Tag Archives: Pilot

Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “A Study in Pink” (Sherlock)

“A Study in Pink”

Aired: July 25th, 2010 (BBC)

[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.]

In making my various lists, it was difficult to determine just exactly what Sherlock is. I decided at a certain point that TV Movies/Miniseries wouldn’t be included in my lists, which means that Temple Grandin and The Pacific will just have to settle for their respective Emmy Awards, and yet what do we call Sherlock? Sold as part of Masterpiece Theater in the United States, and yet very much sold more as a series in Britain (and Canada as well, more or less), its weekly format suggest a short-run series while its running times relate more to Prime Suspect or, to use an American example, Tom Selleck’s Jesse Stone movies.

However, whatever term we end up using to define Sherlock, I’m comfortable considering “A Study in Pink” as a 90-minute pilot for a television series, and thus comfortable with considering “A Study in Pink” one of the 10 best episodes of the year. It’s the one installment in the series which feels as if it needs its running time, using the additional room to great effect in drawing its two lead characters, finding its point of view, and creating a charming yet haunting world in which Sherlock Holmes can enter the twenty-first century.

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Series Premiere: The Walking Dead – “Days Gone Bye”

“Days Gone Bye”

October 31st, 2010

I addressed The Walking Dead generally in my piece last night, but I do want to address the premiere in particular.

As far as premieres go, this is a really strong effort aesthetically: character is largely on the backburner in an effort to define the scale of this world, which operates directly in opposition to characterization. The whole point of the series, after all, is that humanity has dwindled down to a small collection of survivors, and yet this creates an even grander sense of scale as a result of the sheer emptiness.

I want to talk about that emptiness a bit, and the role it plays in telling the story in “Days Gone Bye.”

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Review: NBC’s Undercovers Can’t Hide from J.J. Abrams’ Reputation

“Pilot”

September 22nd, 2010

In the future, I think J.J. Abrams should operate under a pseudonym (or go undercover, if you prefer the pun).

If it were not for his presence, I think I’d be able to write a review saying that Undercovers (debuting tonight at 8/7c on NBC) is a show with a decent premise, a stylish pilot, and a strong cast; instead, all I want to do is talk about how none of what makes – or perhaps made – Abrams a distinctive voice in television seems to be present. The pilot has no sense of surprise and little sense of mystery, and yet because we associate these things with Abrams it feels like a disappointment even when, objectively speaking, this is an average pilot for an average premise, and Abrams was only a co-creator and co-writer (with Josh Reims).

And yet, we desire – and perhaps even demand – something beyond average, which is why Undercovers fails to resonate beyond its attractiveness.

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Series Premiere: Lone Star – “Pilot”

“Pilot”

September 20th, 2010

“If you want to make something last, you need to make it with your own two hands.”

David Bordwell, a prominent film scholar, wrote earlier this month about his personal experience with television as medium, in particular why he doesn’t write about it despite the so-called golden age of serialized television. While his piece briefly speaks to his (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) lack of interest in modern texts, it focuses primarily on his childhood experience with television, which leads him to this depiction of television viewership:

“Having been lured by intriguing people more or less like us, you keep watching. Once you’re committed, however, there is trouble on the horizon. There are two possible outcomes. The series keeps up its quality and maintains your loyalty and offers you years of enjoyment. Then it is canceled. This is outrageous. You have lost some friends. Alternatively, the series declines in quality, and this makes you unhappy. You may drift away. Either way, your devotion has been spit upon.”

I raise this point because it creates the image of television as an investment, which leads me to FOX’s Lone Star. A show about a con artist who convinces others to invest in a lie, the series itself raises an important question in relation to Bordwell’s notion of devotion: is Lone Star a con?

It’s the question that everyone has sort of been struggling with: the pilot is a polished, intelligent episode of television, featuring a strong lead performance by James Wolk and a strong supporting cast, but there remains this sense that it is all smoke and mirrors. It isn’t necessarily that we think the writers and producers are incapable of making a great series, but rather the concern is that the premise just isn’t expansive enough to sustain itself over multiple seasons (or an entire network season, for that matter), leaving room for future heartbreak when it (as Bordwell predicts) fails to live up to our lofty expectations.

But, as someone who enjoys the ups and downs of television and wouldn’t have it any other way, I don’t think that this uncertainty should keep us from enjoying it. Lone Star is not, in fact, a con: the pilot doesn’t hide anything beneath the surface, resisting the sense of mystery and uncertainty that plagues other series of this nature. While the premise may not have the longevity of your basic crime procedural, this is a well-made premise pilot that rarely blinks in presenting a clear scenario to its audience.

Yes, it could all come tumbling down in a few episodes – based on this pilot, however, I (unlike Bordwell) will take that risk.

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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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Review: NBC’s The Event an Exercise in Zeitgeist-Chasing Self-Indulgence

Review: NBC’s The Event

September 19th, 2010

What is the function of mystery?

You might feel that this is a particularly silly question, but I think that television producers are beginning to misinterpret just what makes mysteries a key component of television drama. Yes, the most basic definition of mystery is uncertainty, so there is a certain value to keeping your audience guessing throughout your narrative. However, mystery is about more than guesswork and confusion; it is about suspenseful situations, and about the way each individual character responds to their uncertainty. In other words, a good mystery isn’t an elaborate conspiracy unfolding in fractured narratives designed to obscure the truth; rather, a good mystery is one which the viewer experiences as opposed to one which has been explicitly created for their consumption, one where the characters and the audience share the same feelings of suspense or uncertainty as the series continues.

This is all a fancy way of saying that NBC’s The Eventwhich debuts at 9/8c on Monday, September 20th – is a show which tries so hard to be mysterious that it loses track of basic principles of storytelling: with a chronology designed to confuse, and with characterization that ranges from vague to non-existent, there is nothing for the viewer to latch onto but the elephant-sized mystery in the room. And yet by organizing the pilot as a series of neon signs with flashing arrows pointing towards the mystery, the manipulations necessary to create said mystery become readily apparent, and render The Event an exercise of zeitgeist-chasing self-indulgence.

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Review: NBC’s Chase Lacks Character, Consequence

Review: NBC’s Chase

September 20th, 2010

If NBC’s Chasedebuting tonight at 9/8c – were the only show on the air about U.S. Marshals, I’d probably be more inclined to recommend it. There is nothing particularly terrible about its premise, the cast is perfectly acceptable if a bit bland, and the dynamism of the Marshals Service really does make for a strong foundation for a procedural series.

However, tuning in to see the Jerry Bruckheimerization of the type of premise which made FX’s Justified so compelling this fall, or which has served USA’s In Plain Sight moderately well, doesn’t have the same appeal. Chase captures the problem with network procedurals: instead of trying to find a way to set yourself apart from similar series, the goal is to create something so vague and sterilized that it will avoid turning off potential viewers.

In the process, Chase becomes stripped of anything which could make it truly compelling, leaving us instead with a functional procedural and not much more.

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Nikita – “2.0”

“2.0”

September 16th, 2010

Admittedly, the sheer chaos of future Thursdays means that Nikita is unlikely to be part of my regular viewing rotation yet alone my regular blogging rotation, but “2.0” (the series’ first post-pilot episode) was interesting enough that there’s a few points I want to make.

How you approach the first episode after the pilot is a real sign of where the show is heading. Free from pilot limitations, there is the potential for an expansion of the series’ world or the series’ sense of history; at the same time, however, networks (especially networks like The CW) are always worried about new viewers potentially popping in to sample episodes beyond the pilot, so there is pressure to capture the essence of the series for a number of weeks after the pilot airs.

“2.0” is trapped in that process, desperate to bring the series’ two worlds together while also balancing a standalone storyline along with a flashback to how our two protagonists met a year earlier. It’s too much for the episode to really handle, and gives us no real sense of how the series will strike a better balance in the future.

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Series Premiere: Nikita – “Pilot”

“Pilot”

September 9th, 2010

As far as world-building goes, The CW’s Nikita is comfortable remaining in familiar territory: shadowy “government” organizations working under the guise of national security while in fact engaging in nefarious activities was something that Alias and Dollhouse both dealt with pretty extensively. We’ve seen shows about spies before, and nothing Nikita offers in that department is particularly new (especially when you consider that it’s a reboot of a television show which was based on a movie, but since I’ve seen little of either I’m more likely to think in terms of other series).

The difference, I would argue, is where we join this particular story: rather than starting at the beginning, we jump in at a point where our protagonist is on the outside looking in, seeking revenge against those who wronged her rather than experiencing those wrongs herself. It is, as I note, a familiar story (Alias did something remarkably similar), but by joining at this particular point the show skips over the emotional wringer and focuses on the flashier, more dynamic parts of this story. The result, to some degree, is a lack of depth in the show’s characters, as everything we learn is done through exposition or flashback rather than experiencing it in real time; however, simultaneously, joining at this point gives the show a much clearer sense of what kind of structure it will take on for the future, allowing the pilot to function as any good pilot should.

It also means that it had no real chance of being great, but I don’t think anything here indicates that the should couldn’t get there if given the time and a push in the right direction.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: CBS’ The Good Wife

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: CBS’ The Good Wife

July 5th, 2010

[This is part of a series of posts analyzing individual show’s chances at the Emmy Awards ahead of the nominations, which will be announced on July 8th. You can find all of my posts regarding the 2010 Emmy Awards here.]

There is a great deal of buzz surrounding CBS’ The Good Wife this Emmy season, and what’s remarkable is that I’m willing to join the chorus. When the show picked up a surprised nomination in the “Ensemble Cast” category at the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, I was sort of perplexed, believing that the series was more or less a star vehicle for Julianna Margulies and that it didn’t deserve taking the place of Lost, or Sons of Anarchy, or Breaking Bad. However, as The Good Wife’s first season progressed, I was able to see the show is more than Margulies’ triumphant return to television, and its blend of procedural and serialized elements have created a series that deserves to be part of this conversation.

The series benefits from being both familiar and unfamiliar to voters. On the one hand, the show has a comfortable legal procedural/workplace drama structure which hearkens back to Emmys past (when Law & Order was dominant, or when The Practice and Boston Legal each saw considerable success). However, on the other hand, the show very clearly expands beyond that structure with a complex serialized storyline surrounding Alicia’s relationship with her husband and the scandal which surrounds his life, which interrupts and complicates the ongoing procedural elements. The show has its cake and eats it too, which will allow voters to feel comfortable voting for the show either for its well-executed simplicity or for the risk in adding serialized elements to the series (while the show takes far fewer risks than Lost or Breaking Bad, they seem riskier considering The Good Wife is ostensibly a CBS procedural).

Margulies is unquestionably the frontrunner in the Lead Actress in a Drama Series race: her wins at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards were not flukes, and her Emmys pedigree is just as strong (and while she has a win for ER, it was in the Supporting category, so she’s searching for her first win in five nominations this year). It’s a deserved place for the actress, whose work on the show has been extremely strong and who truly does anchor the cast. The question, however, is how much the show (which I’d consider a strong contender for a nomination in the Drama field) expands into further caregories: while I’d say that the series’ pilot is a contender in both Direction and Writing (as most high-profile, successful drama pilots are), I’m more interested to see what happens to the rest of the SAG-nominated cast.

In Supporting Actor, Chris Noth has to be considered a threat – he’s part of the season’s prominent serialized arc (and makes a big impact in the pilot), has some notoriety from his time as Mr. Big, and is quite great on the show. However, Josh Charles (who is Emmy-nomination free despite the genius of Sports Night) is equally as good on the show, and has to merit some consideration as well. Similarly, Christine Baranski has a real chance in the Supporting Actress field (having won for Cybill in 1995 and having grabbed a guest actress in a comedy nomination just last year), but arguable Archie Panjabi’s Kalinda has been the breakout character from the series, and so she probably deserves greater consideration even if her lack of name recognition will keep her from breaking through (although, we said the same about Aaron Paul last year, and he made it into the field). Throw in some guest acting contenders (Alan Cumming for his extended guest arc, Mary Beth Peil recurring as Peter’s mother, Martha Plimpton as a rival attorney, Dylan Baker as a sadistic client), and the series could land in a big way.

The Drama field is pretty crowded this year, but The Good Wife is in a good position to take advantage of this as a freshman series: its newness will serve it well against some established, but less noteworthy contenders, and this is likely to grab it a number of key nominations that will provide some considerable momentum (which the show might need, as its ratings dropped quite a bit after its early renewal). A nomination for Outstanding Drama Series would be CBS’ first since CSI and Joan of Arcadia in 2004, and if it garners over 6 nominations it will be CBS’ most-nominated drama series since Chicago Hope’s years of dominance in the 1990s, and I think CBS will have a lot to be happy about on Thursday morning.

Contender in:

  • Outstanding Drama Series
  • Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Julianna Margulies)
  • Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Chris Noth)
  • Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Christine Baranski)
  • Writing for a Drama Series
  • Directing for a Drama Series
  • Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Alan Cumming)
  • Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Mary Beth Piel)

Dark Horse in:

  • Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Josh Charles)
  • Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Archie Panjabi)
  • Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Martha Plimpton)
  • Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Dylan Baker)

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Honestly, I think it’ll contend in some capacity in every place it really deserves to: Matt Czuchry did well with his part, but his character’s real potential will be next season (considering where the season left his character), and no one else really played a pivotal enough role to be considered. However, the one omission above is Titus Welliver, who I think could have contended in Guest Actor but who didn’t submit himself for consideration (for this or for Lost), which is a pity.

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