Tag Archives: Preview

A Television Event: Torchwood: Children of Earth Preview


Preview: A Television Event

July 20th, 2009

As a television-producing nation, Britain was very much at the forefront of the short-run series. While American networks tend to focus on syndication, with cable series being the one notable exception, British series like The Office and Extra (amongst others, of course) were amongst the first to eschew the “more is more” principle and embrace the concise, focused and effective season.

However, Torchwood: Children of Earth is a really intriguing little experiment. A fairly successful BBC series in its own right, the Doctor Who spinoff went from thirteen episode seasons in its first two years to a five-part, five night miniseries that aired as a week-long event a few weeks ago on the BBC, and airs this week on BBC America and Space in North America starting this evening. The miniseries is certainly more prevalent in Britain than it is in America: look at how American producers turned successful miniseries like The Eleventh Hour or State of Play into either television shows or movies as opposed to maintaining the format.

If I had to offer a theory as to why the miniseries has been predominantly ignored stateside, I’d suggest that it’s due to shifting perceptions of event television. Tracing back to the phenomenon of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (which coincidentally returns next month), the rise of reality television has shifted the concept of event television. While there are still shared television experiences that can bring people together, the simplicity of reality television has changed both the context and volume of such events. There is an event every few months, American Idol leading to America’s Got Talent leading to the next series that in its emphasis on viewer democracy creates an event. I can’t remember the last legitimately successful miniseries, and the presence of only two Miniseries in this year’s Emmy category (and the fact that Generation Kill was realistically more of a short-order series than a miniseries) would seem to indicate that the form is on its last legs.

What makes Torchwood: Children of Earth so interesting is that it was a huge hit in Great Britain, and the only thing legitimately standing in its way of being a big hit in North America is its accessibility through less than legal channels. It emerges as a piece of event television that may not be a third season in the way that some fans expected, and that certainly appeals more to fans of science fiction than to the kind of people who obsessed over Susan Boyle, but that in its deft use of plotting and sly combination of both continuity and exposition hooks the viewer in.

Children of Earth tells the story of Torchwood, an organization designed to protect Britain from extraterrestrial life forms, and in particular their response to a very strange scenario. At 8:40 in the morning, every single child around the world stops dead in their tracks, responding to no one and creating a series of accidents and more than a few red flags. The miniseries follows Torchwood’s efforts to respond to this crisis, as well as the government response. In both instances, there are a number of twists and turns more at home in a political thriller than your typical piece of science fiction, and yet at the core of everything is the unquestionable existence of extraterrestrial life.

I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice to say that despite my very minimal experience with Doctor Who and zero experience with Torchwood, I was thoroughly transfixed by tonight’s opening episode. I’ve never quite watched a piece of television that’s operated in this fashion, developing an intelligent serialized science fiction suspense thriller that in many ways offers the scripted equivalent to the game show event: by leaving you hanging at the end of the first night, desperate to discover what the uncertain future episodes will bring, and then actually delivering the following evening, it captured me in a way that a traditional series wouldn’t be able to. Children of Earth left this non-fan not only dying to move onto the next episode but also most interested in returning to the show’s first two seasons, which seems to me to be its ultimate goal.

And that’s the kind of event television that feels like a breath of fresh air during the summer television season. Torchwood: Children of Earth starts tonight on BBC America at 9/8c, and at 10pm EDT on Space Channel in Canada. I’ll be back later tonight with my thoughts on Part One; In the meantime, you can check out reviews from fellow relative Torchwood neophytes Dan Fienberg and James Poniewozik, as well as some more seasoned perspectives from Alan Sepinwall and Maureen Ryan.

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2009 Emmy Awards Nominations Predictions: The Tale of the Tape


The Tale of the Tape

July 15th, 2009

Heading into tomorrow morning’s nominations (5:30 Pacific Time, so 8:30 Eastern and 9:30 for me in the Atlantic time zone), there are a few certainties, and a few question marks. I talked before about the uncertainty of the popular vote, which places a show like Lost somewhere in between an equilibrium of popular shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy and more critical/industry favourites like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Here, it’s tie to take a look at some of the big stories that could emerge from the nominations, as well as a glimpse at some of the categories that I didn’t get to during the week. So, let’s get the Tale of the Tape.

Mad Men = The New Sopranos?

Last year, Mad Men racked up an Emmy for Drama Series, a nomination for Lead Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and five other statues (including Writing for Matthew Weiner). The question now really comes down to just how much the show’s second season is going to increase those odds. Chances are that one of the show’s two leading women will break through, now much more household names when it comes to the show’s success, and there’s room for more supporting players at well. If it follows the Sopranos pattern, it could break through big – if it, however, gets held back by being on AMC, it could end up with roughly the same nominations.

The Year of CBS?

It may be unlikely, with far more popular shows in terms of Hollwood and the Emmys in the category, but How I Met Your Mother is at the point where its breakout year might be upon us. Neil Patrick Harris is hosting, the show’s ratings have solidified it as a hit in its own right, and it is no longer in fear of cancellation which makes it seem like the kind of show that will be around for a while. It has to compete with stablemate The Big Bang Theory, which has Jim Parsons breaking out in a big way, and Two and a Half Men, but that two more legitimate Emmy contenders than the network had a year ago (and, in my mind, two more than it should have, but that’s neither here nor there). Combine with a chance for The Mentalist’s Simon Baker, and CBS is maybe not just the people’s network anymore.

Breaking Bad Breaking Through?

Last year, Bryan Cranston won in a bit of a shocker in the Lead Actor category for his work on the other AMC drama, Breaking Bad. Many have taken that win and viewed it as a sign that the show, which got even better in its second season, has a chance of breaking through in its own right. I’m of the mind that it will, but Cranston’s win was as much for his lack of a win for Malcolm in the Middle than it was for his brave performance, so it will be interesting to see if the show can join Cranston in the Emmy race. It has the benefit of having aired fairly recently, but it’s yet to be seen if it can break through on the popular vote.

The Final Chance for Battlestar Galactica

A real chance of breaking into the Drama Series race, or the various acting categories, just isn’t in the cards; Battlestar Galactica may have had an amazing finale, and its actors may have stepped up more than ever before, but in a popular vote competition it just isn’t going to get the support it needs. Mary McDonnell is going to get pushed out of her category, although remains a long shot candidate if things get really weird, but the show’s real chance lies in both writing and direction. There’s probably room in those categories for Ronald D. Moore and Michael Rymer, as they’ve been represented before, so it will be interesting to see if they can pick up those nods. They’ll also dominate the special effects categories, with the Visual Effects team easily picking up their third Emmy.

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Series Premiere: Glee – “Pilot”



May 19th, 2009

As always, as a less than official TV critic, I haven’t been amongst those lucky enough to have seen FOX’s new series, Glee, ahead of time. This is not usually an issue, as I’m able to avoid any spoilers or any really strong opinions on these shows, but ignoring Glee has been nearly impossible. Between the constant deluge of ads that FOX has been deploying, and between every TV critic under the sun having extremely polarizing reactions to the series, ignoring Glee has been fundamentally impossible. People either love the show or, well, they agree that there’s other people other than themselves who will probably love it.

Amazingly, however, I managed to keep myself from seeing a single clip, or more than a few images, from the series: sure, I’ve seen the criticism, but this unique musical television “event” (premiering after American Idol despite not truly debuting until the Fall) remains entirely unspoiled in terms of its tone and in terms of its execution (although I’ve obviously listened to the critics enough to know some things to look out for). As a result, I can honestly say that I went into Glee with, primarily, no real expectations one way or the other. The result?

I’m a little bit in love.

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If I Could Turn Back Time: SoapNet and CBC’s “Being Erica”

erica2When 2009 began, I didn’t know that I intended for this to be the year that Cultural Learnings lived up to its Canadian heritage by covering more television from my home and native land. Sure, it’s really only been Project Runway Canada, but I was really going to give ZOS: Zone of Separation a try before it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to watch it weekly, and I have been watching another show under the radar. My decision to not yet blog about Being Erica, CBC’s drama series starring Erin Karpluk, has been largely because I knew this day was coming: tonight, Being Erica makes the leap south across the 49th Parallel, and begins airing on SoapNet in the United States.

The fact that I’m still watching seven episodes into the show’s run is probably enough of an endorsement itself, but I really do find Being Erica a charming diversion, the kind of show that occassionally boils down to romantic comedy cliches but more often than not transcends its generic boundaries to prove quite resonant. Yes, this is the first time I’ve watched a show that airs on SoapNet but, even more than most shows on the “prestigious” CBC, the story of Erica Strange has achieved something approaching a sense of balance: the show can take Erica from pratfalls to tragic remembrances of her less than glorious past, and what could be a gimmicky “time travel” mechanic is used less to place Karpluk in period fashion and more to actually question the role of time, and memory, in one’s life.

There are signs that the show’s pickup by SoapNet has begun to impact its equilibrium, but I feel as if there is a foundation here that won’t be able to be corrupted by partial male nudity and a few more potential mates for our title heroine. None of those elements are present in the show’s pilot, airing tonight on SoapNet at 10/9c, but the show has proven capable of evolving with grace and hijinx both.

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Season Finale Preview: Who Will Win The Amazing Race Season 13?


Season Finale Preview

[The race is over? Check out Cultural Learnings' cover to find out who won and how they did it!]

It has been a few weeks since I last reviewed an episode of The Amazing Race, but you’ll have to forgive me. After this past week’s tragic events, and the previous week’s predictable non-elimination episode, the end of this season has been without anything even close to suspense. This isn’t to say that it has been bad television, or that the show has been off its game, but a series of circumstances outside of its control have led to a final three without anything approaching intrigue.

It’s also a final three, unfortunately, where I will only really be happy with one team’s victory. While Ken and Tina’s story of a marriage on the rocks would certainly make for a potentially emotional victory, her shrill attitude has been frustrating throughout the race and I don’t know if I necessarily want that to be their happy ending. Although Dan and Andrew want to make themselves out to be the underdogs, they really are the “Only left in the race because of sheer luck” dogs and don’t deserve to win a million dollars because of it.

No, Nick and Starr are the team that deserve this. And while some might feel that their prior dominance sucks all the fun out of their victory, I’d like to see a team with The Amazing Race that, well, actually ran a good race.

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60th Primetime Emmy Awards Preview: Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Achieving success in the Supporting Actress in a  Comedy Series takes one of three things: having a recognizable name, being on a popular show, or being on a show that has won Emmys in the past.

Now, you’re probably asking yourself why I would take the time to isolate these three categories since they should (by and large) encapsulate 90% of nominees. The reason is that this is a category where there are some great contenders that won’t be recognized in favour of those who are part of the Emmy elite, or part of shows that give them more exposure. I’m not saying that these are not worthy contenders, but rather that there’s a few others who did fantastic work this season who won’t be recognized for it.

Instead, this is a race designed for last year’s contenders: from the surprise winner to the resurgent veteran, all sides are staging a battle that could prove one of the toughest predictions of the night – if only predicting the Top 10 was just as challenging.

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Pilot Preview: HBO’s “True Blood”

“True Blood”

Fall 2008 Pilot Preview

[As per pilot screener regulations, this is a preview and not a review. The content of the series may change between now and the show's official airing, so all thoughts are of a preliminary nature pending said changes. For a full review, tune in for the show's September premiere.]

Having recently made my way into Six Feet Under’s fifth season, I’ve started to better understand the work of Alan Ball. That HBO series was known for its dramatic performances, its death-riddled plot points (Seriously, a lot of people die), and also its inability (for better or worse) to keep a consistent tone. One moment you’re laughing at two characters, and the next you’re getting punched in the face by a cold reality. It’s a visceral television experience, and one that I’m still kind of torn on. I’m capable of appreciating the work I’m seeing, but there’s something that keeps me from really engaging with it, likely out of fear of “getting hurt” in the process.

That left me at least mildly tentative heading into Ball’s latest project, an adaptation of the Southern Vampire novels by Charlaine Harris. HBO’s True Blood is the story of Sookie Stackhouse, a young waitress with a special power who is making a living in an exciting time for America. Vampires have “come out” as it were, emerging as real citizens with their own lobbyists after the Japanese were able to manufacture synthetic blood that “suits their dietary needs.” It’s a strong setup that seems like it’s got a lot of broad potential, but it’s intriguing to see that its trajectory is far more fantastical than I had imagined.

And that, I think, is a good thing considering Ball’s history in television.

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Pilot Preview – FOX’s “Fringe”


Fall 2008 Pilot Preview

[As per pilot screener regulations, this is a preview and not a review. The content of the series may change between now and the show's official airing, so all thoughts are of a preliminary nature pending said changes. For a full review, tune in for the show's September premiere.]

When Fringe debuts in September, there are going to be a lot of comparisons made: to the past work of producer J.J. Abrams, to television’s last prominent science fiction procedural, and also to the rest of the pilots coming to the networks this fall. In all three cases, the show will play well – in its current form, Fringe is a tight series with a compelling cast, a winning premise and (most of all) the mythological underpinnings that drive any great piece of Abrams drama.

[Warning: The review will not feature any major spoilers, but there could be a few light ones as I make some comparisons to other series, so tread lightly if you're worried about learning a single piece of the show's plot.]

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Reflections: Preparing for the Lost Season Four Finale

Preparing for “There’s No Place Like Home”

When Lost ends its fourth season tonight, it has a lot to live up to: not only is the show known for its mind-blowing finales, in particular its most recent one, but it is coming at the end of a season with a lot of momentum. It’s hard to deny that the show’s fourth season has been strong, and also that it has made the best of its shortened schedule. As a result, excuse me if I have high hopes for its end note.

Now, that’s not to say that I think tonight’s finale (airing at 9 EST on ABC, but I’ll be watching it at 6 EST due to the Canadian simulcast) will reach the heights of “Through the Looking Glass,” the stunning conclusion to last season. It’s the same logic I used in defending the slower pace of the season premiere, “The Beginning of the End,” to those who felt that it lost some of its momentum. This sentiment implies, falsely in my mind, that the only momentum the finale created was “OMG, Flash Forwards;” clearly, its success goes beyond that.

I love “Through the Looking Glass” because it feels like a high point in the show’s mythology while also feeling like the climax of a high-powered adventure film. As Michael Giacchino’s score ramps up, and as we get soaring helicopter shots of various travelers, there is something about it that feels epic and sweeping. In the weeks previous, they had set all of the moving parts in place: whether it’s the Looking Glass itself, the trip to the radio tower, the arrival of Naomi, Charlie’s sacrifice, Locke’s apparent death, or the beach ambush, a lot came to a head in that two hours simply on an action level. At the same time, of course, we ended on a realization that it was frakking with the show’s structure more than we ever bargained for.

Season Four, with only fourteen episodes, doesn’t seem like it should have had time to get to that point. After last year’s finale, there was a lot of questions, but the season has done a great job of developing a structure that best serves those questions on a dramatic level. No, they aren’t answering a question a week, but the future has done wonders for the show’s ability to create dramatic pathos. Flash forwards are intriguing in their own right, but their greatest benefit is providing build-in payoff to a season that (even shortened by the strike) that has every ability to feel like a complete ride in the process.

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Signposts to Battlestar Galactica Season Four: Occupation/Precipice

[With Battlestar Galactica's 4th Season starting on Friday night, it's time to take a look back at some of the important parts of the 3rd Season as I rewatch it in preparation of the premiere. We'll start with the opening two episodes, and progress with four more signposts from there.]

When I finished watching Season Two of Battlestar Galactica, my response was quite simple: “That was ballsy.” Jumping forward over a year in time created a lot more questions than answers, and if I learned anything from Alias it was that sometimes you risk overwhelming your audience. And, inevitably, what Ronald D. Moore did was, in fact overwhelming…but for all the right reasons.

The occupation of New Caprica by the Cylons was supposed to be overwhelming, both on a visual and intellectual level. When Col. Tigh emerges from the Cylon prison missing an eye, you get a sense that bad things are happening, and that there isn’t going to be an easy out from this scenario. We’re stuck in this occupation, as the viewer, but can escape to Galactica and avoid the struggle directly.

The result is an opening to a season perhaps amongst the best in television, the intellectual equivalent of 24’s four-hour openings of the middle seasons. It wasn’t action-packed in a traditional sense, rather using dense plotting and challenging situations to interrogate our understanding of our own lives and of the lives of these characters.

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