Tag Archives: Episodes

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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Top 10 Episodes of 2010 – “Fly” (Breaking Bad)

“Fly”

Aired: May 23rd, 2010

[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]

When I first noted that I was limiting this list to a single episode per series, someone (it was either Jeremy Mongeau or Timothy Yenter – you should be following both) noted on Twitter something approximating “Heh, you should pick “Fly” to screw with people’s heads.” I should have saved the tweet, because I had already decided on “Fly” at that point, and got a good chuckle out of it.

I am aware that not everyone will agree with this choice. Those paying close attention may have noticed that, in going in chronological order, I passed over the sheer intensity of “One Minute,” and in picking “Fly” I’m ignoring the stunning pair of “Half Measures” and “Full Measure.” I love all of these episodes, just as I loved Breaking Bad’s third season as a whole, and yet some part of me gravitates to “Fly.”

You may have also noticed that I am attracted to episodes which are somewhat different – in fact, to this point, everything but “Sweetums” could be defined as distinctly atypical for the show in question, suggesting that I’m easily distracted by gimmicks. And yet with “Fly” the gimmick is the lack of distraction, the degree to which the show is stripped down to its most basic qualities in an effort to find something that might have otherwise gone unseen. The result is a fascinating glimpse at what it means to be contained, what it means to be contaminated, and definitive proof that Breaking Bad is simultaneously one of the darkest and one of the most hilarious shows on television.

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Constants, Favourites, and the Overlooked: 10 Important Episodes of Lost

Constants, Favourites and the Overlooked: 10 Important Episodes of Lost

February 1st, 2010

When you start listing your favourite Lost episodes, you’re inevitably going to overlap with other people’s lists. However, this overlap occurs for many possible reasons: it just isn’t that these episodes are the best, but rather that they are (as James Poniewozik’s list at Time points out) important. Yes, we pick the “Pilot” and “Walkabout” because they are stunning episodes of television, but we also pick them because of how they informed how we understood this world and its characters, and if they hadn’t worked then the show would never have been what it was. Similarly, we choose “Through the Looking Glass” and “The Constant” because they managed to introduce hugely complex narrative devices while remaining grounded in emotional stories of love and loss that broke/healed my heart, respectively.

And while those other lists cover why those episodes are constants on these futile efforts to focus our love for the show in such a narrow fashion, I want to focus on some other relatively common episodes and similar episodes that are not nearly as common on these types of lists. While it might mean that some of the episodes are not equal in quality to others, it nonetheless demonstrates that Lost is a show that had its roadblocks, and the ways in which it managed to overcome those concerns and anticipate/reconcile potential problems may be its most important televisual legacy.

So, after the jump, the six episodes that (in addition to the four mentioned above) round out my lost of “10 Lost Episodes that I have Deemed Important for the Sake of This Particular Article, but Which Do Not Constitute a Definitive Top 10 List, Which Would Be Impossible to Write.”

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The Best of 2009: Episodes of the Year

Episodes of the Year

December 20th, 2009

[This is the second of three lists recognizing the best of 2009 in Television: Performers of the Year has been posted, and Series of the Year will be posted tomorrow morning. These other lists will recognize parts of some of the shows missing from this particular list.]

When you review individual episodes all year, you might presume that it’s easy to be able to then categorize those episodes for the sake of an end of year Top 10.

You would be right…and wrong.

See, on the one hand, I have a pretty good memory of individual episodes that really made an impact, ones which stood out from the pack and connected with me. However, on the other hand, comparing an episode of Lost to an episode of 30 Rock doesn’t feel particularly natural, and more importantly you can’t actually create a list like this in a bubble. You have to consider which shows are making it onto other lists, and whether the sum of their parts are perhaps more worthy of recognition than a single episode. And you also need to consider whether a single performance was more likely the cause of an episode’s greatness as opposed to its collective influence. Throw in concerns about nostalgia or proximity clouding your judgment, and you have just as large a challenge whether or not you write episode reviews for the heck of it.

As such, my Top 10 Episodes of the Year are not, perhaps, the best episodes that aired this past year, but rather those which either really connected with me, or felt incredibly important to their individual shows’ success, or those which are on the list so that I’m not so embarrassed as to have those shows represented on none of the lists I put together. It’s not an exact science, but it eventually created a list (which is ordered by air date, in case that isn’t clear) of ten television episodes that really stuck with me this year.

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – Battlestar Galactica and the Trouble with Twenty

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Battlestar Galactica and the Trouble with Twenty

March 25th, 2009

[After reading Media Studies scholar Jason Mittell’s thoughts on the finale over at Just TV, I got thinking about the narrative structure of the finale, and how different it was from the season that came beforehand. As a result, we have our third part of The Long Goodbye: the most formalized attempt I’ve made at describing Season Four’s struggles.]

It is impossible, and probably not even desireable, to go into a series finale without some sense of the agency of the show’s writers, creators and producers who are behind the strings pulling things together. By the very nature of the media hype surrounding the event, especially for shows which have garnered critical or commercial success, there is going to be a focus on the person “responsible” for what people are about to see. In many ways, it’s about blame: if things go awry, if decisions are made which anger long-time viewers, there will be someone who can be held up to the clambering crowd of naysayers as the individual who sent their beloved series down such a dangerous path.

Battlestar Galactica is no exception to this rule, and its finale had numerous moments wherein you could feel Ronald D. Moore exhibiting creative license, making decisions to leap forward in time, to explain away potential plot holes, to prescribe meaning to things in a way which didn’t feel as organic as we may have liked. But that’s his prerogative, this show having been his “creation,” and it’s also not a fundamentally bad thing: while it may end up being divisive, as a show that was designed to get people talking many of his decisions in the finale were well-crafted and connected with the series’ existing identity.

And yet I do have a problem with this idea, just not in the context of the finale itself. My problem is with the fact that the same type of sense of the producers controlling the flow of traffic, withholding information or making deliberate decisions, has been present from the very beginning of the season in a way that wasn’t as productive. There was very little organic about the way the season was organized, as if proximity to the series’ final destination sent them careening around in circles for eighteen episodes before deciding in the finale to get on with it already. The result was, in a bit of a fascinating twist, the realization that for the most part this Finale could be viewed directly after Season Three and still be an effective emotional climax to the series.

With that realization, the omniscient writers and producers who were in charge of this journey are suddenly held accountable not just for the end, but for everything that came before it – considering this question closer makes the ultimate case for the value of shortened cable seasons as opposed to the lengthened order the series was provided.

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Yes, I’m Still Watching…ABC’s Life on Mars

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Yes, I’m Still Watching…Life on Mars

February 23rd, 2009

There were many shows that I caught up on over the end of last week, finding myself recovering from one major academic deadline and then not wanting to start preparing for the next one immediately. And so I sat down and caught up on numerous shows that I’ve found myself falling behind on for this, that, or some other reason.

The one I’m choosing to write about first is the one that has perhaps been off the radar for the longest period of time. I blogged my way through the premiere of Life on Mars, but since that point I have been noticeably absent. But the show after a very strong fall finale of sorts in December, Life on Mars has returned after the break to struggling ratings (nothing ever performs well after Lost) but to a bit of a creative resurgence, picking the right kinds of stories and the right balance of 1973 reality and 1973 surreality to sustain my attention.

I still have some concerns with certain elements of the show’s storytelling, but at this point they have done more than enough in terms of creating endearing, well-acted and well-rounded characters for me to be too preoccupied with such matters, and although I am still remiss in not checking out the BBC original series I am pleased at some of the broader mythology stuff that is starting to appear.

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