Scott Everett White / The CW
There is no question that The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was among the year’s most ambitious shows, but it took me a while to warm to it.
The reason for this is actually fairly straightforward: I struggled with the fact that the “premise” of the show seemed so at odds with what made it compelling. Rebecca’s efforts to win the love and attention of Josh Chan were the central narrative engine of the show in the earlygoing, shaping her relationship with West Covina, and risking defining her character by a relationship I never bought. The show wanted to push against this, and uses its opening theme to give Rebecca a chance to articulate the intended irony of the show’s title, but the text and the title sequence didn’t always line up for me. The show was more about Josh than I wanted it to be, especially given that I thought Josh was kind of a dolt—I didn’t connect to the characters’ relationship, and so I didn’t connect to the primary way the show was pushing the story forward.
The show started to correct itself as it went along, and eventually it emerged with a fairly profound understanding of its premise: Rebecca may have come to West Covina because Josh lived there, but her actual “move” was focused less on what she was running to and more what she was running from: her unhappiness with her life in New York. And more recently, the show has approached a similarly profound realization that instead of moving toward Josh realizing that he was in love with Rebecca, his brief romantic moment with her would instead help him realize that he was unsatisfied in his relationship with Valencia. It was the show correcting my issue perfectly: Rebecca realizes that Josh was a means to an end of getting her into a healthier place, and Josh realizes that Rebecca was there to help him reach his potential (which extends into Rebecca helping him to get a job and believe in himself in other storylines).
And so I went into tonight’s finale believing that the show was heading in this direction, and was accordingly disappointed, although that’s as much on me as it is on the show. Basically, if everything had worked out the way I had wanted it to, there would be no show. Rebecca would be able to happily settle into a life of West Covina lawyering, free to pursue a relationship with Greg or anyone else. Josh could move on from Valencia, and pursue some of his various life goals in whatever way he saw fit. In the back half of the season, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend basically choreographed its ideal ending, a realistic and honest consideration of the way we gain perspective in our lives, and so I went into this finale believing that this was imminent…which meant I also forgot that this was a television show.
The Carrie Diaries: Season One (So Far)
March 18, 2013
I hadn’t seen the premiere of The Carrie Diaries before I was in attendance for its panel at this Winter’s TCA Press Tour. It was during my final day at tour, which meant that I had sat through dozens of similar panels, and I had seen producers and stars who were disengaged with the proceedings. Admittedly, “doing press” is not always going to be particularly natural, and so I’m not necessarily judging those who didn’t acquit themselves in the best possible fashion. However, it makes people like The Carrie Diaries‘ Amy B. Harris all the more unique: someone who came to the event not just with something to say, but rather with something to contribute.
I have no relationship to Sex and the City beyond a few stray episodes: I was a bit too young when it premiered to be watching premium cable series on a regular basis, and it never rose to the top of a list of shows to catch up on. And so I approached The Carrie Diaries less as an extension of a franchise (although see Courtney Brannon Donoghue’s recent piece for more on that), and more simply as a coming-of-age story in the CW mould. However, Harris’ comments during that panel very much shaped how I approached the series: she seemed to anticipate the kinds of questions she would be asked, and had come prepared with answers that were confident without seeming infallible. It wasn’t the kind of panel that was laugh-out-loud funny, but rather a panel that instilled confidence in the creative vision of a show I hadn’t yet had the chance to watch.
I watched the first three episodes of The Carrie Diaries on the trip back from Los Angeles, and enjoyed them. I’ve watched the six episodes since then, and I’ve mostly enjoyed those as well. However, as I’ve been following along with Carrie Raisler’s great reviews over at The A.V. Club, I’ve also realized that I’ve yet to find that moment where I feel the show has become everything that panel made it out to be. There have been moments, and storylines, which have reaffirmed the confidence I had after leaving that panel; there have also been moments that have shown a show still finding its footing, still aspiring to something it hasn’t yet achieved.
And yet I’m not sure my confidence has waned, necessarily. Some of this has to do with the fact that I was at the TCA panel, and watched the show within that context, and may be more apt to focus on the parts of the show that speak to that potential. However, additionally, I’ve come to understand The Carrie Diaries‘ first season as less a cohesive statement of what the show wants to be, and more an uneven platform to explore the question of its identity before moving forward with a greater sense of itself, something I want to explore briefly as the season heads into its final four episodes of the season (or the series, should it sadly not be renewed).
Discussing the Fall Premieres at Antenna
September 22nd, 2010
While I will be reviewing a number of new series here at the blog, admittedly I will not be offering my comments on some of the pilots I watch which I feel that those critics with screeners have already done justice ahead of time: if there’s no further substance for me to add, offering my opinion in the form of a lengthy critical review just isn’t a valuable use of my time.
However, many of those pilots lend themselves to short bursts of academic analysis, which is the purpose of the project which starts today at Antenna (the media and culture blog based in the Communication Arts department here at University of Wisconsin-Madison, which I discussed last week). A collection of scholars will offer their individual perspectives on a number of pilots, resulting in a wide range of responses to every new series debuting on network television (cable will likely be dealt with separately once the network madness concludes). The responses range from the snarky to the philosophical, which is a nice balance for addressing the combination of potential and horror which usually defines pilot season.
I’ll likely be offering thoughts on a number of shows (I’ve volunteered to fill in the gaps, more or less) as the week progresses, but I’m most looking forward to reading what so many others have to say (especially when many of them, unlike myself, do not write publicly that often).
So, check out the links below – each post will be updating throughout the week as new shows premiere, so keep checking back for updates (I’ll be tweeting them regularly, especially if I am in some way involved).
Antenna does the Fall Premieres
CBS [Featuring my thoughts on Hawaii Five-0, Mike & Molly]
NBC [Featuring a few more of my thoughts on Chase]
FOX & The CW [Featuring some thoughts on Lone Star’s struggles]
ABC [Coming Soon]
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.
“I Hear You, I See You”
September 14th, 2010
Life Unexpected and Parenthood have a lot in common, industrially speaking: while their thematic similarities don’t go beyond “family” being a central component of each, their most important connection is that they are both midseason shows which were renewed for a second season.
This is important because it means that they, compared with other sophomore series, didn’t get as much time to tell their stories. Without full 22-episode seasons, we never really got to see everything that Liz Tigelaar and Jason Katims had to offer, which makes these debuts especially important. We’re not as committed as we would have been after a “full” season, and therefore each series goes into its second year looking to prove that they are going to make the most of this opportunity and that we should continue watching.
I want to discuss the two series together because they take two very divergent paths (and because I’m short on time): while Life Unexpected presents entirely new scenarios which complicate the series’ existing premise, Parenthood seems entirely comfortable in the rhythms it developed last season. Neither decision is necessarily better than the other, but I do think that one premiere was more effective than the other as a result of their strategy.
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.
Misdirected Scorn: Why 18 to Life Deserves Parole
August 3rd, 2010
I am not surprised to learn that critics, as a whole, are not jumping on the bandwagon for 18 to Life, the Canadian comedy which was recently purchased by The CW to fill out part of its summer schedule and which debuts with two back-to-back episodes at 9/8c. I watched and more or less enjoyed the show’s first season when it aired on CBC, but I did it without much emotional attachment, and certainly without any critical analysis (which is why reviews never materialized beyond the pilot). I appreciate some of the series’ choices, and am intrigued by the show it developed into, but it is unquestionably a simple pleasure rather than a complex reinvention of television comedy.
However, I was a surprised to see how many critics have been stuck on the series’ premise, and disappointed to see how many critics are unable to get past the stereotype of Canadian television and summer television as lesser entities in expressing their dislike of the show. It’s been a while since I’ve read pre-air reviews of a series which I’ve seen in its entirety, but most of the series’ reviews ignore the show itself and instead focus on attacking either its origins, its scheduling, or the apparent offensiveness of its premise – while I understand that these are all part of the series’ impact, that these critics have not bothered to watch closely enough to see the kind of show which 18 to Life is becoming seems a disservice to a show which is just trying to be an old-fashioned traditional sitcom.
Which doesn’t make it brilliant, but does make it something that doesn’t deserve this level of scorn.
The Case for Saving Life Unexpected
May 14th, 2010
This year, it seems like everything is getting renewed before I can talk about saving it.
Upfronts season is usually about sweating it out until the eleventh hour waiting to see if your favourite shows are going to get canceled, which means it’s a good opportunity to write pieces about why they deserve a second/third/fourth/etc. season. Last year it was NBC’s Chuck, but this year the show has been a safe bet for renewal for months and officially got the pick up earlier tonight, which is good (as I like the show) but considerably less exciting.
One show I was ready to write about was Human Target, one of very few “bubble” shows that I watched and was quite passionate about continuing. I was going to talk about how the show had a strong season finale (which I was late watching and never blogged about), and how there’s a lot of potential in both the premise and the cast, and I was going to lecture FOX on how they need to show faith in series with that sort of potential when they have Bones in their lineup holding its own on Thursdays despite early struggles. However, FOX took all the wind out of my sails by, you know, picking up Human Target without much fanfare earlier in the week.
Perhaps it’s for the best, though, as I can focus on the one bubble show that I’d say I’d be legitimately angry to see canceled early next week. It isn’t that Life Unexpected is my favourite show on television, or even that it had a particularly spectacular first season (it was good, not great); rather, it’s that it’s a young show with a strong cast that grew beyond its premise to become a solid drama series, and it has a great deal of creative and commercial potential yet untapped. And while The CW has been trapped within an identity crisis since its inception, that’s no excuse to turn away a show with the potential to grow into something which complements their brand just so that they can focus on “hype.”
The CW doesn’t need hype at this point, they need something capable of being fresh and standing out from their lineup marked by vapidity, nostalgia marketed to teenagers, and genre programs being run into the ground (exceptions made for Vampire Diaries and Supernatural within this description of their lineup). Life Unexpected is that show, and I really hope they come around to this fact before they make the same mistake they made last year.
April 12th, 2010
“It’s not having feelings for two people that matters; it’s what you choose to do about them.”
I was very ready to write a very sarcastic opening to this review: the gall of series creator Liz Tigelaar to contend that the love between Baze and Cate, or the love between any of these characters, was unexpected. The show wears its heart on its sleeve, so we knew from the beginning that Cate and Baze shared a connection, and there were more than enough hints towards it being something more than just sexual tension along the way to make this finale all about Team Baze vs. Team Ryan in some circles.
I still think the title is a bit of an oxymoron (in that we went into this finale very much expecting something at least marginally sappy, if not majorly sappy), but “Love Unexpected” ends up working extremely well by avoiding, or more accurately dancing around, the “love triangle” on the surface. The surprise, in many ways, is that the show manages to confirm rather than tear apart its various definitions of love while playing on the tension surrounding cold feet and unspoken attractions. Despite what one would call a thrilling conclusion, one that was most certainly expected, the show uses it to reinforce notions of family, self-empowerment, and tragedy in a scene that is endlessly complicated but which doesn’t feel like it over-complicates the show’s message.
It’s a delicate balance, but “Love Unexpected” manages to find a middle ground between a romantic fairytale and a frank depiction of humans being human, as characters make choices inspired by fantasy but grounded in reality – if this show is robbed of a deserved second season, it had absolutely nothing to do with the show living up to its creative potential.
April 5th, 2010
While Life Unexpected is effectively a romantic story, as a young girl’s life struggles to find a family after being given up for adoption lead her back to the family she was meant to have, it doesn’t necessarily take place in a romantic world. There are times, of course, when the show steps towards the saccharine, and everything works out a little bit too easily, but Lux still went through a pretty hellish time in foster care (as we saw in last week’s episode), and I have always had faith that the show knows that what happened with Lux, Cate and Baze becoming a sort of family isn’t something that can happen every day.
“Father Unfigured” is the show dealing with that particularly reality, using Cate’s father (who she presumed abandoned the family) as a test to gauge the probability of this sort of situation ever happening again. And as I expected, it is very clear that the show’s premise is more than a bit romantic, but it’s a romanticism that manifests itself as a legitimate connection between these three human beings as opposed to some sort of simple or traditional notion of love. Essentially, Life Unexpected is like the television drama version of Lilo & Stitch, where “family” has its own unique meaning that no other family could entirely understand but which nonetheless connects with audiences.
The show often forces this “family” through a few more hoops than may be ideal in order to get to that stage, but they’ve nicely set things up heading into next week’s finale.