Tag Archives: Series Premiere

The Pleasure of the ‘Unnecessary’: BBC’s Sherlock

The Pleasure of the ‘Unnecessary’: BBC/PBS’ Sherlock

July 31st, 2010 / October 24th, 2010

Before I watched it, I found Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ Sherlock [which premiered tonight on PBS in the U.S., but which aired on the BBC back in July] to be quite perplexing.

Trailer: BBC’s Sherlock

First of all, I wondered whether we really needed another take on Sherlock Holmes considering that Guy Ritchie’s movie (which I thought was solid, but unremarkable) was released only seven months ago. Now, before you jump on me, I became aware in doing some research that the original pilot for this series was shot long before the movie debuted, but considering how late the series is arriving it was nonetheless the first thought which popped into my mind.

Second, does Steven Moffat really need to write for another eccentric problem solver? The Doctor is, in many ways, a detective in his own right, along with being both an outcast and a genius, so one can’t help but feel that Moffat is developing a type (albeit one that, in the case of the Doctor, I quite enjoy).

And third, and this is speaking from my North American experience, television is littered with series which owe much of their structure to Conan Doyle’s work. House has both the eccentric problem solving and the Holmes/Watson dynamic in House and Wilson, The Mentalist has the eccentric, observational crime solver with the archnemesis, and every single crime procedural on television has the whole “crime solving” part of things.

While it may have been received differently had it made it out before Ritchie’s film, or before Moffat took over Doctor Who, the fact remains that Sherlock is emerging in an environment where it feels “unnecessary” for those of us not entirely familiar with the source material, which can lead one’s mind to words like “disposable” (which, for North American viewers accustomed to 22-episode seasons, isn’t helped by the short three-episode order). So, it is perhaps that much more impressive that I really enjoyed Sherlock, a sentiment shared by the British audience which helped it garner some pretty substantial ratings which could get it a second season late next year.

It’s a well-made show building from a well-made premise, which may not make it “necessary” but which certainly makes it something I am glad to have on my television, and hope to have on my television in the future.

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Review: NBC’s Outsourced Lives Down to the Anti-Hype

Review: NBC’s Outsourced

September 23rd, 2010

Considering how terrible Outsourced – debuting tonight at 9:30/8:30c on NBC – is, we need to ask ourselves the question: where did this go wrong?

While it awfulness perhaps pushes us to suggest that it was simply a terrible idea from the very beginning, I think there was comedy to be mined here. I think, for example, there is potential in the idea of setting a comedy within an Indian call center which deals with American customers, investigating how the Americanization of their workplace influences their cultural heritage. There’s also theoretical potential in looking at how an outsider struggles to adapt to Indian culture after being shipped there against his will.

Outsourced lives up to none of this potential, however, largely because there is not an ounce of depth within its characters or its narrative. It is, like Mid America Novelties itself, interested in novelty and little else, sacrificing any of the complexities of this situation in favour to getting down to what really matters: feces, broad stereotypes, and cultural imperialism.

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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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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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The Atemporality of The Pillars of the Earth and its Impact on Game of Thrones

The Atemporality of The Pillars of the Earth and its Impact on Game of Thrones

July 23rd, 2010

I have never read Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, but I have a feeling that it would be a very different experience than this Miniseries.

I don’t necessarily mean that as a slight, even if it may read as one for fans of the book: I can’t know whether or not the miniseries, co-developed by Canada’s The Movie Network and American cable’s Starz, bastardizes Follett’s epic tome, but I do know that the story has been given a linear form which I can’t imagine exists in the original novel. Of course, considering the talent in front of the camera – with Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew MacFayden, Eddie Redmayne, Alison Pill, Donald Sutherland and Gordon Pinsent in prominent roles – the miniseries is watchable, and has moments which hint to a greater depth which the series’ pace simply can’t indulge as often as one might like, but in the end one can’t help but feel that this is a miniseries produced by individuals who have too little faith in television as a medium for telling complex stories, choosing to boil down a narrative which would have likely been more engaging had it been left in its original form.

I think this is partially the result of the limitations (or the supposed limitations) of a plot-driven miniseries like this one, but it raises concerns about another upcoming adaptation, HBO’s Game of Thrones, which on paper would face similar problems. That being said, I think that the approach being taken with Game of Thrones is set to face the challenges of adapting this material, while I feel like Pillars of Earth cuts its losses at an early stage and fails to take off as a result.

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Series Premiere: Haven – “Welcome to Haven”

“Welcome to Haven”

July 9th, 2010

Haven was filmed about a half hour away from my current location in the suburbs of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and so there is a certain novelty to watching the premiere and seeing familiar locales. I worked for three summers driving around the province putting out traffic counters, and so I not only recognized Lunenburg (which doubles as Haven) but also the roads which they drive to get to the town, or the intersection where the main action seems to be located. As a result, Haven came to life for me in a way which kept me engaged – it’s too bad, though, that I’m not sure many other viewers could say the same.

The title of the pilot seems to imply that the series is coming from the perspective of the town, that there exists a fully-formed community which we are being welcomed into. However, the structure of the series is such that Haven is only what Emily Rose’s workaholic FBI Agent needs to see, and what the pilot is forced to establish to suggest that there exists a series about this town. While there are plenty of hints that there is something deeper afoot, and that this place holds a history which could hold meaning for our protagonist, there are no small moments which help define Haven and its residents, no local colour beyond archetypal newspaper men and supernaturally-motivated residents.

We are only shown what they have decided we should see – the result is a functional pilot which fails to excite me in any fashion than the sheer novelty of seeing familiar locations on my television screen, although that novelty and my appreciation for Rose will likely keep me watching for a while.

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