March 29th, 2010
Mark it on your calendars, ladies and gentlemen: today is the day when Life Unexpected finally stopped showing its basic premise in its “Previously on Life Unexpected” clip package.
It’s a momentous occasion, really, a sign that the show might be ready to grow beyond that premise to become something which goes beyond its initial dramatic potential. This is not to say that that initial potential has resulted in a weak television series, as I’ve found the show to be a fun and effective piece of drama thus far in its first season. The problem, though, is that we knew that from the beginning: the show has showed signs of wanting to evolve, but it’s always sort of reverted back to the same drama over and over again to its detriment.
“Storm Weathered” does not signal an entirely new show, and the show somewhat returns to the status quo of showcestual tensions which threaten to explode at any moment, but it does signal that we are at least at the point where the drama is no longer contingent on the pilot, and that the show has the opportunity (if still not the willingness) to move on.
February 22nd, 2010
Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I’m pretty sure that something actually happened on Life Unexpected tonight.
Sure, the plot of “Truth Unrevealed” was just a delayed payoff from the pilot, so there wasn’t actually anything revealing – fitting, considering the title – about the episode, but it was the first story that felt like it went beyond the awkwardness surrounding Lux’s arrival in order to answer the question of “what next?” Yes, it didn’t particularly take the story very far in that direction, and it threw out a number of anvils on its way to its conclusion, but that conclusion feels like something that is actually going to change the trajectory of these characters, rather than just a rumination on a particular facet of having being a parent foisted on you.
And that is, if not particularly subtle, at least more revealing and more significant than some of the season’s early episodes.
February 15th, 2010
Considering that Life Unexpected has been repeating its pilot pretty consistently since it began, I’m tempted to just repost my review of the pilot here and see if anyone notices the difference.
This seems harsh, and I really don’t mean that in a negative way: after all, I liked the pilot, so my willingness to repeat those thoughts indicates that I still believe them to be true. Similarly, Liz Tigelaar and Co. are repeating the pilot because it was a good pilot, and because the brand of sweetness that this type of story brings to the table is clearly what they’re trying to tap into.
However, because we know going into an episode how it is eventually going to end (with Lux struggling to straddle her old life and her new one, and Cate and Baze realizing they’re not perfect parents but they nonetheless fill important roles in Lux’s life), we’re sort of able to fill in the gaps more easily than might be advantageous for the show. Every time a character is faced with a difficult decision mid-episode, they’re definitely going to make the wrong choice, whereas if the same decision is presented towards the end of the episode they’re inevitably going to come around.
What the show lives or dies on, then, is whether the show that happens in between the initial setup and the inevitable sweetness is compelling enough to keep watching, with enough shades of something deeper than this nearly procedural structure that the show is operating under. And “Turtle Undefeated,” like most episodes before it, makes me glad that I didn’t just watch the beginning and the end of the episode and chalk it up as one more life lesson for everyone involved.
And yes, that’s praise.
February 8th, 2010
Ahead of the show’s premiere, Liz Tigelaar warned that Life Unexpected was going to suffer from “Pilot-itis,” in that most of its early episodes would play as restatements of the show’s premise in order to appeal to potential new viewers who might be tuning in for the first time. Her argument was that, while it’s a bit frustrating in that some viewers could get impatient, it at least makes creative sense in this instance: considering the complexity of the premise, and the emotions tangled up between these characters, the “plot” would continue to have an impact beyond a single hour. In fact, it might have been more problematic if the show had moved on too quickly without first plumbing the depths of the complications at play here.
The problem is that, with “Bong Intercepted,” we’re reaching that point where the show is staging some engaging scenes but keeps coming to the same conclusion, and the premise is starting to wear extremely thin. It’s job has been done: the show has some engaging characters, and I want to be able to see them grow and move on. Instead, the show is hitting the same beats over and over again, proving itself capable of creating some interesting dynamics but wasting them on stories that are doing little to help the show moving forward.
There’s a couple of things here that signal some momentum, but for the most part things are pretty darn predictable rather than unexpected around these here parts.
January 25th, 2010
Alan Sepinwall has a good review of this week’s second episode of Life Unexpected where he discusses the curse that is the never-ending pilot, where a network puts pressure on a show to restate/revisit its premise in early episodes in order to hook in new viewers (like, for instance, those who tuned in tonight when they found out the CBS comedies were in repeats). He points out that, at TCA, Liz Tigelaar argued this actually made sense for this show, as a situation this complicated would actually be quite unstable, and it would be unrealistic for it not to in some way repeat the initial tension we saw in week one.
I think she’s right, but I think that “Home Inspected” also manages to find a couple of intelligent shortcuts to navigate its way through the challenges of this process. I wouldn’t argue that the episode is perfect, or that some of those shortcuts aren’t a bit overstated/melodramatic, but the episode manages to maintain the show’s pilot momentum even in its redundancy, which is something any show in its position should strive for.
January 18th, 2010
When a network attempts to change its brand identity, it’s always an interesting balancing act. On the one hand, the network wants to be able to sell advertisers and viewers on the fact that they are new and exciting, charting a progressive path into the future. However, on the other hand, no network can entirely rebrand, so there will be remnants of the former identity kicking around both in order to provide a sense of stability for both advertisers and viewers alike.
Life Unexpected won’t be the last time I talk about this particular phenomenon this week (Hint: the other will be on Friday), but it’s definitely a show that hearkens back to The WB more than anything else in The CW’s lineup. It’s created a really interesting critical reaction to this show, where everyone points out how much it doesn’t fit the current CW brand and that, considering the critical opinion of said brand, it is better off for it. And I’m not going to deviate from this script: the show evokes Everwood and Gilmore Girls far more than Gossip Girl or Melrose Place, and I’m certainly not going to complain about that.
I do wonder, though, where the audience that watches a show as sweet and heartwarming as this one is currently located. I appreciate what the show has to offer, and I would certainly suggest that you check it out if The WB’s brand of charming drama series were up your alley, but I can’t help but wonder if the WB brand has become so stratified that the people who were silently sitting in their living rooms thinking to themselves “I wish there were shows like the WB used to have” have moved onto other networks (like ABC Family) and aren’t going to look past the network’s new brand.
I want to be wrong, though: I quite liked Life Unexpected, and I’d like to think shows like this could still succeed in this day and age.
“Reversals of Fortune”
September 14th, 2009
There is no question, whatsoever, that Gossip Girl is a flawed show which only on occasion finds its true potential. That potential is most often bottled when we get the opportunity to see Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf together, trading barbs and turning what is often a depressing melodrama that fails to capture the potential of this concept. By so isolating the show’s universe in a small collection of characters (many of whom I, you know, don’t like), the show has become less about teenagers and their wily ways and more about these individual characters repeating the same cycles over and over again. For Chuck and Blair, this has weakened their appeal: for Dan and Serena, it’s eliminated it altogether.
So why do I keep watching? I think part of me wants to be able to say that I’ve still got a less than critically fascinating series on my schedule, but at least some part of me wants to see how the show handles itself as the teen soap of its generation. There is something about Gossip Girl’s bizarre dichotomy between cultural awareness and actual ratings/quality which says something about this generation of television viewers, and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage are not slouches behind the scenes.
“Reversals of Fortune” does what every Gossip Girl premiere does, playing off of the uncertainty of what happened in the past summer and the kind of mistakes and ill fortunes that the characters find themselves in as a new year begins. It’s the same formula the show has used numerous times before, but it also still works, in particular this time around as the show resists turning Dan and Serena to the forefront and lets Blair and Chuck’s relationship keep its spark by playing with expectations.
It’s not high drama, but it’s the right kind of premiere for the series.
The 5 Worst Showings of the 2009-2010 Upfronts
May 25th, 2009
I am quite aware that there is something problematic about judging series based entirely on quick clips, but in many ways that personifies the upfronts process: it’s about making snap judgments, analyzing a show based on its potential when placed through the advertising machines of its respective network. It is true that there are some shows which are only hurt by this process, but then there are others which are so far removed from anything approaching humour or drama that I really don’t think they can be saved.
As a result, this is not a list of the worst shows during the 2009-2010 upfronts, but rather those which have the longest way to go in order to convince me that somehow, some way, they could be entertaining television. There may end up being more disappointing shows this fall/midseason, or shows which fall apart due to showrunning conflicts, but in their very setups/clips/execution these shows have demonstrated absolutely nothing to convince me that they are worth watching (some shows, like FOX’s Brothers which appears to be just downright awful, is so far off my radar that I haven’t even bothered watching the clips, which may explain its absence).
And so the uphill battle begins.
The CW 2009-2010 Fall Schedule
May 21st, 2009
Everyone likes to point to NBC as a network in crisis, and I really can’t contest that point; however, while Jay Leno may be a bad plan, it is at least actually a plan. The CW, by comparison, has been floundering for the past few years and has no strategy to really change that fact. Each year seems to be as much of a struggle as the last: while a few flagship programs perform well, and the network has more cultural awareness than one would expect considering the anemic ratings, there is something wholly dissatisfying about a network which identifies itself either entirely based on demographics or, worse of all, based on repeating its current (non-)success ad nauseum.
This results in a schedule summed up beautifully by Lilly Hill in yesterdays CBS Upfronts edition of the TV on the Internet podcast: “It sucks.” After giving away Sunday nights to the affiliates, and not even programming one half of Friday nights, it’s a schedule that lacks this past season’s one promising new addition, gets rid of the principle of comedy entirely, and one which offers little in new or exciting ventures for advertisers or viewers to be excited about. NBC may be struggling, but one feels as if their lineup for the upcoming year at least combines an awareness of critical opinion, audience patterns, and future programming oppotunities.
My comparison, it appears The CW has actually let its core demographic of teenage girls create their schedule through rigged focus groups designed to give them the answers they want, and not the answers they really need.
Full schedule and analysis after the jump.