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.

White Collar: Season 1

White CollarDespite a fairly late start, White Collar is the first of the non-cancelled series to finish this year I think, certainly the only one that I’ve actually been watching. At fourteen episodes long the season felt compact and unpadded, with US seasons usually being at least 20 episodes long, this made a nice change.

Everything I said back in my October review of the pilot is carried through the rest of the season and if there were one word to sum it up I suspect it would be ‘nice’. This is old school Sunday evening entertainment that can be watched with the grandparents. There’s no sex, violence or swearing, even the crimes are mostly pretty civilised with a focus on heists and scams rather than murders and carnage.

The show isn’t a particularly complex one, but it is smart; while the mysteries aren’t terribly challenging they’re usually satisfyingly well thought out. The weekly plots are engaging but pretty instantly forgettable, while the mystery of Neil’s missing girlfriend is carefully paced through the season, moving very slowly, but never quite feeling like it’s being dragged out.

The best thing though is the characters, who have depth, charm and intelligence. While it may seem at first that Peter the FBI agent is straightforward and Neil the conman is the man of mystery, there’s more to it than that. Neil is actually quite straightforward, his motives are always very obvious he just uses convoluted methods. Peter meanwhile is more than capable of playing up his simple, good guy persona to surprise those around him with his knowledge and willingness to stretch the rules. The relationships between the two was fascinating from the start and matured organically, they trust and respect each other, but not blindly or limitlessly.

The second partnership of the show is equally well done, Tiffani Thiessen is absolutely brilliant as Elizabeth, Peter’s wife. They too trust and respect each other and after a decade of marriage, really understand each other. Neil meanwhile has the two sides of his conscience sitting on his shoulders. Mozzie is the slightly generic (but quite entertaining) ‘fixer’ from the old days, while June is his landlady who seems to have adopted the bad boy because she can see he has a good heart. They needle and nudge Neil in the same way Elizabeth does with Peter, sometimes to stay within the law, sometimes to step over the line, and sometimes to just rub the line out altogether.

This is a tea and biscuit kind of show to be watched when you don’t really feel like thinking, but don’t want something completely mindless. That’s a pretty hard thing to get excited about, it’s not going to win awards or be on many people’s top ten lists. But I think the cast and crew can be very proud of the fact that they’ve created something so consistent and just plain nice.

Links: Official Site, imdb, wikipedia, TV.com

White Collar is “coming soon” to Bravo.

Pilot Review: White Collar

Although I’m done with the bulk of the pilot watching, I figured I might as well post the occasional review of the later airing pilots that will occasionally appear. Particularly for things like White Collar which manage to have a notable impact on the overall quality of the season as a whole.

White Collar is a fairly unoriginal concept, a con artist buys his way out of prison by becoming a consultant for the FBI and helping catch his peers. If the pilot is anything to go by, we’re going to be focussing on the rather more sedate side of the FBI, more accounting and paperwork than guns and car chases.

The tagline of the network this airs on is “Characters Welcome”, and they’ve certainly kept on message here. It’s a true buddy-cop show, from the very start there’s a wonderful chemistry between the conman and the FBI agent who caught him. It’s instantly clear that there’s a mutual professional respect that rapidly and easily falls into friendship. The characters feel smart, they don’t continually get surprised when the other does something completely in character (Dr Cuddy on House, I’m looking at you) they just learn to work with each other and have fun. The same is true for the relationship between the FBI agent and his wife (the only cast member I recognised I’m ashamed to say – Tiffani Thiessen from Saved by the Bell!), after 10 years of marriage, she is again unsurprised when he’s late for dinner yet again.

I really liked the pilot, I laughed and smiled a lot more than any of the comedies I watched and was engaged with the mystery story, completely satisfied with the pacing of the reveals and the twists and turns. The show would be pretty unremarkable if not for the fact that the writing, acting and directing all mesh together in a solid and competent manner that I’ve found sadly lacking from most of the pilots this year. It’s not going to win any Emmys and it’s not going to blast to the top of the ratings, but it’s a really enjoyable way to spend an hour.

Official Site, imdb, wikipedia, TV.com

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