Sunday, July 31, 2011

What I'm Watching Now #4 (July 31, 2011 Edition)

I thought last week's edition of this feature would be the last one, based on the response to the previous editions.  However, I was wrong.  The last edition proved to be the most popular post I've had in several weeks.  To that I say: "LOL".  So, this will now officially become a standard staple of every week, and I hope you don't regret it.  I think for this and future editions I will start rating each individual episode (in addition to the series as a whole), so that you can decide if you want to watch that week's episode, independent of the series, as a whole.  I'll also let you know if it's important to watch the episode, due to story arc things that may be important, for the show.  Back by popular demand, here is this week's edition of "What I'm Watching Now".

Ratings Legend:

*Don't waste your time
**Some people may like it, but overall, it's not going to change your life if you watch it or miss it.  Shows between 2 stars and 3 stars are on the line of watchable.
***Solid, watchable show.  If I give something 3 stars, I think you can safely watch it, and usually enjoy it.
****You should definitely watch this show, at least once.
*****Why are you not watching this show?


Alphas (Syfy, Check local listings)****
Most recent episode rating-****

I read in an article somewhere that there is an actual definition for how this show is progressing.  It had nothing to do with the show, but I feel it's appropriate enough to mention.  Each episode in this series has basically been a "Monster of the Week".  I think there's a bigger purpose for all of these "monsters", and the episodes are just introducing the characters, while the "sides" are being drawn.  Last week's episode was "Pheromone Man" (my name for him), and it had a lot of trippy scenes in it.  I do not know how sober the writers of this show are, in general, but this week's episode appeared to have a little extra "help".

For all the Bill haters out there, he proved his worth in this show, and hopefully people will stop questioning the point of his character, on the show.  I'm going to predict, right now, that this show is going to suck, eventually.  However, while the sides are being drawn, I'm enjoying it quite a bit.

The Closer (TNT, 9pm EDT)****
Most recent episode rating-***.5

Last week's episode highlighted one of the major problems I have with the series.  The Closer just does not take itself seriously enough.  Our two resident boobs, Provenza and Flynn, get into a "situation", while moonlighting without permission.  This is not the first time these two idiots get into trouble, doing something they shouldn't.  The episode has a tremendous amount of comedy in it, and that's where this series gets in trouble.  This is supposed to be a very serious show, with strokes of humor, but any time Provenza and Flynn have a show dedicated to them, it turns into the Keystone Cops.  Still, as an episode, in general, I enjoyed it, but the series really should stay away from episodes like this.  Also, the idea that these two guys are Lieutenants is really scary.

Rizzoli & Isles (TNT, 10pm EDT)****
Most recent episode rating-****.5

I am so mad! I am officially converted to enjoying this show!  HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?????  It has Angie Harmon on it!  I have never liked her in anything she has ever done!!!!  I'd rather claw my eyes out than watch her!!!!

Angie Harmon (if you're avoiding this show because of her, stop, it's worth watching) is actually kind of funny on the show, and the last episode had a lot of humor in it.  Isles proves, once again, that she has absolutely terrible taste in men, and much comedy ensues from her romantic interlude with a guy who is 3 lug nuts short of a tight wheel.  Make no mistake, Rizzoli & Isles is a relationship show, with the case aspect playing a distant second to the relationships.  For those paying attention, this is why the show works, not because of the cases.

The Big C (Showtime, 10:30pm EDT)***.5
Most recent episode rating-***

I'm going to go ahead and downgrade The Big C to 3.5 stars, because I don't think it's ever going to return to how great the show was in the best episodes of the first season.  It's possible it will, but I just have no emotional attachment to any of the characters anymore.  Now, it's just kind of like watching Nurse Jackie, where you just watch, but it's not like you really like anyone, or are interested in their stories.  Maybe the edict from Showtime was to make it more like Nurse Jackie, I don't know, but it was a mistake.  There are too many weird story lines on the show, now, and if you started watching the show only in season 2, you would probably think it's a piece of crap.  This show better thank its lucky stars that it's only a half hour, or even fewer (than the almost no one that watches the show) would be watching. 


Memphis Beat (TNT, 9pm EDT)***
Most recent episode rating-***

This week's episode was pretty good, but nothing special.  Keep calm, and carry on.

HawthoRNe (TNT, 10pm EDT)**
Most recent episode rating-*.5

Oh there was so much to hate about this episode.  At the beginning, we get multiple people telling each other that they love each other.  If you have seen the show, you know all that's b.s., and that by the end of the episode, the truth will come out.  I have never had to suspend my disbelief more in a standard TV drama than in this show.  Everything about this show is patently ridiculous, and you'll love the doctor threatening a cop with a gun to his head, at the end of the show.  I can't think of any more ill advised plans than that.  This is especially true because the cop is a psycho creep, who will probably end up killing Christina, or himself, before the end of the season.  Only two episodes are left, and then my life can return to normal.  I'm warning you, don't watch this show, because you won't be able to stop.  Why live your life with regrets?


Franklin & Bash (TNT, 9pm EDT)****
Most recent episode-****

We thought that Janie's fiance was going to be sent up the river for solicitation, but we all know that's not what happened.  It was just a big misunderstanding, and Janie can still safely marry him (or can she?).  This week's episode was actually interesting, because they did something a little different.  This week, they decided to employ three story lines, which is outside of how the show has operated previously.  The three story lines were Janie's fiance (Bash story line), the teacher's "relationship" with the student (Franklin story line), and the Carp profile.  It appears that the writers/producers/etc. are trying to make Carp more of an integral part of the show.  Hey, where's Hanna Linden?  Has it been two episodes since we've seen her?  If she's out, re-tooling has never been more subtle.  The season's almost over, and I guess I'll just be crying myself to sleep every night, instead, when the show goes away.

Necessary Roughness (USA, 10pm EDT)**.5
Most recent episode rating-**

I have officially downgraded the watchability of Necessary Roughness.  This show has a few things worth watching on it (Callie Thorne and the Nico character are about it, these days), but it's just nothing special, and the episodes have gotten progressively more boring.  If you miss it, you aren't missing much, and if you're watching it, you're not seeing much.  I'll probably stick with the show, but there have only been a handful of series that I start watching and give up on mid season (I usually give up after the second episode if I don't see potential).  The last one was Covert Affairs, but Necessary Roughness could definitely suffer the same fate, if it doesn't start getting better, SOON.

State of Georgia (ABC Family, 8:30pm EDT)**
Most recent episode rating-*

Wow, that last episode was terrible.  I have to downgrade the series, as a whole, solely because of that episode.  I'm pretty sure it was out of order, and may have been the second episode in the series, because the show just didn't have any of the same things going on that have gone on in the past several episodes.  Next week, ABC Family will be showing you "2 straight hours of new episodes of State of Georgia!!!!"  That's the equivalent of burning off the rest of the episodes, from what I can tell.  This show is a turkey, and not even Raven, or Loretta Devine, could save this show from itself.  The show has terrible ratings, and I find it hard to believe ABC Family isn't canceling it after this week's 2 hour block, and is just planning on showing back to back episodes of Melissa & Joey, from now on.  I'll say it now, "Goodbye, State of Georgia, at least you didn't waste too much of my time."  And, Raven, even though this series was a disaster, I still got mad love for ya.


Burn Notice (USA, 9pm EDT)*****
Most recent episode rating-*****

Why aren't you watching this show, DAMMIT!!!!!!!??????

Suits (USA, 10pm EDT)****
Most recent episode rating-****

Things are getting more and more complicated for Mike Ross.  Another person is in on at least part of his secret (the secret of him taking LSATs for others).  This story line threatens to play out, in a bad way, but the series is remarkable for its ability to get out of any trouble it gets itself in, quickly and easily.  Never believe a promo is the best advice I can give you, for this show.  It's a fun show, and if you're not watching it, what are you waiting for?

Extra Credit:

Damages (Netflix, iTunes, DirecTV)****

Well, we've finished up season 1 and 2 on Netflix instant streaming.  I thought I would be cool with not being able to see season 3, but I'm a little bummed I can't continue on, right now.  The show is done in a really interesting style, and it is gripping from episode to episode.  It demands a lot of attention, but this show is definitely worth your while to check out on Netflix, if you have an instant streaming account.  I have no idea when season 3 will show up on instant streaming, but you can bet when it does, that I'll lose a whole weekend to it.

That's it, for this week, and I hope you enjoyed what I had to say about what I'm watching now.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What I'm Watching Now #3 (July 24, 2011 Edition)

Well, this looks like it's going to be the last edition of "What I'm Watching Now".  I haven't been getting any clicks on this feature, so unless I get a bunch of likes at the bottom (a bunch, for me, is like three or something), this feature will go away.  For this edition, I've decided to start a ratings system, even though this may be the last edition of the feature.  For the ratings system, I will give my opinion of how watchable I think each show is.  I won't comment on how good I think the show is, unless I think it's kind of special.  I hope you enjoy this potentially final edition of "What I'm Watching Now".

Ratings Legend:

*Don't waste your time
**Some people may like it, but overall, it's not going to change your life if you watch it or miss it.  Shows between 2 stars and 3 stars are on the line of watchable.
***Solid, watchable show.  If I give something 3 stars, I think you can safely watch it, and usually enjoy it.
****You should definitely watch this show, at least once.
*****Why are you not watching this show?


Alphas (Syfy, check local listings)****

I really enjoy this show, and hope you get a chance to check it out.  There's a fun spirit behind the show, and I hope that continues on in the future episodes.  I'm also pleased with the amount of thinking that goes into this show.  It's crafted very well, for a cable show, and since I'm not a genre nut, for this stuff, I'm not bothered if it is derivative of other stuff.

The Closer (TNT, 9pm EDT)****

Big shake ups are coming in the last season of The Closer.  Stay tuned to find out what happens, and how Brenda will make her exit from Major Crimes.

Rizzoli & Isles (TNT, 10pm EDT)***

This isn't a bad TV show, at all, and Angie Harmon doesn't even annoy me in the show.  Trust me, that's a major accomplishment, for her.  It's possible the show was cast around Harmon's shortcomings, since it's filled with solid, humorous character actors from TV shows.  The Isles character is probably the best character on the show, and a lot of the humor comes from the interactions between her and Rizzoli.

The Big C (Showtime, 10:30pm EDT)

Season 1****.5
Season 2 **

Last week's episode got back on track, and I would give it a 3.5 star rating, but it just doesn't change the fact that this show is a train wreck, in season 2.  Based on the promo for next week's episode, we are likely to go back to the same stuff that has made me so mad, about the show.  It got a reprieve, with last week's episode, but I still may not continue with the show, if it's like the first 3 episodes of the second season.


Memphis Beat (TNT, 9pm EDT)***

Last week's episode was the first one I truly enjoyed.  I LOVED the scenes with Lt. Rice (Alfre Woodard) and her mother (Leslie Uggams).  This show is at its best when it is highlighting the characters, and not the cases.  There are a bunch of fun, quirky characters in this show, and it's kind of amazing that Jason Lee is the straight man, when you think about what kind of parts he usually plays.  If the show continues like the last episode, I might bump this up to 3.5 stars.

HawthoRNe (TNT, 10pm EDT)**

If you watch this show once, it's likely you will watch it again.  You won't be watching it because you like it, you will be watching it because they did something in the show that will make you want to find out what happens.  Be wary of checking this show out, because you may not ever stop watching one of the most over the top dramas, I have ever seen.


Franklin & Bash (TNT, 9pm EDT)****

This is probably my favorite summer show, and I just can't understand why you're not watching, if you're not.  It's such an entertaining show, and in some ways, it kind of reminds me of the really old Looney Tunes cartoons.  It's often just a wacky TV show, and it's never wacky in a bad way.  I can't recommend this show enough, if you like smart ass humor.

Necessary Roughness (USA, 10pm EDT)***

*Yawn* is the word I would use to describe this show.  It's a decent show, but it's not improving, for me, it's getting worse.  I think this show is close to getting 2.5 stars, but I'm leaving it at 3 stars, based on the potential.  In last week's episode, I thoroughly enjoyed the "Boos" story line, which made up for what was a really boring episode.  Hard Callie Thorne is always better than soft Callie Thorne, and the writers should think about how to balance her two sides a little better.  I only want soft Callie in scenes like the ones with "Boos".

State of Georgia (ABC Family, 8:30pm EDT)**.5

As I've said before, the ONLY reasons to watch this show are Loretta Devine and Raven.  If they weren't on the show, I would give this show 1 star.  The goofy sidekick fills the show out, okay, but, really, it comes down to Devine and Raven.  Devine will give you one big belly laugh, per episode (worth watching the show just for the insane things she says), and Raven elevates the crappy writing material with her brilliant facial expressions.  Raven uses her face almost like a cartoon character, when it comes to expressions, and her facial expressions crack me up, frequently.  This show is surely going to get canceled, unless ABC Family Channel hates money.


Burn Notice (USA, 9pm EDT)*****

Well, this show has really found its formula.  Have a little case, and then book end it with the spy story line.  For now, they're kind of sprinkling the spy story line in, throughout the episodes, but you get my point.  This week's episode didn't even have one funny line in it, but that's okay.  It's still one of my favorite shows on TV.

Suits (USA, 10pm EDT)****

Watch out, it's starting to look like Harvey isn't so one dimensional, after all.   My only advice to you about this show is to never believe a promo.  They're not going to pay off the fake lawyer story line, as far as I can tell.  For two straight promos, it looked like Mike Ross would be exposed, and there wasn't even a hint of him being exposed, in the final version of the show.  They are using the same idea in next week's promo, and I'm not going to fall for it.  USA is marketing this show really poorly, and the marketing takes away from how good this show really is.  In the promo for last week's episode, they even used a line that wasn't even in the final cut of the show.  Shame on someone for that.  You should definitely be checking this show out.


CHAOS (CBS, 8pm EDT)****

Last week's episode was the best in the series, and as I've said a bunch of times, that's the best tone for the show.  It doesn't really matter, as I think last night's episode was the last in the series.  Goodbye CHAOS.  Even though you never found an audience, and had a really hard time figuring out who you really were, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.  On another network, or even another time slot, this show could have been something.  The ODS has now been shelved, due to budget cuts.

If you don't want this to be the last edition of "What I'm Watching Now", just click "like", below, and I'll think about continuing on with what is presently a failed feature.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 18, 2011

DAMAGES: There Is Always An Angle

My friend, Annie B., asked me to watch and write about the show Damages (basically only available on Netflix, iTunes, and if you have DirecTV, but it originally began airing on FX Networks), and I am going to try my hardest to make something worth reading.  I actually got a subscription to Netflix, in order to watch this show, and I was by no means disappointed.  I had never heard of this show, until Annie mentioned it, and I'm glad she let me know about it.  My wife and I ended up watching 16 episodes (all of season 1, and 3 in season 2) this weekend, so you know it must be doing something that can hold interest.

As a disclaimer, I never watched 24 (cue horrified gasps), but I imagine this show is not dissimilar, in a lot of ways.  This is one of the most ambitious shows I have ever seen on television, and that ambition is likely what made it unable to attract any kind of audience.  The first episode premiered to what would be considered very high ratings for FX Networks, yet by the end of the first season, it had hemorrhaged well over 2 million of its initial 3.7 million viewers.  This show requires an extreme investment of your time, and if you are not willing to make that investment, you are best off not ever starting this show.  Since you can watch the first two seasons via instant streaming on Netflix, you won't have to worry about waiting a week for the next episode.  You just want to make sure you have a lot of time to sit down and watch what is a thoroughly engrossing show.

Before talking about the show, I will break down the three major characters, and then give an idea of what the show is about.  There are numerous characters in the show, and each one plays an important part in the overall experience of the show.  Regardless of how many characters there are in the show, I feel it all still breaks down to these three main characters.  I'm not trying to give anyone a short shrift here, so I will mention, right now, that Ted Danson and Zeljko Ivanek, respectively, were nominated (Danson) for and won (Ivanek) an EMMY for their performances in the first season.  Glenn Close has won two EMMY Awards for her portrayal of Patty Hewes.  The show is extremely well cast (it won an EMMY Award for Best Casting, as well), and the performances are all uniformly solid.  It's just important to know that the three main characters I list below (at least in season 1), are what makes this show go around.  Anchor your viewing experience with these three, and then watch how everything, and everyone, revolves around them.

The Characters:

Patty Hewes (Glenn Close)
Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne)
Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan)

Patty Hewes is a high powered, high octane, civil lawyer.  She specializes in very large lawsuits, and it is clear you don't really want to get in her way.  I don't know much about this kind of stuff, but my guess is that the goal of all lawyers of this type is to get the maximum amount of punitive damages awarded to their clients.  This one quote sums up the Patty Hewes character perfectly, and we don't hear it until episode 5 of the first season.  "I don't give a shit about changing the world, but I hate bullies."  If you're a bully, it's likely Patty Hewes is going to want to destroy you.

Ellen Parsons is fresh out of law school.  The audience is told that she is very ambitious, and is a special type of lawyer, even before seeing her do any type of work.  Ellen has very good instincts about people, but you will quickly learn, in the first season, that she often ignores her gut instinct.  This makes her come across as naive, but it's still fairly clear she's not nearly as naive as she leads people to believe.

Tom Shayes is Patty's second chair, and right hand man.  He's clearly a good enough lawyer to become a Partner, but Patty doesn't work that way.  Patty trusts no one else to handle the responsibility she gives to Tom.  Tom is forced to do a lot of dirty work for her, and it appears that not everything he does is above board, ethically.  To put it delicately, Tom is used as a point of influence between Patty and Ellen.

I don't want to reveal too much about these characters, because watching their stories unfold is what this series is all about.  Remember, I titled this blog post "There Is Always An Angle".  It won't take you long to realize how true that title is.  There is a motivation behind nearly every single action in the series, from all sides involved.  It would be grave understatement to say that this series does not portray civil litigation attorneys in a positive light.

Now that I've given you a little back story on the characters, I'll try to break down what this show is all about.  The name of the show is Damages.  That name comes from the award a plaintiff wins from a defendant.  The show is about civil litigation, yet it spends almost no time in a court room.  I think there were maybe ten minutes of the first season dedicated to court room or Judge's chamber scenes.  That is unique for this type of show. 

I can't say this for certain, but I believe the general style of the show is to have two competing story lines, that will converge by the end of each season.  In the first season, the two story lines are a case that mirrors a smaller scale Enron (Enron scandal from wikipedia), and a murder.  The stories are told in a series of flashbacks and also the present.  The present is shown in a super gritty way, and there are various shades of filming styles being used for the flashbacks.  The vast majority of the show is told in a flashback, while only giving the audience short returns back into the present.  The Good Guys (FOX) employed a similar storytelling technique, if you are looking for any type of parallel.  The audience is always given a graphic to tell us how long ago something happened, but we are never told overtly that we are back in the present.  The shooting style shows us where we are.

The series begins with a half naked woman, in a trench coat, covered in blood, wandering the streets of New York City, while looking extremely confused.  She is taken into police custody, and then we are thrust into the past with a graphic that says "6 Months Earlier".  The first scene of the flashback has Ellen Parsons interviewing for her first job, with Hollis Nye (Philip Bosco), out of law school.  She is offered a 5 year $150,000 a year contract, and is very excited.  She is then asked if she is interviewing with anyone else.  She tells him she has an interview with Patty Hewes, next week.  Everyone immediately has a drop in enthusiasm for Ellen, and Nye tells her that she should have let them know sooner. 

I watched a lot of episodes of this series, this weekend, so I may get some of this wrong.  I'm sorry if I do.  Ellen later runs into Nye in a bar, and they have a conversation about Patty Hewes.  Nye basically tells Ellen that she is making a big mistake by going to work for her, to which she responds that she hasn't even interviewed, yet.  Nye tells her that Patty Hewes will see what his firm did, in regards to Ellen, and he has no doubt that Ellen will be hired.  After that, he asks her to sign the back of his business card.  After she signs her name, he writes the words "I was warned" above her name.

I'm not going to get into all of the intimate details of the first episode, because that would ruin the show for you.  You must let this show unfold before you, and me ruining much of it will just take away from your experience.  I will say that Ellen's job interview, with Patty Hewes, did not go as planned.  During Ellen's interview process, it is revealed what a master manipulator Patty Hewes is.  Over the course of the first season, she gives Ellen precisely one piece of useful advice.  I will let you discover what that is, on your own.

Damages is a very fascinating show to watch.  It reminds me a lot of a book you just can't put down.  The best writers (or most manipulative, depending on your perspective) love to leave a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter.  When the reader is reading the chapter, the reader says, "Okay, this is the last one I'll read right now."  Unfortunately, the reader gets to the end of the chapter and realizes it's not time to stop, yet.  This is how Damages does the TV show.  I won't lie to you, Damages is a highly manipulative TV show.  I hate putting it in the same sentence as the TV show HawthoRNe, but Damages uses manipulation properly, whereas HawthoRNe manipulates you to the point of anger.  Each episode of Damages ends with an unexplained cliffhanger, which makes you want to find out what happens in the next episode.

I think the reason this show lost so much of its audience is because the audience had to watch basically a single story unfold over 13 episodes.  If you come in late to the series, it's really hard to follow, even with the extended bore before every episode.  If you start from the beginning, you may have impatience with the lack of resolution over such a long period of time.  The whole first season of the show is dedicated to the two story lines I mentioned above (murder and Enron style case).  That is ambitious.  As long as you have Netflix, or some other delivery medium, just block out a bunch of time to watch, and enjoy the show.

There's no way this show would ever have made it on network TV, because audiences are too impatient, and network executives like ratings.  I find it amazing the show lasted on FX Networks, as long as it did, due to the sheer cost of the show (it was actually shot in New York City, and employed a significant amount of name actors), and complete lack of ratings.  The series was highly acclaimed and was nominated for numerous EMMY Awards.  The show has now moved to DirecTV, for a fourth season, which makes me wonder how I'll get to watch it.

If you're a fan of great acting, extremely complex, well-written story lines, and heavily stylized directing (think Traffic), you should not miss this show.  If this blog post makes you want to watch the show, head on over to Netflix, and set up an account, if you don't already have one.  To tell you anything else about this show would just rob you of one of the more unique TV experiences you should have.  Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What I'm Watching Now #2 (July 15, 2011 Edition)

Back by popular (lack of) demand is the second installment of "What I'm Watching Now".  I'm still finding my way with this feature, so bear with me while I work out how I want this to go.  Hopefully it will be a pretty fun read in the not too distant future.  On to the shows!


Alphas (Syfy, Check Local Listings)

Alphas is a brand new show on SyFy Channel.  I think the best description is that it is The Dream Team meets Heroes meets X-Men.  I never watched Heroes, so I can't begin to speculate on how derivative it is of that show.  I know that the basic theme of the show has been tapped in many different movies and TV shows, but I don't think I've seen it executed quite this way.  It's kind of a comedy, and it's kind of a thriller.  It has a lot of sci-fi elements, and a lot of humorous elements.  The characters are all pretty fun, and the show is a very entertaining watch.  The show might have significant growing pains, as it finds what it is really about, but it shouldn't be a waste of time getting there.  I think it is well worth your time, even if you don't enjoy the derivative parts of it.  After all, the protagonists get around in a minivan.  How can you not love that?  If you would like more in depth information about this show, you can check out my blog post about it.

Law & Order: Los Angeles (NBC, Stick A Fork In It)

This week's episode ended the very short era of LOLa.  There wasn't any sense of closure, because it was just the last episode of the burn off episodes from before the show was re-tooled.  The episode was pretty condeluded, and relatively stupid, once again.  The series started out terribly, and went out with a whimper, while there were several excellent episodes in the brief run.  We'll never know what this show could have been, because it wasn't really given a chance.  We'll never know whose fault that was, but it's the way of the world.  If your show isn't very good, doesn't have ratings, and costs a lot of money, make out a will.  SVU, you are on the clock.  I predict you will be gone after next season.  Goodbye Law & Order, it's been a fun ride, but it's time to bury you, and move on to the next generation of the police procedural.

The Big C (Showtime, 10:30pm EDT)

I am at my wit's end with this show.  The first season, for the most part, was spectacular.  The second season has been specular, as well, spectacular in the terrible sense.  Last week's episode was all about sex.  Not a scene went by where sexual activity wasn't on screen or talked about.  If this show doesn't get back on track in the next two episodes, I'm done with it.  I just don't care about any of the characters, anymore, and if it continues on this path, it's just a gimmick.  It's already lost almost every part of the spirit it had in the first season, and that's a huge shame.


Memphis Beat (TNT, 9pm EDT)

The show is still spectacularly unspectacular, but here I am still watching it.  I'm very convinced this is very much like a partnership duo show.  I had described that genre of police procedural as being obsolete, and this show makes it very obvious why the genre died.  Still, it's watchable, and I enjoy many of the actors on the show, and I suppose that's why I still watch it.  There are always a few nuggets of humor that give this show a little extra edge.  Of course, Jason Lee's lip synching nullifies those nuggets.  Hallelujah for fast forward on a DVR!

HawthoRNe (TNT, 10pm EDT)

This show, in my opinion, coined the term hyperdrama, and it does not disappoint.  Wait a minute, it always disappoints.  Yet, I'm watching it, because of the ANNOYING cliffhangers.  This week, we thought we would get the resolution of the big story line, but we were left with many other unanswered questions.  In the spirit of this show, I'm sure they'll leave the questions unanswered, just to make us continue watching, in hopes of answers we'll probably never receive.  Here's an example of the problem with HawthoRNe.  Something like what I'm about to describe happens every week.  Remember, if you've been watching the show, Christina Hawthorne was pregnant, and lost her baby during a vicious beating.  In that episode, she was told the baby would be fine.  Then, later in the same episode, the baby died.  In this week's episode, she was told by her Dr. friend that she still can have a baby, and that she should get ta tryin'.  Later in the episode, she is told she can't have a baby.  What is with this show?  It flip flops more than those shoes people wear at the beach.  Manipulation and hyperdrama are this show's "skills".  If it weren't for Jada, would anyone watch this show?


Franklin & Bash (TNT, 9pm EDT)

The show is still extremely solid.  We even got a little "skill" reveal on our heroes, this week.  They were forced into arguing against each other, on the same case, and it leads to an exhibiting of each of the main characters' flaws.  Petty and childish are the words I would use.  If you're not watching this show, like smart ass comedy, and enjoy just an overall fun experience, you are doing yourself a disservice if you are not watching this show.

Necessary Roughness (USA, 10pm EDT)

Our protagonist, Dani Santino, has major issues.  When it's not dealing with her work life, it's dealing with her home life.  No one in her life wants to do what she says, professionally or personally, even though it's clear she knows what's best for everyone involved.  Quite honestly, this show just isn't that great.  It's watchable, but if true healing doesn't start to happen soon, for the major characters in this show, it will get old really quickly.  We better start seeing some of that healing in the next two weeks, or this show will be getting out a shovel, to begin digging its own grave.

State of Georgia (ABC Family, 8:30pm EDT)

There is no doubt in my mind that Loretta Devine is the best thing about this show.  Raven is Raven, and will always make a show watchable, but Devine steals nearly every scene she's in.  The stories in the show are still lame, but I did get a bunch more laughs this week.  I'm still watching, but only for Devine and Raven.  I can't imagine this show gets another season, unless it starts getting a lot better.  Time will tell, but love up on Devine and Raven, while you can, because you probably won't see them around this much, any time soon, if this show doesn't continue.


Burn Notice (USA, 9pm EDT)

Buckle up, things are about to get interesting.  There was a major plot development in the spy story line.  It appears that everything was not what it seemed, after all, for Michael Westen.  I kind of suspected that all along.  It appears the spy game just wants to know what he knows.  Stay tuned, things are about to get a lot more spy heavy.

Suits (USA, 10pm EDT)

This show is a fun watch.  I thought we were going to have Mike Ross's fake lawyer problem pay off this week.  However, nothing like that happened.  It also kind of seemed like this episode was out of order, due to a story arc issue with Rachel.  Based on the promo for next week's episode, you might want to prepare yourself for the possibility that next week's episode is also out of order.  The fake lawyer thing needs to get addressed.  Send Mike to law school, and just make this a real show.  The gimmick isn't even really necessary, anymore.  I guess we'll just wait and see how long it takes to get him into law school.  That's the natural place he'll go.  However, with this series, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he just ends up getting a fake law degree, due to some blackmail element, passes the bar exam, and life continues like normal, or something.  The writing is sharp on the show, and the performances are uniformly good.  It's worth a look, if you ever don't have anything to do on a Thursday night.



I'm not sure how many episodes are left, but we are getting pretty close to sticking a fork in this show.  The out of order Olympics continue, and this would have really hurt the show, if it hadn't actually been canceled after three episodes.  No one's really watching it, and the people who like the show already understand all of this.  Time is running out for you to check the show out.  I'll be glad when it's over, so I can stop devoting blog space to the show.  It gets old saying, "Watch the show, it's good."

Eventually I may shorten this feature into one line, or situation, from each show, to sum it up.  I just haven't decided yet.  Hopefully this feature will make you want to check out some of the above shows.  Feel free to let me know if it does.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

ALPHAS: People With A Plan In A Minivan

I wasn't originally going to check out Alphas (Syfy, Monday nights, check local listings), but I saw enough buzz about it to be intrigued enough to decide to watch it.  I have to say I was relatively impressed by how the show turned out.  I didn't really know what it was, so I didn't go into it expecting anything.  What I got was a little bit of everything that's good on television.  If it weren't for the "talents" of the characters, in the show, it very likely would have felt right at home on USA.  It's kind of hard to classify exactly what this show is, for me, so I'll just start with the character break downs.  Hopefully that will lead us into something that gives us a little more understanding of what this show's all about.

The Characters:

Dr. Lee Rosen (David Strathairn)
Bill Harken (Malik Yoba)
Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright)
Rachel Pirzad (Azita Ghanizada)
Nina Theroux  (Laura Mennell)
Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie)
Don Wilson (Callum Keith Rennie)

Dr. Lee Rosen is kind of a Xavier type from X-Men.  My guess is that he's part Psychologist, and part special operations expert.  He runs his patients (each character, when introduced, has a badge that says "Patient") like a team.  It almost seems like this show is a really bizarre form of group therapy.  Rosen is a mysterious guy, and we don't really understand what his motivations are for what he does.  He apparently sees his "team" as a good means to an end, but we honestly have to wonder what makes him use them the way he does.  They are used in extremely dangerous situations, and it's completely unclear whether anyone, outside of the Harken character, has ever had any form of proper training.  If Dr. Rosen is an "Alpha", we don't know what his particular skill is, yet.

Bill Harken is an "Alpha".  His particular gift is that he can use his fight-or-flight mechanism to perform incredible feats of strength.  He shows us his particularly useful set of skills, when he notices that his driveway is blocked by a Ford Explorer.  Apparently, Harken is from the FBI.  He identifies himself as FBI, in one scene, but it's rather unclear whether he really works for them.  If he does, he's not REALLY working for them, as he's likely on some kind of leave.  This leave is likely what puts him with Dr. Rosen, and it's probably not for good reasons.  His knowledge of police work makes him the de facto field leader of the "team".

Gary Bell is an "Alpha".  His character is somewhere between Rain Man and someone with Asperger syndrome.  He is considered high functioning autistic, and doesn't really get along well with people.  His particular skill is that he can evidently see every type of electromagnetic communication, or something.  He spends much of his time moving his hands like he is using a touch screen computer.  We see images of TV, and various other electromagnetic effects.  If it's on the airwaves, he can see it, and he is used to help the team do the work that a computer would otherwise do.

Rachel Pirzad is an "Alpha".  She has the ability to lock in one sense, and use it in a hypersensitive way.  This allows her to hear, see, taste, feel, etc. things that would not be noticeable to anyone else.  Using this power puts her into a trance like state.  When she is using her power, she tunes everything else out to focus on whatever the task is she is doing.  This puts her in quite a bad situation, later in the Pilot.

Nina Theroux is an "Alpha".  You can sum up Nina in one phrase.  She uses the force.  The force usually works pretty well, for her (with a few exceptions), and proves to be an invaluable asset for the "team's" needs.  She is not supposed to be using this gift, except in emergencies.  We all know how that will turn out.

Cameron Hicks is an "Alpha".  He just doesn't know it at the beginning of the Pilot.  I won't spoil his character introduction, but let's just say he has a particularly amazing set of marksmanship skills.  This character isn't officially on Rosen's "team", yet, but he likely will be, by the end of the episode, once Rosen finds out what he's all about.

Don Wilson is a guy who apparently brings the "case" that Rosen's "team" works on in the Pilot.  We really have pretty much no understanding of who this guy is.  He clearly was once Rosen's superior in some form or fashion, has a lot of money, and only brings in Rosen when he has need of the special skills the "Alphas" can bring to the table.  I'm pretty sure this character will be developed more fully, in later episodes, but he says some pretty bizarre things every time he's on the screen.

Here's my best guess as to what an "Alpha" is, even though I have done no real research on the show.  I think they are people who would be considered at the top of the heap when using their sensory ability (or special ability).  When using their power for good purposes, they can be excellent resources, but when using their power for bad purposes, they can bring a lot of destruction to those around them.  My guess is that Dr. Rosen is there to help the "Alphas" find their good side, when it is likely they have used their skills for bad purposes, or with bad results.  He's probably there to help them deal with the issues having a gift like this could cause.

It's strange to see these people, who are basically psychological patients, being used to fight crime.  That's why I refer to them as a "team".  They're not a traditional crime fighting team, as they never would have gotten together, had it not been for Dr. Rosen.  So, a lot of the things they do border from law bending to law breaking.  There is also a level of disorganization the "team" has, that is not normal for police procedurals.  The funniest thing, to me, in the show, is that the "team" travels around in a minivan.  I don't know if the minivan was meant to be portrayed in a comedic light, but it sure is a funny little touch to me.

Alphas is slick.  It has some pretty humorous parts, especially with the Gary Bell and Nina Theroux characters.  It has a solid pace, and it's a fun show.  Hopefully we'll get a lot more back story on the characters in the future, as they are all severely underdeveloped, in the Pilot.  For now, we know each character has a specific set of skills that moves the story along.  The casting is solid, and probably makes the show seem better than it really is.

When I started writing all of this stuff about the show, I immediately started thinking that this was totally unbelievable, when written down.  However, the way the show is done makes it easy to suspend your disbelief.

The basic premise of the Pilot is that a very bizarre kill has happened in a sealed interrogation room.  Dr. Rosen uses his "team" to figure out what happened.  There is another undercurrent going on in the show (that wraps into the main story line), that leads us to believe there are two rival sets of "Alphas".  The series is probably going to turn into a basic clash of good and evil, and this is probably why the show ended up on Syfy Channel, instead of USA.  If you like sci-fi shows that have some grounding in reality, you will probably enjoy this show quite a bit.  It has a nice amount of wit, the character interactions are believable (and often funny), and it has a lot of good stylistic choices.  It would fit in very well with the style of USA shows, except for the fact that sci-fi elements are in play.  If you like the USA style of TV show, I think I can recommend this highly for you.  The show's off to a good start, and now we just have to see where it goes next.  Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What I'm Watching Now #1 (July 8, 2011 Edition)

I think I'm going to add a new feature to my TV blog, called "What I'm Watching Now".  In this feature, I will give a brief update, or run down of the shows I'm currently watching.  It will let you know how I think these shows are progressing, as I feel many of them are either too far into their run to warrant a full post, or I don't think I can dedicate a whole post to them.  If these go well, maybe it will help you get involved in the story arc of a show you aren't currently watching.  This could also make you want to give these shows a shot.  It could also make you want to steer clear of them.  Hopefully this turns out okay.  It's really just an experiment.  If you like what I did here, click like at the end of the blog post.


Law & Order: Los Angeles (NBC, 10pm EDT)

LOLa has been canceled.  They are burning off the shows from before the re-tool.  Many of these shows were actually very good, and it was probably a mistake for NBC to re-tool the series in the first season.  I still believe the series was sabotaged, but that's the way it goes.

The Big C (Showtime, 10:30pm EDT)

I am so disturbed by the developments on this show, during season 2, that I was considering writing a full blog post about it.  However, things like this are probably best placed in this new format I am experimenting with, beginning with this blog post.  The first season of The Big C, overall, was fantastic.  The only episodes I didn't like were the ones written by Jenny Bicks.  She uses very hamhanded ways to drop bombshells in the show.  The Big C was supposed to be about a woman who has very advanced cancer, who has decided not to do treatment, and her voyage of self discovery that may change the way she feels about getting treatment, and the others around her.  The story arc of the first season eventually made her realize that she did have stuff to live for, and that she should at least try to get the treatment.  Still, we were never under any illusions that she doesn't have a very high chance of dying, in the course of the series.  That is an undercurrent that must always be under the surface, in this show.

There was a major character development in the first season, that was very shocking, and in fact probably would have angered most viewers of the show.  I won't give that away as a spoiler, for those who haven't seen it.  When I saw that particular piece of business happen, I knew there was potential for this show falling off the rails, but the last episode of the first season was excellent, overall, and I left the season with high hopes for season 2.

Unfortunately, all those hopes have been dashed, so far.  There has been enormous time compression in the show, which is making tons of events happen too fast (which doesn't allow the viewer to digest what is going on in the characters' lives).  The characters have started to become unbelievable, and in some ways, caricatures of the very realistic characters we saw early in the first season.  The show has definitely fallen off the rails, and I've lost my investment in nearly every character in the show.  We'll see if things turn back around for the show, but having Cathy take her treatment so seriously now, after the arc from last season, is just not believable, and pushes the character right on to the edge of being unlikable.  If you would like more information about this show, check out my blog post about it.


Memphis Beat (TNT, 9pm EDT)

Chris P. asked me to watch this show, and I obliged him.  The show isn't really worthy of a full blog post, but I am still watching it.  I find the show kind of enjoyable, but it's nothing special.  New Orleans is playing Memphis, which is probably one of the most hilarious miscastings I have ever seen in television.  If you're going to put the name of a city in the title of the show, can you at least shoot there?  I'm glad New Orleans is getting the work, but, seriously, this is bad.

The show shares a lot of the characteristics of The Closer, with a tone that is fairly closely matched, actually.  While it's a relatively straightforward cop show, it still has some light humor sprinkled throughout the show.  The Whitehead character is clearly the best character on the show.  I've only seen two episodes of the show, so it's kind of hard to get a real feel about what it's all about, or even who the characters are professionally.  If you can get past the horrible lip synching that Jason Lee does in every episode (fast forward is your friend), you will probably find this to be a decently enjoyable show, that is not special in any way.  The show is pretty much in a genre that I described as dead in my Police Procedural blog post (person or partnership duo).  The only difference is that it's just not really treated in the same way, as those shows used to be treated.

HawthoRNe (TNT, 10pm EDT)

Magalie N. asked me to do a post about the show, and I did.  This is one of the most manipulative shows I have ever seen on TV.  I coined the term "hyperdrama" specifically because of this show.  There is a major storyline going on in the show, and every week the makers of the show have left us without the answer we are hoping to receive.  This is so manipulative that we have to keep watching the show, even though it pisses us off royally.  Hey, whatever works, I guess.  You can check out my blog post about the show, if you would like more information.


Franklin & Bash (TNT, 9pm EDT)

I went in to this series wanting to hate it, because the promos looked so stupid.  However, outside of Burn Notice, this show is, by far, my favorite show of the summer season.  The casting is spot on, and I find something to enjoy about every character in the show.  I was hoping we'd get some good story arc on the main characters, but that hasn't really happened yet.  The makers of the show have apparently just decided to do a courtroom comedy-drama, for the most part.  That's not to say that's not a good way to go, but there's a lot of stuff under the surface, on this show, that I would like to have answered.  It just appears we will be getting those answers slowly.  If you aren't watching this show, you should give it a chance.  It's a really fun show, overall.  I recommend the episode "You Can't Take It with You", if you are wanting to check the show out.  I think all of the episodes are also available on TNT on Demand.  You can check out my blog post that starts out with the words "Gratuitous Nudity", if you would like more information about the show.

Necessary Roughness (USA, 10pm EDT)

This show features the visually pleasing Callie Thorne.  It premiered last week, on USA, and I haven't seen the second episode, yet.  The show is very much geared toward women, from what I can tell, but there is something there for everyone.  The show has some extraordinarily funny lines in it, though it's not played for laughs that often.  Finding these nuggets is the key to enjoying the show.

The show is about a Psychologist, who was likely once a trophy wife.  Her boredom in this lifestyle made her want to do something more, so her husband paid for her to get the schooling to become a Psychologist.  As is the norm with all shows like this, the lead is always capable of helping others, while being a complete disaster in regards to her own life.  In the Pilot, we find out her husband has been cheating on her, and she asks for a divorce, which he contests (even though she discovers photographic evidence of him cheating on her with 6 or 7 women, on his phone).  She meets the trainer of a professional football team, and the team has a problem child.  She is asked if she would work with him.  She only agrees because she has no money, and they offer her a lot of money.  Hijinx ensue, and the show is born.  The Pilot was pretty good, and if you like the Pilot, I'm sure you'll probably be interested in continuing on with the show.

State of Georgia (ABC Family, 8:30pm EDT)

This is the new sitcom featuring the brilliant Raven-Symoné. This sitcom is not worthy of her talents, and it is a dud, outside of the casting and the acting.  Maybe it will get better, but I don't have very high hopes for it.  It's good for an occasional belly laugh, but for the most part, it's just a very weak sitcom.  I have written a more in depth blog post about it, as well, that you can check out for more information.


Burn Notice (USA, 9pm EDT)

Burn Notice got off to kind of a weird start, this season.  Last season ended with Michael Westen apparently getting back into the CIA (on probation, consulting, or something, I think).  So, the first episode of the season had a lot of awkward moments in it, at the beginning.  Everything had changed in the characters' lives, and nothing had been figured out about how the characters would proceed together.  For the latest episode, the despised character, Nate (Michael's idiot brother), is back.  The Trey character that Michael Westen plays as his undercover character is hilarious.  He constantly spouts off cliches incorrectly, and then tells people they are wrong, when they correct him (an example is something to this effect: "There's more than one way to skin the cat's hair off").  This is the kind of stuff I love on the show.  The show is becoming fun again, and last night's episode had me in stitches, throughout.

Suits (USA, 10pm EDT)

Suits is actually a good show.  You get the perfect feel for every character in the show, and can decide whether you like or dislike each one very easily.  It's basically all one big con, which is probably just the writers' idea of a joke on lawyers.  The plots are all heavily convoluted, and I doubt the show is realistic at all.  That said, it's still a fun show to watch, and I look forward to how they will end up dealing with the basic plot problems that have to be dealt with along the way.  Next week's episode will feature a big bomb drop, supposedly, and we'll see how that goes.  My own personal feeling is that the boss already knows Mike isn't really a lawyer, and that they'll just somehow force him into law school to clean up that little "problem".  There is so much blackmail going on this show.  It makes lawyers look like really evil, sadistic, bastards.  It sure makes them fun to watch, anyway.  If you watch the Pilot, and like it, the show has improved, since then.  If you don't like the Pilot, there's no chance you'll like the show.



The burn off continues this week, with the episodes being played wildly out of order.  This is one of the strangest things I have ever seen in TV history, and it just shows how little CBS cared about this show.  Some of the shows are great, and some of them are boring, but this was still a very fun show to watch, for those of us who understood the premise, and got into it.  It's too bad the show was never able to find its true voice, on the right network.  The true voice of the show is clearly visible in at least four of the episodes, and if the show had been explored using that voice, I think it would eventually have found an audience.  A show featuring the pitch perfect voice of the show is "Two Percent".  CHAOS was a fun little diversion, in a sea of bland procedurals on network TV, this past season.  Time is running out for you to catch the show on TV, show you better start watching soon.  It officially was a show that wasn't.  It only lasted for 3 episodes before being canceled (eventually changed to hiatus, so the rest of the episodes could be burned off this summer).  I have a much more in depth blog post about the show, if you would like more information.

Every Day:

Criminal Minds (A&E check listings, CBS Wednesdays check listings)

My friend, Ronda V., convinced me to watch this show, and I have not been disappointed.  We are now in the process of trying to catch up with the show from the beginning.  We saw all of season 1, minus one episode, and A&E is currently airing season 2.  A&E also shows a ton of other episodes, but if you do proper research, and started a few weeks ago, you could have watched the series basically in order.

I think this is one of the most effective Crime Dramas in the history of television.  It's believable, and it gets in your head.  I almost feel like the show is an act of terrorism, because of how many parts of our daily lives it violates.  Once you see a topic on the show, it's likely you won't approach that normal, every day, thing the same.  The editing and shooting do their best to get into your head.  The use of subliminal images (and sometimes sound) adds to the disturbing nature of the show.  Watching a bunch of the episodes, in a row, is generally not recommended, if you want to have a peaceful sleep.

What I have found out about the show is that there is a little too much story arc, and the characters are placed into too many dangerous situations (sometimes even  My joke, any time one of these shows show up, is that the character must have asked for a raise.  Don't ask for a raise, or more lines on shows like this.  That kind of stuff turns you into a victim.  Still, overall, it's a great show, and is often extremely disturbing to watch.  I will admit, however, that the tinkering that went on in season 6, from what I've seen, is pretty ridiculous, and I will be glad to see it get back to normal next season (hopefully with Hotch in the cast).  As a bit of a warning, it will stick with you into your dreams, if you watch it before going to bed.  After one of the episodes I saw last night, I felt like I needed a 3 episode buffer of "fun" TV to not have bad dreams.  Thankfully I don't remember any bad dreams happening last night.

So, that's what I'm watching right now.  Let me know if you think this is something I should do for future blog posts.  It might be a weekly thing, or it might be a monthly thing.  I just haven't decided, yet.  You can help me decide, because I want to do things you'd like to read.  Click like, below, if you enjoyed this, and want to see more along these lines.  Thanks for reading.

STATE OF GEORGIA: When Bad Things Happen To Good People

I dread the kind of search results this next sentence or so is going to produce for my blog, but I'll write it anyway.  Here's my guess of the traditional career arc of a Disney child star.  First, the star does a show on Disney Channel, and when the star becomes too old, the star gets moved to a show on ABC Family, and if the star is enough of a success with the ABC Family show, the star then moves to Touchstone Pictures, and finally, when the "Team Disney" career ultimately ends, the star probably moves to porn.  Disney Channel hasn't really been around long enough to prove whether this ultimately becomes true, but a few of the gigantic stars of Disney yesterday have started to move into their mid 20's, which means it's time to leave the Mickey Mouse Club behind.

Raven-Symoné is probably the oldest of the Disney child stars, and this blog post is going to be about her new show, State of Georgia (ABC Family, Wednesdays 8:30pm EDT).  There's somewhere around a zero chance I ever would have checked this show out, had it not been for her being on it.  You see, I love Raven, I think she is one of this country's great comedic treasures.  She has been wowing me with her comedic chops since she was probably about 4 years old.  I remember being blown away by some of her early performances on The Cosby Show, and continued watching her grow up through Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, That's So Raven, and finally getting to see her now playing an adult in State of Georgia.  Raven is one of the most talented comedic actors I have ever seen, and you will often get to see her make dozens of hilarious facial expressions in every show she's in.

Unfortunately, no matter how great Raven is an actress (even though she's playing this part much more hammy than she usually does), she has nearly an impossible time saving this rather bad sitcom.  If you actually read my piece about the keys to making a great TV show (I'm sure you didn't), you would know that I said that great casting can make a bad show watchable.  State of Georgia is a perfect example of that.  Sitcoms are supposed to be a laugh a minute, or hilarious observationally or situationally.  If a sitcom isn't a constant "one-liner" show, then the situations the characters are placed in are supposed to be funny.  Not every sitcom is laugh out loud funny, but the goal of every sitcom is to make you laugh frequently, or shock you into laughter with the misunderstanding of the particular situation a character is in, at the moment.

There are numerous problems with State of Georgia, and all I can do is hope these problems get ironed out.  It's an extremely well cast show, and if the writing were better, this show could actually be good.  When I watched this show last night, there were two episodes we had DVR'd.  The first was presumably the "Pilot", but it didn't resemble any pilot I have ever seen for any TV show, much less a sitcom.  The audience was just thrown into their lives with literally no explanation of who the characters are.  I would have thought this episode was the second or third of the series, but it certainly appeared to be the Pilot.  Below, I'll give a brief break down of the main characters on the show, talk about what I perceive to be the problems, and even a little bit about what the strengths are of the show (there are a few).

The Characters:

Georgia Chamberlin (Raven-Symoné)
Jo (Majandra Delfino)
Honey (Loretta Devine)

Georgia Chamberlin, as far as the viewer is led to believe, comes from a well off background from some state in the South.  Let's say Georgia, just for s's and g's.  Georgia loves herself some her.  She is an extremely confident person, who is self-centered, and borders on being an egomaniac.  The basic premise of the show, as far as the viewer is led to believe, is that Georgia is an aspiring actress.  She is so bold, personality-wise, that at her first audition, she tells the rest of the people there how this day will go down as so special, knowing that they got the chance to "remember when" they met Georgia.  We also find that Georgia is a very hypersexual, yet picky, person, as is evidenced by the second episode.

Jo is Georgia's best friend, who evidently came to New York with Georgia to help her follow her dreams.  Jo is extremely smart on the inside, but basically appears to lack common sense on the outside.  She is very good at physics, which is very against the type she plays on the screen.  She's basically the goofy sidekick seen in nearly every type of "buddy" sitcom.  The character, in many ways, is also not at all unlike the Chelsea character from That's So Raven.

Honey is Georgia's Aunt.  The viewer is led to believe Georgia and Jo live with her.  Honey is just brought in for the "formative" moments.  Whenever a problem is needed to be solved, she will be there.  Of course, her way of helping is to make them figure out what to do based on the fake deep questions she asks.  Honey is also apparently a hypersexual person.  This evidently runs in the family.

Let's now talk a little about the problems this show has.  The most glaring one is that the basic premise is laughable.  The idea that Raven-Symoné is an aspiring actress is just ludicrous.  This person has been in the limelight for over 20 years, and it's hard for me to believe she's an aspiring actress, since she's already a natural actress, that we've been watching forever.  Now, if the writers had made her super goofy, awkward, and all kinds of other things that lend to an eventual transformation, that would have been fine.  Instead, it's just weird seeing Raven attempting to be an actress, when we already know how her story turned out. 

When doing a show like this, it's pretty important to get the characters into funny situations, where the comedy can come to the front.  So far, Raven's comedic chops have barely been on display.  Her reactions to certain situations are funny, but none of that is in the script.  The best comedic scenes have been Jo's, and the best lines have been in Honey's scenes.  When your star is a superstar in the comedy genre, you gotta give her funny stuff to do or say, even if it's unintentionally funny.  This just doesn't happen enough.  So far, the show's just not very funny, and the stories aren't interesting, at all.

The show is also very sexed up.  This is very strange for an ABC Family show, I would think.  In nearly every scene, a character is doing something seductive or saying something raunchy.  It's like if adults had grown up to still approach romance like teenagers.  A lot of it seems strange and forced.

The biggest strength of the show is the casting.  If this show had different people in it, it would probably be easily recognized as a flaming pile of poo poo.  Instead, there is just enough there in the casting to make you want to see if the material can get better.  Loretta Devine steals practically every scene she's in, with her canned ham performance.  However, her comedic timing is priceless, and she has been the source of my loudest laughs from the show.  Her best line in the series, so far, was regarding Tavis Smiley.  She has many other similarly themed lines, throughout the show, as well.  The physics geeks are also fairly entertaining, and most of the best comedy in the show is coming from these scenes.  The acting performances, in the show, overall, are solid, but the scenes written for them are over the top stupid.

I thought I would be writing about the strengths of the show, but yeah, that's it, casting and performances.  The writing isn't funny, the scenes aren't believable, and the situations aren't often funny enough.  The show was meant to be about an aspiring actress's struggles along the way to stardom, with her best friend going along for the ride.  Yet, the second episode didn't even really make mention of the acting thing.  There's a strong possibility this will just become a buddy comedy, and the acting thing will go away.  However, if this show doesn't get its act together soon, it will be gone quickly.  This post looks like it might have ended up as much a mess as this TV show.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Total Package Of The Police Procedural

As I'm sitting here, in my hotel room in Las Vegas, killing a little time, I started thinking about what the keys are to making a great TV show.  There are many different genres of television, so the same things often don't apply for every show out there.  Still, in my opinion, when you break it down to its most simple form, making great TV isn't as hard as it looks.  When you get the total package right, all you have to do is wait for it to find an audience.  If the show is promoted properly, this "total package" show will have a built in audience before it even hits the air.

So, is it possible to define what can make a TV show great?  Yes, I think it is possible to define this.  So, I will give it a shot.  If this goes well, this can end up being a great primer for the "formula" of making a show work.  If it doesn't, then I won't have added anything to the conversation.  For this particular blog post, I'm going to focus on the Police Procedural, and if it's received positively, I will write future blog posts about what I think makes the "total package" for sitcoms and dramas/dramedies.  In order for those other two blog posts to happen, I will need to see some likes at the end of this post.  So, please select like, at the bottom of this page, if you want me to do the others.

It goes without saying that there have been a lot of police procedurals in the history of television.  It's one of the most popular genres, because human beings evidently have an innate fascination with crime.  Maybe we watch because we want to see how the other half lives, or maybe we wish we could be on that other side.  Regardless of why we may watch these shows, there's no doubt we always will.  I am willing to bet all of your next paycheck that there will be at least one of these shows on network TV, for the rest of our lives.

The basic cop show is the main police procedural.  Shows that fit into this genre are the main Law & Order, NYPD Blue, and Hawaii Five-O.  These are the nuts and bolts type shows that deal with crime.  Law & Order and Hawaii Five-O are the least sophisticated types of this show.  Hawaii Five-O has much more going on behind the scenes than is advisable in this type of genre, and NYPD Blue has much more of the cops' stories than is standard in this type of genre.

Another type is the Medical Examiner show.  Shows that fit into this genre are Quincy, M.E. and Body of Proof.  They're much the same as the typical cop show, except that they focus on the forensic aspect of the crime, as opposed to the on the street investigation of the crime.

Another type is the sophisticated police procedural.  Shows that fit into this genre are Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Criminal Minds, and The Closer.  These are shows that will delve into the minds of criminals, and will deliver us significant amounts of story arc for the characters chasing the criminals. 

Another type of police procedural is one that features the work of just a person or a partnership duo.  Shows that fit into this genre are Hunter, Cagney & Lacey, and Columbo.  These shows often depict the hero/heroes as super cops, or people we should notice.

The last type of police procedural that I can think of, off the top of my head, is the Private Investigator type show.  Shows that fit into this genre are The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones, Remington Steele, and Monk.  These shows feature a lead character doing his job, and all of the good and bad that comes along with that.

Now that I have defined what I perceive to be the five genres of police procedurals, what does each one need to do well, to succeed, and to hopefully become a "total package"?  Each one is a little different, and one problem will often not overwhelm the overall experience of a show.  However, if there are multiple problems with the show, inside the genre, this can create conditions that can make a show get canceled.

1. The basic cop show:

a. It should go without saying that if you don't have good cases on these shows, they will fail.  The good news for the viewer is that there are thousands upon thousands of crimes that can be drawn upon.  One of the problems in the later years of Law & Order is that there was a heavy reliance on "ripped from the headlines" type cases.  This is boring to me, and I can't imagine most other people don't find them boring, as well.  The problem with the show Hawaii Five-O is that there is only so much crime that happens in a city like Honolulu.  The crime rates just should not be as high as in New York City or Los Angeles.   Hawaii Five-O portrays the landscape of crime in Honolulu so horrifically that the tourism board must be unable to sleep at night.  So, in order to have a great basic cop show, it is only necessary to tell a good story based on the crime.  The show absolutely does not have to ever be based on any "ripped from the headlines" type case, nor should it be focused on making a relatively safe city appear to be terrifying.

b. Casting is extremely important in shows like this.  The goal should be to make the characters believable, and to keep the show watchable.  In other words, don't put the wrong type of person in each part, and don't cast a person that has the ability to turn the viewer off.  We have all seen cops on TV shows that annoy us, and just make us wish they would go away.  Believability and watchability are the two keys, here.  If you can gain that with a prominent character actor, it's even better.  NYPD Blue was filled will veteran character actors and leads, and it wasn't until the end of that show, that some of the gimmick casting got out of control.  As for Law & Order, the basic formula would be something along the lines of the Lennie Briscoe and Mike Logan characters.  For Hawaii Five-O, the casting is okay, and it doesn't make or break the show.  All of the characters are believable enough, but I have seen paint with more presence than the Steve McGarrett character, who happens to be the lead.  Hawaii Five-O also commits the cardinal sin of gimmick casting.  Gimmick casting is when you bring in a "name" person, to try to boost audience numbers, by bringing in that person's built in audience.  Examples of this were Dane Cook, P. Diddy, Nick Lachey, and Vanessa Minnillo.  Don't do this, ever.  Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is also guilty of this kind of casting, but it usually manifests itself by the actor going way against type to play their role.  This is sort of okay, but not particularly recommended.

c. The writing needs to be coherent and solid.  Trying to fool the audience with misdirection on this type of show is a mistake.  Show the crime, investigate the crime, try the crime, make the perp do time.  Nearly all of this type of show will eventually become political later in its run.  These shows use their popularity as an opportunity to get on a soap box.  This really is not recommended, but it happens all the time.

d. Using the location as a background character is also a very good thing, though it does tend to make a show more expensive.

So, to make the total package, all you need to do in this type of show is to have cases that don't annoy the viewer, believable casting, with watchable actors, coherent and solid writing, and a location that can be used to add texture to the show.  If you do those things, for this exact type of show, you have the total package.  By 1993, Law & Order had become a "total package" type show, but this stopped by 1997.  The show was still good, at that time, but it had lost many of the things that made it great.

2. The Medical Examiner Show

a. A case with a story is always a great way to do these shows.  The Medical Examiner is needed to help solve complicated cases, that often aren't cut and dry.  Quincy was known for taking what appeared to be standard cases, and turning them into elaborate murders.  He, in other words, was a bug up the butt of his boss, Astin.  If you have ever watched a Medical Examiner show, you will know that the lead is always excessively head strong.  The lead is stubborn, and is a disaster when it comes to handling things diplomatically.  Body of Proof is essentially, as of this writing, a poorly done knock off of Quincy, M.E.  However, Quincy, M.E. is the gold standard of shows like this, and if you follow the rough "formula" of that show, you can't go too terribly wrong.

b. Casting is of the utmost importance on a show like this.  If your lead is unbelievable, your show has no chance.  This lead also should have a huge presence on screen, but should absolutely not overwhelm the show.  Jack Klugman toed this line perfectly, throughout the run of Quincy, M.E.  Every single ancillary character on Quincy, M.E. was well cast and believable, in whatever role they were playing.  Body of Proof has numerous casting problems that I hope will be resolved in the coming seasons.

c. It's important to be technically solid in this type of show, but it's not essential to becoming a total package.  The more believable the science and writing behind the show is, the better it will do.  There are definite lines in police work, and it is crucial they are not overstepped.  This is a major problem in Body of Proof.

Quincy, M.E. was a "total package" throughout the vast majority of its run.  In the last two seasons the show became overly political and preachy.  My joke is that each episode was a "We're going to Sacramento!" type show.   If you are trying to do a Medical Examiner show, use Quincy, M.E. as a guide, and slick it up, however you want.

3. The Sophisticated Police Procedural:

a.  It goes without saying that the writing of each episode is the most important part of a show like this.  These shows often have a significant amount of texture, and a tremendous amount of research is necessary to do them properly.  They should be convoluted without being condeluded.  The audience should be able to figure it out, when trying hard, but the shows should not be so simplistic, that the cases are easy to solve.

b. Casting is crucial for shows like this.  One bad piece of casting can ruin a show like this.  It can be done with one person being a lead, and everyone else filling a role, or it can be an ensemble cast.  There are several pieces of "unconventional" casting in the show Criminal Minds, but the team (they love that word on the show) is outstanding together, and 100 percent believable in their parts.

If you nail those two things, a show like this will be fine, usually.  Criminal Minds has the problem of putting the team into too much danger, but other than that, it's a great police procedural.

4. The Person or Partner show:

a.  These shows aren't really that popular these days, and maybe it's a genre that time is beginning to forget.  I'm going to use the example of Hunter, since it's the show I watched the most.  It is crucial, number one, to cast the lead(s) properly.  If the lead isn't likable or you don't identify with what the lead is doing, the show will fail, guaranteed.

b. The cases aren't really that important in shows like this.  It's more about watching how the people go about solving them.  If the case is interesting, it helps the show, but it's not that important.

c. A nice location is something that helps shows like this out a lot.  Without the added texture of an interesting location, these shows can become quite boring.

It's hard to say if a show like this was ever a "total package", but they all were incredibly watchable.  Just hitting those three keys, would probably make that show a success.  We are apparently going to be treated to a show like this, next fall, on NBC.  It is called Prime Suspect.  It's not called by the lead character's name, but the trailer certainly makes it seem like the show is mostly going to focus on the lead character.  Law & Order: Criminal Intent toed the line of this type of show, as well, though I wouldn't put it in this category.  However, any time you see a show that features what you perceive to be a "super cop", it is an off shoot of this genre.

5. The Private Investigator Show:

a. The Private Investigator show is my favorite in the police procedural genre.  The list is a mile long of successful versions of these shows.  These days, you don't see very many shows that follow this exact "formula", but the fingerprints of the Private Investigator show are all over TV shows, today.  It goes without saying that the casting of the lead is the single most important aspect of making a great Private Investigator show.  The best Private Investigator shows do not feature a superhero type.  Usually the lead is tough, but often gets himself into bad situations.  There is no doubt, in my mind, that The Rockford Files is THE best Private Investigator show, ever.  It is the "total package".  The show on TV, today, that reminds me the most of The Rockford Files, is Burn Notice.

b. The personality of the character must be on display at all times.  The lead in this type of show will always have major character flaws.  Amazingly, these flaws draw us into the character even more.

c. The writing needs to be sharp, witty, and often funny.  It also needs to be dark, when necessary.  Convolution is a plus for this type of show, and the lead being in danger is often an important component in the show.

d. While the character is almost never a superhero, it's important to have the character come across as someone who clearly knows what he or she is doing, even if he or she goes about it in wrong or potentially dangerous ways.  Driving skills, disguising skills, or other skills are very important.

e. The ancillary casting needs to be good.  The Rocky character on The Rockford Files was the weakest character on the show.  However, he was believable as Jim Rockford's dad.  The infuriating Angel was one of the best characters in the history of television, and each Private Investigator always needs someone who is on the wrong side of the law, to be able to function properly.

f. A Private Investigator is always out in the field, so having this person in a city with texture is ideal.  Maybe the reason why we don't see these types of shows anymore is because it is getting really expensive to shoot in cities like Los Angeles (where nearly all of the best Private Investigator shows are based) and New York.

If you put all of these things together, there's no doubt you can make a winner out of a Private Investigator show.  These days, TV shows don't do the actual Private Investigator thing, as often (maybe due to technological advances?), but you can see aspects of this formula across many different television shows.  I could argue that nearly every show on USA has been influenced heavily by this genre (possibly unconsciously).

One of the things I tend to say about TV shows is this.  If you have a great show with bad casting, you can't save it.  If you have a great cast on a decent or bad show, it may survive.  However, if you have a great, or even good, show, with a good, or even great, cast, the show can survive and thrive.  It all reduces to the same thing.  Cast it right (first), and write it well (second), and there will be a good chance your show can find an audience.  These days, it just all comes down to how long the networks will allow you to find one.  Thanks for reading.
There was an error in this gadget