Tag Archives: CBS

Fall 2015 Review: Life in Pieces

23 Sep

Life in Pieces

Modern Family may be slowly losing its luster, losing the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series for the first time since its debut six years ago, but it’s still one of the best and most important network success stories of the last decade, particularly in comedy where networks have had much more trouble than in dramas. Understandably, other network shows have tried to pick up on Modern Family’s magic, trying to cop whatever makes Modern Family so successful – the format, the family, the tone, the themes, or anything else they take a stab at. Few, however, work to replicate the formula as wholeheartedly as Life in Pieces.

Life in Pieces involves a wacky, modern family, spanning three generations, in single-camera laugh track-less style, much like Modern Family. Life in Pieces is premised on a story-telling gimmick not in place in Modern Family, but the gimmick doesn’t really prevent it from being much different. Rather than cross-cutting multiple plotlines like most shows do (except for, on an entirely unrelated note, HBO’s Oz), Life in Pieces tells its stories one after the other, story A in full, then B, and so forth. Ultimately though the result is pretty much the same as it would be otherwise, merely with parts of the show moved around slightly.

Here are the characters. In the pilot, the first story is about single Matt (Thomas Sadoski, or Don from The Newsroom) , who is on a date with his co-worker Colleen. The two are attempting to have sex, but reach awkwardness both at her place, where her ex-fiancé (Jordan Peele) still lives, and his, where his parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) whose house it presumably is, are home early from a bar mitzvah. Next, married couple Greg and Jen (Colin Hanks and Zoe Lister-Jones or Fawn Moscato from New Girl) welcome their first child into the world.  Jen freaks out over the damage to her vagina and Greg tries to help. Third, Tim and Heather (Veep senator Dan Bakkedahl and Breaking Bad’s Marie Betsy Brandt) arrive at a college visit with their oldest son Tyler, and their younger kids Samantha and Sophia, where all the kids grow up. Samantha gets her first period and Sophia learns there’s no Santa or Easter Bunny. The final story involves parents John and Joan, at John’s funeral-themed 70th birthday, where their children Matt, Greg, and Heather sit with their families watching as the party implodes and the family yells at each other before having a warm, coming together moment.

Life in Pieces provides the same update and twist to traditional family comedy that Modern Family offers. The families are bigger; there are more characters and more plots than old school family sitcoms, because shows move faster these days, and the lack of long laugh track pauses provides significantly more show time. The tone attempts to be very modern – frank talk about sex and the damage that pregnancy does to vaginas plays  prominent role for example. At the end, there’s some narration, and though the family doesn’t out and out learn something, there’s an attempt to tie up all the plots into some trite and meaningless heartwarming pro-family everyone loves each other message.

There’s of course a problem here. The show isn’t funny. It’s not cringeworthy, and like Modern Family, it’s a lot better than a lot of what came before, and quite a bit of what hs come since. It’s largely inoffensive and just as importantly, non-offensive, unlike so many other successful but terrible comedies. It could even be called cute on occasion. Unfortunately, it’s just not very funny and there’s not really a lot else besides heartwarming bromides to justify any continued viewing.

Will I watch it again? No. It’s a cute attempt in some aspects. It’s not awful and like Modern Family, there are some admirable aspects. But it’s not funny and it’s not one of those shows that offers enough that make you watch it even though it’s not funny. Sorry.

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Fall 2015 Previews and Predictions: CBS

7 Sep

CBS

(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall (edit: spring, now) television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (spring, again)(reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

  1. Renewal – show gets renewed
  2. 13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed
  3. 12- – the show is cancelled before 13

Additional note: Since more and more series on network TV are following cable models with set orders for shorter seasons, and mid-season replacements tend to have shorter seasons in particular, I’ll note any planned limited runs in my prediction section for each show)

Life in Pieces – 9/21

Life in Pieces

CBS takes a shot at the ABC-style comedy in Life in Pieces. It’s a s single camera comedy about a huge family who gets into wacky spats but mostly loves each other, the whole Modern Family playbook. A surprising amount of well-known actors participate including James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, Colin Hanks, and Betsy Brandt.

Prediction: 13+ – I just don’t see it. If this was on ABC, it would be a fit; I’m not sure it is on CBS, and as I have noted and will continue to as I write these, network comedies are, at least currently, an endangered breed.

Limitless – 9/22

Limitless

Based on the movie, the Limitless TV show lives in the same world, where the protagonist, a frustrated layabout gets access to pills that make him a super genius. Bradley Cooper is game enough to guest star as his character from the movie who sees potential in the protagonist and helps support him.

Prediction: Renewal – the movie was sneakily successful and having Bradley Cooper even just occasionally can’t hurt – I don’t feel confident in this pick but some things have to get renewed

Code Black – 9/30

Code Black

Code Black is yet another medical show. I’m not sure what the hook is other than it’s an ER and you know, there are so many patients and not enough doctors to go around, and shit gets real. Marcia Gay Harden stars as the primary ER doctor who presumably plays by her own rules.

Prediction: 12- This has instant failure written all over it. As generic as it gets.

Supergirl – 11/2

Supergirl

A female is sent from Superman’s planet to help the humans out. Supergirl learns to get along in the world, how to save people and be herself. This feels a lot like Arrow and Flash on CW and seems like it would have been a more natural fit there than CBS.

Prediction: Renewal – Comics are still gold these days, and while we will reach an oversaturation point, until we get there I’m not going to make any bold guesses

Angel from Hell – 11/5

Angel from Hell

Maggie Lawson is going through some sort of third-life crisis, still reeling from the death of her mom. Jane Lynch claims to be her guardian angel and endeavors to help Lawson navigate life and love.

Prediction: 12- Who is the audience for this? I don’t see it.

 

Spring 2015 Review: CSI: Cyber

30 Mar

CSI: Cyber

Police must love cop shows. Nothing glamorizes the institution more than detectives and officers fighting the good fight, always cracking the case, and locking the bad guys up for good. While this applies to almost every cop show on TV (there are of course exceptions, like The Shield), no show makes cops look better than editions of CSI. There are none of the classic cop struggles here. No alcoholics or cops who struggle balancing the family and work lives or copious amounts of red tape or cops negatively affected by prior cases. There are just ultra, ultra-competent cops who can do everything, from computers, to hand-to-hand combat, to interrogations, and do it impressively, staying well within the law all the time (no questionable go-too-far tactics here) and always in time to save the day.

CSIs are also a little silly by cop show standards, played completely straight within the shows, but in a way that makes me think the creators don’t take them all too seriously. Partly because of this, as much as they’ve been the butts of jokes over the years, I have a hard time actually hating them. They’re just so ludicrous. CSI: Cyber stars the FBI’s Cyber division, responsible for investigating any cyber crimes (which seem to be anything which involves programming or electronics, or, well, it’s hard to tell). The team is made up of Avery (Patricia Arquette), the leader, a behavioral psychologist, Elijah (James Van Der Beek), her second in command, a military type, Daniel, a super elite hacker, Raven, a woman who doesn’t do anything in the first episode so I don’t really know what her deal is, and Brody, a new one-time criminal hacker on a Mod Squad type program to either help the FBI and become one of them, or rot in prison. 

The case in the pilot is a series of baby abductions, which leads to the discovery that an organized crime ring has been orchestrating these kidnappings and auctioning off babies. The Cyber connection is that the criminals chose and cased the babies through a software weakness in baby security cameras owned by the victims’ parents.

Arquette and Van Der Beek are everywhere during the episode, and doing everywhere. They take over from local cops, work the home, convince a reluctant kid to give evidence, find the first lead in a warehouse, arrest a couple of lackeys who were then assassinated, shoot their assassin who was getting away on a motorcycle, and raid the warehouse where the real bad guys were at. Van Der Beek even literally saves a drowning baby towards the end of the episode, and Arquette performs CPR to bring the baby back to life.

There’s lots of silly cyber stuff, though to be honest less than I’d hoped. The Cyber division office contains a ludicrous amount of screens, kind of like one of those CNN Electoral War rooms. The show presents us with a few two-color black-and-green cyber-reconstructions of very computer-related events and the hackers talk a little bit of code (uberhacker Daniel berates a baby cam company IT guy for problems with their programming), but there’s far less technobabble than I was hoping for.

Calling CSI: Cyber a bad show is not so much right or wrong as it is beyond the point. It’s a very silly show. It’s professionally done, as CSI’s are. You get a case, it gets cracked little by little, until it’s all wrapped up at the end of the episode, and everyone goes to get a beer except for our fearless leader, Arquette, who goes off to think. And yes, before I forget, it turns out that Arquette got into this business because her professional records as a psychologist were hacked, leading to a patient’s murder, and yes, she still hasn’t yet found the hacker, but rest assured, should the show continue she will. CSI’s full of crime procedural cliché catnip like that.

Anyone familiar with CSI, and that should be, at this point, just about anyone familiar with television, knows exactly what this is. There are no surprises. If you’re the type of person who likes CSIs, you might like it, and you might not, and if you’re not, then there’s really no point watching, and there’s really no way you’re considering watching it anyway. There’s nothing to see here.

Will I watch it again? No. There’s no need to. I don’t mind watching these pilots so much, and they’re over-the-top which in doses is entertaining rather than bothersome, exceptionally compared to some of the worst pilots which can really be a slog to get through. Still, there’s no reason I ever need to see another episode.

Spring 2015 Review: The Odd Couple

9 Mar

The Odd Couple

You know the story of The Odd Couple. There’s a slob, there’s an uptight neat freak, they’re friends, they live together, and though they can’t stand each other often, they somehow recognize that they could each use a bit of what the other has to offer. Both are recently divorced. Oscar is a mess and helps Felix loosen up, while Felix helps Oscar get his life together. Oh, and there’s that theme song. You’ve probably heard it before.

Last year, I described the very forgotten Sean Hayes sitcom Sean Saves the World as a Sitcom, with an emphasis on the capital S. What I meant is that it seemed to pride itself on ignoring any changes in the world of TV comedy that have occurred over the past decade and instead doubled down on being as old-fashioned and classic as possible, not just in content but in form and look. The Sitcom works  this way not just because it thinks this is the best and funniest way to tell its story, though it might well, but also because it’s a statement of belief in what a sitcom should be. As someone who has lauded the direction comedy has gone in the past ten years, I’m generally not a big fan of Sitcoms.

The Odd Couple is another Sitcom. To someone who has now moved on past the generational divide of sitcoms, to The Office and Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock and others, The Odd Couple is nearly unwatchable. The laughs and the laugh tracks are loud. There’s so much laugh track, and I won’t expound further on just how much I absolutely despise laugh tracks but my opinion remains as true as ever. The laugh track is obtrusive and sets the tone. A laugh track is an essential part of a Sitcom .

The two primary stars talk in minor insults to one another and there are what feels like 30 seconds between each line, each of which is an attempt at big joke. These long spaces give the audience a chance to process, realize that it was a joke (thanks, laugh track!) and laugh as much as they need to before the show can move forward. The characters are ridiculous exaggerations, and not in a good way, particularly Thomas Lennon’s Felix, who is so uptight and anal that it makes the show difficult to watch at times without any of the hilarious payoff of a good awkward British sitcom. That’s still giving enough credit to what an insane weirdo they make him.  It’s too much by several times; way beyond merely being uptight and sensitive. The Odd Couple is just too much of everything. There’s a handful of Oscar’s friends who show up and make jokes about their wives, and how much they can’t do cool man sports things because of them. Hey-O! You don’t get more TV regressive than that.

There’s no subtlety. There’s no banter, because you can’t have banter when you have to wait this long between any levels. It’s nothing but big broad obvious humor that isn’t funny at all.

Will I watch it again? No. Never. It was pretty painful to get through.

Spring 2015 Review: Battle Creek

6 Mar

Battle Creek

Battle Creek is a cop drama which is the joint product of two heavyweight television creators – David Shore, who was behind House, and Vince Gilligan who created Breaking Bad and co-created its spin-off Better Call Saul. And for all that talent, what Battle Creek amounts to is, well, nothing.

Here’s the set up. Dean Winters plays a big detective fish in a small pond, the king of the chronically underfunded Battle Creek police department. Battle Creek, a mid-sized town, seems to have a disproportionate amount of crime, and its cops are strapped by their lack of resources – in the a bust in the opening scene of the show, both their recording equipment and tasers don’t work. The FBI swoops in for the rescue in the form of the preternaturally perfect Josh Duhamel. The golden child, he’s good-looking, great at just about everything, and brings a winning attitude along with access to forensics and proper equipment that the department desperately needs. Everyone else at the department is overwhelmed and excited by Duhamel personally and the resources he brings but Winters is struck by jealousy and a nagging obsession that there has to be something wrong with Duhamel for him to be sent to Battle Creek. Who is this outsider, he wants to know, why is he so friendly and consistently unfazed, and why is he getting all the credit for what they could have been doing with proper resources.

Of course, they’re partnered up and banter back and forth, Duhamel relentless upbeat, Winters the constant cynic, with their contrasting approaches making them a formidable team.

Battle Creek is not a particularly serious police procedural. It’s light, and makes active attempts at humor. It’s really not far off from an USA procedural, and much closer to USA or Fox than to the rest of the CBS procedural family. Nothing is all that serious. It’s purposefully silly and humor is mined from just how strapped the Battle Creek department is versus how flush Duhamel and the FBI are.

There’s really not even a lot to say about it. There’s just nothing to it. It was watchable, but eminently forgettable. Everything is competent enough but no more. There’s simply no hook to keep a viewer interested in coming back week-to-week. Battle Creek doesn’t appear to have been crafted with the kind of care one would expect of Shore or Gilligan. There’s no ambition. It’s the same problem that often haunts USA shows, but it doesn’t have the sense of fun or style that propels the better USA shows, though it’s certainly going for it.

Will I watch it again? No. There’s really no need to. Battle Creek came in and out with a whimper.

Spring 2015 Previews and Predictions: CBS

16 Feb

CBS

(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall (edit: spring, now) television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (spring, again)(reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

  1. Renewal – show gets renewed
  2. 13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed
  3. 12- – the show is cancelled before 13

Additional note: Since more and more series on network TV are following cable models with set orders for shorter seasons, and mid-season replacements tend to have shorter seasons in particular, I’ll note any planned limited runs in my prediction section for each show)

Only three new shows for CBS, since they just don’t have as many spots to fill in their schedule. One comedy remake, one drama spin off, and one drama from two highly esteemed TV minds.

The Odd Couple – 2/19/15

The Odd Couple

I watched the preview, but as happens with a few new shows every year, I didn’t really need to. Of course, this is particularly obvious here, because The Odd Couple’s two primary characters have been in the pop culture conscience for half a century now; the current show is a remake of a tv show of a movie of a play. It features the pretty standard time-tested tropes of the obsessive-compulsive neat freak (Felix Unger, played here by Thomas Lennon) and the easy-going slob (Oscar Madison, played here by Matthew Perry). They’re opposites, so they constantly put each other in awkward situations, but they’re also friends at the end of the day! You know how it goes. Who was actively calling for an Odd Couple reboot, I haven’t the faintest idea.

Prediction: 13- Matthew Perry is developing an impressive reputation as a show-killer since Friends (Studio 60, Go On, Mr. Sunshine) and I sure wouldn’t want this show to end the streak.

Battle Creek – 3/1/15

Battle Creek

Battle Creek is a procedural that seems like maybe, just maybe, it could be better than your average CBS procedural. It’s co-created by heavyweights Vince Gilligan and David Shore, and while this is not going to be Breaking Bad, the fact that names like those are attached still carries some weight. Josh Duhamel stars as a perfect, handsome FBI agent who comes to assist the underfunded police in the town of Battle Creek, Michigan. Dean Winters plays the gruff top dog whose position is in danger when golden boy Duhamel comes to town. I wouldn’t necessarily bet on it being good, but it might not be awful, which already puts it above most CBS pilots.

Prediction: Renewal – it’s on the right network, and it’s got the pedigree. Every stroke CBS makes these days still seems to work out. I really want to dock it for the tagline “You Can’t Fight Crime without Going to Battle” but I just can’t.

CSI: Cyber – 3/4/15

CSI: Cyber

You know the brand. It’s been almost 15 years since the original’s debut and it’s long past time to bring on the fourth show in the CSI universe. “I’m a Cyber Cop” is a real line Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette utters in the trailer. Later she utters, “You work dark alleys. I work the dark net.” The Who plays. There is a self-acknowledged silliness to CSI; to its credit I don’t believe takes itself all too seriously. Still, I’m almost certainly never going to watch this show again after the debut until it starts showing in syndication at weird hours on weird networks.

Prediction: Renewal – Granted, NCIS is the new, currently more popular CSI, but still the shortest-tenured member of the CSI franchise, CSI: New York, lasted nine seasons. I’m not ready to bet against Cyber lasting two.

Fall 2014 Review: The McCarthys

3 Nov

Three of the McCarthys

Years ago dysfunctional families were in on sitcoms in a big way – families that didn’t quite work, that, while they maybe didn’t actually hate each, maybe they did. Married with Children was one of the forefathers of this genre, but Family Guy and Arrested Development are two other prominent examples. These ran counter to the essentially functional standard sitcom families of time immemorial that fought amongst themselves but within reason. Modern Family, though, and its success turned this dysfunctional genre on its head – combining the disorder of dysfunctional families – with genuine love and affection of the nuclear families which ruled the ’90s and made this the a popular option for modern family sitcoms.

The McCarthys feeds right into this legacy. They’re a family of blue-collar Bostonians, who love their sports and their hard-core Boston accents, but also love one another. There’s the parents and four adult kids, three boys and a girl. Protagonist and good son Ronny is gay, which in another generation would lead to grumpy reluctance veering towards acceptance at best. But this is a post-Modern Family family, so the blue-collar family doesn’t quite get what being gay entails, but they embrace it nevertheless, wholeheartedly, trying their best, though accidentally overcompensation along the way

The premise features the Ronny potentially moving away, all the way to Providence to take a new job. His parents freak out, wanting him to be happy, but, especially his mother, who is closer to Ronny than her other children (shared love of The Good Wife), doesn’t want him to leave. Eventually, his father, a high school basketball coach, convinces Ronny to take a job as his assistant, even though he knows almost nothing about basketball, partly to spend more time with him, and partly because Ronny will help him get a major recruit whose mom is gay.

The feaux modernity behind The McCarthys makes it’s a CBS comedy. The gay main character is a new-ish concept, as is the obvious acceptance by the type of family who twenty years ago might not have taken the news so well. The family is wacky and inappropriate. The clichéd jokes, the overbearing family, the regionalness, the big, broad punch lines, and the laugh track are as old as the first sitcoms.

It’s not quite Partners/Men at Work/We are Men level bad; mostly because it’s not actively patently offensive (backhanded compliment, maybe?). It’s not good though, it’s not funny, it’s not well-written and there’s just about no reason to watch. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that, but there it is.

Will I watch it again? No. It was a CBS sitcom, so there was honestly little chance to begin with. But while the best compliment I can muster is that it’s not out and out offenisve, there’s absolutely no reason to watch this show for pretty much anyone. It will probably be gone not too long after it debuts and forgotten by almost anyone who had ever heard of it to begin with.