Tag Archives: CBS

Fall 2014 Review: Scorpion

26 Sep

Scorpion

My friend Victor a few years back coined the term “nerdface,” referring to several modern television shows and movies, but primarily to the far and away most successful and notable example of the phenmoenon, The Big Bang Theory. Nerdface is a superfacial showcasing of nerdom – showing nerds as stereotypical, extreme archetypes who are brilliant book-learners but totally non-functional socially. They love Star Trek, they can’t talk to women, and they generally simply can’t interact with regular non-nerd people in any way. Are there people who legitimately have trouble with social intereaction for any number of reasons? For sure. But these nerdface examples aren’t nuanced, complex, character portraits. They are instead reductive displays of character tropes everyone knows and instantly recognizes played for broad laughs. I could, and should, write an entry on how perplexing and frustrating it is that The Big Bang Theory is far and away the most popular comedy on TV, and hopefully someday I will, but this is certainly one of the reasons.

Scorpion brings nerdface to the police procedural genre. Scorpion is essentially some mash up of The Big Bang Theory and The A-Team (or the far less well-known Breakout Kings).  Scorbian features nerds who form a superteam solving especially difficult cases each week using a combination of the distinct super skills that each of them possesses (Yes, neither comparison is perfect – The A-Team is not affiliated with the government and Breakout Kings are former criminals, but work with me here). We see the four primary geniuses working together early in the episode, trying to start a profitabile company on their own, but their personal issues are holding them back in spite of their brilliance. There’s Walter, who’s a super genius and functions as the group’s leader and the closest they have to someone who can deal with the outside world. There’s Toby, a brilliant behaviorist who has an amazing ability to read people. There’s Sylvester, who is the nerdiest of the nerds and whose area of specialty is statistics. Rounding out the team is the one female member, Happy, an expert mechanical engineer. The four are recruited by federal agent Gallo in the premiere to solve a crisis, after which he recruits them full time, an outcome which Walter claims to have anticipated from the outset. Gallo continues to play the role of their government handler. The last member of the cast is Paige, an ordinary waitress whose child Walter recognizes as a prodigy. Walter recruits her to be their normie, helping these nerds interact socially with regular folk, while also helping her raise her genius son.

This is also a matter for a seperate post, but I generally ascribe responsibility for gender and racial diversity to networks rather than individual shows; TV networks should be responsible for fielding more diverse shows, but individual shows shouldn’t always be responsible for being more diverse, depending, of course, on the circumstances and context of the individual show. That said it’s disappointing and not particularly surprising that the four nerds are three male to one female, and all the characters but one are white. That’s certainly not a big enough factor that I would choose to watch or not watch a show becuase of, but just another example of what’s par for the course on television, and especially network television.

Every week there will be a new crisis and every week the team of super nerds will be there to solve it. Intrinsically I understand the appeal of the super team, but the nerdface in particular rubs me the wrong besides the show just having absolutely nothing else which would make it stick out from the pack of CBS procedurals.

Will I watch it again? No. I don’t hate procedurals as a rule; while I don’t watch any outside of the original Law & Order (my love of that show is a topic for a post in itself) with any regularity, in general, the genre has a fairly high floor and low ceiling. Of CBS’s newbies this season though, I’d take NCIS: New Orleans over Scorpion.

Fall 2014 Review: NCIS: New Orleans

24 Sep

NCIS: New Orleans

Most shows are fairly easy to peg both quality and content wise after watching the previews and reading even just a small amount of information about the cast, creators, and premise. Sometimes they’re a little different than you think, sometimes they’re a little better or worse than what you’d guess, but mostly within a certain range of initial expectations. The really noteworthy exceptions are those that differ greatly. There’s also a place, though, for shows that don’t differ even in the slightest – that are exactly, on the nose, what you’d imagine: the most predictable shows on TV. No show this season is more predictable than NCIS: New Orleans.

Of course, a large part of the reason NCIS: New Orleans is so predictable is that it’s the third edition of an extremely popular franchise whose formula is well-established. While I still find it hard to believe there are this many naval-related murders each year, the NCIS crew is a likeable team which takes on and solves a new one every week. The only difference in this edition is a little cajun flair.

Television veteran Scott Bakula heads this team of NCIS special agents. He’s a veteran investigator respected both by his underlings and the community at large and he leads in a calm and casual but authoratative and confident fashion. He’s similar to Mark Harmon’s Leroy Gibbs, who is, in the show’s backstory, reputed to be a long time friend of Bakula’s Dwayne Cassius “King” Pride. Bakula’s charges are Christopher, a native Alabaman, and Merri, a transfer from the midwest, whose unfamiliarity with Louisiana gives the show a chance for some exposition on the nature of working in New Orleans and what makes it such a special place. Rounding out the cast is another longtime veteran of the small screen, CCH Pounder as medical examiner Dr. Loretta Wade.

The first case of the series is naturally one with a personal connection to King (Pride? I’m not sure what he goes by most often yet – I’ll just use Bakula from now on). A member of the navy who Baukla had mentored personally, taking him in from the wrong side of the tracks and getting to see him turn his life around, ended up dead. While the initially investigation pointed in the direction of the victim turning away from his naval training and back to his unsavory gang roots, Bakula has trouble believing it and insists on digging deeper.

The three agents work the case, throwing in little tidbits about the city they live and work in here and there as they go – where Merri should live, and what the neighborhood she chooses will say about her is discussed along with native food and drink. Eventually, they figure out and nail the culprit. They also find a tenuous connection between the murderer and a possibly corrupct city councilman played by white-collar actor extraordinaire Steven Weber, who looks like he might be the big bad in a series that I didn’t think had big bads.

Bakula knows what he’s doing, and CBS continues to make smart calls in putting TV veterans atop their procedural spin-offs. Their goal isn’t to make breakthroughs or anything brand new or interesting, they merely want a level of competence and professional acting which cast members like Bakula will deliver day in and day out. There’s nothing special about NCIS: New Orleans. It’s not a top notch procedural, nor is it really a bad one; it just is. Really, if you have even the vaguest familiarity with the franchise, you really didn’t need to read this review to learn anything about the show. It’s a mediocre procedural that will surely satisfy those who like that sort of thing, and be of just about no interest to most others.

Will I watch it again? No. I love Scott Bakula, but not nearly enough to watch NCIS. That said, there are worse shows for my dad to be watching every week.

Fall 2014 Previews and Predictions: CBS

10 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 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 (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)

CBS next. Four shows, all dramas, as all comedies not titled after universe-starting events on CBS and really all of network TV are struggling relative to hour long series. One spin-off of a long-running and fabulously successful procedural, one Criminal Minds-type brutal murder procedural, one procedural about a group of genius misfits, and one Good Wife-like adult political drama. Let’s get to work.

Madame Secretary – 9/21

Madam Secretary

Tea Leoni plays a former CIA higher up, out of the game and working a low stress job teaching a university, recruited to be Secretary of State by the president, her former boss at the agency, when the previous Secretary dies in a plane crash. She’s an original thinker. Actually more than that, as the trailer makes clear in one of my favorite trailer lines in recent history – she doesn’t merely think outside of the box, she doesn’t even know there is a box! She struggles to make her mark in the administration as the new face, battling a hostile staff, a hostile chief of staff, and a conspiracy which may have resulted in the death of the prior secretary and may go all the way at least near the top. It’s all very adult; think The Good Wife mixed with an ounce of Scandal.

Prediction: Renewal – This seems like a smart bet for CBS in the adult vein of The Good Wife, which has succeeded on the back of critical successs and just enough commercial success, and aired on the same day. I’m not sure it will be good, but I doubt it will be awful, and I think it’s a safe play, targeted at higher income viewers on a snug Sunday night spot.

Scorpion – 9/22

Scorpion

A group of super genius nerds who are crazy brillaint but struggle to relate to normal humans on a social and emtional level are recruited by the government to help solve different problems and diffuse difficult situations. Useless by themselves, they’re rediscovered by an old aquaintance of our main character, who puts them to work. They’re also joined by a normie, a waitress, whose young son is a future genius, to help them deal with regular people in social situations. It makes sense on CBS  as a variety of the superteam type shows where everyone has a specialty, except in this case, all the specialties are nerrdy, but with cool uses – think A-team or the more recent Leverage meets The Big Bang Theory.

Prediction: 13+ I’m not sold by any means on its success, but it hardly seems like an obvious bomb, and I think with only four shows and a largely settled line up CBS will be willing to give its new shows a decent amount of leeway. There’s nothing about Scorpion that screams disaster, and I could honestly see it going any way, so I’ll take the middle path.

NCIS: New Orleans – 9/23

NCIS: New Orleans

Same story, new city. Legendary TV actor Scott Bakula is at the helm, manning the Mark Harmon role. CCH Pounder and Lucas Black co-star. There will be no surprises here; you know exactly what you’re going to be getting. One case a week, covering the remarkable number of navy-related murders in the Crescent City, which seems an obvious place to set a procedural, as it makes up for its lack of size compared to some of the bigger US cities with an abundance of ambience and terrible accents.

Prediction: Renewal – Could it fail? Absolutely. Might America be sick of the NCIS franchise? Perhaps. Still, it would be folly to bet against the current king of the CBS procedural franchise family. The original remains shockingly strong after so many years and NCIS: LA is successful as well.

Stalker – 10/1

Stalker

 

Stalker is advertised next to Criminal Minds and for good raeson; the show seems to feast on the same kind of psychotic, sociopathic, insane murders which Criminal Minds does. The difference is simply that while they’re wanted serial killers in Criminal Minds, they’re, well, stalkers, in Stalker. Maggie Q heads a division in Los Angeles which tracks and aprehends stalkers and she pairs with doesn’t-get-along-with-others cop Dylan McDermott, fresh from New York, and looking to cleanse himself of some personal and professional demonds while still being a little bit of a pain in the ass. These stalkers are not the well-motivated villains of the CSI and NCIS franchises but rather true crazy persons who are to be extra feared and require a special division to stop. Oh, and Maggie Q knows this better than anyway, because it seems like from the trailer she was once stalked herself.

Prediction: 13+ I have the least faith in this show of the CBS debuts; if push was to come to shove, I would take Scorpion above it. Still, I’m betting that McDermott’s TV power and the fact that, as mentioned in my Scorpion prediction, CBS has just four shows, on it making it at least past midseason. That said, McDermott’s Hostages last year on CBS was a failure, so I may be giving him too much credit.

Spring 2014 Review: Friends with Better Lives

28 Apr

Friends With Better LivesHackneyed is possibly an overused word in describing bad television, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate. Lazy, half-hearted, simple, forced, these are all qualities of hackneyed writing. Friends with Better Lives has all of this in spades.

Friends with Better Lives feels as if it was written by a machine whose model was built by constant watching of second tier ‘90s sitcoms, with the morals and sensibilities for more risque, profane, and sexually open 21st century audiences. It’s all the jokes you know, except now they’re about blowjobs, and while maybe the joke was sometimes always about that, there used to be two steps removed between the act and the joke to keep in line with the morals of the time, and now it’s half a step.

Friends with Better Lives is part of the post-friends verse of making shows that star six people in their 20s and 30s, and it’s part of the sub-genre of these shows featuring people in different stages of relationships. There’s a somewhat long-time married couple that fits every married cliche  – they’ve gotten lazy, they’re no longer as fiery or passionate as they once were, but underneath, their marriage, as they realize late in the first episode, is strong. There’s the two young lovebirds, who get engaged on a whim after only dating for a few weeks. They’re head over heels and all about the sex, but a little flighty and scatter brained, making grand romantic gestures all the time, which both irritate and rouse jealousy of the old married couple. Finally, there’s a man getting divorced, and a single woman desperate to find a man, but whose pickiness and quickness to render judgment make it difficult.

You know the jokes. The married couple is in such a rut they forget their anniversary! Then, in a surprise that could have been written by a shitty TV scribe version of O. Henry, the married wife tries to spice up the marriage by coming home and giving her husband a blowjob when the lights are out, not knowing that a couple dozen of their closest friends are waiting to surprise her for a party. Oops! The jokes are loud and hammy – you can’t miss them, although you won’t be laughing.

I hate to have to waste a few sentences of this review on this (I don’t really, there’s not that much to say), but if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. If your show has a laugh track, it’s hard for me to take your show seriously. I don’t need to rehash every terrible aspect of the laugh track, and if you’re reading this, you probably hate them as much (or close, at least) as I do, but if networks keep putting them in shows, I’m going to keep commenting on them.  This laugh track was particularly bad, if it’s still possible to grade the relative bad-ness of laugh tracks in this day and age. The laugh track was the single biggest factor in making me not want to watch an episode, and in a show of this quality, that says a lot.

The show doesn’t really care. This isn’t a real attempt to make a good show.  That may go for most CBS comedies but it’s no less true here.  In this day and age when there are so many channels and shows on TV, it means there are more gems than ever but still just as many rote written by the numbers shows that keep getting made because occasionally people still watch them, but usually not. Pretty easy to predict this one won’t be around for long.

Will I watch this show again? Are you kidding? No. No. Come on. You should know me better than that by now.

Spring 2014 Review: Intelligence

7 Feb

Intelligence?

It would be easy to make some wordplay based on the title Intelligence (and the show’s lack there of, etc.). I’ll abstain however, as the show was only relatively insipid, rather than incredibly so. That’s a mild back-handed compliment but I hope the show enjoys it because it’s just about the last it will get.

Here’s how I see the making of Intelligence. Someone had a genuinely gimmicky but not terrible idea for a show premise. Once that premise moved forward into the making of an actual show, well the rest was pretty much put together by the numbers, and probably could have been done by a machine when fed as inputs every other CBS procedural from the past decade.

Here is the premise. The hottest new piece of US technology to fight the war on, well, anything, is a man, a former super top notch military man, with a microchip implant. This microchip allows the power of computers to somehow fuse with his brain, which means he can instantly access and scroll through any piece of information available on the internet or other electronic system, and more than that, he can reconstruct entire scenes, Source Code-like, combining the facts he gets from his computer with the intelligent connections and leaps of reasoning from his brain. There’s not a half-bad idea here, if someone really worked on it; the battle between man and machine has been hit upon many times before (Fox’s Almost Human, and of course the recently remade RoboCop), but that’s partly because there’s a lot to mine. Besides being cool, it’s genuinely interesting in a world where more and more human roles are being usurped by technology to figure out where the lines are.

That’s about the last interesting part of the show, sadly. The soldier is Gabriel, played by Josh Holloway, best known to TV viewers as Lost’s Sawyer, and he’s a charming but rough-around-the-edges ex-Delta Force operative who doesn’t play by the rules. The show hangs the lampshade by asking why the government would implant this one single unique chip into a guy who may kind of not always follow their orders, but then they don’t really explain why they do it.

Our way into the story is through a secret service agent named Riley assigned to protect Gabriel. In 40 minutes, she goes from thinking this new assignment is not worth her time to agreeing to undertake Gabriel’s pet project, a search for his wife, who, reports say, turned on the US, and is dead, but which he doesn’t believe.

There’s a watchable but fairly unremarkable episodic storyline that involves its share of action scenes, Riley and Gabriel bonding, and a betrayal by a government agent which doesn’t mean a lot to us since we’ve known him for about five minutes.

The characters just aren’t that interesting, nor is the dialogue. I say it over again but I say it again here; there’s a limit to how much you can tell in the first episode of a show but you can, especially in a drama, tell a certain difference between dramas that, even if they don’t ultimately work, have a certain amount of care put into them, and ones that just seem like they were produced without any real passion. This is of the later variety. There’s nothing that elevates it above a standard procedural at absolute best.

A quick shout out before we go to Riley and Gabriel’s boss, played by CSI’s Marg Helgenberger, who’s clearly moved up the government ranks since her days in Las Vegas.

Will I watch it again? No. It’s not terrible as far as procedurals go, it’s just not even trying. It doesn’t seem like anybody put a lot of thought or caring or passion into this show and it shows.

Fall 2013 Review: We Are Men

15 Nov

WeAreMenPilot1

Here’s the premise of We Are Men. Carter, a young man with his life seemingly all together sees it all fall apart when his fiancé (Wilfred’s Fiona Gubelmann) leaves him at the altar. His heart is broken, and he’s also newly unemployed as he worked for his fiance’s father. He freaks out, naturally, and eventually moves into short-term housing where he befriends three single dudes of varying ages, who show him the zen of being single and worrying about yourself for once. The three men are: (I’ll just use their actor’s names because you’re not going to remember their characters anyway) First, Tony Shalhoub, a four-time divorcee who is a bit sleazy but seemingly manages to consistently bed women far younger than himself thanks to his charisma and confidence. Second, Jerry O’Connell, a doctor and two-time divorcee, who is engaged in a long-term settlement battle with his second ex-wife. Third, Kal Penn, the only one of the three who still pines for his ex, who left him when she caught him sleeping around.

Anyway, basically the pilot is a battle for Carter’s soul between bromance and romance. Carter is beginning to really like the guys but also desperately misses his ex. He enjoys hanging out but quickly tires of their free and easy goal-less lifestyle. Kal Penn convinces Carter to make a grand romantic gesture to get his woman back. He does, and it works, and the marriage is back on. However, the guys realize that being with his fiance is actually killing Carter’s dreams, and they come in and interrupt the second wedding, convincing Carter to abandon his fiance at the altar this time to bromance it up and focus on making himself happy.

We Are Men is a bad show for a lot of the usual reasons (bad characters, bad writing) but what struck me in particular was the portrayal of women. Carter’s fiancé really is bad for him, in the show’s world, and for certain, anybody can get stuck in a bad relationship and some people just suck. Still, no woman in this show comes off as anything more than a male trope. His fiancé is holding him back from having fun and hanging out with his friends and wants him to work for her dad rather than pursue his dream job, which O’Connell helped arrange an interview for. The strangest complaint of Carter’s is that his fiance always makes them eat at the farmers market, which absolutely mystified me.

We Are Men tries to celebrate guydom and bromance and all those wonderful men-hanging-out-together qualities that so many shows have tried to celebrate over the last few years (probably due to the success of some combination of Entourage and The Hangover, but that’s another article). While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating male friendship, and I think it’s a great theme that was overlooked before a couple of years ago, sixth degree poor man’s iterations of that theme like “We Are Men” make me feel kind of disgusted for my gender. Certainly guys have been known to bash women as a gender occasionally, and there’s nothing wrong with idly complaining to some extent to make a guy feel better after a bad date or breakup, etc. It’s also silly to harp on one episode of a twenty minute show to bemoan the show’s point of view; it’s hard to fit a world view in less than a half hour. Still, it’s not an arbitrarily chosen half hour, it’s one you know your show will be judged and chosen by. Dads writes and creators balked at accusations of sexism and racism by claiming that later episodes would make the characters more complex, and to some extent it’s fair to note that most characters feel like tropes after an episode.   But maybe don’t put that much racism in it either. I would have absolutely no problem if the first episode featured just men; there’s nothing wrong with shows for men, by men, and they could introduce women in later episodes when these characters were more fleshed out. What I do have a problem is how the limited number of women are portrayed. His fiance is portrayed as a naggy impediment to his dreams. The other female character who gets a minute is Shalhoub’s daughter, who seemed like kind of a male fantasy, as the cool, sexy chick, who gave him tips on how to hook up with women. It’s not that other shows don’t feature women mostly as merely objects for men to ogle and hope to have sex with, but for whatever reason this show felt more boorish than most.

If Entourage is the male fantasy show you dream after a booze-filled party, We Are Men is the reality when you wake up groggy in the morning, hungover. Everything that seemed so great the night before now appears kind of ugly. While hanging out with cool successful guys and sleeping with a lot of hot chicks was fun in Entourage, it was less so when you realize that those guys were kind of sketchy and leering at women feels much more uncomfortable.

Of course guys look at attractive women, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with portraying that reality but I felt really creepy watching the four guys in We Are Men ogle women from their poolside. Probably the single worst shot without which it might not have stuck out as much is when the camera follows a bikini-glad young women, and Carter, narrating, tells us, well, we’re showing you that, just because. They do this in Entourage all the time, but somehow that show seemed separated from reality in so many ways, and it was strangely easy to enjoy the fun fantastical times Entourage provided while laughing away its approach towards women.

Anyway, bad show. Also worth noting were the cameos by Alan Ruck, who has also appeared in a couple of episodes of Masters of Sex this year, who shows up as the priest officiating Carter’s wedding, and Dave Foley, who is in the show for approximate ten seconds as Carter’s dad.

Will I watch it again? I again could only watch one more even if I wanted to, but I don’t. America got one right and decided they collectively ddin’t want to see any more of this claptrap. Smart call.

Fall 2013 Review: The Crazy Ones

23 Oct

Robin and Sarah Michelle Crazy

Robin Williams stars as Robin Williams. That’s the first and most important thing you need to know about The Crazy Ones. This is one of those shows where whether you like it or hate it will be determined by how much you like the main actor, as the show is built mostly on him simply being himself. There’s a few of these star-based sitcoms every year, that are shows essentially built around a single actor or actress. They usually star comedians, who, unlike actors who are supposed to be able to slip into a role, generally are chosen for their particular comedic style and stage personality and more or less play an exaggerated version of themselves.

Robin Williams plays Simon Roberts, a once legendarily charismatic ad-man who has lost his edge over the years, a la Robin Williams the comedian (have you seen Man of the Year or RV?). Sarah Michelle Gellar plays his more serious daughter who both loves his father and is constantly frustrated by his flights of fancy and refusal to be professional.  She’s recently been added to the name of the firm; Roberts and Roberts.  The cast is rounded out by an artist named Andrew who does just about nothing in the first episode, an assistant named Lauren who does very little, and James Wolk, Man Men’s Bob Benson, as Zachary, who seems to be a fast-talking Robin Williams protégé and gets the most to do after the two stars. While poor Gellar is frequently stuck as a nag, Wolk gets to have fun with WIlliams, and attempt to exchange what they seem to think is hilarious banter.

Speaking of Mad Men, it doesn’t help that this Wolk is there to remind me of Mad Men, the biggest and best advertising agency-based show of this era. While The Crazy Ones, a sitcom, is going for a very different tenor and vibe than Mad Men in almost every possible way, it’s hard to listen to Robin Williams pitch the clients without thinking of how inferior everything about the pitch scene is to similar scenes in Mad Men. Admittedly, that’s pretty unfair; no show is going to be Mad Men. What’s not unfair is to mention that the scenes, and the show, are not the least bit funny or really amusing.

It’s also worth noting that the episode seems kind of like a giant commercial for primary Roberts and Roberts client McDonald’s, which gets mentioned a remarkable amount of times in The Crazy Ones’ twenty two minute running time.

Honestly that’s a fairly terrible example of blatant product placement but that’s just one episode. What really bothers me is that there’s just  so much Robin Williams shtick. He does impressions, he changes voices, he’s so fucking wacky and painfully so. He’s off the wall, and it’s implied that this is part of both the success and the failure of Williams’ abilities as an ad man, and that rings true for his career as a comedian as well. Can’t he turn it off? Do people really like this? Is he talented? Well, it’s definitely a talent. That doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly annoying. I spent the entire episode feeling really bad for Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character who has to be the constant irritant to Williams, slowing down his imperfect creative mind to attempt to make him be serious. Everyone else on the show cracks up at his antics, while Gellar, like myself, was constantly frustrated, wanting him to get it together. There’s an important client there, can he act like he cares at all?

Of course, that’s what Williams is going to do. That’s what you hire him to do generally, even though his best roles in the last two decades have been the creepy dramatic persona he unveiled in One Hour Photo (I still shudder) and Insomnia. If he kept up with his dramatic acting I’d be extremely interested, but he hasn’t, and I’m not.

Will I watch it again? No. It wasn’t funny. I haven’t found Robin Williams funny since around Aladdin, and nothing changed my opinion here. More than not funny, his bits get on my nerves after a while; twenty minutes can pack a surprising amount of Robin Williams.