Tag Archives: Pilot

Cultural Catchup Project: New Beginnings in “The Freshman” and “City Of” (Buffy and Angel)

New Beginnings in “The Freshman” and “City Of”

June 19th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

It’s only fitting that, as Buffy and Angel’s paths diverge into two separate series, the Cultural Catchup Project forces them back together for the sake of analysis.

There is no plot-based connection between “The Freshman,” Buffy’s fourth season premiere, and “City Of,” Angel’s “pilot” of sorts which started off its first season: while there is a brief moment shared between the two episodes, it is an easter egg more than a substantial development. However, both episodes tell more or less the same story: our protagonist moves onto a new stage in their life in an unfamiliar location and struggles to reconcile their past life with their present situation.

In that sense, both episodes serve the function of a pilot: while “The Freshman” isn’t debuting a new series, it is ushering in a new era for Buffy, as she heads down the road to UC Sunnydale and discovers that it is truly a “whole new world” in more ways than she bargained for. And “City Of,” while unique in that Buffy viewers have a greater understanding of Angel and Cordelia’s characters than those tuning in for the first time, still needs to introduce Angel’s current goals and set up just what kind of show Angel wants to be.

And while both episodes were entertaining, I’m going to make the argument that neither of them were actually that successful when considered as the beginning of their respective seasons.

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Sneak Preview: Rubicon – “Gone in the Teeth”

“Gone in the Teeth”

June 13th, 2010

AMC has officially dubbed their airing of Rubicon’s pilot a month and a half ahead of its premiere as a “sneak preview,” but I think a “teaser trailer” may be a more accurate description of the episode in question. A good teaser trailer shows you atmospheric scenes which give you a sense of the mood a particular movie or television series is going for, but really doesn’t tell you much about the plot in question: for example, HBO’s teaser trailer for Game of Thrones, the much-anticipated adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, shows a few key images and establishes the series’ tagline.

Considering this, it’s fair to say that my use of the designation for “Gone in the Teeth” is symptomatic of my frustration with the enigmatic lack of clarity which pervades this series. If a show’s pilot is supposed to be a teaser trailer, an aesthetic exercise designed to build hype, then I would consider this to be moderately successful: there was absolutely nothing here which would keep me from tuning into the series in August. However, a pilot needs to be something more than a teaser trailer, and the series’ shortcuts in establishing both its central character and its central conspiracy show a lack of elegance which does little to convince me that this belongs in the same breath as AMC’s other original series.

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Season Finale: 30 Rock – “I Do Do”

“I Do Do”

May 20th, 2010

I haven’t written about 30 Rock in a very long time, so you’d think I’d have a lot to say: after all, “I Do Do” actually had a “Previously on 30 Rock” sequence, which is rare on a show that is usually so off-the-wall that it doesn’t need to worry so much about continuity.

However, this was an aggressively plot-heavy conclusion for the series, so it makes sense that we might need a refresher on why Liz is going to three weddings, and why she would go anywhere with Wesley Snipes, and how smart the show was to have Jack dating two celebrity guest stars so that you really don’t know who he’s going to pick. This being said, however, “I Do Do” isn’t really plot-heavy at all – rather, it just sort of revels in the situation that has already been created, introducing new elements and providing conclusions that do a pretty good job of boiling it down to characters.

There are jokes, and there are plots, but even with some fairly ridiculous star power there is no point in time where all of it overwhelms the ways in which the episode plays out as a story about Jack, Liz and Kenneth, which makes it a successful conclusion to both these storylines and the season as a whole.

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The Cultural Catchup Project: Story and Scale in Hellmouth and Harvest (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Story and Scale in Hellmouth and Harvest”

April 10th, 2010

[This is the first in a series of posts over the next few months as I catch up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel for the first time. For more information about the project, click here. You can follow along with the project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be hosting a link to each installment.]

I went into Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s two-part series opener, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “Harvest,” expecting an origin story. When it comes to mythology-heavy shows – or what I presume to be mythology-heavy shows – like Buffy, there is an expectation that they should start with an episode that tells the origins of (in this case) our eponymous heroine. Considering that I knew the show was at least marketed based on the novelty of a teenage girl slaying vampires, it seemed like those first moments of discovery and revelation would be a logical place to start.

However, as I’m sure fans are very aware, “Welcome to Hellmouth” does not start with an innocent teenager learning that it is her destiny to fight vampires. Instead, it starts with a teenager fully aware of her destiny and fairly adept at handling her superhuman skill set, skipping over the “bumbling rookie” phase and moving right onto the phase where Buffy is confident, jaded, and just wanting to move on with her life.

Perhaps this is because Joss Whedon decided that the 1992 film, despite the liberties taken with his script, had already dealt with the origin story, or perhaps it was a decision designed to help explain how Sarah Michelle Gellar (20 at the time) could pass as a 16-year old. Or, perhaps, Whedon was just very keenly aware of what kind of story would best serve as an introduction to these characters and this world: it may not be a traditional origin story, but the precision with which Whedon plots out his vision makes up an occasional lack of tension, and results in a strong introduction to just what this series means to accomplish (and what I hope it accomplishes in the coming months).

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Series Premieres: CTV’s Hiccups and Dan for Mayor

Personally, Corner Gas had overstayed its welcome when Brent Butt chose to end its run after its sixth season, but the Canadian public didn’t feel the same way: the show was still a success to the point where CTV would have gladly rode the train to Dog River for as long as possible even if it meant diminished returns (or, for me, more diminished returns). I understood Butt’s decision at the time, in terms of being able to end the show on his terms, but I didn’t particularly care about his decision since I wasn’t, after all, watching the show.

But with the arrival of Hiccups and Dan for Mayor, two new CTV comedies that debuted to impressive numbers on Monday, I have come to see the logic behind his decision. CTV has effectively gotten two shows out of one, with Butt creating (and starring in) Hiccups featuring fellow Corner Gas alum (and wife) Nancy Robertson, and Fred Ewanuick taking on the title role in Dan for Mayor as a follow-up to his role as Hank on Butt’s former show. And as someone who had lost my taste for Corner Gas (while maintaining my respect for the show’s starting point, considering I wrote a thesis chapter about it), it’s nice to see the talented people involved bringing two new series to the table. Butt’s decision kept CTV from leaning on a crutch for too long, and instead pushed them to introduce two new series that can only help the state of original Canadian programming.

I don’t necessarily want to pit the shows against each other, but I don’t know if I have enough to say about either to justify separate posts, so I’ll say this much: I really like Dan for Mayor, and I think that Hiccups is pleasant enough.

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Series Premiere: Parenthood – “Pilot”

“Pilot”

March 2nd, 2010

I’m currently trying to imagine a world where someone could handle watching both ABC’s Brothers & Sisters and NBC’s much-hyped Parenthood, the centrepiece of its Olympics advertising campaign. I used to watch the former show back in the day, and it had its moments: Sally Field makes a strong matriarch, the family squabbles featured a number of strong actors (Rachel Griffiths, Justin Annable, Emily VanCamp), and once its melodrama settled down enough to reveal itself as human drama the show could even be quite poignant on occasion.

And Parenthood reminds me a lot of that show, at least generally speaking. You have an extended family who gathers together for tense family dinners, you have the various siblings sharing a unique bond that is as deconstructive as it is constructive, and you have each separate family within the larger family dealing with their own issues with every other family peering over their shoulder.

I don’t think I can really tell you why I like Parenthood more than I ever liked Brothers & Sisters, but if I had to really try I would say that it is less smug. It feels more natural and less self-aware, either because the characters are slightly less idealistically wealthy or because I simply like the talent behind this show better. Or maybe, just maybe, the shininess of a new show is outweighing the staleness of an old one, the repetition and heightening melodrama of Brothers & Sisters being traded out for the fresh, unused template of Parenthood.

Perhaps in four years, I’ll be raving about another show just like them; for now, let’s talk about this one, because I quite enjoyed it regardless of how similar it may be to something else.

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Winter is Still Coming: Anxiety and Awareness as HBO takes Game of Thrones to Series

Winter is Still Coming: Anxiety and Awareness

March 2nd, 2010

The motto of the Stark family is that “Winter is Coming,” which in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire is inevitable but unknown: seasons can last for years, even generations, but eventually they will turn, and a winter that lasts that long can be absolutely devastating. Accordingly, the Starks live by a motto that places them in a state of constant anxiety, aware that the flowers may bloom right now but there is still the potential for darkness around the corner. It is prudent, perhaps, but also limiting in how it places fear and concern over the ability to enjoy one’s situation.

Was there ever any doubt that HBO would take Game of Thrones, the adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series, to series? Not really. Sure, there was always the chance that the pilot wouldn’t turn out well, but with an established director (Tom McCarthy) at the helm, and with an ever-expanding cast with considerable name recognition, the chances of HBO not ordering a season of the show were pretty slim.

So, one would think, fans of the series can now breathe a sigh of relief: the series’ rich fantasy tapestry will be committed to film, and their favourite characters will come to life, so the anxiety is over. However, for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, the anxiety has become a way of life not dissimilar from the wariness of the Stark family motto: it’s been almost five years since the last entry in the series, and it’s come to the point where some fans fear that Martin might die before he finishes his epic story. Some readers, like the Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan, have actually put off reading the latest book until the next one has a clear release date, afraid of creating a state of heightened anxiety knowing that the next installment could still be years away. And so the anxiety surrounding the pickup, even when everyone was predicting that the show would make it to series, was normal for the fans who could potentially make the series a smash success.

However, as Jeremy Mongeau pointed out on Twitter, I wonder if that anxiety will make this series even more problematic for fans in life than it would have in death; the show will be full of potential for new viewers who have no idea where this story is headed, but fans may be tripped up by some of their foreknowledge. Just to be clear, I’m not characterizing ASoIaF fans as those who will complain about small changes (although I’m sure there will inevitably be some of that), but rather that they know where this story is going, and they know an important fact about the first book in the series (A Game of Thrones) which will heighten their anxiety surrounding the show’s long-term potential at the network who has given it a chance.

The pickup is a sign that Winter has been delayed for at least a season, but one can’t help but realize that Winter is still coming, and the anxiety surrounding that could well dominate fan behaviour.

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Battlestar Baggage: Why SyFy’s Caprica Deserves to be Judged On its Own Merits

Battlestar Baggage: SyFy’s Caprica

February 23rd, 2010

Early on in a show’s run, there is always room for improvement. Every show will take time to find its feet, and whether it’s a rough pilot or a case of pilot repetition or a character that feels underdeveloped, all freshman series will have points of contention.

This doesn’t mean that, from a critical perspective, we forgive the show these problems, but it also means that we don’t rake a series over the coals for them. The critic’s job becomes almost like a meteorologist’s, analyzing the storm patterns (the cast, the plot’s general direction, the world-building, etc.) that could eventually develop into a great series or fizzle out quickly. It’s still very much a personal analysis of the situation: Starz’ Spartacus: Blood and Sand was written off by many critics (myself included) as something which would never evolve into anything worthwhile, but I’m hearing from a lot of fans that the show (so long as you lowered your expectations based on the quality of the pilot) is surprising them, so this (like meteorology) is not a precise science in the least.

It’s not often that I’ll outright question negative responses to particular series I enjoy, but I’ll come right out and say it: I don’t get the tepid response to SyFy’s Caprica. Judged as a new series, Caprica has overcome a weak pilot with a series of episodes that demonstrate a clear sense of the world being depicted, offer a complicated moral tightrope for the characters to walk, and take their time in order to let the show’s fantastic sense of atmosphere sink in rather than be thrown in our faces. While it is not perfect in any way, it is subtle when it needs to be subtle, and doesn’t allow its more large-scale developments to deliver only large-scale consequences, making significant progress from its pilot even while taking the time to ruminate on key themes and ideas.

In short, it’s in pretty fantastic shape for a new series, so I really wish that everyone would start judging it as one.

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Constants, Favourites, and the Overlooked: 10 Important Episodes of Lost

Constants, Favourites and the Overlooked: 10 Important Episodes of Lost

February 1st, 2010

When you start listing your favourite Lost episodes, you’re inevitably going to overlap with other people’s lists. However, this overlap occurs for many possible reasons: it just isn’t that these episodes are the best, but rather that they are (as James Poniewozik’s list at Time points out) important. Yes, we pick the “Pilot” and “Walkabout” because they are stunning episodes of television, but we also pick them because of how they informed how we understood this world and its characters, and if they hadn’t worked then the show would never have been what it was. Similarly, we choose “Through the Looking Glass” and “The Constant” because they managed to introduce hugely complex narrative devices while remaining grounded in emotional stories of love and loss that broke/healed my heart, respectively.

And while those other lists cover why those episodes are constants on these futile efforts to focus our love for the show in such a narrow fashion, I want to focus on some other relatively common episodes and similar episodes that are not nearly as common on these types of lists. While it might mean that some of the episodes are not equal in quality to others, it nonetheless demonstrates that Lost is a show that had its roadblocks, and the ways in which it managed to overcome those concerns and anticipate/reconcile potential problems may be its most important televisual legacy.

So, after the jump, the six episodes that (in addition to the four mentioned above) round out my lost of “10 Lost Episodes that I have Deemed Important for the Sake of This Particular Article, but Which Do Not Constitute a Definitive Top 10 List, Which Would Be Impossible to Write.”

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Reminder: Caprica debuts tonight on SyFy and SPACE

“Pilot”

January 22nd, 2010

It’s been eight months since I reviewed the pilot, so I’m interested in whether anyone out there is really watching Caprica for the first time tonight as the two-hour pilot makes its television debut on SyFy and SPACE (In Canada) at 9 ET.

For those who are, or who want to get some idea of what to expect, Todd VanDerWerff and I had a spoiler-free chat over at Media Elites about the show and our thoughts on its unique position trapped between various preconceptions. It covers a lot of the ground I would have covered in a preview (such as how SyFy’s new brand identity feels almost hindered rather than aided by Caprica’s connections with Battlestar Galactica), so it’s a good reflection of my attitude towards next week’s “real” first episode.

So, feel free to click through to read more of my thoughts on the series, and I’ll see you here next week.

Review: Caprica – “Pilot” (May 2009)

Both as a singular piece of filmmaking and as a pilot, Caprica ultimately works: it has some strong performances (I was particularly impressed with the strength of work coming from the teens involved), a solid balance of callbacks to Galactica and newer material, and a central premise that captures the kind of power struggles which made BSG so captivating. That comparison is always going to hurt Caprica, as it isn’t aiming as high in terms of science fiction nor does it have the benefit of slowly revealing the complexity of this world (considering that we already know how this story ends), but by giving it a compelling human face they’ve convinced me the series should prove an intriguing extension of the BSG legacy.

thirtysomething with robots sound good? Watch Caprica (Media Elites)

As SyFy prepares to launch Caprica, a series which has always been considered a spin-off even though producers are now wary of the term, it is very quickly discovering that the show fits nearly into neither category. While the audience who enjoyed its parent show, Battlestar Galactica, may be anxious to see more content from that universe, the show doesn’t resemble Galactica as much as they might want it to, and they are also fairly small in number. However, because of the show’s connection to Galactica and its reputation, those with no experience with the franchise are convinced that they couldn’t possibly enjoy the show, despite producers’ claims that foreknowledge is not required.

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