Tag Archives: The CW

Gossip Girl – “The Dark Night”

“The Dark Night”

September 15th, 2008

If Josh Schwartz lives up to his word, at least according to Maureen Ryan’s twitter from yesterday after her interview with the producer, this may be the last time that Dan and Serena make up and break up. And, if this is true, I am going to be one happy viewer.

I’m not one of those crazy internet posters on the show who has an emotional connection to these characters and their relationship, which is really the problem. Watching The O.C. recently helped point out that the show’s problem in the third season was its inability to separate its slavish attention to the central “fated love” of Ryan and Marissa from the audience’s total disinterest: long before the show itself seemed to realize that nobody thought they should be together, the show was shoving them down our throats and hinging the story’s central drama on their future.

But, Dan and Serena (And Gossip Girl) can’t listen to the crazy fans who treat this series like the girls in the episode treated Gossip Girl: these are supposed to be real people, and they can’t possibly always fall back into the same patterns and cliches. It might seem weird that Blair is the only one making sense about relationships, considering her trajectory in the episode, but if Dan and Serena don’t actually deal with their problems there are serious issues here. Ryan and Marissa went through exactly the same thing at the start of The O.C.’s second season, but it should have ended there: if Dan and Serena can do the same, Josh Schwartz might be able to hold a teen drama together by the end of its second season.

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Privileged – “All About Honesty”

“All About Honesty”

September 16th, 2008

Since it’s the theme of the episode, I guess I should open with a little bit of honesty: I really quite like this show.

There’s nothing special about Privileged’s various parts: JoAnna Garcia is strong but not perfect in the lead role, the two daughters are total (well-played) stereotypes and the conflict between them and Megan quite simplistic, the love triangle between Megan and her two suitors is about as much of a cliche as you could imagine, and the family drama is like every other family drama you could imagine.

But the sum of these parts is what makes the show stand out: none of the elements feel like traditional exploitative soap opera storylines, but rather actual investigations into family, sisterhood, friendship, and the idea of attempting to confront all of them while deciding what to do with your future. It has a lead character who isn’t just a slightly less narcissistic member of the elite, but an outsider with a unique connection to this universe. This episode’s issues of trust and honesty don’t just feel like a frame narrative out of any sort of playbook, but actual important topics for someone in her position.

And this type of connection means that Privileged is doing something its lead-in (90210) isn’t: it’s trying to be something new. And, you know, good.

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Series Premiere: Privileged – “Pilot”

“Pilot”

September 9th, 2008

For those who read the blog on a regular basis, it seems like the early part of this week is more or less all teen soap operas, all the time – and that’s without me having much to say about the second season of Greek, which I do plan on commenting on at some point in the future (perhaps tonight’s episode, yet unwatched, will do the trick). However, for now, I want to comment on The CW’s newest entry into the field, their choice for a lead-out from 90210. Coming from Rita Mimoun (late of Gilmore Girls, Pushing Daisies and Everwood), this is a series that is definitely not a much buzzed about debut, not does it carry with it any of the same concerns over sexual content.

Instead, it is something very different: a show that, unlike 90210, is taking time to establish its own identity as opposed to simply throwing fascimiles of genre archetypes into a pot and hoping things work themselves out. There are points where Privileged becomes a bit too precocious for its own good, but Mimoun’s time on former WB/CW dramedies has served her well: for every small moment of dialogue that’s a bit too quippy, there is a moment of well-placed exuberance, or heartfelt honesty, that ground the show in something quite compelling. The scenarios here are not “Remember that summer when we met?” but rather complex family conflicts, romantic tension-filled friendships, and just the right amount of characters for us to follow in the early going.

I’m not saying that the show is perfect, but after watching 90210 kind of just flop around earlier in the evening it’s kind of nice to see a show that, for its pilot, completely understands what it wants to be, how it plans on getting there, and what it was about The O.C., Everwood or Gilmore Girls that not only kept people watching, but that sucked people in to people, places, ideas.

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90210 – “Lucky Strike”

“Lucky Strike”

September 9th, 2008

The only noteworthy thing about 90210’s third official episode is that there is nothing worth noting.

Okay, so I’m not going to end the blog post there, that seems like it would be a poor strategy. There’s actually a lot of little things that the show is doing right, but for the most part it is struggling to define itself as anything even close to memorable. The show just isn’t going out on any limbs here: while there is something very breezy and attractive about this universe, when the “big events” do take place they feel like plot devices and little else. The setup here is so transparent, so lifeless that it is the very definition of rote, and the only thing bringing any life to the equation is cameos and callbacks to the original series that I am purely ignorant to.

So while I actually think the cast is stepping up to the plate here, I can’t say that the producers are giving them enough to do.

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Gossip Girl – “Never Been Marcused”

“Never Been Marcused”

September 8th, 2008

Late last week, as anyone following my Twitter feed may have found out, I received in the mail a recent impulse purchase. The Complete Series box set of The O.C. was waiting for me at the post office, and with it came a lot of memories and, ultimately, a sudden impulse that resulted in finishing off the show’s first season, and starting the second, over the weekend.

I mention this because there’s always a lot of talk when any teen dramas are premiering, or airing, about how they compare with The O.C., now considered the seminal comparison point for any teen soap opera of this generation. Having just completed what it considered the show’s crowning achievement (its first season), I can confirm that it lives up to this title: while the central, most soap operatic moments are perhaps worse for wear compared to my recollection, the ancillary elements (The Parents, the less traditional romance of Seth and Summer, the humour and quippiness) are so strong that it’s hard not to hold other shows up to that standard.

And I spend so much time talking about this standard because “Never Been Marcused” was cribbed almost entirely from The O.C.’s own transition from summer to fall. I won’t attempt to accuse Stephanie Savage from plagiarizing herself, but I will say that she certainly has taken the lessons learned there to heart. The comparison is not a negative one: while obviously different in tone, the events we see here are smart in the same way The O.C. was smart, creating various entanglements that have dramatic potential for the future.

The real difference is that Gossip Girl is a show about scandal, a show where these events will be less introspective than they are fodder for our narrator and her incessant appetite for these types of affairs. This isn’t to say that it’s a lesser show by default, but it means that it’s shooting for another audience: one that includes me, definitely, but not one was diverse and inclusive as perhaps Schwartz’s original series to which this episode owes much of its plotting.

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Series Premiere: 90210 (2008)

“We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, The Jet Set”

September 2nd, 2008

“That’s what a blog is supposed to do, make problems”

When The CW chose not to send screeners of their latest show out to critics, they were making a statement. Now that viewers have been able to see the show for themselves, we can finally discern what exactly that statement was: was it that the show is so poor that the network didn’t want critics ‘making problems’? Or, more positively, was it just that there are so many reasons to watch this show that they decided the critics were irrelevant?

I can understand the argument: between nostalgia and teen girls, a majority of 90210’s potential audience is probably already aware of the series’ existence. So those of us who either choose to or are employed to look past our personal interest to answer the question of whether or not the series is actually any good are not what they’re interested in.

But I don’t think they really needed to be quite so scared of our kind: no, the show is not a new standard in teen drama, and its various archetypes don’t offer the type of wit or charisma of even the network’s Gossip Girl, but if we’re judging the series on its ability to offer flashy melodrama with just enough substance to keep it afloat, 90210 lives up to its hype.

However, only time will tell if the real people The CW wants watching are going to feel the same way.

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Season Premiere: Gossip Girl – “Summer, Kind of Wonderful”

“Summer, Kind of Wonderful”

September 1st, 2008

When a show skips over a period of time between a finale and the following season’s premiere, there is an extremely recognizable phenomenon that rears its ugly head: exposition. Whether it’s through steamy bedroom scenes, long monologues or phone conversations, or just about any other contrivance you can think of, the show will spend more time telling us about the past than actually showing us much of anything about where the show is heading.

As a result, the season premiere of Gossip Girl kind of leaves me not just pondering the future, as Kristen Bell suggested I do as the (literal) fireworks went off at episode’s end, but also questioning whether the show that struggled with consistency last season has gained any new perspective to even things out. From the looks of the premiere, they have made some choices that seem to reflect a knowledge of some of its characters, but when others seem so far off the mark it’s hard to necessarily say that the show has a chance of breaking out into something more accomplished in the year ahead.

If we have some faith, however, let it lie in the fact that all of that exposition and the prequel-like nature of this episode seem to indicate that the real action of the season has yet to begin.

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Forgive My Ambivalence: ‘90210’ and Network Screeners

During the summer months, it’s hard to get excited about television. Now, I don’t mean to say that I’m not enjoying the summer runs of shows like The Middleman, Burn Notice, Mad Men or Generation Kill – it’s the opposite actually, as I’ve enjoyed them immensely. The issue, however, is that this great medium we call television is just less interesting up until about this late August period.

And so, Cultural Learnings has been all about the reviews and not so much with grand statements evaluating the state of television as a whole; and while my more established colleagues (Read: actual TV critics) usually receive screeners that help them handicap the year ahead, my lack of such screeners means that I rely on their coverage in order to design my own. This year, of course, this is proving difficult: some shows are barely finishing their pilots, and the result is a lack of coverage of what Fall will truly have to offer.

I’ve dealt with this screener question before, arguing last year that the networks should do more to get pilots out to people other than TV critics in an effort to rustle up support and build a fan base that can support the show through tough times. So, the recent news that The CW is not sending out screener DVDs of its ‘90210’ reboot should be something that has me up in arms, ready to pounce on their ignorance of the power of these screeners to get people interested about their show.

But, at least for now, I can’t really say that I care either way – and that kind of ambivalence is, for the networks, probably their best case scenario heading into this pilot season.

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Goodbye, Jenny? – Considering the Gossip Girl Spinoff

I was reading an interview with Josh Schwartz that Alan Sepinwall did around the time of The O.C.’s series finale, and I stumbled across this answer to a question regarding a potential spinoff for the series:

[Alan: ]Whatever happened to the Kaitlin spin-off where she was in boarding school?

I was about 17 episodes into the first season, and I was asked to go up into Rupert Murdoch’s boardroom. Rupert wasn’t there but all the head honchos at Fox were there, and I was asked, with a fair amount of pressure, to do another show. I was shown a schedule where, if I did this, “The O.C.” would remain on Wednesdays at 9 and the new show would be on Tuesdays at 9 after “Idol.” Who wouldn’t want to do that? It wasn’t wise of me to do that, I had plenty to learn about the TV business, but I said, “Okay, I don’t want it to be a spin-off.” I was worried about cannibalizing the show too soon, and spin-offs usually fail. Everyone signed off on that fact, I went off and worked on a pilot called “Athens.” It was a big honor, it was going to keep “The O.C” behind “American Idol.” Then I turned in the script and everyone said, “So how do we turn it into a spin-off?” It became a protracted battle not to make it a spin-off. Then I arrived at the upfronts to announce the new show and they said “The O.C.” was moving to Thursdays, that was a perfect storm of its own. When it felt that was the only version of the pilot that was going to move forward was one I didn’t believe in, I said, maybe as a compromise, we’d have discussions about a Kaitlin boarding school drama, and then Gail Berman went to Paramount, and those discussions ended.

How fitting, then, that I looked at this so recently, as now we’ve got the exact same situation with almost eerie comparisons to this earlier one. As it completes its first season, Gossip Girl is now being spun-off by its producers (Schwartz included, one presumes) as another hit series of books by the author of Gossip Girl is being optioned. And, interestingly, “The It Girl” series surrounds the character of Jenny Humphrey falling off the wagon at Constance Billard and being sent off to board school just as Kaitlin had once been destined under the scenario Schwartz described.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Humphrey is a self-esteem challenged outsider who struggles to fit in. In the books, a series of public embarrassments (such as appearing in a teen magazine wearing next to nothing) results in Humphrey having to either repeat ninth grade or find a new school. She elects to enter a boarding school and reinvents herself as a popular girl. Her story is told in a series of six “Gossip” spinoff novels called “The It Girl.”

I don’t think it is so simple, however, to spin-off this character- Kaitlin was a nothing in The O.C.’s first season, and Jenny was anything but in Gossip Girl’s first frame. There are things about her character that are integral to Gossip Girl and might not be as expendable, and with no confirmed reports of them using Jenny’s character in the spinoff I’d have to think that they’ll figure this out as well.

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Season Finale – Gossip Girl – “Much ‘I Do’ About Nothing”

“Much ‘I Do’ About Nothing”

May 19th, 2008

This one is a bit late, but only because last night was a bit earlier than my previous ones. Considering the traffic that my review of January’s mid-season finale is getting, there’s a lot of people who want to see how Gossip Girl’s first season turns out, particularly in terms of the various romantic couplings the series is too often defined by.

That being said, the bigger issue is that this particular episode is defined by three separate relationships each with their own relative quality. As we wait and see how the Dan and Serena melodrama unfolds, or how the Lily/Rufus love destiny resolves itself, excuse me if I care far more about the delicious pairing of Blair and Chuck that the series has been playing with.

Yes, Chuck is the best part of this finale: smarmy with a purpose, charming with his usual edge, caring even through his usual harsh exterior. That he and Nate settle their rivalry, and that we discover his true feelings for Blair, is the part of the episode we relish in – meanwhile, the other storylines feel less resonant when the show has done them before (Lily and Rufus-style) and lack their explosive spark (Georgina disappears fifteen minutes in). Of course, even that part becomes a bit overplayed by the time the episode concludes.

So as we leave for the summer, which will be filled in by five episodes of material to come in August, everything is topsy turvy, and none of it is overly positive in my eyes.

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