Tag Archives: Showtime

The Draw of the Docuseries: Showtime at Winter TCA 2014

Speaking to the brand appeal of Showtime’s programming during his executive session, David Nevins emphasized his channel’s appeal to adults…who can afford Showtime.

We are no longer at the point where we can claim that “no one” is watching Showtime: having grown considerably throughout the run of recently-ended hit Dexter, the channel can now boast series—specifically Homeland—reaching upwards of seven million viewers for each episode. Much of that has to do with the rise in non-linear platforms—DVR, OnDemand, etc.—that are more convenient for viewers than various repeats, but it also shows a channel growing its subscriber base. That said, Showtime is still in a small percentage of American homes overall, such that we need to distinguish the brand appeal based on who is spending the money necessary to access the channel on a monthly basis.

Those distinctions are fairly unimportant when it comes to series like Episodes (now airing its third season) or Penny Dreadful (premiering May 11th), the two original series for which Showtime presented panels during their Winter Press Tour half-day. The truth is that if people can’t afford access to watch Episodes or Penny Dreadful, it is unlikely that they will be missing out on anything particularly “important.” Episodes is entering its third season with a fourth already ordered based on the series’ co-production model with the U.K. and its cost-efficient production (which will film primarily in the U.K., and which takes advantage of scripts being written in advance to block out production in specific sets/locations). Penny Dreadful is the new psychosexual horror series from John Logan, starring a motley crew of public domain monsters and continuing what I’ve dubbed the “psychosexual horror arms race” that continues to find traction among audiences with a greater horror tolerance than I contain. Both shows will have their audiences, but both fit comfortably into the kinds of shows that are either available elsewhere or which fit comfortably into existing genres; in other words, they’re not the kind of shows that we would lament being stuck behind the premium cable paywall, in the same way we might think about shows that appeal to minority audiences or feature representations not present elsewhere on the television dial.

It’s different with Years of Living Dangerously (debuting April 13th). First announced to critics at the channel’s summer press tour event, this celebrity-correspondent-led docuseries is about educating audiences on the human toll of climate change. It seeks to take science surrounding climate change and give it a human face, both in the celebrity correspondents—who the panel emphasized will be more effective at communicating these messages than scientists themselves—and in the people whose lives are being impacted by climate change that the series will follow. Presenting the series for critics alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ian Somerhalder, producers were adamant that this was the kind of documentary that could lead to real global change, which landed at Showtime because producer Jerry Weintraub insisted that if you wanted eyeballs, television was the way to go.

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Why The Homeland Twist Works [For Me] [Mostly] [Okay, Barely]

HomelandTitle

“Game On”

October 20th, 2013

Last year, The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum had a theory about Homeland. She argued that Sgt. Nicholas Brody’s panicked communications with Abu Nazir as Carrie Mathison was held hostage were all an act, and that he was in on the plan from the beginning.

It was an interesting theory, one she gave me credit for partially debunking by noting that Abu Nazir and Brody continue speaking in the same manner once Carrie is no longer listening to their conversation. For me, that was the sign that the theory couldn’t work: while an interesting idea, I did not believe Homeland was a series that would so actively mislead the viewer with information that—in hindsight—would contradict the intended truth of the situation.

If you saw last night’s episode of Homeland, and have been following some of the subsequent conversation, the above may sound familiar. Indeed, this season’s central storyline almost feels inspired by Nussbaum’s theory, as though the writers took it as a challenge as to whether the series could sustain a twist that in retrospect contradicts many of the storylines and character actions displayed in earlier episodes and maintain its reputation.

The response to “Game On” suggests that they can’t, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m no longer on board.

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Homeland – “Tower of David”

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“Tower of David”

October 13th, 2013

It’s been a few months since I watched the first two episodes of Homeland‘s third season. They were made available to press ahead of the show’s panel at the Television Critics Association press tour, which was logical—in that it allowed those in attendance to ask informed questions rather than random guesswork—but also daring. It was daring because in the two episodes screened for critics, Nicholas Brody did not appear for even a brief sequence, and yet Damian Lewis was seated on the panel at the Beverly Hilton.

I tweeted in advance of that panel that I was interested to see how the room responded to this (among other facts about Homeland‘s third season, specifically the increased focus on Morgan Saylor’s Dana), but Showtime was quick to offer clarification: a trailer revealed early footage of Brody’s first appearance in “Tower of David,” and the panel confirmed he would return in the very next episode beyond the ones we had seen. Part of me had expected them to treat Brody’s return as a surprise, leaving his fate open-ended, but from the beginning Brody was something the series was very open about, creating a certain suspense to see how the show planned on reintegrating the character into the narrative.

“Tower of David” works as a structural exercise in character development, drawing a parallel between Brody and Carrie’s respective prisons. However, it fails to acknowledge and mitigate the issues that plagued the two characters’ development last season, leaving an episode that works up until the point you look into the past rather than the present/future.

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Dexter – “Buck the System” (And Season 7 So Far)

“Buck the System”

October 14th, 2012

*Blows the Dust Off the Dexter Header Image* Well, it’s been a while.

I watched the fifth season premiere of Dexter waiting for a plane, and found it to be your typical episode of Dexter. But as the time crunch of the semester took over, the idea of watching any more floated away, and I hadn’t seen even a few minutes of the show since that point. The show remained “on the radar” as any show does, and certainly the events from the end of the sixth season were more visible than others, but the fact remained that I was content with Dexter being out of sight, out of mind.

This changed when that no longer became possible. During the past two seasons, people weren’t talking about Dexter: sure, there were still record numbers of viewers, but the people on my Twitter feed—people who used to talk about the show—seemed quiet. And then suddenly, there was Alan Sepinwall and Mo Ryan writing about the show again after watching their screeners for the first three episodes of the season. Tonight’s episode, “Buck the System,” was the last episode they saw before writing those pieces, and their support—and the similar mentions of improvement from the rest of my Twitter feed and my students—led me to take a look at the preview disc Showtime had been kind enough to send along.

I discovered a much better show than the one I left, mostly because we’ve reached the point where Dexter is the season’s star. Moving away from the seasonal serial killers of seasons past, the seventh season is invested in exploring Dexter and his impact on those around him, excising entirely unrelated subplots in favor of a web of character beats all focused on the ramifications of his actions. “Buck the System,” on the surface, is the episode where Dexter successfully begins to show Deb the positive benefits of his actions, and the episode where Yvonne Strahovski is introduced as a woman who, as a girl, once fell in with someone like Dexter. However, it’s also the episode where the unintended consequences of Dexter’s actions are equally as clear, at least to someone who is willing or able to think about them (which Dexter, very clearly, is not).

It’s a subtle distinction, but one that won me over, and has me committed to seeing the season out.

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Season Premiere: Homeland – “The Smile”

“The Smile”

September 30th, 2012

Carrie’s life is just getting back on track when we rejoin her narrative. She’s living in her sister’s house, spending time with the family and teaching English as a Second Language. And so when the CIA comes calling, asking her to fly to Lebanon and engage a former contact, it asks her to return to the life she’s been trying to avoid.

Similarly, Brody is moving forward with his life as a congressman hoping that his relationship with Abu Nazir won’t become an active part in his life. He wants to believe that his subtle influence of policy is his role in the larger game, that his way of protecting Isa’s memory is to find ways to keep the same kind of attack from happening again. And so when he is contacted by one of Abu Nazir’s people to play a role in the planned attack in retaliation for the Israeli strikes on Iran, he’s forced back to that moment when he almost pulled the trigger. There, he was killing men responsible for the killing of innocents; now, he’s being asked to play a role in the killing of innocents in response.

“The Smile” asks us who these characters are in light of these new circumstances, testing their new identities based on their old lives. Does Brody still believe what he used to believe? Does Carrie still desire to live on the edge even once she’s spent time on stable ground? By combining the introduction of the season’s over-arching plot with this character study, “The Smile” serves as the perfect reintroduction to this world and the characters operating within it.

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From Backlash to Beirut: Homeland Season Two [Review]

Review: Homeland Season Two

September 30th, 2012

When I saw the finale of Homeland’s first season, a season I oddly never wrote about it any capacity, I was quite impressed. As far as I was concerned, the finale was stuck in a situation where an anti-climax was inevitable: I did not believe they would ever actually kill Brody, and therefore I did not imagine a scenario wherein he would go through with his attack. That belief was something I carried into the episode, and so the fact that they still created a stellar finale with this fact hanging over their heads was quite an achievement.

It worked because it forced both Carrie and Brody to go through the emotional climaxes of their respective arcs without giving them the expected result. Brody presses the button but it doesn’t go off, while Carrie pieces together the plan only to have Brody’s malfunction and change of heart turn her into a liar. Both of them were so sure that they were doing the right thing, that they were doing what was in the best interest of their country, and yet in the end both were forced to move on with their lives wondering if they had just dodged a bullet or made a mistake that will change their lives forever.

I was fascinated, however, to see some substantial backlash toward this conclusion, although this backlash took two different forms. For one group of people, the very idea of Brody not going through with his plan was itself a disappointment, and a betrayal of the show they believed they were watching. For others, meanwhile, the deus ex amnesia ending with Carrie was a copout, an easy way of undoing Carrie’s revelation regarding Isa and delaying any real confrontation until some undetermined point in future seasons. Whereas I had expected the first development based on the logic of television development—which suggests you don’t kill your male lead—and found the latter cheap but also satisfying in its cheapness, there were others who were actively turned against the show in the process, comparing it to The Killing and vowing never to watch again.

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Fleeting Footholds: The 2012 Primetime Emmy Nominations

The 2012 Primetime Emmy Nominations

July 19th, 2012

While Cultural Learnings has certainly been put on the backburner as I spend my summer studying, my willpower to keep myself from writing about television is at its weakest during Emmy season. While you would think that an early analysis of the leadup to the nominations and a piece on the nominations itself—focusing on Downton Abbey’s successful transition to the Series category—over at Antenna would be sufficient, I found myself hitting the site’s word count limit while still having a whole collection of narratives left to play out.

Accordingly, there are two points I want to make here. The first is the way in which this year’s awards demonstrate the capacity for a show to fall completely off the radar, and the other is what this year’s awards mean for the different networks and channels who are always looking to retain a footing within the race for nominations.

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