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Fall 2012 Review: Emily Owens, M.D.

19 Nov

Most shows, at least what you get from the pilot episode (Last Resort aside), can be summed up pretty quickly.  Emily Owens, M.D. can be summed up even quicker than that.

Being a young doctor right out of med school is just like being in high school.

I’ll say more, but there you have it.  You could read that line and have a pretty good idea what the show is about.

Here’s another way that I think is fairly good to sum it up.  It’s like Scrubs without the jokes.  It actually has a pretty similar sensibility to the with the camaraderie between doctors and the high school drama matched up with the seriousness of illness and death the doctors deal with every day.  There’s even a speech given to Emily by another character about which doctors represent which high school cliques, and I really felt like I was watching Scrubs.

The main character is unsurprisingly Emily Owens (played by Mamie Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep, and yes, you can totally see it), a high school nerd/loser/choose your adjective here who thought that her life would turn around and she’d become who she always thought she would be and bloom post-high school, only to find out, yes, that doctoring is just like high school.  This isn’t just me saying it by the way; multiple characters express this to her within the first few minutes of the show.

She’s spending her first year with a motley crew of colleagues including her med school crush, her old high school nemesis whose appearance unnerves her, and a friendly lesbian who turns out to be the big boss’s daughter.  Owens spazzes constantly (spellcheck does not pick up spazz, but screw that) making lots of little, and one or two big, mistakes along the way, pissing off the doctor she came to this hospital to work under, but also making a couple of friends and partly redeeming herself along the way.  All in her first day too, which the entire episode takes place during; I doubt that every day as a doctor can be quite this meaningful and frantic, but what do I know.

The boldest move, for both her and the show, in my opinion, which I appreciated the most, and will probably be the only thing I really remember from the show, is that she basically comes out and confesses her love for her crush (yes, we’re using crush; this is high school) right in the first episode, and gets rejected in the absolutely nicest way possible making it incredibly awkward for both her and the guy, which makes you feel terrible for both parties (worse for her, but still).  As an awkward person, I did appreciate her completely believable amount of awkwardness, which seemed true to life rather than person-who-clearly-doesn’t-live-in-society level.

Other than that, well, there was nothing memorable about it.  Nothing made my irritated or angry or offended or any of that bad stuff.  There just wasn’t really much good stuff.  It was a show, and well, if you liked Scrubs without the jokes, maybe you’ll like it (actually it was still less self-righteous and lesson teaching than those Scrubs monologues – boy did I hate those).  You’ll probably forget about it within a couple of days of watching it though, like I’m predicting I will.

Will I watch it again?  No, it wasn’t execrable by any measure, but it was forgettable, and for getting lost in a crowded fall schedule, that’s almost as bad.

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End of Season Review: Boss, Season 1

29 Aug

Boss, the Kelsey Grammer Starz show about a corrupt long-time Chicago mayor with an incurable brain disease (not a spoiler, you learn this in the first five minutes of the show – this article is low on plot specifics and thus spoiler free for all but the most sensitive of readers) not willing to give up his perch of power without a fight, is a surprisingly interesting and enjoyable way to spend eight episodes as long as  you’re willing to temporarily put aside some of your beliefs about, I don’t know, reality and the like (that sounds like a negative; but it’s not intended that way; Boss would hardly be the first quality show demanding this).  Boss, sometimes cleverly and sometimes not so cleverly takes little bits and pieces from a number of the best TV dramas of the past decade or so, and repurposes them for its own uses.

Kelsey Grammer plays longtime Chicago mayor Tom Kane, who has kept himself in power through a combination of canny manipulation, well-timed brutality, and giving all the right people just enough to be satisfied.  In addition, his threats carry more weight because he’s been there so long, and he seems unbeatable, and well, if you can’t beat him, you might as well join him.  As we join him, a year away from his own reelection efforts, at the same time when he discovers his neurological condition, or perhaps because of it, his opponents smell weakness, and see a real opportunity to end the Tom Kane era.  They’re willing to pull out every stop to do so.  A test of Kane’s strength is represented by the upcoming Democratic primary election, where he chooses to throw his support behind young renegade Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Zajac against long-time governor McCall Cullen.  Meanwhile Kane is alternately helped and hindered by his two primary advisers, Ezra and Kitty, as well as by his wife Meredith, who married Tom as a measure of political convenience; she was the previous mayor’s daughter.

Boss takes from 24 the sense that there are moles all around constantly reporting on and sabotaging your every ploy, and occasionally overcomplicated, though exciting if you don’t think too much, and confusing plotlines.  From Game of Thrones Boss takes the idea that there are a few real players manipulating others for their own ends, while some, who think they are players, are merely pawns.  Everyone’s got their weakness, it’s just a matter of playing into it.  There are also got plenty of completely unnecessary boobs.  From The Sopranos, Boss gets Kane’s pure physical brutality, reminiscent of Tony, and his struggle to control an organization and hierarchy below him that is not always satisfied with his leadership, for different reasons.  Echoing Breaking Bad, Tom Kane has Walter White’s sense of survival at all costs, with his back up against the wall, and his willingness to use everybody around him, family and friends, however he needs to, in service of his own goals.  Boss has adopted Deadwood’s sense of language, in monologues in particular, as well as more careful manipulations (credit to Vulture for turning me on to the Deadwood comparison with a headline for article I didn’t want to read because I hadn’t seen the show yet).  Oh, and from Damages, Boss features a random hitman/shady dude who convinces a lot of people under threat of physical pain to do things, even though we have no idea who the guy is aside from these scenes or who he exactly works for.

I seriously hope real world Chicago politics, as potentially corrupt as they may be, don’t actually mirror Boss politics, because as far as Boss goes, the phrase skeletons in the closet needs to be altered to something like skeletons in the parking garage (a big garage, like four, five stories).  Also, although I’m fairly sure the skeletons in the traditional phrase are metaphorical, in Boss, at least some amount of time, they’re real.  Everybody’s cheating on everybody, nobody is honest or up front, and everybody has a plan to get what’s best for them, some of the plans better than others.

The events of Boss are utterly outlandish and frightening (actually less frightening for being so utterly outlandish) and stir up a lot of the much asked, but still always valid question of how far is too far for the end to ever justify the means.  Even more than that is the question of the just as old, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Characters are constantly choosing actions which put them in power while stomping over others, believing some combination of the idea that their being in power will help others and the idea that they simply need to be in power.

It’s not a perfect show by any means.  The pacing in episodes is not always the best, there’s sometimes a little too much Rubicon-like shady old white men in rooms planning things, and it hits some of the questions it asks a little too on the nose.

Still, flaws aside, I’m absolutely glad I watched the show.  After watching The Good Wife recently. I found it, though not a bad show, a show that was thoroughly uninterested, especially compared to the top shows I’m used to watching, and the distinction really struck me more than I expected.  Interesting’s such a mundane word, but shows that don’t follow the set obvious path over the course of a sesson, either by subtle tweaking, by treading on new ground entirely, or just by applying a new focus or a new lens are unfortunately uncommon. Potentially interesting shows often do fail, either very quickly, when they run out of ideas after the premise, like Terra Nova, or like Lost, remain, well, interesting, but become terrible for other reasons.  Being interesting is certainly not sufficient for a quality show.  However, I think it’s not a bad first hurdle to pass.  While Boss takes pieces from all these other places, it does make the synthesis all its own.  It’s not quite canonical but it’s not a show I feel like I’ve seen a hundred times before, and I enjoyed it.

Homeland: Season Review

29 Dec

I’ve repeated several times on this blog my contention that Homeland was far and away the best new show of this television season.  Now that the season is over, it’s time to take stock of where we are, how things went, and subsequently what things look like for next year.  My brother tried to describe Homeland as 24 on crack, but it’s really the opposite.  Instead of 24 sped up, it’s a couple of episodes of 24 slowed down, with fewer big action moments and more built up long-lasting tension.

First, the biggest event, the main concern of the finale, Brody’s attempt to blow himself up in the protection locker, killing the Vice President and many other high-ranking officials.  Right after it happened, I wished the explosion had happened, but after taking some time to think about it, I was happy with how everything went down.  The creators navigated a narrow passageway here but did it really well.  They faced a difficult choice.  Choose to blow up the bomb, and we’re entirely done with Brody, a character that has been at the heart of the show.  Choose not to, and it seems like a cop out for both the character and the show.  We need a good reason for him not to, and without one, it seems like the creators can’t pull the trigger on a major event.  One of the best parts of 24 is that outside of Jack Bauer, just about every character could get killed at any time.  If you cop out too many times, tense situations become like the show that cried wolf; it’s hard to keep the audience guessing if they feel pretty sure they know what’s going to happen.  In an interview I read, the creators noted that they thought about killing Brody, but that they thought he had more story left to tell, and I agree.  The writers managed this by first creating a situation in which the bomb didn’t go off due to a malfunction, and then having Brody’s daughter get through to him and convince him not to set it off.  If done another way, this would sound lame.  However, what really sold it was the work that had been put in the preceding episodes about the bond between Brody and his daughter.  There had been several scenes focusing on their close connection, and because of this groundwork laid, the moment at which she convinces her dad without exactly knowing it to not set off the bomb felt earned and meaningful rather than cheap.

Carrie’s shock therapy at the end was the other extremely powerful moment in the finale.  It was both sad and encouraging at the same time that Carrie was willing to resort to this radical treatment.  It was hard to watch (it’s difficult to believe that shock treatment is a serious medical treatment nowadays) but also reflected Carrie’s desire to change.  She was crazy, but it was almost comforting, as a viewer, that her craziness was legit craziness; she had a recognized mental disorder, rather than just being unexplainably irrational.  However, it was painful to see her come apart at the seams.

It was impossible not to enjoy Saul’s power play.  Saul was pretty much designed by the writers as the character the viewers are supposed to just about unabashedly like, and well, that’s what happened.  After weeks of reluctantly taking orders from boss David, he finally uses the knowledge he gained to put himself in the driver’s seat.

I loved the video Brody recorded about his reasons for becoming a terrorist.  It bridged a little bit of a gap between how someone could spin their terrorism into helping out America.  Sure, blowing up a bomb is never an acceptable way to protest the system, but at least in this case, the crimes he’s accusing the US of, of blowing up children, are actually true.  This was the extra step that helped me buy in to Brody’s actions.  Additionally, the video can become a plot point, out there in the world somewhere, for someone to discover evidence of Brody’s treachery.  I was pleased with the decision to kill Walker as well.  Walker played a key role in the season, but wasn’t really a character, and he served his purpose.

As a final couple of notes, the acting was all around excellent, led by Claire Danes and Damien Lewis, and I enjoy that James Rebhorn can play a crazy bipolar father on a show about the CIA while at the same time being a high-ranking officer on another TV show (White Collar).  Soon to follow, a look forward at the new season.

Bored to Death: Final Season Report

28 Dec

It’s a sad time to be a Bored to Death fan.  Just as the show continues to improve each year, with short, and what I would guess, but don’t know to be, relatively inexpensive seasons, it still received its walking papers from HBO in a general comedy layoff, with How to Make It In America and Hung also sent to their graves.  With Entourage over, and Curb Your Enthusiasm possibly over (which it has been after each of the last three or so seasons), only Enlightened will be back of the existing HBO half hour programs.  Bored to Death, at this point in time was the best of these shows and season three was the best season yet of Bored to Death.

As always, the strength of the show was with the wonderful, zany, interplay between the three main characters and friends Jonathan, Ray, and George, played by Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson respectively.  Favorite recurring characters, such as Jonathan’s arch-rival Lewis played by John Hodgman, and George’s arch-rival Richard (played by Oliver Platt) returned.  The familiar New York, and Brooklyn in particular, setting returned as well, with the carousel in Prospect Park hosting a major scene.  New was  George’s artisanal restaurant which bans cellular phones;  instead, for emergencies, old-fashioned land lines are connected.  In this latest season, the show got weird, there can be no denying that.  Well, that’s wrong actually.  The show got weirder.  The seeds for strangeness were planted previously, but this season outdid all previously weirdness with elder love and incest becoming major plot points, obscuring furries and George’s daughter marrying a man George’s age.

The show grew stronger when it realized that it didn’t need to have a central mystery for Jonathan to solve every episode.  Not that those mysteries were bad by any means, as some of the best moments in the show happened during those mysteries, but the show was at its finest when it could feel free to swing from a mystery to a George singing lesson to a Super Ray signing to a Jonathan night out with George’s alcoholic daughter.  The humor was often absurd, but Bored to Death turned from a show I smiled along with in the first season to one I laughed out loud at several times an episode in the third.  The show kept its film noir trappings throughout, and used them well without feeling hemmed in by them.  The cast all had great comic timing and the look of the show complimented the absurd situations.

Mostly though, it was a treat every week to spend time with the characters.  Television is populated with shows about friends but few are such unabashed paeans to friendship as Bored to Death, and few feature characters I’d like to hang out with at a bar and have a beer with, or in Jonathan’s case, a glass of white wine with, as much as these three.  The friendship was never better framed than in the fifth episode of the third season when Jonathan and George attend a counseling sessions to repair their relationship.  Both parties air their grievances, and after George is still frustrated, Jonathan decides the best way to get back in George’s good graces is to help take down George’s rival’s restaurant.  Though a series of zany adventures, he figures out the fraudulent practices of the restaurant and exposes it, which finally mends the rift between Jonathan and George, actions speaking louder than words.  I’m glad I at least have 24 episodes to relive the good times over and over.

Fall 2011 New Show Ranking

27 Dec

Well, we’ve just seen how I did in my predictions about the new shows in fall 2011.  Let’s take a look at what I actually think of them, rankings style.  I didn’t think it was a particularly strong season, as most of the shows sat in the healthy middle of mediocrity with a fair few as true garbage.  Although it’s a linear ranking, I’ve tried to point out when there’s a large gap between shows here and there.

1.  Homeland – far and away the best new show of the year – it’s not particularly close.  I’m not sure where they’ll go from here, but first season a must watch

2.  Revenge – surprisingly good for a trashy primetime soap and although that sounds like a backhand compliment, I really don’t mean it that way.  I enjoy this show thoroughly and Madeline Stowe is great.

3.  New Girl – improved as the season went on and seemed to find its place, the last of the three shows on this list that I’ve seen every episode of, and thus there’s a little drop off here

4.  Boss – I haven’t cared enough to watch more, but I was more impressed than I thought I’d be in the first episode, and more episodes could easily move this in either direction

5. Hell on Wheels – solid but not spectacular, I wish it was better, but I’m glad it’s not worse

6.. Ringer – 6 is higher than it should be, but it’s really just in a similar tier with the next few shows and I’ve seen more of it than the next few

7.  American Horror Story – I’ve never seen a show like it in any way, and I think I mean that as a compliment

8. The Secret Circle – the show is much more entertaining than it has any right to be for someone of my age and my gender

9. Terra Nova – It’s not great but it’s really not bad either.  There’s something to work with and I feel slightly more than ambivalent about continuing to watch

10.  Suburgatory – newer episodes are definitely better than the older episodes, and I like the two main actors, but it constantly battles not to not be a poor man’s Mean Girls

11.  Prime Suspect – you’ve just entered procedural country.  Prime Suspect is probably slightly the best of the bunch – it’s a minor shame it’s being cancelled but no Terriers

12.Grimm – second best of procedurals, my friend likes it because it takes place in his home state of Oregon, so props for that

13.Person of Interest – second in a row of shows my dad watches – he likes this one better, but I prefer Grimm slightly

14.Up All Night – it’s not bad, it’s just not really that good either – what in the world is Maya Rudolph doing here

15.Unforgettable – this may actually be better than one of the two above it – who even knows at this point?

16.A Gifted Man – repeat what I said about Unforgettable.  The show is fine but hardly compelling

17.Pan Am – we’re still in the section of shows I don’t completely want to bash, I just want to let them be ignored

18. Hart of Dixie– Rachel Bilson is good, I guess. Alabama seems pretty boring.  Is that the message?  Still not at the bad ones.

19.Enlightened – People tell me it gets better after the first episode, and maybe it does.  Laura Dern’s character was just so annoying.

20.Free Agents – shows starting to get bad here – it had two good characters, and a bunch of terrible ones

21.Once Upon A Time – why do people like this?  This is exactly the type of show people like to pretend is interesting and complex but really isn’t

22.  Man Up – men aren’t really men anymore part 1 – possible but hard to win with that premise

23.  Last Man Standing – men aren’t really men anymore part 2- much more patently offensive than the previous

24.  Allen Gregory – animated misstep – close enough to a good show to maybe understand what the creators were thinking but far enough away that it will never get there

25. I Hate My Teenage Daughter –  a generic instructional example of a bad traditional sitcom

26.  How To Be A Gentlemen – why do so many actors who were in shows with more modern forms of comedy (It’s Always Sunny inPhiladelphia, Mr. Show, Flight of the Conchords) sink to this?

27.  Playboy Club – Saying that Amber Heard is attractive is about the nicest thing I can say about this show

28.  Chalie’s Angels – Saying that Minka Kelly is attractive is about the nicest thing I can say about this show

29.  Whitney – and here we are, a Whitney Cummings two-some – whoever thought this show made sense after Community, Parks and Recreation and The Office should be shot, tarred, and feathered

30.  2 Broke Girls – there is nothing redeeming about this show – the fact that it is popular embarrasses the US as much as the existence of the death penalty

Fall 2011 New TV Show Predictions Reviewed, Part 2

26 Dec

A couple of months ago, I made predictions about how long new shows on CBS, NBC and The CW would last.  As all the shows have aired for a few weeks, it’s time for an evaluation of my predictions, although for some shows, the final word is not in yet.  Such an evaluation follows:

CBS

2 Broke Girls

Predicted:  13+

What happened:  Picked up with high likelihood of renewal.  I knew it was likely to get renewed, but I still tried to vote with my heart by hoping it at least wouldn’t last multiple seasons.  Now, we could be looking at the next Two and a Half Men (shivers).

How To Be A Gentleman

Predicted:  12-

What happened:  Cancelled.  Fourth on my top five easiest cancellation decisions.  Sad, because there’s a few people I like in the show, but not really sad.

Person of Interest

Predicted:  Renewal

What happened:  Picked up for a full season, likely to be renewed.  I was worried when the show didn’t start as strong as expected, but it would be a surprise, albeit not a huge one, at this point if the show wasn’t brought back.

A Gifted Man

Predicted:  13+

What happened:  Picked up for three more episodes, totally 16, leaning towards cancelled, but undecided.  Probably my best 13+ pick of the year, it meets all the middle of the road commercially and critically criteria to need an extended look but ultimately be cancelled.

Unforgettable

Predicted:  13+

What happened:  Picked up for a full season.  Along with Terra Nova, the most borderline of the borderline.  No idea which way it will go, may come down to the last minute.

NBC

Up All Night

Predicted:  13+

What happened:  Picked up for a full season, still up in the air for next year.  Neither a huge success nor a bust, on ratings-strapped NBC, executives are looking to grab on to anything with a chance of success (though not Community, unfortunately).  It’s moving to Thursday, and how it fairs there will determine its fate.  I’d lean towards renewal though.

Free Agents

Predicted:  12-

What happened:  Cancelled.  Number five in my most obvious cancellations of the year.  There wasn’t much press, and though this was likely the best of the comedies cancelled quickly this year, that’s not saying a whole lot.

The Playboy Club

Predicted:  12-

What happened:  Cancelled.  I’m out of my five obvious cancellation choices, but this would be number six if I had one.  It never really had a chance and it shouldn’t have.

Whitney

Predicted:  13+

What happened:  Picked up for a full season, awaiting ratings on a new night.  It will switch time periods with Up All Night, making much more sense for both shows.  It never belonged on Thursday night, and hopefully will be put to bed by the end of the year, but it could go either way.

Prime Suspect

Predicted:  Renewal

What happened:  Probably cancelled, but not officially yet.  I was just straight out wrong about this one.  It got generally well reviewed and with NBC as ailing as it is, I thought even with middling ratings, they’d keep it around.

Grimm

Predicted:  13+

What happened:  Picked up for a full season and leaning toward a renewal.  I went back and forth on this show as more news and previews emerged and I’m still not sure how I feel.  I think it will probably get renewed, but it’s not over yet.

CW

 

Ringer

Predicted:  Renewal

What Happened:  Picked up for full season, likely to be renewed, but not assured yet by any means.  It doesn’t take too much for the WB to renew, so I think Ringer will be in.

The Secret Circle

Predicted:  Renewal

What Happened:  Picked up for a full season and seems most likely of all the WB shows to merit a renewal.  I felt good about this choice partnered up with successful The Vampire Diaries and this just confirms it.

Hart of Dixie

Predicted:  13+

What Happened:  Picked up for a full season.  It’s likely to be renwed, though less likely right now than Ringer and definitely less likely than The Secret Circle.  Still, I feel good about my prediction even if it comes out wrong.

Fall 2011 New TV Show Predictions Reviewed, Part 1

23 Dec

A couple of months ago, I made predictions about how long new shows on cable networks, ABC, and Fox would last.  As all the shows have aired for a few weeks, it’s time for an evaluation of my predictions, although for some shows, the final word is not in yet.  Such an evaluation follows:

Cable

Hell on Wheels

Predicted: Renewal

What happened:  Renewed away – not as successful commercially as AMC stalwart The Walking Dead or critically as Mad Men or Breaking Bad, but good enough.  It’s no Rubicon.

Homeland

Predicted:  Renewal

What Happened:  Renewal – right on, everyone else agreed with me and I agreed with everyone else that this is the best new show of the year.  It’ll be back with a vengeance.

American Horror Story

Predicted:  Renewal

What Happened:  Renewed – I still don’t understand it, and I don’t mean that in either a good or a bad way, but it’s become a bit of a sleeper hit.

Boss

Predicted: Renewal

What happened:  Renewed – Cheating, it was renewed before it aired.  Still, it got good enough reviews, for whatever that’s worth.

Enlightened

Predicted: Renewal

What happened:  Renewed, but barely, as it survived the great HBO comedy extermination of 2011, which saw the ends of personal favorite Bored to Death, Hung and How To Make It In America.

ABC

 

Charlie’s Angels

Predicted:  12-

What happened:  Cancelled.  One of the five easiest predictions to make all year.  Had no chance from day one.

Last Man Standing

Predicted:  12-

What happened:  Picked up for full season so far.  Probably the prediction I got wrong which I would have staked the most on.  I still don’t think it will last past this year, but I would have said it’d be gone after three or four episodes, so who knows.

Man Up

Predicted:  12-

What happened:  Second of the top five easiest decisions.  Didn’t have a shot in hell, and shouldn’t have.

Once Upon A Time

Predicted:  13+

What happened:  Picked up a for a full season, likely renewal.  It’s become a family hit, and although it hasn’t been renewed yet, so I could technically still be right, it probably will be renewed and I’ll be wrong.  Oops.

Pan Am

Predicted: Renewal

What happened:  Not cancelled officially yet, but looking like all but a formality.  This was one of the more difficult shows to call.

Revenge

Precited:  Renewal

What happened;  Picked up for a full season, and looking likely for renewal.  Very pleased about both my call, which wasn’t obvious, and the popularity of one of the better new shows.

Suburgatory

Predicted:  13+

What happened:  Picked up, with a renewal likely.  It’s been kind of a surprise hit on what’s become a bit of a surprise hit Wednesday night comedy block on ABC, with Modern Family, The Middle, and Happy Endings next to Suburgatory.

Fox

New Girl

Predicted; Renewal

What happened:  Picked up for a full season, it would be a total shock if it was not renewed.  One of the biggest new show hits of the season so far.

Allen Gregory

Predicted:  12-

What happened:  Cancelled – not a shocker by any means.  Bad show, bad spot, no chance.  Third of my five easiest cancellations to call.

I Hate My Teenage Daughter

Predicted:  12-

Renewed:  Uncertain, as it didn’t start until the end of November.  That said, I still feel fairly confident in a cancellation.

Terra Nova

Predicted: Renewal

What happened:  This is the closest show on the list, and it could still go either way.  I wouldn’t take odds one way or the other.