My experience with the Stargate franchise is somewhat limited: I’m fairly certain I’ve seen the movie, likely stumbled upon SG-1 at some point, and saw quite a few random episodes of Atlantis while home during holidays. It is a series that, for me, has always failed to keep my interest largely because of the repetitiveness of its procedural construct, especially with Atlantis. While there were some interesting ideas on that show, and even some interesting performances, I found that the universe being constructed wasn’t interesting enough for me to come back week after week for very similar storylines that would either end quickly or, at the most, develop into a 2 or 3 episode arc.
However, like any show of this nature, by the end of its run Stargate Atlantis had built up a large following based on a cast of characters that audiences related with, characters which would prove capable of sustaining repetitive storylines. It is for this reason that the decision to end Atlantis somewhat prematurely, before fans had felt its time was up, seemed particularly strange: yes, Stargate Universe (which debuts tomorrow night at 9pm on Space in Canada and SyFy in the U.S.) offers many of the same procedural elements, albeit with a twist, but because this cast of characters is completely different it means that audience goodwill starts all over again.
The biggest problem with tonight’s two-hour pilot for Stargate Universe is that I felt absolutely no emotional connection to these characters, or this story, and perhaps most importantly nothing the episode accomplishes makes me feel as if this is going to change in the immediate future. I won’t suggest that over time this group of characters couldn’t be engaging, but in the pilot their actions feel contrived and lifeless with a thin back story and an overbearing sense of helplessness which should bring them closer together but actually just operates as a false tension.
Free from the pressure of establishing a whole host of characters and the show’s premise, it is possible that these kinds of issues will be ironed out. However, even then, there is something about this Universe that feels muddled in a way which seems inherent to creative decisions that have the franchise starting over with a direction both too clear and too unclear.
September 23rd, 2009
There has been a pretty impressive critical consensus that Modern Family is pretty darn good. While Glee might be creating the most enthusiastic response amongst fans, and Community appeals to particular senses of humour more, Modern Family has been the one pilot that nearly everyone has considered well-made, well-cast, and just all around kind of great. It’s also one pilot that I wasn’t able to see in advance, which meant that I went in with that always awkward sense that I was almost required to love the show. Expectations were higher than perhaps any other show, and the result could easily have been a sense that this had all been overhyped, and that it was all for naught.
But, as hard as the critics have tried to potentially ruin this experience, and the clips I saw back when the show was first announced ruined particular moments, and ABC decided to ruin the pilot’s “surprise,” none of it did anything to ruin the enjoyment of an enormously charming pilot. With a fantastic cast and a clever premise, the show only stops delivering laughs to provide heartwarming moments which are then turned upside down all over again.
The show isn’t perfect, by any means, but it’s a pilot which so hilariously defines its characters without turning them into one-dimensional stereotypes that it is certainly something to get excited about.
September 22nd, 2009
Considering that I’m almost a day late, and so many other critics have weighed in on the show and had largely positive opinions, I hadn’t really intended on sitting down to talk about The Good Wife, which I’ve always considered to be the one CBS pilot from this year that sounded legitimately interesting. A new NCIS (the original doing nothing for me, if nothing against me) isn’t going to get me excited, Three Rivers’ premise has enormously limited potential, and Accidentally on Purpose was strained from the start. But there was something both topical and intriguing about a show which took an aspect of a shockingly prevalent political phenomenon (the disgraced politician resigning as a result of a sex scandal) and asked itself a question: what happens to the wife?
And while more recent events would answer with “Go on a ridiculous summer reality show on your husband’s behalf,” The Good Wife fast forwards six months into the future to a position where Alicia (Julianna Margulies) is re-entering the work force as an underddog whose fellow juniour associates at her law firm were pre-teens when she last practiced. What results is logically two separate shows, one where Alicia struggles to raise her kids and live her life in the wake of her husband’s betrayal, and the other as she has to overcome years of rust to regain her composure as a lawyer.
But why the show is so effective is that rather than attempting to demonstrate how challenging it is to balance these two parts of her life, turning her into a harried disappointment to her children or a fundamental less of an attorney, the pilot is more interested in demonstrating that in some ways she’s meant for this. In some ways, what she has gone through in her personal life has made her a far more effective litigator, and has given her a new perspective on her family which keeps her priorities firmly in check. Alicia is a woman who has taken control of her own life, and by marrying her two worlds as largely harmonious as opposed to a constant conflict, it allows us to relate to Alicia on multiple levels – combine with a pretty great cast and an intriguing opening case, and you’ve got yourself a legal procedural I’ll stick with for a while.
September 17th, 2009
While I understand the logic behind putting the Community behind The Office for its first month or so, I will say this: for now, sound logic or no, it’s not doing the show any favours.
Yes, the show has a strong lead-in and a higher success rate in terms of ratings, which are financially speaking the lifeblood of a series. However, Community’s “Pilot,” which is about as cookie cutter as it comes in terms of the way it sets up the show (you can almost see the show yelling “Setting!” and “Character” with its collection of scenarios), cannot help but seem contrived and simplistic when placed against The Office, which now in its sixth season is totally confident about who its characters are and has no such awkward transitions. I’m not suggesting that it’s a fair comparison, but it’s one that you can’t help but make: after writing reviews of two season premieres for shows that have put their setup days behind them, Community is jarringly disassembled.
I think that the show’s pilot, ultimately, does assemble into a solid foundation for a series, and through a strong sense of humour and some great casting has me extremely interested to keep watching. However, as a pilot, there is something about it that lacks that element of surprise, and which is vague on specifics in a way which makes one worry if it’s all going to fall off the rails with time – critics who’ve seen second episode say it doesn’t, which is great news, but I still think that there’s some warning signs around.
June 28th, 2009
“Everything’s falling apart.”
Hung is not a show about an abnormally large specimen of the male anatomy.
Well, okay, technically it is, but that’s really not what the show is trying to tell us. While the new HBO “comedy” follows the exploits of high school basketball coach-turned male escort Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane), who happens to be particularly well endowed, its real focus lies less in what he’s doing than why he’s doing it, a common thread in shows that followed down on their luck characters taking drastic career moves (Breaking Bad, Weeds, etc.). What they choose to do may be a source of comedy for the series, but the legitimately intriguing elements come more from the scenario that drives him to that point.
And while this one may seem crude at first glance, it’s actually quite apt considering the show’s message. Set against the devolving urban landscape of Detroit, the show situates itself as a commentary on the death of the American dream (a note that Alan Sepinwall makes in his review of the show), and how one man chooses to sell a particular sexual fantasy as a replacement of sorts for the fantasy life he lost through a series of bad luck scenarios that mirrors the crises facing many modern Americans. For those who haven’t yet watched the show, this probably seems like a highly verbose justification for enjoying a show about a man with a big dick, but let me assure you: while the title may seem to refer to that part of the show at first, it is the way that Ray has been hung out to dry by life that it’s actually interested in.
For this reason, there’s more than enough substance to Hung for me to stick around – it’s not particularly funny for a comedy, sure, but what it lacks in laughs it makes up for with scale.
June 8th, 2009
There’s a pretty common element in nearly every review of Showtime’s new “comedy” (I’ll get to that distinction in a second), and it’s something that I can’t really speak to. Sepinwall and Fienberg both have thoughts on how Edie Falco, who earned numerous accolades for her role as Carmela Soprano on HBO’s hit drama series The Sopranos, adapts to a very different role, but I don’t really know how different it is. As I’ve blogged about before, The Sopranos remains my biggest and perhaps most detrimental blind spot in terms of the television in the last decade: not willing to shell out for the expensive DVDs, I’ve been left not quite understanding what David Chase’s show really meant outside of being able to know that his training did Matthew Weiner well (Mad Men). And now, with Falco moving on to star in Nurse Jackie, it’s quite a similar situation: I don’t precisely understand what Falco did before, but certainly that experience hasn’t lessened her ability as an actress.
This isn’t a comedy by traditional standards, but for Showtime it’s pretty well par for the course: debuting after Weeds (a show that has become more and more dramatic as time’s gone by) and in the wake of United States of Tara (which always veered closer to drama than comedy), the show is nonetheless a viable comic vehicle while maintaining a more dramatic core. The reason is that either in comedy or in drama, both of which we see in the premiere, the show remains starkly human. Jackie is ultimately driven by saving people, and perhaps her greatest fault is that her efforts to save herself take the form of far more destructive behaviour than and other her unethical practices done within the context of her job.
It’s the right recipe for the series, placing a conflicted and complicated protagonist in a situation where both her cynicism and her optimism are continually tested, although I don’t think anyone could argue it is a particularly unique one. That said, the pilot demonstrates a keen sense of this character, brought to life with strength by Falco, and the universe she inhabits, which is what any pilot is supposed to do.
June 4th, 2009
You know, pilots are kind of a pain.
They’re a necessary evil: they exist in order to give us an understanding of how a show is going to work, which is an important thing to sell a network and potential viewers on before they commit to ordering, or watching, more episodes. But the result is often that a lot of character and plot development that should be given time to unfold naturally is checked off at a blistering pace. It’s possible to make a great pilot, but those people are both few and far between and definitely not working behind the scenes at USA Network’s Royal Pains.
As a critic, it’s hard to really confront a pilot as obnoxiously contrived as this one, because you run into a problem: considering that it’s our role to judge a show based on its potential, and considering that the contrivances are more pilot shorthand than inherent to the show’s formula, you can’t spend too much time complaining about something that is par for the course. And while Burn Notice has given us some fairly high expectations about what a USA Network “procedural” is capable of being, this show does not appear to have similar aspirations, and it’s not really fair to judge it as if it does.
So taking into account its contrivances, and its ham-fisted parallels, and its tendency to rush its way through storylines that should probably be given a bit more time, Royal Pains managed to do enough to convince me that as a piece of escapist summer entertainment the show might not be such a pain after all.