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Reviewing My 2014-15 Predictions: NBC

1 Jun

NBC

Well, there’s no point in making predictions if you’re not willing to revisit them later and see just how wrong you were. Now that the final decisions are in, let’s review how I did.

We’ll start with NBC. My fall predictions are here and my spring predictions are here, and in short, every show gets one of three predictions: that it will air 12 episodes or fewer, 13 episodes or more, or be renewed.

The Mysteries of Laura

Prediction: 12-

Reality: Renewed

Sometimes I’m wrong, and sometimes reality is wrong. That’s one of these times. I watched this show and I understand I’m not the arbiter of taste for network television but I still don’t really understand how this became popular. Admittedly, this isn’t quite as shocking as the fact that Undateable will have three seasons under its belt on NBC (which is legitimately incredibly shocking) but I still am surprised this happened.

Bad Judge

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 12-

This prediction game isn’t rocket science. Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s easy. Bad Judge was one of the easier calls of the year.

A to Z

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: 12-

A to Z was an okay show that I still think could have succeeded on the right network in the right timeslot, but it’s getting harder and harder for comedies on networks, particularly on NBC, which will be down to a record low number this fall. There just wasn’t enough support or appeal to make this happen.

Marry Me

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: 13+

A series by the creator of Happy Endings starring one of the stars of Happy Endings and my beloved Ken Marino! I may have been too optimistic, about both the success and quality of the show. NBC gave it a shot, but no go. It’s a bad time to be a network sitcom.

Constantine

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 13+

Everything about this series, including when it was airing, led me to believe it was in for a short run. NBC surprisingly gave it a little more support than I anticipated, and it made it to 13 where the lack of ratings finally did it in.

State of Affairs

Prediction: 13+

Reality: 13+

 

Hey, I got something else right. I didn’t see an early cancellation with the amount of stock NBC put into this series, but I didn’t see it as a success either, and for once, I was right.

Spring:

Allegiance:

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 12-

Another easy one. Midseason shows mostly fail, which makes them generally easier to predict than fall shows, though the few breakouts that happen often come out of nowhere. This was so obviously a poor man’s The Americans rip-off that was destined to fail and did.

The Slap

Prediction: No renewal

Reality: No renewal

This was a limited series, so odds are it was never returning unless it was such a huge hit that it forced NBC’s hand to develop some sort of sequel. Still, The Slap, from just the name alone, was destined to fail, despite an impressive amount of star power in the cast.

One Big Happy

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 12-

This show looked terrible, was pretty bad, and as previously discussed, it’s hard out there being a sitcom these days. Not a difficult call, and now that Elisha Cuthbert’s back out of work, along with Marry Me’s Casey Wilson, we’re two actors closer to the Happy Endings reunion.

A.D.: The Bible Continues

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: 12-

People love the Bible, and people loved The Bible, so I suppose I overestimated that love; what counts as a hit for History Channel registers as something less on NBC. I underestimate religious fervor too often that I overestimated it this time in an attempt to compensate.

American Odyssey:

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: 13+

I have absolutely no justification for predicting this as a renewal, other than I was trying to balance out my spring forecast with another renewal or two, in spite of the fact that’s just not how spring works. While I don’t regret this pick too strongly, this is one I’d be most likely to change if I made these predictions again.

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Reviewing My 2014-15 Predictions: CBS

13 May

CBS

Well, there’s no point in making predictions if you’re not willing to revisit them later and see just how wrong you were. Now that the final decisions are in, let’s review how I did.

CBS now. My fall predictions are here and my spring predictions are here, and in short, every show gets one of three predictions: that it will air 12 episodes or fewer, 13 episodes or more, or be renewed.

Madam Secretary

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

CBS invested heavily in this series, and it was a sensible match for its adult Sunday night lineup. Combined with the fact that CBS was debuting fewer shows than any other network, backing Madam Secretary seemed like a smart bet.

Scorpion

Prediction: 13+

Reality: Renewal

Scorpion looked hackneyed to me (and it was) and while it’s the type of show that could (and did) succeed on CBS, I didn’t think it had what it took. I was wrong and that’s okay.

NCIS: New Orleans

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

NCIS remains, after all these years, one of the most successful shows on TV, and the Los Angeles spin off is quite successful as well. Taking the over on NCIS: New Orleans was definitely the safe bet and worked out as expected.

Stalker

Prediction: 13+

Reality: 13+

Stalker looked like the worst show in the CBS line up, and was, and also the one that made the least sense with existing CBS properties, being a little too horror-oriented; closest to Criminal Minds, but still not quite right.

Spring:

The Odd Couple

Prediction: 12-

Reality: Renewal

This show was terrible and it looked terrible, and I know it’s CBS, but Matthew Perry has a couple of post-Friends network failures already and this looked like an obvious continuation of that sequence. I’m still a little surprised it will be back.

Battle Creek

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: 12-

Battle Creek also looked not quite right for CBS (more Fox like, being procedural but silly, like Bones), but more on brand than Stalker, and came from a CBS-ized vision from superstar creators Vince Gilligan and David Shore. I banked on the star power carrying the show to at least one more season; I was wrong.

CSI: Cyber

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

CSIs have faded in the wake of triumphal NCISs, but each of the three editions had a very successful run, and I figured that picking a CSI led by Patricia Arquette was just another smart wager. This one was almost, almost cancelled, but just held on.

Reviewing My 2014-15 Predictions: ABC

11 May

ABC

Well, there’s no point in making predictions if you’re not willing to revisit them later and see just how wrong you were. Now that the final decisions are in, let’s review how I did.

ABC next. My fall predictions are here and my spring predictions are here, and in short, every show gets one of three predictions: that it will air 12 episodes or fewer, 13 episodes or more, or be renewed.

Forever

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 13+

Forever seemed like an instant failure to me, as a supernatural procedural starring a unpronounceable Welshman, but then it was actually decently successful and seemed on pace for renewal. Ultimately, it landed on the borderline and ABC went with a thumbs down. I’m fine with my guess here.

Black-ish

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

 

This and the following show seemed like ABC’s two buzziest and most widely promoted shows, both did very well, meeting or surpassing expectations and will be coming back.

How to Get Away With Murder

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

Like Black-ish above, except probably even more anticipated because it’s from ABC overlord Shonda Rhimes. I felt best about this renewal out of all Fall network shows.

Selfie

Prediction: 13+

Reality: 12-

This certainly seemed like a failure, and looking back I’m not sure why I thought it would even last a full season. Probably my personal fandom of John Cho and Karen Gillan helped, along with a prominent billboard near my apartment, but I should have gotten this right.

Manhattan Love Story

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 12-

This was the first cancellation of the year, which I should really pick as a special category next year. This seemed like a pretty obvious dead on arrival sitcom. One of the easier calls.

Cristela

Prediction; 12-

Reality: 13+

Buried on Friday night, next to a Tim Allen show that it seemed to have very little in common with, and starting fairly late in the fall, this seemed destined to fail. Cristela came out to surprisingly (to me, anyway) mildly positive reviews however, and did better than expected, which still wasn’t quite enough for a second season. Points for beating my expectations, though.

Spring:

Galavant:

Prediction: 12-

Reality: Renewal

Galavant is a fit with ABC’s family friendly lineup, and it’s silly fairy tale like Once Upon a Time, but seriously, a comedy musical? That seemed ill-fated for sure. I was wrong, but I don’t feel bad about this pick.

Marvel’s Agent Carter:

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

I should have mentioned this above, but in what has to be an incredible rarity if not an actual first, EVERY spring ABC show was renewed. That’s insane and incredibly unlikely and I’m still stunned. Marvel’s Agent Carter, as part of the Marvel Universe, on a network owned by the same people who own Marvel, seemed about as close to a slam dunk as there is, and though it actually ended up being a pretty close call, it made it.

Fresh Off the Boat

Prediction: 12-

Reality: Renewal

In hindsight, this seems like a perfect fit on ABC and makes total sense as a renewal. At the time, I was troubled by its time slot, away from the ABC comedies it was most similar to, and from some of the not entirely positive articles about how disenchanted Eddie Huang, on whom the show is based, had been by the process.

Secrets and Lies

Prediction: 12-

Reality: Renewal

This one still seems like a 12- to me. I can’t believe it got renewed. Before I rechecked to write this, I could have sworn it was cancelled. ABC executives must have really been feeling lucky and didn’t want this to throw off their string of successes.

American Crime

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

This was an IMPORTANT show, with a couple of noteworthy actors, and though it ended up being borderline in terms of being picked up, I erred on the side that if it was borderline, ABC would pick it up for the PRESTIGE, and I was right.

Reviewing My 2014-15 Predictions: Fox

8 May

FOX

Well, there’s no point in making predictions if you’re not willing to revisit them later and see just how wrong you were. Now that the final decisions are in, let’s review how I did.

Fox up next. My fall predictions are here and my spring predictions are here, and in short, every show gets one of three predictions: that it will air 12 episodes or fewer, 13 episodes or more, or be renewed.

Red Band Society

Prediction: 13+

Reality: 12-

This was an exact example of a show I thought would make it through one full season before not being invited back for another, but it did not get that far.

Gotham

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

Comic books are hot, and while Marvel has been killing it in the movies, the Batman brand may still be the strongest of them all. Gotham only had to not be terrible to survive, and it was just not terrible enough.

Gracepoint

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: No renewal

I really enjoyed Broadchurch, which Gracepoint was based on, and for some reason put my trust in an absolutely needless adaptation of a British show. This was always a 10-episode series, but poor ratings and being generally heralded as vastly inferior to the British version helped lead to its not being brought back.

Mulaney

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 12-

Mulaney, despite it’s eponymous creator’s obvious stand up talents, looked bad, bad, bad, and it was bad, bad, bad, and thankfully Fox’s discriminating viewers did not reward its brand of badness by watching.

Spring:

Empire

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

Fox put everything it had into Empire, leading me to feel pretty confident, and Empire rewarded Fox with the biggest network debut in recent memory.

Backstrom

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 13+

Backtrom looked generic and behind the times, hitting lots of tropes that had been hit within the last decade dozens of times before. It seemed dead on arrival, and somehow lasted long enough to air all its episodes before being cancelled, just long enough to screw over my prediction.

The Last Man on Earth

Prediction: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

The prediction I’m most proud of. There was no reason to pick this as a renewal, as most had pegged this high concept comedy as instant network cancellation bait. Against all odds, it was a mild success, and will be returning next year.

Weird Loners:

Prediction: 12-

Reality: 12-

A pretty easy prediction. This aired midway through the spring, when nothing but shows that are doomed to be quickly cancelled air, and it reeked of being a poor man’s version of eight other similar shows.

Wayward Pines

Prediction: One Season


Reality: Undetermined, but probably one season=

This really shouldn’t be on here, as I didn’t know it was going to air so late, and there probably isn’t an option for a second season either since it’s miniseries-style. However, since I listed it initially, I thought I’d put it here now, if only to address how I can’t address it.

End of Series Report: The Newsroom

15 Dec

The Newsroom

So, this is kind of a misleading post. I watched The Newsroom finale, but I’ve only seen about five episodes of the show, so this post is actually going to be about Aaron Sorkin. Please though, read on.

I watched the last episode of the Newsroom without having seen any since the first season, and while that admittedly doesn’t make me qualified to talk about the show as a whole, it adds to my body of knowledge about Aaron Sorkin, and continues to make clear what he’s good at and what he isn’t.

Hey, sports fans. You know that basketball player type, like Lance Stephenson, JR Smith, Monta Ellis and others – players who are obviously talented, but not quite talented enough at all facets of the game to be a star. Due to their innate talent, these types of player are just good enough to think they can do more than they can, and want more control of the came they should have, but the whole team suffers due to their increase workload. The kind of player who the right coach can turn into a superbly useful asset, but who, if granted too much power, could poison an entire team, simply by throwing off everyone’s role just a little bit?

Aaron Sorkin is TV’s answer to that archetype, TV’s Monta Ellis. He’s a savantishly brilliant dialogue writer; it’s easy to be jaded and sick of his style, because it’s so ripe for easy parody (Amy Schumer and Seth Meyers have put out exact recent parodies), and sometimes it seems a parody of itself, but if you can, as I try occasionally to, sit back and watch a scene, without looking out every second for one of the many Aaron Sorkin tropes, it’s damn good. When it’s on, it’s quick, sharp, clever, and biting. The problem, unfortunately, is that on TV, Sorkin keeps being hired not simply to write dialogue, but to write an entire show, and this, instead of playing to his strengths, tends to highlight his weaknesses instead; he can write great dialogue, but he rarely writes great stories.

I left in the first season for several reasons. The show’s famed women problem was real; female characters were portrayed in strangely regressive ways, with Alison Pill’s Maggie the poster child for Sorkin women, as clumby, fumbling, and always screwing up certain tasks that are for men. In another show, Maggie might just come off as a bad example, but in The Newsroom’s world she feels emblematic of Sorkin’s difficulty writing women characters the same way he writes males. To be fair, it was also part of a greater character problem; most were uninteresting at best, and grating at worst. Sorkin’s infatuation with love triangles and lingering sexual tension between two people who will incredibly obviously get together is a trope that has been overused and overused and felt forced, primarily with the Don, Maggie, and Jim first season triangle, but also with the fact that from day 1, it was inevitable that MacKenzie and Will would end up together. The single biggest irritant to me, which showed up constantly in the few episodes I saw (and again in the finale), was the self-righteous, smug attitude of The Newsroom characters, who believe their way is the right way, and everyone else’s is wrong;  even when I agree with them, I root against them because of the way they go about it. In the paraphrased words of The Dude, they’re not wrong (well, they are often, but), they’re just assholes.

The dialogue which I just raved about can be occasionally insufferable; people talk too much, too fast, and sometimes I just want to scream “slow down and take a breath.” Still, as someone who has tried to write dialogue on occasion, I have great respect for it even when I want them to slow down – it’s an art form, and when they’re saying dumb things, it’s usually a macro problem and not a micro one.

Aaron Sorkin has a signature style (the walk-and-talk, the repeated lines, the big, passionate speeches, etc.), and the parodies are earned not just because it’s easy to mock but because people like the style for a reason. There’s a little movie called The Social Network that shows the power of a harnessed Aaron Sorkin. When he’s not someone responsible for the entire narrative and characters of a series, but rather is someone who writes a script for a confident A-list directory like David Fincher who knows exactly what he wants and won’t accept anything else. When he’s someone who knows what the story is supposed to be, what the scenes are supposed to convey, and simply needs to get from point A to point B. Under those conditions, Sorkin kills. He just needs to be under those conditions more often.

Fall 2014 Review: Play It Again Dick

1 Dec

Play It Again Dick

I’ll expound further on this below, but for those with short attention spans, let me save you some time. If you love Veronica Mars, watch the short attention span-friendly webisode series Play It Again, Dick. It’ll take between and hour and an hour and a half of your day and you’ll be glad you did.

Now here’s some more info for those who haven’t gone over to the CW’s website and started watching yet (yes, that’s the best way to watch, and it’s surprisingly decent enough to use).

Play It Again, Dick is a web series created by Veornica Mars scribe Rob Thomas. In it, Ryan Hansen (Dick from Veronica Mars), playing an exaggerating version of himself, makes an ultra-cheap pilot for a Veronica Mars spinoff starring Dick, in which Dick is a detective solving crimes, which should seem as ridiculous as it is to any Veronica Mars fan well-familiar with Dick’s character. He, following up on the suggestion of a CW executive, attempts to gather together many of his old VM cohorts together to shoot scenes for the pilot. The whole serious is shown as if it were the making-of documentary Ryan is shooting for his pilot; we see the cameramen in several of the episodes.

Everyone plays exaggerated versions of themselves (except for Kristen Bell, who seems surprisngly normal in the context of the show, but as the first guest star to show up she helps ween us into this world). Ryan Hansen is an only slightly toned-down version of Dick, who believes he’s far more competent than he is and that everyone loves the character Dick as much as he does. His unbridled enthusiasm is so infectious that it makes you want his pilot to succeed no matter what an incredibly stupid idea it is. Many other characters get a couple of scenes to shine – Enrico Colantoni (Keith) is willing to help if Ryan puts a strange box with undisclosed contents under Tom Hanks’ bed, Pergy Daggs III (Wallace) is a serious gangster type doing his best Marsellus Wallace impression, and Francis Capra (Weevil) is a capital A actor who feels like his Shakespearean talents were underserved by Thomas in Veronica Mars.

It’s well-executed, with a lot of the charm of Veronica Mars, except skewed far more towards the funny, without any of the drama and action. The actors are all game, willing to mock themselves and each other, and it’s laugh out loud funny, more so towards the later episodes, as you see scenes from the pilot itself, which may be the most hilarious scenes in the show.  I laughed, I smiled, and I was just happy to see all of my favorite actors back on screen together having fun. Something like this could easily have been very awkward and hard to watch, British-comedy style – Ryan is such an idiot, and several of the others are over the top caricatures with utter social obliviousness, but because it’s so ridiculous, it never goes on too long, and we know that everyone is in on it and having a good time and enjoys being part of the Mars universe, it’s never difficult.

Rob Thomas has a Joss Whedon-level pass guaranteeing I will give anything he is prominently involved in more of a chance than I would any old show as the man behind Party Down and Veronica Mars, two of my favorite shows of all time. He doesn’t let down here. This is for the hard core Veronica Mars fans, the Marshmellows, and  I think anyone who loves the show will at the least enjoy Play It Again, Dick.

Will I watch it again? Yes. It’s about an hour and a half total. I’ve already watched all of it. It’s short. It’s funny. It gets you reunited with all of your friends from Veronica Mars. What’s not to like? The answer is nothing. There is nothing not to like.

Fall 2014 Review: State of Affairs

17 Nov

State of Affairs - Season Pilot

Is it reasonable to say that something is a cross between Homeland and Madam Secretary after having only seen one episode of Madam Secretary? Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t, but I’m saying it. Perhaps more simply and clearly, it’s just a network TV version of Homeland – the Madam Secretary simply refers to the broadcast-appropriate national security cases-of-the-week that the main character discusses with the president. Otherwise, Katherine Heigl’s Charleston Tucker is the Carrie Mathison analogue. Let me count the ways.

Charleston starts the episode in her psychologist’s office. She’s dealing with a tragic personal traumatic event that happened deep within the middle east. Her fiancé (who turns out to also be the president’s son; that’s different, I suppose) died in Kabul at the hands of most-wanted terrorist Omar Abdul Fatah, the Abu Nazir of State of Affairs. There’s also more than meets to the eye to that integral event; Charleston wasn’t warned of a traitor, but she has gaps in her memory and has secret information about the events that only one other person knows that could implicate her personally and ruin her career. An unidentified person texts her throughout the episode, aluding to knowing details about the terrorist attack which she does not.

In order get over these tragic events, she works hard and she plays hard. She’s promiscuous (I’m not judging her by any means, but her psychologist does) and she drinks a lot. She’s a high ranking CIA official; unlike Carrie she has direct contact with the president. She’s very sensitive when people accuse of her letting her personal life of getting in the way of her professional decision making. She’s a rogue; she gets in trouble with her bosses, and bucks them, even if it means getting suspended, which happens in the first twenty minutes of the first episode. She has friends and colleagues who believe in her, respect her, and trust her with their careers – she uses these connections in the pilot to work her way out of her suspension, prove that she’s right, and embarrass the CIA director, her direct higher up.

So, yes. She’s pretty much Carrie in most of the ways that count. How is she different? She’s not actually crazy, it doesn’t seem like, though she may have some PTSD or survivor’s remorse. She was engaged to the president’s son and thus has the president’s implicit trust, which is probably more than Carrie had, leverage-wise. But that’s about it.

Of course, the show isn’t as hardboiled or hardcore as Homeland in any number of ways – it’s on NBC and not on Showtime. There’s probably going to be much more of a case per week to go along with the running plot to catch Fatah and figure out what happened the night her fiancé was killed (In this episode, Tucker makes some unpopular calls but ends up saving an American doctor taken hostage).

Being a Homeland rip off  isn’t exactly something you want to wear on your sleve these days, but Homeland did have a truly all-time rookie season (the Mark Fidrych of TV shows? I’m still working on it), which can be hard to remember I know. Still, Homeland’s pilot, Carrie’s character even aside, was a lot more intriguing and well-executed than State of Affairs. After that, State of Affairs feels like an extremely neutered, generizied version, that’s only one step away from a typical CBS police procedural. That’s not the worst thing in the world to be, but it’s not particularly close to engendering repeat viewing either. I’m not sure if NBC thinks it’s being at all daring with State of Affairs, but it isn’t. Madam Secretary, which, to be fair, I’m not watching either, screams broadcast show and knows what it is even if that has a lower ceiling than most better cable shows. State of Affairs seems to want to fly closer to what airs on premium cable these days, but never anywhere close enough to make you actually believe it could.

Will I watch it again? No. While not State of Affairs’ fault, anything which reminds me in any way of Homeland right now is pretty poisonous. Homeland, as mentioned above, had one of the all-time great first seasons, and then went downhill from there, and a Carrie analogue is the last new character I want to see. Charleston probably won’t be as unwatchable as Carrie gets,  (seriously, who can be?) which is absolutely worth noting, but the start of State of Affairs is also a lot less intriguing than the pilot of Homeland was all around.