Review: Fox’s Enlisted works itself into one of season’s most promising comedies

Tonight at 9:30/8:30c, FOX debuts the pilot for Enlisted, a new military comedy from Cougar Town co-creator Kevin Biegel, with Men of a Certain Age co-creator Mike Royce on board as his co-showrunner.

I don’t want to talk about the pilot. This may seem strange: it’s the episode that’s supposed to demonstrate proof of concept, establish characters, and get viewers interested in seeing more stories in this universe. It’s also, all told, a solid pilot, one that highlights the bond between three brothers that is undoubtedly the heart of the show, so it’s not as though this is a case of needing to ignore the pilot to get to the good episodes after it. If you tune in to watch Enlisted tonight, you’ll find a well-crafted pilot that makes a clear, amiable case for tuning in next week.

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Cultural Interview: Lauren Iungerich on Writing Her Awkward. Finale [Part Two]

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In the second part of a two-part interview with Awkward. creator Lauren Iungerich, we consider the choices she made once she realized she was writing her final episode of the series (which I reviewed at The A.V. Club here), as well as some of the plans she had should she have remained involved with the show in its fourth season. You can find part one of the interview, where Iungerich reflects on her decision to leave the series, here.

[Spoilers for "Who I Want To Be," the third season finale of MTV's Awkward., throughout this interview.]

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Cultural Interview: Lauren Iungerich on the end of her Awkward. journey [Part One]

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Earlier this fall, I spoke with Awkward. creator Lauren Iungerich about the beginning of the second half of the third season, which was announced earlier this year as her final year with the series. Since then, Iungerich has been a regular presence in the comment section at The A.V. Club’s weekly reviews of the series, engaging with fans and reflecting on the end of her journey. As the season comes to an end with tonight’s hour-long season finale (10:30/9:30c, MTV), I spoke with Iungerich at length about her experience with the series and the end of her Awkward. journey. This is the first part of that conversation, in which she reflects on her departure and her engagement with her audience. Later tonight after the finale concludes, I will have an additional conversation where we focus on how she chose to bring an end to her time on the series. [NOTE: Part Two of the interview is now up.]

In the comments of last week’s A.V. Club review, you made a point to reflect on the contribution of Erin Ehrlich. As you depart the show, are you reflecting back on your collaborators throughout this journey?

Lauren Iungerich: It would not have been half of fun if I hadn’t had Erin by my side. I had an incredible team of people who helped me make the show. Steve Edwards, who was my supervising editor: editors never get credit the way they should. Editing is such an extension of the writing—sometimes you’re rewriting in the editing room, and he was kind of this magic…I don’t know how to explain it, but he really gets my tone, and the tone of the show, which can go from crazy heightened comedy to this emotional pathos. He really understood and connected with the material—I have to take him with me wherever I go. Also Jamie Dooner, my husband, has been a creative force since I was writing the pilot—his jokes and ideas are peppered in from the beginning (like the now iconic cast from the pilot, which was his idea). I don’t know where I would be without these people—as a creator, you’re the one who makes the final decisions, but I definitely had a lot of consultants along the way.

And yet as the showrunner, you definitely have a lot at stake in the show on a personal level.

LI: As I made the decision to leave my show, which was a very hard decision, it’s so interesting for me to reflect on what’s happened with the show and the ownership that has been taken. For myself and the people mentioned above, this show was personal—it was art. For me, personally—and I speak only for myself here—this was an extension of me and a labor of love, and five years of my life such that I can’t explain the amount of work that goes into it. There are different people who come in and work with us for a few months a year: we have the luxury of an awesome team who comes in every season—including those who are going back without me, which is a gift to be able to leave behind opportunity and jobs for amazing people—but even those who work on the show don’t understand what goes into it for those of us who are with it from day one. It’s not just one person who should get the credit, but I’ve definitely been the lone soldier who carries it from beginning to end, which is why this is so personal and why the choice to leave was so incredibly painful.

Now, though, I see it as a business: it’s not this personal thing anymore. And it is a business, and it’s been the best lesson I’ve learned: should you do anything that gets any kind of adulation, validation, good ratings, or an audience, it becomes this thing where everybody sort of wants a piece of it, and wants to take ownership of it. And the truth is the ownership lies with the people who loved it, and there are a lot of them, it was not just me. It’s still hard for me to see the show as a business, because it was so personal: I cry all the time. I cried last night; I cried writing that post about Erin.

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A Singular Success: On NBC’s Curiosity-courting The Sound of Music Live

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The Sound of Music Live is officially a ratings success by nearly every metric imaginable, with the records—Highest rated non-sports Thursday in the demo since ER finale! Most watched non-sports Thursday since the Frasier finale! First time NBC has won five straight nights of primetime since 2002!—flying fast as the magnitude of its success becomes clearer.

I enjoyed The Sound of Music Live. It didn’t actually work as a case of storytelling, harmed by uneven performances by its two leads, but I also think that a lot of those problems were inherent to the medium in which the musical was being experienced. That Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer were unable to sell me on a relationship that I can imagine feeling rushed in 90% of performances of this musical is far from history’s greatest failure; instead, it’s a noble effort that created some decidedly powerful images and a few too many scenes of people speaking lines instead of expressing sentiments. Said problems were better overcome by the three musical theater veterans cast around the two leads—Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, and Christian Borle—and on the whole I would say that I enjoyed the experience both as a social media event and as a unique and ultimately fun television program.

It is also—based on reports in The Hollywood Reporter from earlier this week—likely to fail to meet all of the expectations placed on it by NBC, because I find it difficult to imagine a scenario whereby The Sound of Music Live becomes an evergreen holiday performer in the way Robert Greenblatt imagined it could.

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Improving Without Changing: Adapting The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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My biggest issues with the Hunger Games trilogy were both things that have gone unchanged in the film adaptations. The structural sameness of the three books may have had a purpose, but it particularly affected my enjoyment of the second book, Catching Fire, where it felt lazy and formulaic rather than meaningful. The same can be said for the books’ close first-person perspective, which I found particularly limiting in the glimpses of a bigger conflict in Catching Fire that the perspective gave the books no chance to explore.

What I found most interesting about my response to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of what I identified as the least successful of the novels back in 2011, is that I liked it much more than its predecessor despite the fact it doubles down on these elements. Some of this has to do with how “first-person perspectives” function differently in literature vs. film, certainly, but I think it’s also a case in which one of the film’s most potentially frustrating choices successfully neutralizes one of the book’s biggest problems.

[Spoilers for the film, and then separately marked spoilers for the series, follow]

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So It’s Come To This: The Case for the Simpsons Clip Database

SoitscometothisaSimpsonsClipshowWe should have known it would be FXX.

Two days after critics questioned the fledgling cable channel’s cancellation of Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell, and what it meant for its future, FXX joined the long line of cable channels who have chosen to build their brand on the backs of syndication rights. And given that FXX is owned by NewsCorp, who also owns 20th Century Fox, that the channel would emerge victorious in the basic cable channel sweepstakes for The Simpsons is not a huge surprise. The decision allows Fox to keep the show within the corporate family, while simultaneously providing a cornerstone around which the FX brand and FXX specifically can differentiate within the competitive space of basic cable.

It’s not quite the “Simpsons Channel” that had been rumored in previous years, but it comes with what some would consider to be a comparable model: FXNow, the channels’ streaming service, will have exclusive rights to The Simpsons within a non-linear space, which some could argue is the most lucrative part of the deal. As DVD sales plummet and streaming becomes the de facto model through which many young adults receive their content, The Simpsons represents a substantial piece of television history, and one that its fans are likely willing to revisit. When Marcia Wallace passed away last month, how many Simpsons fans rushed to revisit “Bart The Lover?” When you’re standing outside a restaurant talking about the quality of your meal and you give it your lowest rating ever, seven thumbs up—I actually did this last night—there’s a chance you’ll want to rush home to check out “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner.” In a world where Simpsons references are a language for a certain generation, the ability to stream this content has tremendous value, and would push use of an app that otherwise would struggle to compete with services like Netflix.

There are obviously some complications: for example, FXNow has commercial breaks within episodes, meaning there will be no space in which commercial-free episodes of The Simpsons will be available to stream. However, more importantly, I remain firm in my belief that the most valuable resource to Simpsons fans is not the ability to watch the show whenever they want, but rather the ability to reference the show at a moment’s notice. Within this deal, The Simpsons is being used as a leverage point to build a channel brand, generate revenue, and maximize potential revenue for a new channel; within popular culture, however, The Simpsons is used as a generator of meaning, a way to communicate that is best served with a different non-linear application that this deal would seem to render impossible (or at least highly unlikely).

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Better Without The Bear: How The Cancellation Bear Damages Ratings Culture

CancelBearWantedOver the past year or so, I’ve engaged with what I would call a friendly feud with the Cancellation Bear, the—as far as we know—fictional mascot of ratings site TV By The Numbers. In truth, I have no substantive beef with the Bear or its overlords as individuals, but the Bear and I disagree on a number of issues tied to how ratings are reported and enjoy the occasional repartee. I will admit that it’s a silly thing, filled with wildly exaggerated responses—reflected in this Wanted poster—and certainly among the simpler, more juvenile pleasures one can partake in.

However, over the past year, my feud with @TheCancelBear has been tinged with a degree of legitimate concern for the state of the discourse. Originally, the feud emerged from an ambivalent relationship with the site and its approach to ratings reporting. The site’s role in making ratings data both highly visible and highly accessible makes it a valuable tool for teaching about and researching the television industry, but the Cancellation Bear represents the site’s other role: actively inciting fear and uncertainty among fans of series struggling in the ratings in an effort to both drive traffic and—especially in the past two years—crusade against what they see as “fan excuses” that have no traction compared to their sure-fire prognostications. The former has helped make it possible for a “ratings culture” to exist; the latter has made that “ratings culture” unnecessarily combative and unpleasant.

This ambivalence resulted in a rather epic conversation myself and Tyler Dinucci had with a representative of the site last year. Based on a consideration of Last Resort’s ratings, the conversation wasn’t really about the fate of Last Resort (and I’m not just saying that because I was on the side of optimism and the series was canceled after 13 episodes). The conversation was actually about how TV By The Numbers frames its analysis of ratings not simply as good on its own merits, but rather uses the Cancellation Bear as a front behind which it can insult “desperate fans” who would choose to look on the bright side.

More troll-like than ursine, the Cancellation Bear is the site’s Id, framing the site’s largely measured—and unquestionably educated—predictions through the contempt the site’s creators seem to have for many of their readers and fellow reporters/journalists; it’s a frame that risks turning TV By The Numbers into a disruptive force within ratings culture, more interested in loudly performing its distinction than participating in a meaningful discourse central to TV’s future.

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