“Klaus and Greta” and “Black Light Attack!”
January 14th, 2010
When you double up two episodes of 30 Rock, you get a really skewed perception of the series. In some ways, the two hours offers that many more memorable lines, so if you are judging purely based on the sheer volume of laughs chances are that two is, in fact, going to be better than one. However, at the same time, there are two separate episodes which could go wrong at a story level, and the show is not as consistent as it has been at its finest over its four seasons. (You also get the show’s lowest ratings in a very long time, since the show was running without a lead-in from The Office).
The actual content of “Klaus and Greta” and “Black Light Attack” offered a particularly intriguing double dose of comedy, as the character of Liz Lemon went through what seemed like a sudden sexual transformation while normally overtly sexual Tracy Jordan went through a personal transformation in light of his newly conceived daughter. Both episodes were actually quite consistently funny, and the double dose managed to actually feel more strange for Liz than it did for the usually one-dimensional Jenna, creating a sort of fun bizarro world as opposed to a problematic hour of comedy.
June 18th, 2009
Ah, the ol’ second episode switcheroo. It happens more than you’d expect, really, for some pretty obvious reasons: when a show is in its infancy and needs to make sure that it keeps viewers’ attention, that second episode is extremely important. “There Will Be Food” wasn’t necessarily a far better representation of what the show will do, but the continuity of Tucker, who is without question the show’s most likeable Hamptonite, was the smart decision in terms of convincing us that the rich won’t be too heavily dehumanized or even necessarily fall into the same one and done patient formula of other procedural medicine shows.
“Strategic Planning” is pretty much what I expected the show to be, and in some ways what I was hoping it wouldn’t become, but in the end it’s all pretty inoffensive. By recreating the environment in which an episode of House is capable of taking place, and by essentially playing out an episode of House in that environment, the show isn’t doing itself any favours in the originality department. Combine with a lifeless Evan storyline, and some issues of continuity on the Jill/Hank front, and the hold on airing the episode makes a lot of sense. That being said, though, the episode also does a lot to explain how Hank’s business is working, and why Boris would be willing to rent out his guest house to a concierge doctor, which contributes enough to the show’s universe to forgive this well-acted, well-intentioned but ultimately well-treaded territory.
The CW 2009-2010 Fall Schedule
May 21st, 2009
Everyone likes to point to NBC as a network in crisis, and I really can’t contest that point; however, while Jay Leno may be a bad plan, it is at least actually a plan. The CW, by comparison, has been floundering for the past few years and has no strategy to really change that fact. Each year seems to be as much of a struggle as the last: while a few flagship programs perform well, and the network has more cultural awareness than one would expect considering the anemic ratings, there is something wholly dissatisfying about a network which identifies itself either entirely based on demographics or, worse of all, based on repeating its current (non-)success ad nauseum.
This results in a schedule summed up beautifully by Lilly Hill in yesterdays CBS Upfronts edition of the TV on the Internet podcast: “It sucks.” After giving away Sunday nights to the affiliates, and not even programming one half of Friday nights, it’s a schedule that lacks this past season’s one promising new addition, gets rid of the principle of comedy entirely, and one which offers little in new or exciting ventures for advertisers or viewers to be excited about. NBC may be struggling, but one feels as if their lineup for the upcoming year at least combines an awareness of critical opinion, audience patterns, and future programming oppotunities.
My comparison, it appears The CW has actually let its core demographic of teenage girls create their schedule through rigged focus groups designed to give them the answers they want, and not the answers they really need.
Full schedule and analysis after the jump.
If you’ve been following along with Cultural Learnings’ 2008 Television Time Capsule [Full links available at the intro post], you will have surely noticed that there are shows I watch that didn’t make the list. I could have just ignored this fact, but in writing the various pieces that comprise this epic journey through the year in television I had to, for my own benefit, justify my decisions.
Here are my reasons for not including various shows on the list, and feel free to comment with any shows you think I unfairly left out of the time capsule for one reason or another.
The Shield (FX)
Last year, it was The Sopranos that had me left behind as the rest of the world of television criticism discussed its ending and the show’s role in shaping a decade of television. This year, I missed out on The Wire and The Shield both, and at a certain point I had to make a decision about which one I wanted to rectify first. The Wire won, which leaves the Shield’s highly acclaimed seventh season, and the six which came before it, on my catchup list for 2009. I reserve the right to dig up the time capsule, should its genius not be overstated.
Breaking Bad (AMC)
I fell behind on a fair few shows last year, but Breaking Bad is the one that feels like the biggest mistake: I could take not finishing off the first season runs of Reaper or Eli Stone, but this is a show that won Bryan Cranston an Emmy, had a really compelling pilot, and has earned a great deal of critical acclaim. The show is returning in 2009, and I do hope that I’ll find time to watch the shortened first season in time to see if season two might find a spot in 2009’s time capsule.
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
After starting out with a great deal of promise, Grey’s Anatomy’s fifth season quickly devolved into a bizarre experiment on how far Shonda Rhimes could push her audience. It wasn’t just the scandalous departure of Brooke Smith, or even Denny’s ghost rising to bring Izzie to a point of emotional breakdown, but rather that the show has at the same time introduced some elements (like the arrival of Kevin McKidd to the cast, or the guest appearance by Mary McDonnell (Battlestar Galactica)) that should have made a difference and have been either squandered or terribly conceived. I’m willing to put a show that shows potential but doesn’t live up to it in the time capsule as a lesson, but right now I don’t want anyone following Rhimes’ example.
During the summer months, it’s hard to get excited about television. Now, I don’t mean to say that I’m not enjoying the summer runs of shows like The Middleman, Burn Notice, Mad Men or Generation Kill – it’s the opposite actually, as I’ve enjoyed them immensely. The issue, however, is that this great medium we call television is just less interesting up until about this late August period.
And so, Cultural Learnings has been all about the reviews and not so much with grand statements evaluating the state of television as a whole; and while my more established colleagues (Read: actual TV critics) usually receive screeners that help them handicap the year ahead, my lack of such screeners means that I rely on their coverage in order to design my own. This year, of course, this is proving difficult: some shows are barely finishing their pilots, and the result is a lack of coverage of what Fall will truly have to offer.
I’ve dealt with this screener question before, arguing last year that the networks should do more to get pilots out to people other than TV critics in an effort to rustle up support and build a fan base that can support the show through tough times. So, the recent news that The CW is not sending out screener DVDs of its ‘90210’ reboot should be something that has me up in arms, ready to pounce on their ignorance of the power of these screeners to get people interested about their show.
But, at least for now, I can’t really say that I care either way – and that kind of ambivalence is, for the networks, probably their best case scenario heading into this pilot season.
I was reading an interview with Josh Schwartz that Alan Sepinwall did around the time of The O.C.’s series finale, and I stumbled across this answer to a question regarding a potential spinoff for the series:
[Alan: ]Whatever happened to the Kaitlin spin-off where she was in boarding school?
I was about 17 episodes into the first season, and I was asked to go up into Rupert Murdoch’s boardroom. Rupert wasn’t there but all the head honchos at Fox were there, and I was asked, with a fair amount of pressure, to do another show. I was shown a schedule where, if I did this, “The O.C.” would remain on Wednesdays at 9 and the new show would be on Tuesdays at 9 after “Idol.” Who wouldn’t want to do that? It wasn’t wise of me to do that, I had plenty to learn about the TV business, but I said, “Okay, I don’t want it to be a spin-off.” I was worried about cannibalizing the show too soon, and spin-offs usually fail. Everyone signed off on that fact, I went off and worked on a pilot called “Athens.” It was a big honor, it was going to keep “The O.C” behind “American Idol.” Then I turned in the script and everyone said, “So how do we turn it into a spin-off?” It became a protracted battle not to make it a spin-off. Then I arrived at the upfronts to announce the new show and they said “The O.C.” was moving to Thursdays, that was a perfect storm of its own. When it felt that was the only version of the pilot that was going to move forward was one I didn’t believe in, I said, maybe as a compromise, we’d have discussions about a Kaitlin boarding school drama, and then Gail Berman went to Paramount, and those discussions ended.
How fitting, then, that I looked at this so recently, as now we’ve got the exact same situation with almost eerie comparisons to this earlier one. As it completes its first season, Gossip Girl is now being spun-off by its producers (Schwartz included, one presumes) as another hit series of books by the author of Gossip Girl is being optioned. And, interestingly, “The It Girl” series surrounds the character of Jenny Humphrey falling off the wagon at Constance Billard and being sent off to board school just as Kaitlin had once been destined under the scenario Schwartz described.
From The Hollywood Reporter:
Humphrey is a self-esteem challenged outsider who struggles to fit in. In the books, a series of public embarrassments (such as appearing in a teen magazine wearing next to nothing) results in Humphrey having to either repeat ninth grade or find a new school. She elects to enter a boarding school and reinvents herself as a popular girl. Her story is told in a series of six “Gossip” spinoff novels called “The It Girl.”
I don’t think it is so simple, however, to spin-off this character- Kaitlin was a nothing in The O.C.’s first season, and Jenny was anything but in Gossip Girl’s first frame. There are things about her character that are integral to Gossip Girl and might not be as expendable, and with no confirmed reports of them using Jenny’s character in the spinoff I’d have to think that they’ll figure this out as well.
The CW 2008-2009 Fall Schedule
Say what you will about The CW’s second year, but it will be remembered as a general failure in the eyes of most analysts. There was just something about its lineup that fell apart, and no one really knows why: Gossip Girl has been one of the most buzzed about shows on television, the network had two strong pilots in Aliens in America and Reaper, and it seemed as if for once things were going well for Dawn Ostroff. Then, however, everything fell apart: Gossip Girl has been an on-air failure compared to its internet traffic, its reality shows have been absolute busts, and its comedies have struggled mightily.
So, heading into its third year, The CW is taking off the gloves and looking to make a mark on television again. The result is a combination of blatant attempts to rekindle old television glory, further branding their audience based on the teenage girls who make Gossip Girl buzzworthy, and a few bones to critics to prove that the network isn’t in as much of a state of flux as we know they are. The result is something that seems oddly familiar, and The CW only hopes the results aren’t familiar as well.
The New Shows
90210 – Tuesdays at 8pm
It is inevitable that I will be watching this series, even after Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, Cupid) moved on to his other two pilots (Neither of which has been finalized due to ABC’s decision to largely keep pilot decisions until midseason) and left it in the hands of other people. It has cast members I want to see, particularly the fantastic Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) as the Matriarch, and I’m a sucker for teen dramas.