should have asked them 10 episodes back and saved a lot of faffing about. There was also a fair amount of “retconning”, i.e. taking what had already been established and wiggling it about until it would fit into their new plan, so characters saying they’d lied, been mistaken, or just plain failed to mention certain things. If that’s it, if the writers have now worked out the plan for the rest of the season, then it could be quite an interesting journey; but if they’re going to need to keep rejigging stuff, well there’s no point in paying attention.

With plummeting ratings (see image) and an unenthusiastic critical response, it’s unlikely FlashForward will be picked up for a second season. If the writers get it right, they could turn it around in the second half to make a really interesting, self-contained single season, which people will remember fondly with only mild disappointment it took so long to get going. If they fall back into their old habits though, it will be remembered as an epic waste of everyone’s time. I’m going to stick with it to the end to see how it turns out and I’m hopeful they’ll rescue it, but I wouldn’t put any money on it.

References: US Ratings data from wikipedia, UK from BARB.co.uk.

Reviews: CliqueClack, TVSquad

Links: Official Site at abc.com, five.tv, imdb, wikipedia, TV.com

New Season So Far

I’ve reviewed 21 pilots this season and I am declaring myself done. If I were to be a completionist about things, there’s still two pilots I haven’t reviewed: The Cleveland Show which I’m choosing to exempt because it’s an animation and the reimagining of Melrose Place which I just don’t think I can bring myself to dedicate 45 minutes of my life to. There are also a few shows which may debut later in the season, the most notable of which is the reimagining of V which I’m quite excited by, but doesn’t appear until November.

I’ve gotta say, I’m not hugely impressed with this year’s selection. These things tend to come in waves and this is clearly not a poster year for television. For example 2004 was a good year – it saw the arrival of Battlestar Galactica, Desperate Housewives, Veronica Mars, CSI:NY, Boston Legal, House and Lost – that’s a pretty good haul!

Even though there’s only a couple of direct spin offs on the roster this year, the vast majority of the shows that are obvious attempts to cash in on something already successful. The Beautiful Life tried and failed to be the new Gossip Girl, Mercy is Grey’s Anatomy with nurses, Eastwick is Desperate Housewives with magic and FlashForward is enthusiastically selling itself as the new Lost to anyone that will listen. The Vampire Diaries is a TV show for Twilight fans, Glee owes a lot to High School Musical and Defying Gravity is actually a remake of a BBC documentary!

The problem is that for each of those you’ve got an obvious problem. If I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy, it’s unlikely I’m going to watch the new version. If I AM already loving and watching Grey’s Anatomy why would I also want to watch a cheap copycat? You’re setting yourself the difficult challenge of being so much better than the original that people don’t care you’re not original. The best thing FlashForward could say about itself is not “if you liked Lost, you’ll like us”, it’s “if you liked the idea of Lost, but gave up on it, come watch us because we learnt from Lost’s mistakes”. It’s not such a catchy slogan, but it might just work.

What that means is that no show is really going to stand out because of what it’s doing creatively. What does stand out is quality writing, acting and directing. The Good Wife is far and away the best pilot of the year, not because there was anything particularly original about the story, but because the writing and acting were a step above everything else out there.

So on the flip side, there were lots of potentially good shows let who’s pilots turned me right off because they just weren’t polished enough. Stargate Universe was the key example of this, I desperately wanted to like it but found myself continually frustrated in my attempts by lazy writing. NCIS: LA has some great characters, and the actors are making it watchable while the writers don’t seem to even be trying. Both these shows are lucky because their pedigrees mean they can get away with slow or bumpy starts, but I’d hoped for a bit more from each.

The pilots for Glee and FlashForward both got the job done, in that I’m still watching the shows a few episodes down the line. Both have a lot of hype and noise about them and I sorta like both of them, but I’m not exactly a raving fan of either and it wouldn’t take much for me to lose interest. I think FlashForward I’ll stick with because if it does get great I don’t want to have to admit that I missed it. Glee I suspect I’ll probably watch in chunks when I’m feeling down – a little quirky goes a long way and I’m continually frustrated by the bad dubbing.

There are a couple of shows that are bubbling away. When I reviewed Trauma I loved half of it and hated the other half, but after a couple of weeks for some reason I can’t get it out of my head so have got a few more episodes to watch. I guess the pilot did what it needed to. On the flip side I really wanted to love Eastwick, but hated the pilot, I’ll keep an eye on the reviews and potentially pick it up later if the news is good. Likewise if by mid-season Mercy, Three Rivers or The Forgotten are getting decent reviews I might have another look, none of them were bad really, just utterly unremarkable.

One of the things I’ve learnt about myself is that I just don’t get sitcoms. I watch television in a very pro-active kind of way, I sit down to watch specific shows which I’ve sought out and none of the new season’s comedies inspired me to do that, despite the fact that other reviewers I respect say that they’re pretty good. Community and The Middle were the only two that I actually enjoyed watching and at best I might tivo/pvr/sky+ or pick up a dvd box set on special offer. Most of the others made me want to punch people.

Last time I did this in 2007 I reviewed ten shows, so I’ve doubled my workload this time around. If I do it again I’ll definitely drop the ½ hour sitcoms. I have enjoyed the challenge of writing the reviews, sometimes having to expand “it’s awful” into something a bit more lengthy, and sometimes having to shorten three pages of incoherent gushing down to something that people might actually read. Forcing myself to watch bad things definitely makes me appreciate the good more though. I would never have thought it could be so hard to write good pilots, but what do I know!

Show Title UK Airing Category Cancelled? 1word Review
Accidentally on Purpose E4, 2010 Sitcom   Meh
Bored to Death   Sitcom &nbsp Dull
Brothers   Sitcom   Awful
Community   Sitcom   Smart
Cougar Town   Sitcom Renewed Ugh
Defying Gravity BBC2 Scifi Cancelled Good
Eastwick Hallmark Channel Drama Cancelled Poor
FlashForward Five, Monday Scifi/Crime Procedural Season deal Possible
Glee E4, 2010 Drama/Comedy   Unsumarisable
Hank   Sitcom Cancelled Awful
Mercy   Medical procedural   Uninspiring
Modern Family Starts Thurs 15th Oct, Sky1 Sitcom Renewed Cringe
NCIS: Los Angeles Starts Sky1, 21 Oct Crime procedural Renewed OK
Stargate Universe Sky2, Wednesdays Scifi   Troubled
The Beautiful Life: TBL   Drama Already cancelled Doomed
The Forgotten   Crime procedural   Dull
The Good Wife More4, 2010 Legal Procedural Renewed Superb
The Middle   Sitcom Renewed Good
The Vampire Diaries ITV2, 2010 Drama   Unoriginal
Three Rivers   Medical procedural Cancelled Vanilla
Trauma   Medical procedural   Not sure

Pilot Review: FlashForward

The Brief: The whole world blacks out and sees two minutes of April 29th 2010. Now they’ve got to deal with the chaos caused by the mass black out, work out what caused it and find out whether they can change their futures and decide whether they want to.

Finally, after a series of mediocre shows, I get to review one that I’m not only pretty excited about, but one that UK audiences get to see just a few days after America. FlashForward is on five tonight at 9pm and it’s definitely worth tuning in for.

There’s a lot of influence from Lost here and it’s being heavily marketed to Lost fans. The problem is that while I started out a big Lost fan, it eventually annoyed me so much I gave up on it, so where does that leave me with FlashForward?

The concept is superb, and the writing of the plot and story elements really good. The show has an excellent pedigree, based on a novel of the same name by Robert Sawyer (who is apparently going to write at least one episode of the first season) and developed by David S. Goyer (co-writer Batman Begins, Dark Knight) and Brannon Braga (exec producer Star Trek: TNG etc). FlashForward has a lot of elegance to the writing and there were several moments in the pilot that had a very impressive polish and subtlety to them.

The only thing that didn’t really work for me were the characters. The pilot is pretty busy with plot, but at the same time there’s sufficient time given to characters and relationships that I would have hoped to have more of a connection with the characters. It’s got a great cast behind it, but I think maybe the writers’ attention was on the plot so much that they forgot to add the same spark to the dialogue. I’m not overly concerned because I think things will settle in, also Dominic Monaghan joins the cast soon and he can usually be relied on to bring spark!

I was also a bit disappointed that there was no real visual style to the pilot, there was nothing like Heroes’ signature comic book feel, CSI’s use of colour, or even the way Fringe does nice effects with the onscreen text. Maybe I ask too much, but I do feel that these days to make yourself a Big show, you really need to make an effort and bring something to the table in all areas. FlashForward has something special in the concept and the writing, but making hammy choices like having slow motion running sequences just isn’t classy enough.

There’s going to be a lot of comparison between this and Lost, I got a very similar feeling watching the pilot, the sensation that this might be something special. It’s got moments in it that make you sit up and pay attention, and if you do that you’ll spot more details and you’ll feel satisfied and rewarded. The problem is that comparing to Lost inevitably raises the question of sustainability. I gave up on Lost when I realised the writers were just making it up as they went along. I’m hopeful though that the ticking clock counting down to April 29th next year means that FlashForward can maintain focus and be worth watching. While the pilot wasn’t flawless by any means, it did its job well enough that I’ll be tuning in for the next few weeks to see where things go.

Links: , Official Site at abc.com, five.tv, imdb, wikipedia, TV.com

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