The Upfronts 2015: ABC

ABC network logoOf all the American Broadcast Networks, it seems ABC is my natural match. I watch, or have watched more shows on this channel than any other, although even I would be hard pressed to describe some of them as ‘good’. I don’t know whether it’s just my good luck, or if I’m just synced up with what Americans want to watch, but ABC is also having a particularly successful run of things, with renewals far outnumbering the cancellations and some impressively long running series.

Finished or Cancelled
Forever is the only cancelled show that I was sort of watching. I liked the pilot and stuck with the series for the first half dozen or so episodes mostly thanks to the charismatic acting combo of Ioan Gruffudd and Judd Hirsch. But the momentum fell away and it slipped into ‘stuff to watch while cooking’ territory and then slipped off the list altogether. A bit of a shame really. It did see out the whole season though, which is more than can be said for Manhattan Love Story which won this year’s prize for fastest cancellation, airing only 4 episodes before the plug was pulled. Selfie made it 6 episodes, Cristela made it the whole season.
Revenge was a show that to me took the themes of the channel to an extreme and showed how hateful it could be. It made it four seasons though, so what do I know. Resurrection was a show that while more engaging that the French version Les Revenants still wasn’t quite compelling enough for me to watch and was cancelled after its second season.

greys anatomyShonda Rhimes continues to rule supreme, Grey’s Anatomy enters season 12 (although losing another original cast member this year may signal it’s living on borrowed time), the ever more ridiculous Scandal goes into season 5 and How to Get Away with Murder makes it to season 2 (I somehow missed it when it aired in the UK and am waiting for it come around again). Marvel’s Agent Carter gets a second season following its 8 episodes this year, to compliment Agents of SHIELD which swings widely in quality, but maybe Joss Whedon will spend some time with it now Avengers is done.
castleI actually gave up on Castle this year, I just got bored by it. It was touch and go for a while whether both Fillion and Katic would sign up for season 8 but they did, and back it comes. Once Upon a Time and Nashville are both series where I enjoyed the first season, but got lost and disinterested in the second and never bothered returning to. They’re renewed for seasons 4 and 5 respectively. Secrets and Lies is a new drama that completely passed me by but got renewed for season 2, American Crime is an anthology series (cf American Horror Story) and has been renewed for a second season with a whole new story but an overlapping cast.
ABC also has a pretty strong sitcom line up renewing six in all, upcoming season in brackets: Black-ish (2), Fresh Off the Boat (2), Galavant (2), The Goldbergs (2), Last Man Standing (5), The Middle (6) and Modern Family (6).

New in Autumn

The Muppets: The Muppets are back. Just like the original Muppet Show, it’s behind the scenes as they put on a show, this time a television late night chat show rather than a variety show. The series is set up as a behind the scenes documentary, including little interviews etc and aims to be more grown up. The trailer wasn’t as funny or as nostalgic as I might have hoped and they actually used the phrase “like you’ve never seen them before”. Honestly, what idiot writes these trailers?

Dr Ken: Ken Jeong a comedian who I find irritating in everything he does (most notably Community) now has his own show to spoil all by himself. The trailer was so painfully awful that I only made it half way through.

Quantico: A group of new recruits join the FBI training academy which is half military level special ops and half high school summer camp. But there’s a terrorist attack, one of the recruits is a traitor and another one is framed and must clear her name. I found the trailer deeply confusing, so I’m not sure whether the series told chronologically or in flashbacks. It also had a terrible narration that hopefully will not carry through the series.

OIL: Rich families, oil fields, money, poor families, American dream, yadda yadda yadda. Utterly not interested.

Of Kings and Prophets: Based on the biblical Books of Samuel, it looks like Game of Thrones with even fewer dragons. The trailer hovered on the edge of parody I felt and Ray Winstone may be the worst casting I’ve ever seen.

Coming later

The Catch: A woman who chases con-artists is herself conned by the man she spent a year with and was going to marry. I’m guessing the series will comprise her occasionally taking cases but mostly dealing with her personal stuff. It’s Shonda Rhimes again, so expect a strong female lead, a horrible male lead that we’re supposed to find dreamy and increasingly ridiculous plots that all combine into something incredibly compelling that you sort of hate yourself for.

The Family: Ten years ago Claire’s son disappeared. Now she’s the mayor and about to run for governor, and the son she thought was dead has reappeared. It’s a good idea for a film or mini-series, but I’m not sure it’s got the legs for a whole series. Still it’s actually an original idea so I’ll give it a try and see where it goes.

Wicked City: St in Los Angeles in 1982 following a serial killer and the investigation. I’m not sure how this can stretch into a series without becoming exceptionally repetitive and frustrating.

The Real O’Neals: A perfect catholic family turns out to have a few secrets. I may be desperate and mistaken, but I didn’t spot anything offensive or depressing in this trailer. I actually smiled a couple of times.

Uncle Buck: posh people get sufficiently desperate for a babysitter they call Uncle Buck who takes the kids to bars and is disreputable in a pre-watershed kind of way. Nothing horrific, nothing that exciting.

Forever: Pilot Review

Henry Morgan is a medical examiner in New York who happens to be immortal. He doesn’t really know why, but when he dies, he comes back in the nearest largish body of water without any clothes. Thanks to having a few hundred years to learn stuff, he’s a font of knowledge and uses that to help the police solve crimes.

I wasn’t blown away by the pitch for this, not because it’s a bad idea, but just because it felt like it had been done before. Watching the episode I couldn’t help but pick up on bits and pieces and connect them back to other show.

At its heart this is a “cop partnered with other” show, of which I can think of a dozen or so examples (Castle, Bones, The Mentalist etc), and at least two that are a cop partnered with a medical examiner (Body of Proof, Rizzoli and Isles). The sort-of-out-of-time Englishman is all a bit Sleepy Hollow, the incredible observation skills has been done to death (Sherlock, Elementary, The Mentalist (again), Psych ) and didn’t Judd Hirsch play the same character on Numb3rs?

But a show like this ultimately lives and dies with its leading man and Ioan Gruffodd is an excellent piece of casting. He’s instantly charismatic and with the added bonus of his voiceover he completely fills the show. It doesn’t matter if I’ve seen all the ideas before, because I want to see HIM do them. Sadly that does mean he rather overwhelms his female partner who feels very bland. Mind you I thought the same about Stana Katic opposite Nathan Fillion in Castle at first, and she quickly turned it around.

There are some nice moments in the pilot which gave me some optimism that the show might rise above its standard components. The relationship between Gruffodd and (the always wonderful) Hirsch is both lovely and fascinating (particularly given a very nice, understated reveal late in the episode that has massive potential for elegant storytelling and character moments). If they can maintain that level of detail and subtlety and not get completely bogged down in either mundane cases of the week, or a convoluted arc with a mysterious super-villain, then I think this show might well be a keeper.

The Upfronts 2014: ABC

ABC network logoABC, home of Shonda Rhimes, Modern Family and really not much else. They cancelled 10 out of 13 new shows this year and seem to be attempting to remedy that with a pretty diverse array of new shows which range from intriguing to outright offensive with a diversion into something that looks like Monty Python crossed with Glee.

What’s Dead
2013/14 was a really bad year for new shows on ABC. Lucky 7 was the thing about the lottery winners which sounded like a great idea but for some reason fell flat on its face, cancelled after just its second episode. The Assets tanked even worse and was pulled after just one episode, mind you, I’ve never heard of it, so it wasn’t exactly over-promoted. Killer Women lasted a whopping 7 episodes. Betrayal and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland actually managed to see out their full (short) seasons, but neither delivered enough ratings to earn second seasons.

New comedies didn’t fare any better, Back in the Game managed 10 episodes, Mind Games 5, and Mixology and Super Fun Night had full seasons before cancellation (although who on earth watched the horrific Super Fun Night is anyone’s guess). I’m a bit frustrated by the cancellation of Trophy Wife – I actually caught a couple of episodes of this, despite there being no sign of it on schedules over here and I really like it! Bradley Whitford is his usual charming self, and the rest of the cast was also funny. I suspect if it had been scheduled alongside Modern Family it would not be on this list. A real shame. Surely someone out there can make a show for Whitford that stays on the air!
For those keeping track that 10 out of 13 new shows not making it to a second season.

Two slightly more established shows got cancelled, Suburgatory was cancelled after three seasons and, Neighbors, which is apparently a science fiction comedy about a human family living in a neighbourhood full of aliens was cancelled after two.

What’s Survived?
castleCastle (7), Nashville (3), Revenge (4), Grey’s Anatomy (11) and Scandal (4) continue on in all their varying levels of ridiculous glory (next season number in brackets). Power-house sitcom combo The Middle and Modern Family are both renewed for season 6. Motive and Mistresses are both returning for second seasons this summer and Canadian series Rookie Blue is back for a 5th.

Three freshmen series have been renewed, including the one I care most about, Marvel’s Agents of Shield. The show is all over the place, at its best it’s entertaining, funny, exciting and colourful, at its worst it’s horribly amateur. Everyone involved can and must do better and the end of the season has been getting more interesting. Resurrection is a new drama that sounds a bit like the French Les Revenants series, dunno what it’s like ‘cos it hasn’t appeared over here yet. The Goldbergs is a random sitcom that I’ve not heard of.

What’s new this summer?
Black Box (trailer): A cutting edge neurosurgeon who is secretly bipolar. This made me feel rather uncomfortable to be honest, I get nervous about any show using mental illness as a narrative device, it’s far far too easy to skim over the medical reality just to make the plot work. Not to mention that it looks like a made for TV movie full of inspiration and meaningful connections.

What’s New?
How to Get Away With Murder (trailer): Professor Annalise Keating hires four law students and then there’s sex, crime, suspense, tension and, because this is a Shonda Rhimes show (c.f. Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy), probably a fair amount of ridiculousness and completely compelling television. Also it stars Viola Davis who is generally incredible.

American Crime (trailer, midseason): A couple are attacked in their home, he is dead and she is in a coma. Their parents and the police want to find out who did it, but that’s not simple particularly when race comes into it. The trailer is pretty compelling, but I’d wonder how the story is going to be stretched and contracted. It would be interesting to do this in the same way as American Horror Story, with different characters and plots each season, otherwise an audience will likely get frustrated at the lack of clarity about when the answers will arrive. The cast (Felicity Huffman, Timothy Dutton and Benito Martinez) is impressive though.

Forever (trailer): Henry Morgan is a New York Medical Examiner, working with the police to solve murders. He’s also 200 years old because every time he dies he just comes back to life. The tone of the trailer reminds me of either Elementary (smug = bad) or Castle (knowing = good) and I’m not quite sure which way it will fall. Ioan Gruffudd is watchable though and the legendary Judd Hirsch is in it too, so it might be worth a look.

Marvel’s Agent Carter (clip from the Iron Man 3 blu ray, midseason): Agent Peggy Carter (Captain America’s nearly-girlfriend from the forties) is working for both SHIELD (or what will become SHIELD) and Howard Stark (Iron Man’s dad), I presume it will be a mix of spy hijinks and period stuff, the press release makes reference to her being “marginalized when the men return home”, which could actually be very interesting. It’s a pretty unashamed attempt for Marvel to completely flood everything for Avengers 2, and it’s a shame Whedon isn’t involved (Joss writing a female 1940s spy? Yes please!) but it could be fun and interesting.

Secrets and Lies (trailer, midseason): A jogger finds the body of a little boy and he becomes the prime suspect. It’s not a massively original story for a film, but I can’t think of a television series has ever really been told from that point of view. I’m not sure whether we’re genuinely supposed to think that he might have done it (not if when the story is effectively from his point of view as the trailer implies, and as with American Crime (which surely it’s in direct competition with?) I don’t really see how the series is sustainable. However Ryan Phillippe and Juliette Lewis are pretty big names, so it should be pretty compelling.

The Whispers (trailer, midseason): Children are doing horrible things and blaming their imaginary friends. Except their invisible manipulators are actually aliens planning to take over the world. It sounds ridiculous, but the trailer is actually extremely creepy and pretty compelling.

The Astronaut Wives Club (no trailer, midseason): Based on a book of the same name based on the lives of the wives of the Mercury Seven astronauts. No idea whether this is going to be Mad Men with astronauts, or Desperate Housewives with astronauts. It was originally scheduled for this summer, but has apparently been put off to next year, which could be a good or bad sign.

Galavant (trailer, midseason): It’s a fairy tale, heroes and evil kings and everything. It looked awful, then amusing, then there was singing!, then weird, then there was more singing… I don’t know whether this is demented genius or just genius.

Black-ish (trailer): Three generations of a black family try to work out how assimilated they want to be. I really don’t think this was targeted at me. What happened to Lawrence Fishburne that means he’s ended up in this?

Cristela (trailer): Cristela balances her internship at a big law firm with her working class Mexican-American family. Yup, seriously. If that’s not bad enough the best clip they found doesn’t even seem to be trying to be funny.

Fresh off the Boat (trailer, midseason): A Taiwanese family chases the American dream from Washington DC and its Taiwanese community to suburban Orlando. It’s set in the 90s and may as well be made in the 50s for all the horrific racial stereotyping going on. Can’t believe this actually got made.

Manhattan Love Story (trailer): It’s a romance between people who you probably wouldn’t want to spend time with, and they narrate everything they’re thinking. Oh I hate myself, but I smiled and even chuckled a couple of times.

Selfie (trailer): Self-obsessed social networker sees the that her ‘friends’ aren’t actually friends at all and hires a marketing expert to rebrand her. It’s a “modern My Fair Lady”. It’s hateful. Karen Gillan and John Cho deserve far far better.