Hellcats: Pilot Review

Marti Perkins is desperate to escape Memphis and her high maintenance mother. To do this she makes the most of a college scholarship to study law and dream of her escape. Ten minutes in through a series of contrived catastrophes she has lost her scholarship and is about to get thrown out until she finds out that there are cheerleading scholarships going begging.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this show is desperately jumping on the bandwagon of Glee, in fact it steals the “you have to place at Nationals or get shut down” plot directly from Glee and for a while was apparently called Cheer. It’s like Glee meets Gossip Girl, it’s got the same tendencies to burst spontaneously into dance numbers and the same brightness and energy of Glee, but partnered with Gossip Girl’s bitchy dialogue and complete lack of shame when it comes to costuming.

I was really happy when scheduling made it my first pilot review of the new year. I was all settled in to start off with a massive rant, bemoaning the fact that the best a network could come up with as an offering to the younger demographic was a show about cheerleaders. But then I liked it.

I really do hate myself for this, but I LIKED it. I was frustrated when it finished and wanted more. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a GOOD show, but then neither is Glee or Gossip Girl and both have been big successes that I find them disturbingly addictive. The creators of Hellcats have clearly done their research and committed to making a show that perfectly fits in the ‘shameless entertainment’ genre.

The biggest problem the pilot had is one that can be levelled against many pilots that are cramming a lot of introductions into 45 minutes – the characters were almost all stereotypes. Marti herself manages to pack two stereotypes into one, starting off as a grungy cynic dismissing the perky people but then in a whiplash inducing turnaround, by the end of the episode she’s an out and proud cheerleader leading the strutting gaggle of ridiculously costumed pep squad down a corridor Right Stuff style.

The majority of the rest of the characters are exactly what you’d expect from an American high school/college show – the bitch, the sarcastic outsider, the confident potential love interest, the inspiring coach, a money-grabbing principle, the ditzy mother, the slimy football coach blah blah blah. The only ray of light was the Captain of the squad, played by Ashley Tisdale of High School Musical fame who has a character who seems to have some heart and spirit. Yes, she’s an annoying peppy person with matching bedspreads, but she isn’t a pushover and actually seems to engage her brain and act like a responsible human being sometimes.

As I sat down to watch I was practically rubbing my hands in delight at the cynical vitriolic diatribe I would be able to launch at the show. But then, it somehow suckered me in, I felt happier after I’d watched it than I felt before. I think it’s like some kind of drug, I feel wrong and dirty and confused, but I think I might just watch the next episode.

TVSquad – “Hellcats will not change the face of television as we know it, but the execution of the core concept is knowing and competent, and this show understands its limitations and wisely stays inside those narrow parameters.”

CliqueClack – “I won’t lie. I like the show’s warmth and will probably watch it a couple more times before finally turning it off, but as with Nikita this is a show that has a lot of wrinkles to iron straight.”

Links: Official site, imdb, wikipedia


2008-09 – The Glittering Awards Show

It’s been a while since I’ve had much respect for the people who have power over the likes of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. The last couple of years in particular have frustrated me with the same shows and people getting nominated over and over with very worthy candidates overlooked in a way that even critics don’t seem to understand. This year is no exception. So here’s a shamelessly long list of my favourites from the year.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Hugh Laurie (House) – the show might be mediocre, but the character and acting is superb. He’s got a fourth Emmy nomination and maybe this will be the year he actually wins
  • Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) – his character is extremely private trying to keep his emotions hidden, and yet you always know exactly what he’s thinking through subtle and careful acting
  • Edward Olmos (Battlestar Galactica) – another very strong season in Battlestar Galactica, portraying a man who is tired, and old and very close to being overcome, yet still has so much pride.
  • Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) – I doubt he’d appear on anyone else’s list, but if not for the fact he’s in a show about ghosties and it’s on The CW I think he’d get a lot of attention. His character has a hell of a lot of stuff thrown at him this season (literally) and he does everything from pratt-falls to full on emotional breakdown impressively.
  • Simon Baker (The Mentalist) – I originally sniffed at his Emmy nomination, but to fill out the category he’s not a bad choice. It’s an interesting character and pulls it off with charm and grace and occasional scary darkness, but I suspect if I’d seen this season of Dexter, Michael C. Hall would have taken this place.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
It’s tough taking this down to just five people, so I cheated a bit!

  • James Callis (Baltar, Battlestar Galactica) – the character and actor steal every scene they’re in
  • Kevin McKidd (Owen Hunt, Grey’s Anatomy) – a really great addition to the cast, bringing both strength and vulnerability and instantly slotting into the ensemble.
  • Zachary Quinto (Sylar, Heroes) – about the only stand out thing in Heroes at the moment, his character has developed depth this season but he’s still utterly chilling.
  • Zach Gilford (Matt Saracen), Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins) and Gaius Charles (Smash Williams) – I couldn’t just pick one of the guys from Friday Night Lights. Each had a superb season as their characters really grow up.
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men) – Despite the fact that the Emmy’s put him in the lead actor category, I think he actually belongs in here more. Lead actors should carry the show, Mad Men could easily continue without him. That said he is extremely good.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
I actually struggled to find 5 actresses I consider ‘leads’!

  • Sally Field (Nora, Brothers and Sisters) – a well deserved nomination. Whether she’s being the matriarch to the unruly siblings, or getting a storyline of her own about continuing to live your life at 60+, she is wonderful.
  • Mary McDonald (Laura Rosslyn, Battlestar Galactica) – she brought such dignity and passion to her final episodes as the ailing president it was heartbreaking. The relationship with Adama was perfectly played.
  • Connie Britton (Tammy Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – a character which could so easily be swept into the background in the testosterone driven town, Tammy stands up for both her own kids and those she represents as school principal while still maintaining her relationship with the Coach.
  • Emily Deschenal (Brennan, Bones) – the character of Brennan hovers at the edge of ridiculous, but with talented acting (and great chemistry with her partner) manages to stay just on the right side.
  • Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy) – this is partly a pity vote to be honest, I feel bad that she’s always overlooked for awards, but actually she’s doing a really superb job. I might not like the character much, but whether she’s using her excellent comic timing or wide eyed teariness, Pompeo always nails it.

Supporting Actress in a Drama

  • Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy) – I want to have “What Would Bailey Do?” embroidered on cushions! I adore her character and like Pompeo she does a great job whether shouting or crying. Hopefully with her fourth Emmy nomination she’ll finally win.
  • Katherine Heigl (Izzie Stevens, Grey’s Anatomy) – Heigl was never going to get an Emmy nomination this year thanks to some dubious outbursts to the press, but she did excellent work with a difficult (and occasionally ridiculous) storyline.
  • Tricia Helfer (Six, Battlestar Galactica) – I’m not sure it’s fair that someone so pretty is so talented, but each of the multitude of characters she played on Battlestar was amazing.
  • Adrianne Palicki (Tyra, Friday Night Lights) – the writers didn’t do her character any favours this season with some wildly flip flopping choices, but Palicki was excellent throughout.
  • Taylor Momsen (Jenny Humphrey) and Leighton Meester (Blair Waldorf), Gossip Girl – Both young actresses managed to make their characters more than just bitchy little drama queens. Ok they’re mostly still drama queens, but they were funny and passionate ones.

Outstanding Drama

  • Friday Night Lights – hands down the best overall show on television at the moment, it’s consistently superb throughout the season with exceptional acting and stylish direction
  • Battlestar Galactica – I’ll be the first to admit I thought ‘reimagining’ the 70s series was a stupid idea, doomed to fail. While it occasionally faltered, what this show managed to do was extraordinary. I’m so glad it got to tell its whole story.
  • Mad Men – This isn’t a show that I get really passionate about, but it is one that impresses me a great deal with its consistent quality and polish
  • Torchwood – Maybe at just five episodes it’s not a proper series, but it was so good I couldn’t leave it out.
  • Supernatural – this show is my latest obsession, but after three seasons of enjoyable fun I was really impressed at the way everything was taken to the next level for the fourth season. Characters, writing, directing and plots all shift up a gear.

Best Ensemble
A good ensemble is not just about having a group of individually talented actors and a couple of good relationships between them. It’s about being able to put any two characters from the ensemble on screen together and having it work. For all the many faults of Grey’s Anatomy, it doesn’t matter which characters end up on screen together they always have a spark. Brothers and Sisters also manages an impressive ensemble with the siblings and their extended family wonderful in just about any combination.

Best Pairings
On screen chemistry is far from easy to come by, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes in the same show. One of the big mistakes of House this year was trying to push House and Cuddy together, a couple with no chemistry and no sensible reason to be together. But at the same time the show succeeds brilliantly with the relationship between House and Wilson! Likewise, Booth and Brennan on Bones make a wonderful platonic partnership and a truly awful romantic one. Tammy and Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights make a such a lovely and believable couple because they make sense both in a relationship and as friends.

The most startling moment of “you what now?” came not onscreen, but over the internet with the news that Fox had renewed a Joss Whedon show. I’m not sure who was more surprised, the fans or Joss himself.

Shark Jumping for Beginners
Supernatural made me laugh a lot by having an episode breaking one of the cardinal rules of shark jumping and then calling the episode “Jumping the Shark”. That’s the way you do it.
The way you don’t do it is have a character have sex with a ghost (Grey’s Anatomy) or have your main characters sleep together and then declare it all to be a dream (House, Bones).

“I only get 3 lines an episode but I really nail them”
I missed T.R. Knight on Grey’s Anatomy this season! Jesse Spencer (Chase) on House hasn’t had much to do (including cut his hair) all season and then when he and Cameron finally had a storyline he completely blew me away. I’ve got a soft spot for Scotty on Brothers and Sisters, possibly the only character who always talks sense, even if it’s only one scene every three episodes.

Most anticipated returning show
There are a number of cliffhangers that I’m eagerly awaiting the resolve of –Criminal Minds, Supernatural, NCIS and CSI:NY all ended with a bang. I’m looking forward to seeing what Dollhouse, Lie to Me and The Mentalist do with their second seasons, if they go somewhere or just bumble along. It’s an important season for Friday Night Lights, with lots of the original cast graduating and a new team to introduce. And I’m really hoping that Supernatural manages to pull off it’s potentially final season and everything its been building to.

Least anticipated returning shows
I’m not sure I’m going to bother with Grey’s Anatomy, knowing what happens in the first episode back I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch it. I’m still struggling towards the end of Heroes and am not sure I’ll bother with that unless someone tells me it gets a lot better. Ditto for House.

Most anticipated new shows
There’s some interesting scifi heading to the air this year, I’m really hoping V will manage to follow in Battlestar Galactica’s footsteps, Flash Forward will succeed where Lost failed and that Stargate Universe manages to walk the narrow line of fitting in with the franchise while still bringing something new. Eastwick has a good cast (including Paul Gross from Due South!) and will hopefully fall in the guilty pleasure category, while NCIS:Los Angeles has a good pedigree and line up staring Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J. The wildcard of everything is Glee which could be cheesy fantastic fun, or cringe inducing awfulness.

Dramas and Melodramas

The drama category is a pretty odd one, after all the majority of the shows I watch are counted as drama, so this category ends up only holding those that don’t fall into another category – covering a massive range from sublime to ridiculous.

On the ridiculous side of the map we have Gossip Girl and Brothers and Sisters, both of which I treat as completely shameless trash TV. The plots border on the ridiculous and the melodrama and cheese are brought in by the lorry load, but they’re both good for a laugh and the occasional sniffle. I’m not sure how well Gossip Girl will deal with moving on to college, it came dangerously close to shark jumping towards the end of the season; while the loss of one of the siblings from Brothers and Sisters should prove an interesting shake-up, and I won’t miss the under-developed character much at all.

Meanwhile on the sublime side we have Mad Men and Friday Night Lights. Both of these shows have short seasons, air off the main networks in the US and get superb critical acclaim; however one of them gets eleven Emmy nominations and the other gets none. I love Mad Men, it’s smart and dark and funny and stylish, doing period drama in a way I’ve not seen US shows do successfully before. However I think Friday Night Lights is a far superior show, which completely blows me away every episode. Every time I recommend this show to someone it takes a little bit of persuading, but they are soon as hooked and amazed as I am. I’m thrilled the series is coming back next year and just wish the awards people would give it some attention.

On the sublime to ridiculous scale Pushing Daisies sits firmly by itself in the batshit crazy section. It pitched its tent in crazy land from the first moments of the pilot and stuck to its territory admirably. I was surprised that something so different and unashamedly quirky and sweet lasted as long as it did. I enjoyed watching each episode, but I can’t say I’ll really miss it that much, I think it may have done all it needed to do.

Pilot Review: Gossip Girl

Today I have a sore throat, no voice and a mild headache (at least it’s mild now that it’s had lemsip max strength capsules thrown at it). So no work for Lorna, which means lots of tv watching and lots of reviews posted here hopefully. I realise that probably no one is reading these things, but labelling my compulsive tv watching as a “writing exercise” makes me feel better about my pathetic life.

Ordinarily each year I’ll pick up a couple of new shows at the very start of the seasons. Then as the year progresses some shows will make it onto my radar and I’ll pick them up mid-season because someone tells me I should. Last year for example I started watching Heroes, Drive and Studio 60 as soon as they aired, and Friday Night Lights and Brothers and Sisters towards the end of their seasons based on critical reviews for the first and my brother’s recommendation for the second.

This year, if I’d followed my usual tactics I would have watched Pushing Daisies and probably Bionic Woman and Private Practice, possibly Dirty Sexy Money. What this pilot watching is showing me is that I’d have missed out of some pretty interesting shows if I’d only done that. I would probably have picked them up eventually (eg this year I also discovered Criminal Minds and Deadwood) but then I’d have missed some of the excitement and smugness of following a show from the start (I’ll always regret the fact I didn’t get into Buffy for several years, even mocking it!)

Gossip Girl is a show which I’d probably not have paid any attention to, possibly even gently mocked and eventually I would have had to eat my words on finding out how good it really is.

The show centres around the trials and tribulations of some fantastically wealthy New York kids attending a pretentious private school. They are the darlings of the city, but they are unsurprisingly screwed up and pretty ridiculous a lot of the time. To balance the scales are a more down to earth brother and sister and the mysterious return of the former queen of the socialites who has now fallen from grace. The story is told by the omniscient voice of Gossip Girl, someone who gathers information of sightings of the school stars and re-distributes it via the voiceover and the characters’ cell phones.

This show is wonderful! This show is the natural and worthy successor to Veronica Mars. Kristen Bell certainly thinks so, she provides the voice over from Gossip Girl herself with all the bitchiness and snideness of Veronica at her very best. The show brings elements from Veronica Mars, Cruel Intentions, Buffy, even Beverly Hills 90210! And if the pilot is anything to go by it’s going to be as guiltily addictive as they each were in their time.

There are some elements of mystery but to be honest the plot is pretty inconsequential to the general minute to minute joy of this show. I was genuinely intrigued by the characters, some of whom appear to be nothing more than stereotypes for 95% of the time but then with just one little glance or eyebrow move suddenly reveal some depth. The acting is superb and the chemistry is immediate and comfortable (except where it’s not supposed to be); I immediately found myself rooting for the new couple.

What makes this show come alive though is Kristen Bell’s wonderful voice-over. It makes everything seem more dramatic and important somehow, letting you know that while these issues may seem pretty ridiculous to normal people they are everything to the people experiencing them. The show also looks good with vibrant colours and a beautiful looking New York.

I loved this show, I really did. I can’t think of a single miss-step except for the minor complaint of rich kids on a school bus. It falls into the guilty pleasure category because at the end of the day, it is ‘just’ a high school drama. But as guilty pleasures go, based on the pilot episode, it’s a particularly smart and slick one.

The even better news is that it’s getting good ratings and has the honour of being the first new show picked up for a full season. I’ll definitely be downloading the next few episodes and have my fingers crossed they’re just as good.