End of year report card

The start and end points for the television year is pretty fuzzy. Given that I watch mostly US shows, I tend to go by their year which runs roughly from September rather than the calendar year. So I decided that I’d count the start of the year as 1st September (and I go by American air dates, not the UK). BUT life isn’t that simple, because what do I do with shows that start in one year but end in another. For example Mad Men season 3 ran August-November 2009, running one year to the next. Then I looked at what the Emmys do and it turns out they run June 1st 2009-May 31st 2010. BUT they don’t strictly speaking pay attention to show seasons, it’s just whichever episodes ran in that time frame, which means from what I can tell – the last two episodes of the season of Glee weren’t eligible for entry as they aired in June 2010.

So after all that, I decided to hell with it and I’d count what I felt fit within 2009-2010 and be pretty much arbitrary about it.

Bones – Season 5
Brothers & Sisters – S4
Caprica – S1
Criminal Minds – S5
CSI – S10
Defying Gravity – S1
Dollhouse – S1
Doctor Who – 2010
FlashForward – S1
Friday Night Lights – S4
Fringe – S2
The Good Wife – S1
Glee – S1
Grey’s Anatomy – S6
House – S6
Leverage – S2
Lie to Me – S2
Mad Men – S3
The Mentalist – S2
Merlin – S2
NCIS: Los Angeles – S1
Outnumbered – S3
Sons of Anarchy – S2
Stargate Universe – S1
Supernatural – S5
Trauma – S1
Warehouse 13 – S1
White Collar – S1
V – S1

Top of the Class – Best Drama

  • Mad Men: For once, I’m in absolute agreement with the Emmys. Season 3 (season 4 has just started on BBC4) was a work of near perfection. The pacing, the way everything had been so carefully and subtly built up until the final episode which was one of the most satisfying hours of television I’ve ever seen. The detail of this show is incredible, it’s a slow burn, but it’s really worth it.
  • Friday Night Lights – I have a guilty relationship with this show, because despite the fact I have it ‘available’, I haven’t managed to bring myself to watch the second half of the season. This season has felt like really hard going, everybody’s’ lives really seem to suck and it’s just hard to watch. But that doesn’t make it any less superb or any less worthy of its position in the number 2 slot in the drama category.
  • Sons of Anarchy – There’s just something about this bunch of gun running, murdering, hells angels that just makes you forgive them everything they do. The closest thing I can think of to this show is Brothers & Sisters, it’s got the same sense of families fighting amongst themselves, but ultimately doing anything for each other – just with more Nazis.
  • Trauma – Maybe this show wouldn’t have made the cut if I didn’t feel bad for it being cancelled, but I really do think it was one of the better shows of the year. It’s not perfectly refined like Mad Men, but the heart and soul of it are true, the characters and relationships are interesting and different and I enjoyed every episode.
  • The Good Wife – Proving that ‘legal procedural’ doesn’t have to mean Law and Order or wanting to kill all the characters. The ensemble cast is amazing and contains some of my favourite actors, and seeing them together creating such complex characters is immensely satisfying.

Head Boy – Best Male Actor/Character (you don’t get to be a great actor without a well crafted/written character and great characters don’t survive great actors)

  • Tim Roth (Cal Lightman, Lie to Me) – I don’t understand why Tim Roth and Lie to Me don’t get more attention. In a world of dark, sober, troubled and angsty television detectives, Tim Roth lights up the room. He’s manipulative and arrogant, but he’s also a brilliant father, a caring friend and of all the investigators on television, he’s the one I’d want in my corner the most.
  • Matt Smith (The Doctor, Doctor Who) – I had my doubts, not because he was young or unknown or anything like that, but just because I thought David Tennant had created an un-equalable character. Matt Smith blew me away with his charm, his goofiness, his terrifying speeches and his ability to make a fez look cool.
  • Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – This man seems to do less acting than anyone else on television, he hardly says anything, sometimes he barely moves, but somehow you understand every single thing the character is thinking.
  • Jenson Ackles (Dean Winchester, Supernatural) – I was a bit disappointed by the season of Supernatural, but I was never disappointed with either of the lead performances. Part of what frustrated me about the season was that it was all over the range from slapstick to suicidal angst, via homicidal range and utter psychosis. Jenson Ackles nailed each of the emotions and how stubborn, but over-his-head Dean would approach each one.
  • Hugh Laurie (Dr House, House) – I didn’t like this series of House much, as per usual I think it spent too long coasting through the middle of the season and then made some dubious relationship choices. But Hugh Laurie was consistently great throughout, except for the bookending episodes, where he was absolutely amazing.

Head Girl – Best Female Actor/Character (is actress politically incorrect?)

  • Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick,The Good Wife) – A breath of fresh air on network television, a woman with kids, a career, issues and most importantly a personality of her own. I loved when she got drunk with Kalinda, or acted as a big sister to Cary, or didn’t quite know how to interact with Diane. But mostly I loved the way she fell back to being a college student falling for her friend and not knowing what to do about it.
  • Katey Segal (Gemma Taylor-Morrow, Sons of Anarchy) – Gemma had the epitome of a bad year on Sons of Anarchy, but through it all she was their Queen, she loves all the members of her family and fights to protect them, whether with a gun, her fists, or just by keeping a secret. Katey Segal was amazing.
  • Connie Britton (Tammy Taylor, Friday Night Lights) – The other half of the best couple on television, Tammy’s not had a great year either. But like her husband, she doesn’t have to say anything for you to understand the multiple faces the character presents to everyone, including herself. When she steals her little victories wherever she can, and fights for her kids (the whole school load of them) it makes me want to hug her.
  • Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy) – Meredith grew up and got happy and made me love her. Last year I put her on this list partially out of pity, this year she’s there on merit, actually taking her position as ‘lead’ actress more than just being a ‘prominent female member of the ensemble’. She’s completely settled into her position as the mother of the group – her reaction to her marriage and the loss of her friends was really mature. Whiny Meredith is hopefully gone for good.
  • Sally Field (Nora Walker, Brothers and Sisters) – When Sally Field cries, I cry. When she screams, I hid under a cushion. Whether herding her unruly brood, or causing chaos all by herself, I love her to pieces.

Prefects: Boys (Supporting actors)

  • John Noble (Walter Bishop, Fringe) – Walter is crazy. Utterly and completely, self-medicatingly, one-too-many-magic-mushrooms, bucket loads of crazy. But then in alternate world Walter is utterly sane and calm and scary and slimy. Noble bounces around between Walters multiple personalities and bodies with amazing talent.
  • Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel, Glee) – The best thing in Glee. He’s completely over the top and ridiculous to the point you almost want to throw him in a dumpster yourself, but then he does something heartbreaking. Also, he can belt out a tune like the best divas out there.
  • David Blue (Eli Wallace, Stargate Universe) – He’s exactly what the stereotypical Stargate fan would be like if they found themselves inside a Stargate series. He’s got no clue about the military, or really people at all. He’s a massive geek who breaks tension by making Star Wars jokes. He brings a bit of reality to the otherwise slightly highly strung Stargate team.
  • Cliff Curtis (Rabbit Palchuk, Trauma) – Cliff Curtis became one of my favourite actors this year playing the deeply troubled, but utterly charming Rabbit. A really fascinating character and a slightly unlikely leading man, but he was the heart of this show.
  • Enver Gjokaj (Victor, Dollhouse) – I ummed and erred between Victor and Fran Kranz’s Topher, but eventually the Doll edged out the geek because he got to play a different role (and accent) every week and nailed them all, even managing to play Topher to perfection.

Prefects: Girls (Supporting Actresses)

  • Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy) – She wasn’t even nominated for an Emmy this year, which I was so astonished by I had to check multiple times. Bailey follows the Sally Field rules – she cries I cry, she shouts, I actually cheer out loud. Her final scene of the final episode just destroyed me.
  • Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson, Mad Men) – “I’m Peggy Olson. And I want to smoke some marijuana” and “Beg me? You didn’t even ASK me”. Nuff said.
  • Christine Baranski (Diane Lockheart, The Good Wife) – Although her colleague Archie Panjabi (Kalinda) got the Emmy, I think Christine Baranski was far superior if for no other reason than she seemed to be having so much FUN with the role. Not afraid to flirt with a colleague or laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of a situation.
  • Allison Scagliotti (Claudia, Warehouse 13) – like Eli in Stargate, Claudia is the voice of the fan. She’s a geek who loves a gadget and points out the idiocy of all the plans. She, and her ever changing hair colours, brings life to the show.
  • Linda Hunt (Hetty Lange, NCIS:LA) – A breath of fresh air, a bizarre mix of motherly and drill sergent that manages to make even LL Cool J quake in his boots.

Team Players (Best pairings/ensembles)

  • Callen and Hanna (NCIS:Los Angeles) – A perfect yin and yang thing of hot headedness and cool, all bundled up in a caring (but not out loud!) partnership. Who’d’ve thought it.
  • Team Free Will, Supernatural
    “This is it… Team Free Will. One ex-blood-junkie, one drop-out with six bucks to his name and Mr Comatose over there. Awesome.”
    “It’s not funny”
    “I’m not laughing”
  • Christina and Meredith (Grey’s Anatomy) – When Meredith revealed the plans for her and Derek’s dream house and pointed out Christina’s Room I burst into tears yet again. I love these two sisters.
  • The Walker Clan (Brothers and Sisters) – You can’t really break this group up. They squabble and occasionally even fight, but the group of them together and the complex relationships between all of them are amazing.

Points for effort – The home of the things that are solidly doing their job, are entertaining, and occasionally verging into brilliant, but are generally just really solidly plugging away doing what they do.

  • CSI:Original had a really solid season, settling down after the changes of recent years and just turning in an entertaining, reliable and interesting season, there’s not many shows that can say that moving in to their 11th season they’ve still got some spark.
  • Grey’s Anatomy deserves a lot of praise for bouncing back from the previous terrible season, I nearly gave up on the show, but I’m glad I didn’t.
  • Brothers & Sisters – cheesy, melodramatic, sappy and utterly sentimental – it embraces these things with such enthusiasm and does them so well, it’s hard not to love.
  • Glee – If only the quality of the plots were more consistent, this would be worthy of considerably more praise. As it is, I enjoyed most of the episodes, but ended up frustrated that it wasn’t just slightly better.

Must Try Harder

  • The Mentalist – A nice idea, a charismatic lead character… but ultimately the character development isn’t, ‘mysteries’ aren’t, and the novelty wore off.
  • Outnumbered – It was still funny, but it just wasn’t as good as previous seasons. Not least because it seemed to spontaneously stop dead, to such an extent that I completely failed to note it had finished and never got round to writing a review.
  • Science fiction – it’s not been a good year for science fiction imho. V, Caprica and Flashforward were all disappointing.
  • NCIS – Still flipflopping all over the place with a lack of consistency and character development. Maybe it’s time for this one to retire.
  • Criminal Minds – I praised the show for finally having the team come together and having an impressive group of strong female characters… then they sacked two of them.

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.

The upfronts: NBC

What’s Out
Heroes – not really a big surprise to anyone. The ratings have been on a steady decline as they tried to stretch what was clearly a one-season-wonder out with generally increasing shoddiness. There’s some talk of a final few episodes to allow them to tie up any lose ends, but I for one won’t miss the show as I gave up on it a season and a half ago.

The bigger surprise was the cancellation of Law & Order, the longest-running TV show in history (depending on who you ask) will not be returning for a 21st season. It’s helped launch hundreds of careers, several spin-offs and many would say an entire genre. I’ve never watched it so don’t mourn it personally, but more as a slightly sad end to an institution.

Of 2009-10’s freshmen, Mercy and Trauma both got the axe. I didn’t bother with Mercy after I judged the pilot to be Grey’s Anatomy Light. The cancellation of Trauma was pretty inevitable given the expensive price tag and low ratings, but I’m still confused why it wasn’t more popular and I’ll miss the characters.

What’s Back
Turns out NBC is full of shows I have barely even heard of let alone watch. The only freshman to survive was Parenthood, the pilot of which I thought was ok, but didn’t make me rush out to watch the rest of the series. Chuck is also back, despite not great ratings it somehow survived the cut yet again to the great delight of its obsessed fans. 30 Rock, Law & Order: SVU, The Office and Parks and Recreation all return but I don’t watch any of them. The only other thing I do watch that’s kind of on NBC is (best show on television?) Friday Night Lights through it’s special deal which sees it air on cable months ahead of running on NBC.

What’s New
It’s apparently the year of the lawyer and the love-seeking sap.

  • OutlawJimmy Smits is a Supreme Court Justice who resigns so that he can go back to helping individual people. You had me at Jimmy Smits.
  • Harry’s LawKathy Bates stars in David E. Kelley’s new legal thing. You had me at Kathy Bates.
  • Law & Order: Los Angeles – They may as well have called this show Same Old Plot: Same Old City. Does the world really need a third new legal drama and yet another show set in LA.
  • Undercovers – Two retired, married CIA agents are reactivated. J.J. Abrams takes on Mr & Mrs Smith and if the trailer is anything to go by, he’s trying too hard.
  • ChaseJerry Bruckheimer brings his usual budget, explosions, running and shooting this time to US Marshals. I was uninspired by the trailer.
  • The Event – It’s about some kind of giant government conspiracy, with interweaving plots and threads, some of which do look interesting. But is coming just as FlashForward and Heroes are cancelled a little bit risky?
  • The Cape – A cop is forced to become a vigilante, taking on the disguise of his son’s favourite comic hero. I quite like the look of this one, it’s a pretty old school super-hero type thing, a nice balance between overdone cheese and actually looking like it might have some heart.
  • Love Bites – The lives of a whole collection of characters as they look for love. The trailer simultaneously managed to have too many plots and not enough of them. Looked like a horrible muddle of irritating people.
  • Friends With Benefits – This didn’t look too bad actually, but rather bizarrely they’re recasting a couple of the roles, so I guess they think it has problems but potential.
  • The Paul Reiser Show – The guy from Mad About You got old and seems to have written a semi-autobiographical show. I struggle to get past the ego issues, but I did quite like the trailer.
  • Perfect Couples – three couples working their way through blah blah, finding together blah blah. The trailer seems to indicate they’re horrible and hate each other, but I guess that might appeal to some people.
  • Outsourced – An Indian call centre, an American manager. Racial stereotyping hilarity ensues. Kill me now.

NBC upfront coverage at TVSquad, Ausiello Files and The Futon Critic

Trauma: Season 1

My pilot review highlighted the different meanings of the word trauma and how they applied to the show – both the action packed traumatic incidents the paramedics are called to and the emotional impact they have. There’s a third aspect that’s been introduced to the small number of us actually watching the show, the trauma of having the show cancelled after thirteen episodes, only to be picked up a couple of months later to see out the season. Now at the end of the season, after eighteen episodes, there’s no word on whether it will be back next season, but the odds aren’t looking particularly good.

All that is pretty disappointing as Trauma is actually one of my favourite shows of the year. I said of the pilot that I was intrigued, that the pace of the emergencies left me on the edge of my seat but that the emotional stuff was all a little too cliché. I don’t think anything really changed as the season went on, I just forgave the cheesy bits because I completely fell in love with the characters.

There’s a lot of ER in this show, the obvious similarities in subject, the “keep up or give up” approach to the fast paced medical talk but mostly the contrast in the characters. The medics in both ER and Trauma are hugely competent professionally: knowledgeable, decisive and passionate; while in their personal lives they’re bouncing haphazardly from one disaster to the next. But by having a strong ensemble, the ups and downs all smooth out, when one person is having a crisis they can rely on their partner (be it professional, platonic or romantic) to steady them along. The teamwork in Trauma is something I particularly loved, there’s a real sense that they’ve all been working together for a long time and complement each other well, integrating the new team members seamlessly into their family. The central relationship between Rabbit and Nancy is one of the best on television at the moment, they have a long and complicated history that is revealed and developed through the season, but even when they’re seemingly in conflict it’s still clear how much they care for each other.

Another plus is that it looks great. It’s wonderful to see a city other than New York or Miami and San Francisco’s steep streets, fog and Golden Gate Bridge add real colour and depth to the show. Most episodes have at least one big stunt, and they’re big, close up and exciting. A criticism I levelled at the Miami Medical pilot was that their car crash felt cgi’ed and over-processed. Trauma meanwhile feels visceral and real, the benefit of doing proper stunts on location. Of course the downside of that is that the show is expensive to make, not good when your ratings are less than stellar. But a few stunts can go a long way, and even when you just have the paramedics arrive at the scene after the event the music, direction and fast dialogue still manage to make everything exciting.

The only real problem with it (other than its poor ratings and expensive price tag) is that the cheese factor is pretty high at times. The parallels between the issues in the characters lives and the patients they meet are pretty unsubtle a lot of the time (although nowhere near as bad as House), and a couple of episodes veered perilously close to public service announcements on issues. The protracted saga of one of the team members coming out of the closet was particularly cheesy, which was a shame because the gay character in question is actually a really great, well rounded character.

I love Trauma because I love good characters and Trauma has some great characters. As a season it has a nice pace to it, with character and plot threads being introduced, developed and concluded; everything sort of undulates along nicely. Disappointingly the low point of the season was actually the final episode where I was waiting for a big end of season event that never really happened. I’m happy that we weren’t left with a cliff-hanger, that if that’s the end at least the series is self-contained. But I’m also quite sad that such a great show is just going to pass quietly into the night, with very few mourning its passing.

Links: Official Site at NBC, imdb, TV.com, Wikipedia.

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: Trauma

The Brief: Drama series following paramedics in San Francisco dealing with their own, and other people’s traumas.

   1. Pathology.
      a. a body wound or shock produced by sudden physical injury, as from violence or accident.
      b. the condition produced by this; traumatism.
   2. Psychiatry.
      a. an experience that produces psychological injury or pain.
      b. the psychological injury so caused.

My response to this show is really neatly split between the two definitions of the word. The first part of the definition for both pathology and psychiatry is the practical, the event and the injury, the second part is about the less visible issues and the long term response to the trauma. This show covers both halves, the practical side providing some impressive scenes in the pilot, the emotional side less so.

What Trauma does well is be a show about paramedics and emergency medicine in the field. It’s fast paced and relentless. The paramedics use technical terms and slang, and if you don’t understand what they mean, you’ll just have to work it out on your own time, ‘cos the show ain’t gonna wait for you. I was completely engrossed to the point that when something unexpected happened I nearly jumped out of my skin. The characters all seemed incredibly competent at their jobs (god knows if the medicine/first aid is right, but it was convincing to me), even the rookie just got on with his job, rather than being used as a conduit to have things explained to the audience.

The other fifty percent of the show is about how this group of people are dealing with the long term effects from their own traumatic incident. That element just didn’t work as well for me, their reactions felt forced, that the one-year anniversary of the incident suddenly made each of the characters confront their feelings. What on earth have they been doing for the previous 364 days?

There are a fair number of frustratingly stupid clichés in the pilot, the kind of things that aren’t deal breakers, but really get my back up. If you’re trying to introduce your characters as competent professionals, showing them having sex in the ambulance while on duty is probably not a great plan. Also lacking in professionalism is the female paramedic giving all her patients an eyeful of cleavage and a face full of hair – seriously woman, button up and find a scrunchy. There’s a couple of cliché storylines thrown in for good measure – love triangles and daddy-issues, wow that’s original.

The division of impressiveness follows all the way through the show. The two massive accidents within the first fifteen minutes are impressive. They are movie level stunt and effects shots and I really hope they have the budget to continue using the multiple helicopters and closing whole sections of freeway to have disasters on. They make great use of filming in San Francisco, the Bridge at sunset and the steep roads are beautiful and instantly recognisable. But whenever they start in on an emotional section the clichés are out in abundance with crappy dialogue, emotionally manipulative plinky-plunky music and lingering silhouetted manly hugs.

The things that are good about this show are really good, but the rest of it is just mediocre. I think it’s trying to cover an impressive range from emotionally driven character studies through to brainless action film but the pilot didn’t integrate the different elements very well. It flip flopped between them and then left the final third of the episode to wallow in borderline melodrama.

But… I do find myself intrigued. The characters engaged me enough that I’m not completely bored listening to them prattle about their problems and the medical stuff reminded me of the bits of ER I used to love. It was far from the best pilot in the world, but it certainly got me interested enough that I’ll give the next couple of episodes a try, so I guess it managed to do its job.

Links: Official Site at NBC, imdb, TV.com, Wikipedia,
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