Tag Archives: In Media Res

Series Premiere: Boardwalk Empire – “Pilot”

“Pilot”

September 19th, 2010

I could very, very easily write a couple of thousand words about the pilot for Boardwalk Empire, HBO’s latest prestige drama series which debuted last night. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning (well, relative to when I should have gone to bed) to watch the pilot, and I enjoyed it a great deal: Steve Buscemi’s performance is spectacular, Martin Scorsese was his usual talented self in the director’s chair, and Terence Winter has crafted a world which promises great return on investment for viewers.

The problem, however, is twofold. First of all, my Sundays are pretty much devoted to Mad Men at this point – Rubicon, for example, has been piling up on the DVR not because I’m not interested, but because there just isn’t enough time to give the series its due on Sundays and the rest of the week is just too busy to catch up. This means that it’s difficult to fit in yet another complex serialized drama, at least until Mad Men concludes its season in a month’s time.

The more important factor, meanwhile, is that the critics have the first five episodes, and many of them are devoting themselves to full-fledge weekly analysis of the kind which I would be creating. Normally, I wouldn’t use this as an excuse not to write: if I didn’t write reviews because other people were writing them instead, Alan Sepinwall and The A.V. Club would have scared me off a long time ago. However, starting a new degree program as I am, there comes a point where I need to make a decision: do I want to watch Boardwalk Empire and enjoy it, or watch Boardwalk Empire and feel the stress of trying to write about it?

As a result, this may be my last word on Boardwalk Empire for a while – as usual, I’ll probably be tempted into writing something when the show gets particularly spectacular in the weeks ahead, but it will remain something short instead of something fully detailed. If you’re looking for that sort of analysis, it’s like I say: between Todd VanderWerff at The L.A. Times, Noel Murray at The A.V. Club, Alan Sepinwall at HitFix, and (eventually, he promises) James Poniewozik at Time, I think the critical community has this one covered.

However, I do want to offer a few more detailed thoughts about the pilot, while I’ve got the time.

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Lighter, not Lesser: In Media Res confronts the Enigma of Summer TV

Whenever I write reviews of summer television, I always sort of rub up against society’s general conception of summer programming – for example, if I get around to reviewing Covert Affairs, my review will likely discuss how its low-impact spy environment feels like “Alias gone Summer,” which implies that there is something about Alias (a darker vision into the struggles facing a new CIA recruit) which is inherently different from summer programming. In these reviews I rarely offer an overarching glimpse of what summer television is, largely because it means something different to every network and every viewer, and its meaning changes from year to year. There is no definitive role which summer television plays, and this summer’s programming has us no closer to understanding the enigma which is television’s most maligned, and yet perhaps most fascinating, season.

Well, this week a Fellowship of Summer Television (ala the Fellowship of the Ring) has converged at In Media Res to confront this enigma, as a collection of professors, critics, grad students and even unaffiliated intellectuals have come together to discuss trends within summer television, or the historical or social context of some of the season’s most popular programs. The goal of the week, which I’m very proud to be a part of, is to better understand how viewers and the industry confront summer television: the pieces are short observations accompanied by a video or a slideshow which provides additional context, and our goal is not achieved through extensive analysis but rather through discussion and interaction. In fact, the pieces aren’t even as long as this blog post, which long-time readers will know made this project particularly challenging for me; however, the result was a greater focus on the core of my idea, and throughout the week as others pieces have been posted I’ve seen how clarity of purpose helps to create new avenues of discussion that even the longest of independent posts wouldn’t have been able to achieve.

So far this week, Charlotte Howell looked at the ways in which USA Network has formed their own genre, while on Tuesday Jaime Weinman looked at how the Summer’s breakout cable hit, TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland, is related to both 90s sitcoms and Disney’s efforts to target the tween demographics with similar fare. Yesterday, meanwhile, Jeremy Mongeau looked at how summer series use pleasure (or the appearance of pleasure) to create a ‘must watch’ series amidst a season very different from fall or winter. Tomorrow, Chris Becker is going to look at how DVD marathons are changing our summer viewing habits, which I’m very much looking forward to.

However, today is my day, and I am looking at something which nicely bridges the gap between Jeremy’s discussion of what makes a successful summer series and Chris’ discussion of the ways in which alternate viewing methods are changing those qualifications. I discuss what I call “Seasonal Synergy,” that being an inherent (and clearly understood by both network and viewer) connection between a series and the summer in which it airs, or premieres. I specifically look at Royal Pains and Burn Notice, and how the challenges the series have faced after becoming so synonymous with the sunniest of seasons.

The Rigidity of Seasonal Synergy – In Media Res

If you’re intrigued by summer programming and interested in discussing more about it (or hearing more about it), I truly suggest clicking through and reading these great pieces. Summer TV may be lighter than regular fare, but I do not believe it to be lesser, and discussions like this one (masterminded by Noel Kirkpatrick) are integral to better understanding what role it plays in our media consumption and in the industry as a whole. I’ll be reflecting on the week as a whole, including an elaboration on my own piece, early next week, so stay tuned for that as well.

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On ABC, Family Matters: “Fizbo” and “Here Comes My Girl”

“Fizbo” and…

“Here Comes My Girl”

November 25th, 2009

Thanksgiving is a holiday about family, which when deployed in television does one of three things. The first is to emphasize the cohesiveness of a particular group of characters who work seamlessly when brought into the same setting. The second is to emphasize the sheer chaos that results from the show’s personalities coming together, to either comic or dramatic purposes. The third, meanwhile, is to demonstrate that the show is a convoluted mess where bringing the characters together is a futile exercise that will fail to provide interesting television.

What’s helpful for ABC’s 9pm comedies is that both of them have built their identity around the idea of family, to the point where bringing the gang together is like second nature to the two shows. Cougar Town has really started to charm me as of late, and “Here Comes My Girl” is yet another fine episode that brings together this group of individuals into a family of sorts that’s just an enormous amount of fun to watch bounce off of each other. And “Fizbo” is perhaps my favourite Modern Family episode yet, taking advantage of the chaos at the heart of this family and bringing things to a satisfying (and also sort of sweet) conclusion.

It made for a really comforting hour of television comedy, which is what the timeslot has been providing (on average) all season.

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