AMC’s drama series Mad Men is something that I, as the title of this post suggest, find intriguing. I don’t know if I necessarily like it, but I certainly admire its qualities and feel that I am learning something by watching it.
The 1960s are an era I have no connection to, and can’t say I ever thought before watching it that it would be compelling. I don’t know anything about advertising in the decade, and I have only a slight knowledge of the political and social framework of the time. The people of Sterling Cooper might as well be living in a different world.
And yet, here I am enjoying it in spite of my apparent disconnect from its thematic values. The show’s sharp writing and slow but steady character development has been the proper introduction to its subject matter, and the result has been a show that, even if I’m not entertained by conventional means, certainly remains intriguing.
And, as a result, Mad Men is the Most Intriguing New Show of the Summer season.
It is my view that summer reruns are an underutilized tool in promoting a series; however, I see where the concerns lie. There is little reason for people to turn into reruns: they’ve likely already seen the episode, and even if they haven’t they’re unlikely to choose a repeat over new programming on another network. However, some reruns are more watchable than others, and there is one distinct reason why: because people have a reason to watch.
When Jericho was renewed by CBS in June after a month-long fan campaign to save the show, there was a promise made that the show would be rerunning over the summer. Immediately, fans began to get people excited about this prospect. Jericho is the perfect series for reruns: it lost a portion of its original audience thanks to a hiatus, and it created buzz that made people curious enough to tune in.
And there’s where I think comes the show’s watchability: you feel like you’re watching something that has been earned, that has been warranted, and that has some sort of meaning. This isn’t just CBS filling the schedule: this is the work of thousands of devoted fans beaming into your television set Fridays at 9pm. I, personally, find that somewhat inspiring.
Okay, let’s be honest: we don’t really need two shows about lyrics, or karaoke, or whatever we want to call this particular brand of programming. NBC’s The Singing Bee and FOX’s Don’t Forget the Lyrics should, by all logic, cancel one another out from my cultural consciousness. However, in the end, I think that it’s important to declare a winner in this epic showdown. And, contrary to my initial opinion, I think that Don’t Forget the Lyrics is the clear winner.
Originally, my inclination moved to The Singing Bee a more traditional game show which is a genre that I have a soft spot for. However, in its second episode, it was clear that NBC’s series was far too rushed to be worth my time. The show had no momentum, no groove if you will: each episode was as personality-less as the last, and the various different gimmicky lyric challenges showed their inability to feel comfortable with their formula.
And really, while I might like to sit down with a predictable and simplistic game show when flipping through the channels, I don’t really see it as primetime viewing. And I think that’s the problem: the show just doesn’t feel like something is taking place. It lacks any weight, any drama, any comedy. It lacks, well, everything.
While I originally plastered it for being derivative, over time it has become clear that Don’t Forget the Lyrics has managed to stabilize into about as good as it could possibly become. The contestants have personality, the amount of singing feels better and more entertaining, and “playing along” feels much more natural. People make choices, and therefore we can relate to their decisions and make our own at home.
In a perfect world, Traveler would be airing its 11th episode tonight on ABC.
However, ironically, ABC is instead airing one of the shelved episodes of another drama it ended before its time, The Nine, in the timeslot. Traveler, meanwhile, concluded its season after its eight episode. This was a shortened order from its original 13 episodes, and the series ended on a ridiculous cliffhanger having resolved none of its storylines.
And the show didn’t deserve that kind of treatment: it was summer popcorn fun, a constantly moving show that was never quite great but also declined the invitation to fall into ridiculousness. And yet, ABC refused to give it a decent shot at succeeding, and its failure is entirely the fault of the network. Traveler was not the best new show of the summer, but it is without question the most mistreated show of the season.
While it doesn’t seem like it should be the case, there was actually so much new TV this summer that I didn’t actually get around to watching it all when it premiered. One of such shows is the Glenn Close vehicle, Damages, which debuted on FX just a few weeks back. After Jane over at Jericho Monster reminded me that I hadn’t actually gotten around to watching the pilot, I decided to give it a try. After watching the first two episodes (Last night’s will have to wait), I’m ready to deem it the show I should have started watching sooner.
The show deals with Patty Hewes, a high-powered New York Attorney (Portrayed by Close), and her new associate Ellen (Rose Byrne). More specifically, however, it deals with a specific time frame. Over the span of six months, Ellen goes from a fresh-faced newcomer to a blood-stained and traumatized woman. We know her fate, and that of her loved ones, but we don’t know how she got there. And therein lies the appeal of Damages.
It is no coincidence that the two shows that have tied for the Summer TV Wrapup recognition of The Biggest Flop have something in common. Mark Burnett created Survivor and The Apprentice, and immediately rocketed into the upper echelon of reality TV producers. He’s the only one who is a personality, a character in his own way. While this usually helps him, it has actually made his fall from grace this summer all the more damaging. Pirate Master (CBS) and On the Lot (FOX), two sure-fire hits, flopped this summer, and Mark Burnett is the man to hold accountable for that fact.
Pirate Master suffered from the very beginning from both poor ratings and a lack of cultural buzz. While the show was not terrible, it was criminally derivative: it didn’t deviate far enough from the Survivor formula to bring in new viewers, and its failure proves that people aren’t watching Survivor because of its quality but rather because it’s Survivor.
The show was cancelled 2/3rds of the way through its run, and will spend the remainder of its time on CBS.com. The show never had the personality, never had the host, and never had the magic touch we’re used to seeing from Mark “Midas” Burnett. In failing to live up to that pedigree, it was by far one of the summer’s biggest flops.
Cultural Learnings’ Summer “Pirate Master” Coverage
On the Lot, meanwhile, had all the pedigree you’d usually need: Burnett was not only attached as producer, but so was legendary director Steven Spielberg. It was supposed to be FOX’s buzzworthy summer hit, but they forgot something very important: the summer viewing audience aren’t movie geeks.
One of the hazards of being a television critic of sorts (If I am able to call myself that, which seems doubtful) is that some people believe that certain shows aren’t “allowed” to be criticized. They are above criticism, something that is just supposed to be fun or meaningful without being prodded, questioned, or subjected to any form of analysis outside of funny or not funny, good or bad. It’s not that they always love the show, but rather that they believe that things like character development, character consistency and storylines aren’t qualities that make the series what it is.
One of these shows is Entourage, a show that I’ve been quite literally attacked for criticizing at any level above “Meh, that episode was okay, I guess.” And don’t get me wrong: I think that things can be over-analyzed, and I guarantee you I do it quite often. However, I want to make a case that Entourage is not only capable of being criticized, but that it is also deserving of my criticism.
Why? Because Entourage, without a doubt, is the Most Disappointing Show of the 2007 Summer TV Season.
As we head into the month of August, the large majority of Summer Television is either heading into the home stretch or debuting its first episodes as it heads into the Fall. However, since Emmy Awards hype will once again take over Cultural Learnings in the months ahead, I figure now’s the best time to look back at the Summer and the television that is has brought us. And thus Cultural Learnings’ Summer TV Wrapup was born.
This includes the good and the bad, the much loved and much hated, and both reality and scripted television. I’ll be bringing attention to the shows you should be watching, the shows I should have watched sooner, as well as those shows that might not be worth watching at all. I’ll also settle the Karaoke wars once and for all, plus look at which returning summer series I deem the most disappointing of the season.
Starting later today, this 14-part series will begin, and over the next week and a half or so you’ll be able to get the rundown on the summer season thus far. Will your favourite guilty pleasure make the list? Well, only time will tell.
In the meantime, while I’m out enjoying the summer myself, send me an email about your favourite summer series, or maybe the series you’re discovering or rediscovering over the summer through repeats or on DVD. You can send me an email at cultural.learnings @ gmail.com (Without the spaces), and I might include your comments in one of my posts.
Also, to get an idea of what I might be covering, check out the Summer TV Category here at Cultural Learnings for all of our seasonal coverage over the past months.