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: Off the Map

My relationship with Grey’s Anatomy is a troubled one. I love it, yet it causes me pain, letting me down over and over, just to charm its way back into my heart every time I vow that this is its last chance. When it is good it makes you fall in love with the characters and actually makes you feel a bit better about the world. But when it’s bad, it feels like it’s personally letting you down, somehow breaching your trust and forcing you to accept that this world is not real.

So it was with some nervousness that I settled in to watch Off the Map, “from the producers of Grey’s Anatomy”. Judging it in its own rights is gonna be tricky, but given the crossover in production teams and the massive advertising push linking the two shows, I figure no one is really going to mind.

The show really is just Grey’s Anatomy in the jungle – for better or for worse. You’ve got the same basic structure of young, cocky, new doctors finding out that they know pretty much nothing about how to practice medicine or about how to function as human beings. Meanwhile you’ve got the more senior experienced medics who have their own relationship, medical and organisational issues. All the characters are surrounded in a fog of flirting and personal angst while bouncing from one far-fetched melodramatic medical case to another. If you didn’t like it in Grey’s, then unless you’re going to be swung by some pretty scenery, you’re not going to like it here.

Independent of whether you like the style of the show, the pilot had a number of other problems. The elements of the plot are all pretty contrived, confrontations feeling artificially created from the start. Our three newbies are supposed to be there to learn, and the elders do talk about teaching, but most of the ‘teaching’ seems to be about patronising them, setting them up to fail and then shouting at them when they don’t know the thing that no one has actually bothered to explain to them. It’s frustrating to watch. They’re also laying it on a little thick with the pan pipes and the strategic use of Spanish when it is convenient for the plot that people don’t understand each other. There’s a few production issues as well that are a bit of a shame – some questionable continuity and issues with time that don’t quite make sense. I suspect it was edited about a bit and some stuff got lost in the shuffle. It’s just a bit shoddy.

Are the characters on a par with those on Grey’s? I think they may actually get there, within a short period of time they three junior doctors each actually have a chance to show that they’ve got histories, strengths, passions, flaws, empathy and talent. I know Caroline Dhavernas and Zach Gilford, from Wonderfalls and Friday Night Lights respectively and they have proven history of being able to deliver the range of comedy and drama that we’ve come to expect from Shonda Rhimes’ characters, but if anything it was unknown Mamie Gummer who made me love her most. (OH! She’s Meryl Streep’s daughter! That explains a lot!) I was considerably less impressed with the older characters, they came across as bitchy, authoritarian and smug – hopefully they’ll prove themselves to be human beings in the next couple of episodes.

I’m trying to remember how I felt about Grey’s Anatomy when I first saw it. When I go back to watch the pilot now it seems special, as if the brilliance is already there, but maybe that’s rose-tinted memories. I didn’t see the same spark in Off the Map, but I do see a potential that I didn’t see in Private Practice, the more direct spin-off of Grey’s Anatomy. I’m certainly going to stick with Off the Map for a while, I’m hoping it doesn’t let me down.

TV Addict – If you already enjoy her other shows, GREY’S ANATOMY and PRIVATE PRACTICE, do not assume you’ll like OFF THE MAP – this show is plodding, disingenuous, and a waste of talent.

CliqueClack – I cannot wait to see more, to find out what other interesting cases are lurking on the island. Their space is so confined, and yet completely different than what we have seen in any recent medical shows; seemingly, the sky’s the limit.

Links: Official site, imdb, wikipedia

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