Tag Archives: NBC

Reduced to a Scheduling Experiment: The Cruel Fate of NBC’s Bent

Parks and Recreation launched as a shortened six-episode order because Amy Poehler was pregnant at the time, and they weren’t able to shoot any more episodes. The show that debuted was effectively an experiment, the first stab at merging together the mockumentary-style of The Office (the show originated as a spinoff before being turned into an entirely disconnected project) with the show’s cast as performers (or thespians, to refer to them with the respect they deserve).

Parks and Recreation was an experiment that NBC nurtured (likely because of its pedigree), giving the show a plum post-Office time slot and renewing it despite continually plummeting ratings. Now finishing its fourth season, and likely to be renewed for a fifth, the show will be heading into syndication with the potential to make NBC Universal a not unsubstantial sum.

Bent was ordered as a six-episode first season, and positioned as a midseason replacement simply because NBC was unwilling to commit to a larger order. The show never quite found the right gear for Jeffrey Tambor’s character, but the cast dynamic was strong and the central chemistry with David Walton and Amanda Peet gave the “romantic comedy” side of things some definite credibility.

Bent was a perfectly solid show that NBC turned into a scheduling experiment, airing the six episodes in three one-hour blocks spread out over three weeks. Although Josef Adalain has NBC sources on record suggesting this was actually an attempt to help the show, that doesn’t change that the choice to experiment effectively doomed the show before it had a chance to become, well, anything.

Given that Walton was cast in another pilot this morning, the chances for a renewal are effectively nil, but I want to expand on this comparison briefly and reflect back on the two weeks and six episodes that are likely to remain the extent of the charming, pleasant Bent.

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Smash – “The Callback”

“The Callback”

February 13th, 2012

As is evidenced by the limited output here at Cultural Learnings, I don’t have a lot of free time right now, which is why I’ve been prioritizing watching television (an exercise that I find particularly useful in teaching contemporary television) over writing about television (which, while still something I enjoy, often ends up taking up time that I simply don’t have). As a result, I didn’t review the pilot of NBC’s Smash beyond my initial thoughts after watching the episode on iTunes ahead of its airdate.

However, as Noel Murray has quite rightfully pointed out in his review of tonight’s second episode, “The Callback,” I wasn’t exactly quiet about the show last week. I’m not sure what exactly had me so punch on Monday evening as I watched the pilot for the second time, but I think Noel is right to suggest that I was being “provocative” in my attempts to boil down Smash to its most basic qualities. One of my Twitter followers actually called me on being evaluative so early on, but I did clarify that I didn’t see my tweets as evaluative: the show is still finding itself, which means I’m willing to give it time to grow.

That being said, there is something about the Smash pilot that seemed markedly prescriptive, clearly delineating how we were to feel about the onscreen action despite the inherently subjective nature of musical theatre (and performance in general). While I agree with Noel that parts of “The Callback improved on the exclusivity of the pilot’s narrative, grounding the dueling narratives of Ivy and Karen in more concrete performance styles, the show is still operating with a baseline: while it might be open to your opinion on which of the two performers is better, you need to accept that both of them are world class talents. It’s a notion that I’m still struggling with, and a notion that reflects the problems of narrowly defining and serializing a circumstance that would be considerably more complex (if less immediately marketable) in reality.

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“This Season, on NBC’s Smash“: The Perils of the Extensive Post-Pilot Preview

The Perils of the Extensive Post-Pilot Preview

January 16th, 2012

It is no longer uncommon for networks to post pilots online in advance of their premieres, with FOX most recently using this strategy to help launch New Girl to some very strong initial ratings (which have since that point slid considerably, but remain fairly solid). It gives the shows increased visibility within an online space, turning savvy consumers (those who will find it on iTunes, or Hulu, or OnDemand) into an additional marketing segment who will put the word out just enough that those 100 million people tuning into the Super Bowl, and tens of millions who will watch The Voice for two hours before Smash premieres on February 6th, will hear whispers of the show before it’s plastered throughout those NBC broadcasts (and, as Mike Stein pointed out on Twitter, a single person who has seen and enjoyed the Pilot at a larger gathering could spread the word quite easily).

Like many others, I sat down with the Smash pilot via iTunes this afternoon – I had not seen the pilot when it was sent out to critics last Fall, so I was more or less seeing this in the fashion that NBC intended. The difference, though, is that I’ve read a lot about this show, and have seen enough trailers to understand its basic premise (and the basic beats of the pilot) more than the average viewer. As a result, while I would say that the Smash pilot is well-made, and there were parts of it I quite enjoyed (mostly surrounding the musical numbers at the heart of the story), I didn’t get that thrill of discovery that you ideally want to have with a television pilot.

NBC isn’t particularly concerned about this, either: while they’re playing coy with the musical numbers themselves, they included an extensive preview of the remainder of the season at the end of the pilot download, providing viewers with a surprisingly comprehensive overview of what is going to happen in the show’s first season (although it is unclear just how many episodes we see scenes from). It’s a move that’s not entirely common in this day and age, but it’s a move that I find eternally frustrating as someone who tries to avoid spoilers at all costs, particularly with reality shows like Project Runway or Top Chef where the basic structure is already so apparent.

The question becomes, though, why a show that does seem to have a strong serialized component (represented by the behind-the-scenes soap component of the series) would be so willing to reveal their cards before the show even begins. While I don’t know the actual answer to this question, I want to suggest (while offering some basic impressions of the drama, and some spoilery details for those who haven’t watched it or the preview that followed) that NBC is admitting up front that watching Smash isn’t going to be about surprise so much as spectacle, mirroring my own experience with the pilot and charting an intriguing if flawed course for the series moving forward.

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2011: The Year That Wasn’t – Community & Parks and Recreation

NBC’s Community and Parks and Recreation

Aired: January to December

I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to write about television for a wider audience at The A.V. Club, no moreso than with my weekly reviews of The Office. However, as the show’s eighth season has signaled a decided shift in the show’s critical and cultural position, I’ve had a number of people effectively express pity for my position, forced to review a show that is pretty comfortably past its prime (but with just enough life left in it to remind us of the show it used to be).

And yet I’ve never felt it to be a pitiable job: sure, it’s nice when you have a show that you really like to cover in a situation like this one, but the show’s decline has been fun to deconstruct, and creating a dialogue with both devotees and spurned viewers has been a valuable insight how that decline is being received. While I might not love The Office, I love the process of writing about it, even though I can fully understand why others don’t feel the same way (which is why the number of critics reviewing the show has dropped off this season).

However, I will say that there is one thing I resent about covering The Office, which is that it means I don’t have time to review Parks and Recreation and Community, the two shows which precede it within NBC’s Thursday night lineup (or, rather, preceded it, given that Community is being benched for at least a few months). While other critics have been able to adjust their priorities, dropping The Office while continuing to cover the two shows that arguably merit greater attention, I’ve spent my Thursday evenings watching The Office, writing about The Office, and then using Parks and Community as a chance to unwind without a laptop in front of me.

It’s a different way of viewing than I was used to, and it seems as though it has affected my opinion of the two shows differently. While I actually feel as though my appreciation for Community has dipped slightly as a result of this viewing pattern, my general sentiments about the series less than they might have been a year ago, something about the comparative simplicity of Parks and Recreation has really suited this more casual form of viewing.

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Season Finale: Parks and Recreation – “The Bubble”/”Lil’ Sebastian”

“The Bubble”/”Lil’ Sebastian”

May 19th, 2011

It’s unfortunate that I haven’t been able to review Parks and Recreation more regularly this season: while I had screeners for the first six episodes, anything after that proved difficult since so much of my Thursday evenings was spent watching and writing about The Office for The A.V. Club. Obviously, given my affection for the show, I always watched it as soon as possible, and have felt that the third season has been a strong continuation of the momentum gained during a stellar second season.

However, I find myself in the position of being more critical of the show than I’ve been all year in regards to “The Bubble” and “Lil’ Sebastian,” two very funny episodes that felt rushed from a plot perspective. Even as someone who has been on board with Ben and Leslie’s relationship this season, something about its presence in these episodes gave me pause. Everything just felt like it was moving too quickly, and in a way which was considerably more transparent than the rote, yet still fairly passive, romantic chemistry that has been building throughout the season.

Which is not to say that my opinion of the show has diminished (it has not), or that these were bad episodes (they were very good); It’s simply that this particular season finale got a bit lost in the plot, never quite able to focus on telling the kinds of stories I feel the show is most effective at telling.

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Community – “A Fistful of Paintballs”

“A Fistful of Paintballs”

May 5th, 2011

“That was a game. This is paintball.”

“A Fistful of Paintballs” is unquestionably a sequel to “Modern Warfare,” but I’d argue that it’s a fundamentally different episode on some level.

It follows the same basic principle from a story perspective: the school’s descent into paintball-related madness brings out some of the pre-existing relationships between the characters, specifically focused on Britta and Jeff’s consummation of their ongoing sexual tension. However, in terms of the actual methodology of the episode, it was a fairly extensive collection of pop culture references which only occasionally connected with the show’s overall mythology.

Now that the show is ending its second season, “A Fistful of Paintballs” is much more interconnected with ongoing storylines, building much of its structure around the season’s central conflict. While I have had my issues with how Pierce has been portrayed this season, believing that the character’s unpleasantness has not been funny enough to justify its omnipresent nature, this episode is much stronger in its use of the power structures within the latest paintball-based warzone to draw out ongoing character relationships.

With a more straightforward pop culture reference point paired with a more complex serialized component, “A Fistful of Paintballs” is the logical maturation of the “Modern Warfare”-template and a strong first half of what feels like a suitably strong finale.

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The Office – “Goodbye, Michael”

“Goodbye, Michael”

April 28th, 2011

As many of you know, for reasons I discussed last fall I’ve spent this season writing about The Office at The A.V. Club. It was a position I took in part because I was extremely excited to work with a great group of people, but also because I thought the seventh season of The Office would be a particularly interesting one. Knowing that Steve Carell was exiting, and knowing that they would need to transition into a new lead given that NBC is in no position to cancel their highest rated comedy, it seemed like a nice critical challenge that would be especially compelling given the A.V. Club’s engaged comment base.

The experience is not over, with the remainder of the season (and, unless something changes, subsequent seasons) still to come, but tonight may well prove to be the climax. Over at The A.V. Club, I have my extensive analysis of “Goodbye, Michael,” Steve Carell’s final episode of the series and one of the sharpest episodes the show has produced.

“Goodbye, Michael” | The Office | The A.V. Club

If you have any specific comments about the episode that you’d rather make here than there, please feel free to do so below – and, if you’ve been following me over to The A.V. Club these twenty-two weeks, thanks!

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Series Premiere: The Voice – “Blind Auditions”

“Blind Auditions”

April 26th, 2011

In principle, The Voice is about something grand and meaningful. By having the show’s judges be unable to see the singers they are judging, the show purports to finally have a singing competition in which physical attractiveness and age are no longer a driving factor. In a music competition space in which Steven Tyler objectifies young female contestants and Paula Abdul’s most lasting impression on the pop cultural space is the predication of every American Idol comment with “You look beautiful,” The Voice seeks to focus solely on the eponymous instrument.

However, The Voice is not “important.” Showing that a pretty girl with a solid voice would get noticed even when she can’t be seen, or showing that even an American Idol reject with a controversial past can still get attention, does absolutely nothing to impact society’s obsession with looks or their opinion of people who choose to sell their bodies; The Voice is not going to change America in any way shape or form, and that part of the show is somewhat cloying at the end of the day.

And yet, lest you consider me cynical, I actually found The Voice quite refreshing in that it managed this sentimentality while maintaining a sense of fun. This is not a show that will change America, but it is a show that demonstrates the value of chemistry between “judges” and which in its central conceit creates an endless stream of “television moments” that channel the series’ central altruism in ways I found charming if not as life-changing as NBC would like us to believe.

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Community – “Critical Film Studies”

“Critical Film Studies”

March 24th, 2011

As Jeff Winger finds himself reenacting My Dinner with Andre with his friend Abed, who it seems has transformed himself overnight in a bid to relate better with society, he has a fairly violent reaction during the moment of realization. Jeff is responding to the idea that he feels as though he has been subjected to an experiment, that what he thought was an honest conversation was in fact an elaborate roleplaying exercise.

I have to presume that I’m not the only Community viewer who sometimes feels like Jeff Winger. This is not to say that Community has ever outright pissed me off with its obsession with pop culture, but there are moments when I feel that I’m witnessing an elaborate experiment more than I’m watching a television show.

“Critical Film Studies,” however, is much more philosophical in its experimentation: rather than mucking around with reality or narrative form, or testing how far they can take a pop cultural framework, the episode forces us to question the very nature of Abed as a character. While the episode is unquestionably positioned as an homage in the beginning, it puts at least those who haven’t seen My Dinner with Andre in Jeff’s shoes and forces us to question whether or not the person sitting across the table is really who we think it is.

And while the episode has its moments of overindulgence, and the B-Story never quite reached a point of cohesion, the end result of the experiment was resonant enough to make feeling like a guinea pig worthwhile.

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Parks and Recreation – “Camping”

“Camping”

March 24th, 2011

Let’s get this out of the way, folks – this was an average episode of Parks and Recreation.

This does not mean it was terrible, nor does it mean it did not have its moments. And heck, I would even argue that it was purposefully average, allowing the in-story awkward post-Harvest Festival lull to be reflected by the episode itself in order to transition into the back end of the season.

I like parts of what that transition says, and I very much enjoyed parts of this episode, but I feel we need to be willing to say that this was below the standard that was set this season (even if that doesn’t mean that it was close to being anything beyond a slight disappointment).

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