Tag Archives: CW

Spring 2014 Review: Star-Crossed

5 Mar

Stars, crossedA quick preamble: I genuinely enjoy watching and reviewing CW shows. They’re exactly why I got into the whole watch-and-review-every-first-episode business to begin with. They’re not directed at me, and they’re shows that, with exception (one day I’ll attempt Supernatural) I probably would never watch, but they’re actually generally skillfully built to attract their target demographic, and while they may not always be great or particularly good, they’re rarely terrible and there’s an art to their construction that I really appreciate.

On to Star-Crossed. One might guess from the title that the stars are two people in love from opposite sides of the tracks, but not that their love is quite literally star crossed, as in the boy and the girl are from different planets. The girl is Emery (played by Aimee Teegarden, Friday Night Lights’ Julie Taylor), and she’s coming back to high school after a long illness. The boy is Roman (Matt Lanter, of the new 90210), an alien of the Atrian race. The Atrians arrived on Earth a decade before the events of Star-Crossed, and they’ve been District 9-ized. They live in their own sector, separated from the humans, and have curfews and human policemen patrolling their area. Seven students have been chosen for an experimental program, attempting to integrate select Atrian teenagers with their human counterparts at the local high school. If they’re successful, it will pave the way for more Atrian-human integration. The racism analogy is palpable – suffice to say the Atrians are not popular with the humans. At best the humans ignore them, at worst they curse at them, fight with them, and yell ethnic slurs. Some Atrians are excited about the integration process, while others embark upon a more covert aggressive path to one day take down the humans and escape.

It’s both an alien show and a high school show. On Emery’s first day back at school,there’s all sorts of social norms she has to learn, like the fresh-to-American-high school Cady Heron in Mean Girl. Emery feels somewhat sympathetic towards the Atrians, and one in particular, but she’s afraid of helping them due to the social ramifications. (She actually tried to protect one when she was a kid and they first arrived – who ends up being Roman – young Emery is played by the adorable actress who played Maddie in the short-lived Ben & Kate.) It’s high school. There are cute boys. Emery’s originally attracted to Grayson (played by FNL’s Grey Damon, who I can’t really recall dealing with Julie ever on the show), and she’s invited to a party by the school’s Queen Bee, Taylor. There’s bullying and peer pressure. The Atrians are harassed relentlessly by a bunch of no-good irredeemable bullies, and those who don’t bully are encouraged not to intervene or risk becoming outcast themselves.

There’s definitely the seeds of a smart, if not particularly compelling to me personally, idea here. It’s District Nine meets Mean Girls. It’s competent, and the combination actually makes a lot of sense. That said, it’s hardly anything to get worked up about quality wise. There’s nothing particularly sharp about the writing or filming or characterization; the most original aspect of it is in its particular combination of tropes. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s phoned in the way shows like Intelligence really feel that way, but it definitely fits the basic patterns for almost every CW show and that, like fitting into the format of a USA series, places a bunch of natural limits on a show. There are good looking young people, a potential love triangle, and a level of relatability for teens. The main characters deal will souped up versions of the problems the primary demographic deal with every day.

And again, that’s fine for what it is, and maybe it works in connecting with its target audience generally but unless really fine-tuned and executed to perfection, which this isn’t, it leaves a show that’s fairly uninteresting for those of us who lie outside of that demographic.

Will I watch it again? No. It’s too easy to say something isn’t for me, and shows of any genre that are good enough at what they do are for me even if they might not fit my general inclinations. That said, this isn’t for me. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s certainly not a stand out, and will probably be forgotten about or more likely never heard of by most, which is probably the correct reaction.

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Fall 2013 Review: The Originals

6 Dec

The Originals

I started watching every new TV show three seasons ago, but there remain a handful of network shows still on the air that started earlier which I have never seen, shamefully. The Vampire Diaries, of which The Originals is a spin off is one of them. I know nothing about The Vampire Diaries except that two brothers fight over the same girl and I think maybe they’re both vampires but I’m not even sure of that much and one of them is Boone from Lost. Moving on.

The titular Originals are the original vampires, created by a witch in the middle ages to save her children from werewolves. Yes, witches and werewolves also exist in this show and are both older than vampires, for what that’s worth. The Originals include at the least Elijah, his sister Rebekah, and his half-brother, Klaus, who is half-werewolf and half-vampire. They’re all extremely powerful and possibly immortal.

Elijah and Rebekah are apparently level-headed as far as ancient vampires go, but Klaus is a notorious psycho. Still, Elijah, unlike Rebekah, feels a familial responsibility towards Klaus, and when Klaus gets into trouble in New Orleans, Elijah feels like he has to go track him down and at least try to help.

Elijah arrives in a city of New Orleans at supernatural war. A vampire named Marcel, a former protégé of Klaus, rules the city with an iron fist, oppressing witches left and right. The witches are desperate so they capture a werewolf named Hayley who is pregnant with Klaus’s baby after an ill-advised one-night stand. The witches use her to try to get the uber-powerful Originals on their side to take out Marcel. The gambit works well enough as Elijah believes the baby might make Klaus more responsible and less sadistic, and while Klaus doesn’t necessarily feel that way he at least doesn’t like the idea of his protégé Marcel being higher on the pecking order than he is.

The big ending, and within first episode SPOILER is that Klaus stabs Eljiah at the end of the episode, either killing or injuring him seemingly severely, saying thanks, but no thanks, you’ve convinced me to take down Marcel, but it’s for me to do and not you. It would have been super ballsy if they actually killed off who seemed to be the main character from the pilot, but some IMDB work (spoiler, I’m not planning on continuing to watch, so I didn’t feel bad about checking) assured me Eljiah remains on the show, so I guess the whole immortal thing was no lie.

Vampires are seemingly everywhere in culture today so it’s honestly impossible to watch a show about vampires without comparisons to other prominent vampire shows on TV flashing through my mind, which, since I haven’t seen The Vampire Diaries, are True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. True Blood in particular is similarly set in Louisiana, which makes a classic home for vampires because it has a much older feel than most of America and because if its omnipresent tinge of vice.

The Originals is lacking in either of the qualities that made either of those vampire shows successful. It has neither True Blood’s sleazy sense of trashy fun (before that show went insane around the fourth season) or Buffy’s ability to mesh the supernatural action adventures with the realities of being a teenager. Hayley, the pregnant werewolf, is the best attempt at Buffy-ness, matching supernatural talk with a sense of humor and modern slang, while every other character is super serious, perhaps understandably so since people are dying around them, but it deadens the show a bit.

I’m not sure if The Vampire Diaries fans, coming into this pilot with more information, would have a different outlook, but I was unimpressed. I have to add this as a caveat for many shows, but it’s important to say; The Originals wasn’t awful. The Originals was watchable enough and although I didn’t really care about the major battle brewing between the vampires and the wtiches ( I mean Marcel was obviously the villain and was easily hateable within his two minutes of screen time, so there’s that), I didn’t cringe or take tons of breaks to get through the show as I have with the worst shows every year.

The plot, battles between vampires, werewolves, and witches, and whatnot is started to get tired. This is not necessarily The Vampire Diaries’ fault, but you have more leeway with an original idea than you do when you’re the fourth or fifth show with a similar idea in a decade. It’s possible to transcend a tired premise, as Broadchurch did with a premise I thought The Killing had poisoned for at least a few more years, but it’s more difficult and The Vampire Diaries doesn’t do it.

I think, and I could be wrong, that Klaus, who seems like an obvious villain, is being flipped to be the protagonist in this show and that’s supposed to be intriguing because of the juxtaposition; this obvious psycho is ostensibly being the good guy, helping the witches, protecting his unborn child, and defeating his protégé. If I’m going to spend this much time with this psychotic character I’d hope that he’d be, if not easy to root for, at least charismatic, drawing me, but he isn’t, and he doesn’t. The show just falls flat overall. The plot seems kind of generic and boring and for better or worse True Blood has soured me on immediate interest in vampire mythology. Hayley, in her little screen time, was the character I enjoyed the most for the Buffy-esque qualities of humor and modernity and a greater dose of that would help this show that frequently feels like it’s taking itself too seriously.

Will I watch it again? No. The show was tolerable but not good.

Fall 2013 Review: The Tomorrow People

22 Nov

Four Tomorrow People

In my review of Reign, I talked about the way the CW really hones it on its target demographic and has been developing a consistent brand. The Tomorrow People is another perfect example of this CW philosophy.

The main character is Stephen, a high school student who really looks like he’s 25 (which he is, and I know in most shows, high school students are played by older people, but at least often they look somewhat younger than they are). Stephen has some serious teen problems. Although he used to have friends, he’s become an outcast. This is mostly due to his deteriorating mental condition highlighted by what appear to be sleepwalking problems in which he’s fallen asleep and woke up in his neighbors’ house. He’s alienated all of his friends but one due to his issues, all of which has him feeling particularly insecure.

It turns out of course that he hasn’t been going crazy. Instead of problems, he actually has a gift, super powers that come from a genetic mutation. He is discovered by a couple of other super powered individuals, who have formed a group of their kind.  They track him down and bring him into their secret lair. He’s special, they explain, because like them, he can use the powers of telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation. There’s only one problem: big government doesn’t like the idea of people with powers on the loose, so an evil ultra-secret government program called Ultra is out to get every single one of them and neutralize them, which is why they’re hiding in this dank underground lair in the first place.

This is a CW show, so combined with the powers, we naturally have some more real-teen-dealing-with-real-problems aspects that grounds the show.  We had been led to believe that Stephen’s father had abandoned his family after going crazy when Stephen was younger, leaving his wife and sons to find for themselves. Stephen’s always understandably resented his father for this and has some serious teen angst related to the man. It turns out, however, that the father also had powers and went off on a mission to find a safe place for all the super powered people and also because him sticking around with his family would endanger the entire family with Ultra out to get him.

Now, the super powered group try to convince Stephen that his father wasn’t so bad after all, and that he should join them to help try to find the great safe haven their father was after. On top of all this it turns out that the evil head of Ultra is Stephen’s uncle, his dad’s brother. While the underground group tries to convince Stephen to join them and leave his entire life behind for his own safety, Stephen, sensing a better path, eventually accepts a job offer from his evil uncle, with the goal of getting some info about his dad from the inside, helping the good underground folks while posing as an Ultra agent.

This is a CW show again, so let’s not forget a romance angle. There’s presumably going to be some sort of love triangle. The male and female head of the hidden super humans are an item as the show starts, but the female has a weird mind meld connection with Stephen, and her boyfriend seems jealous of her and Stephen’s connection from the get go.

Tomorrow People didn’t hook me. I like shows about superpowers well enough, but the characters and set up was pretty underwhelming. It didn’t help that the sides appeared so blatantly black and white; the clear good vs. evil set up was less intriguing than one in which the battle was even a little more ambiguous and gray. I’m not saying show can’t have villains but the head of ultra just seems so really unnecessarily evil for a character that could at least have some nuance.  The main character wasn’t particularly charismatic and I wasn’t particularly invested in his quest to find his dad by the end even though I tried to be. This is a show that should be funnier than it is. There’s room for a sense of humor that isn’t really present. At times the show seems like it wants to be funnier, but doesn’t quite put in the requisite amount of effort.

I’m a little tired of the set up that normal, regular, people can’t accept people with powers and thus they have to be hidden underground. This happens in Heroes, in Harry Potter, in X-Men. Us normal people without powers will simply be unable to ever handle the possibility of people different than them and thus the only options are either having these special people segmented off or annihilated. What made True Blood’s premise so interesting, is that for the first time, the set up was the opposite; people with powers were finally coming out into the light and mingling with regular people, rather than hiding. The idea that these special people who are so much better than us normals (this theme is actually hammered home in Tomorrow People; the people with powers are simply more advanced and superior to regular huamns) can’t let anybody know for our and their own good because people can’t handle it is a little bit grating.

There’s a lot to deal with being an outcast, and no one deserves to feel like their in it, whatever it is, all alone. Going from outcast to finding out that you’re the most powerful super human seems like a bit of a cheat though, even if it comes with its own set of difficulties.

Will I watch it again? No. It wasn’t that bad but Reign was the slightly better CW show. Still neither of them have intrigued me enough to go in for seconds. If I continue watching a CW show, it’ll probably be trying to start up Arrow.

Fall 2013 Review: Reign

18 Nov

Queen and Duaphin

In a recent review of the ABC show Betrayal, I wondered how that show every made it through all the steps that go from conception to airing, considering not simply just how uninteresting and pointless it was, but how it didn’t seem to hold any possible appeal or have any obvious hook that would make network people keep moving it up that ladder.

CW shows, and Reign, in particular, are the exact opposite. CW has a much tighter, clearer, and more cohesive brand than any of the other broadcast networks, which makes sense because the CW airs fewer shows and draws a lot fewer overall viewers. Additionally, the CW has a niche; they hew to a base demographic of around 18-34 year-old females. CW shows focus on young people, often teens, but sometimes twenty-somethings and feature these wide-eyed youths exposed to new situations, with complicated love lives. These shows are generally slightly more earnest than soaps, but more fun than dark. They’re not particularly humorous, but they try to refrain from being too stiff as well.

Every single scripted show the CW airs is smartly targeted towards this demographic, and even those that don’t work don’t fail because they didn’t make sense theoretically but simply because of the execution or they don’t catch on. Emily Owens, MD was cancelled, for example, but it fit the CW’s core focus to a T. There’s certainly plenty of arguments to make on the value of a brand this consistent and similar versus a brand with little bit more variety, but I certainly appreciate the CW’s approach, as a network in a unique position of being compared to the much larger networks but only airing a few new shows every year.

Reign fits perfectly within this pattern. The main characters is a teenage Mary Queen of Scots, just escorted from the nunnery she was being kept at for her own safety to the King’s court in France. She’s betrothed to the future king of France, Francis, son of current king Henry II. It’s a perfect CW spin on historical drama. It’s about a teenage girl who faces lots of problems every teenage girl deals with – figuring out who your true friends are, finding love, and finding acceptance while feeling like out of place, simply with the added twist that she’s Queen of Scotland, in constant danger from potential English assassins, and one day to be married to the king of France.

There’s already a potential love triangle from episode one. Mary’s betrothed, Francis, is charming, standoffish, romantic and coldly practical in equal parts towards Mary in the pilot. He tells her that he doesn’t think they should marry for strategic reasons, but intimates that just maybe he kind of wants to marry her, which warms Mary’s heart. Us viewers also know that he has another woman in his life. On the other side of the triangle is Francis’s bastard half-brother, Sebastian, who is mysterious and charming, a bad boy who gets to ride around doing what he wants because he’s a bastard who no one cares about while Francis, with the future of a country on his shoulders, must stay in the castle under guard at all times. Mary, of course, knows that marriage in her case is about alliances, but she wants true love at the same time.

Mary has a difficult relationship with her friends, her ladies’ maids, because she wants to frolic and play with them, but she’ll always be above them in statute and that’s not always easy for her or them to deal with. She’s a target, while they’re not, and she’s treated with a level of respect that they aren’t by others. Many CW shows have a queen bee, but this one just has a queen (There’s a tagline for you, CW. You’re welcome). Most CW shows have figurative backstabbing, but in Reign, it’s a literal possibility. A man attempts to rape Mary in the first episode, forced by a mysterious plotter to despoil her so she would be unfit to marry the future king.

King Henry may be the king, but the show implies that the real power lies with Queen Catherine de’ Medici. While Henry seems to sleep with every woman with a pulse in the court (we know at least two, but it seems likely there are more), it’s Catherine’s money that keeps France running. Catherine consults occasionally with the seer Notradamus who ominously warns her that marrying Mary will lead to her son’s death. In the last minutes we find out it was indeed her behind the plot to rape the Queen.

Reign is very good at what it does, being a mash up between a historical drama and a typical CW show about teens growing up, which doesn’t mean it’s good. I’m not the intended audience and I can appreciate what it has qualities that the primary CW demographic might enjoy. Still, it’s a little gooey and flowery for my tastes when it talks about love and a little stilted when it talks about intrigue and politics.  There’s nothing here that pulls me in, and the two boys seem more like 16th century takes on two boys that occupy any CW love triangle rather than full-blown characters. It’s not bad; it’s merely mediocre.

Queen Mary is so wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, confused and confounded at every new experience and there’s plenty of places the show can go with both romantic subplots and political angle. Reign feels like a teen soap hidden behind the intrigue of a historical drama. It feels that way because it’s supposed to, but the too styles don’t really mesh exactly right. The romantic teen angle takes a little too much edge off for a show in which the main character faces potential death in the first episode, and the darker political subplots feel out of place with the ladies’ maids dancing that feels like a montage from any high school movie.  I’m not sure if there’s a way to match these two styles correctly and convincingly. The writing isn’t convincing enough to make me buy in to most of the characters’ motivations or to seamlessly transition from teen soap to high stakes historical politics.There are two separate shows taking place over the same hour, and neither is really bad, but neither is quite good enough on their own and the combination doesn’t really work for me.

Will I watch it again? No. It was fine, I certainly wouldn’t advise specifically against it, and there are people out there who will like this. Those people aren’t me, though.

Reviewing My Fall 2012 Predictions

22 Jul

Who remembers this one?

Many months ago, last September, I predicted the success of every new broadcast network series.  Unfortunately for me, I feel that predictions are cop outs unless they’re reassessed later on.  Let’s take a look back, and see what went right, and mostly what went wrong, with some hindsight thoughts about why I picked the shows, or whether I regret the picks.  These picks were made before I saw the first episodes, so they were primarily based on some combination of network, trailers, descriptions, promotion, general buzz, and some good old fashioned gut feeling.

I originally predicted one of three outcomes for every new series – 13 or less episodes (13-), 14 or more, but not renewed (14+), or Renewal.  We’ll break it down by network.  Links to my original predictions will be attached to each network name.

ABC

ABC

666 Park Avenue

My pick: 13-

Reality: 13-

It’s nice to start with a correct pick!  This is probably why I chose to go through the networks in alphabetical order.  This was a guess; I would have said I was less than 50% confident in this outcome.

Last Resort

My pick: 14+

Reality: 13-

Last Resort had a good premise, a strong cast, a heralded creator in Shawn Ryan, and was one of the best, if not the best, fall network debut.  I hoped my guess was conservative, but it wasn’t.  I don’t think this was a terrible pick.

The Neighbors

My pick: 14+

Reality: Renewal

Honestly, I think I was generous and this should have been a 13- call.  In the biggest “Huh?” decision of this year, The Neighbors was renewed.  This is one of those times where I insist I was right and ABC was wrong.  Sometimes reality gets it wrong.

Nashville

My pick: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

I felt pretty good about this pick.  There are a couple of series every year the networks really push hard, and Nashville was one of them, plus it was actually pretty good, if not quite as good as it could have been.  I took the smart money and the smart money won.

Malibu

My pick: 13-

Reality: 14+

This one actually got a small additional episode pick up before being cancelled.  In a post-Last Man Standing world, you can’t doubt any ABC comedy no matter how lousy, but I’m not too annoyed with myself here.  Acceptable loss.

CBS

CBS

Made in Jersey

My pick: 13-

Reality: 13-

Probably the easiest single pick of the year.  It’s CBS, so you never know what will get some eyeballs, but that also means the standards for expected number of viewers was high.  No drama seems as obviously cancellable as Made in Jersey this year.

Partners

My pick: 14+

Reality: 13-

Was I delusional?  What planet was I living on that I didn’t immediately give this 13-?  To be fair, I hadn’t seen the awful pilot at that point, but come on.  I think I overrated the CBS effect, because I can’t think of another explanation.

Vegas

My pick: Renewal

Reality: 14+

This one was cancelled, but I’m still happy with my call.  Although it isn’t horseshoes or hand grenades, so coming close doesn’t really count, this show could have been renewed, and I feel perfectly fine with my prediction.

Elementary

My pick: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

If I had seen the pilot I would have been even more confident, and I’m not sure how obvious this was as a hit before the year started.  I think this was a smart pick, but not as crazily obvious as it seems now by any means.

CW

CW

Emily Owens, M.D.

My pick: Renewal

Reality: 13-

So I screwed up the CW bad, real bad, and two out of three picks I actually feel bad about.  I wouldn’t have picked renewal if this was on any other network but the CW, and thinking back I understand my logic that this fit their brand real well (the somewhat similar Hart of Dixie is going into a third season next fall) but I still should have erred away from renewal.

Arrow

My pick: 14+

Reality: Renewal

For what it’s worth, I didn’t think it was going to get quickly cancelled, but I blame myself for underrating the superhero appeal from a network that broadcast 10 seasons of Smallville.  If I judged this after the pilot, I’d like to think I would have changed my mind but I can’t be sure.

Beauty and the Beast

My pick: 14+

Reality: Renewal

The only pierce of my 0-for-3 CW record I’m not particularly ashamed of.  It wasn’t very good, and definitely seemed third in the pecking order to me after Emily Owens and Arrow and I figured the network wouldn’t renew three shows.  Not a crazy guess.

Fox

Fox

The Mindy Project

My pick: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

The comedy equivalent of Nashville.  Lots of buzz, general critical like, if not quite love, and push from the network.  A smart bet, and a correct one.

Ben and Kate

My pick: Renewal

Reality: 14+

I’m not angry about this pick, only the fact that Ben and Kate wasn’t given more of a chance.  It was probably better than Mindy, and though I’m glad at least one of them was picked up, this is the show I’m probably most bummed about not getting a second season this year.

The Mob Doctor

My pick: 13-

Reality: 13-

One of the easier guesses for 13-.  Not a ton of promotion, everything just reeked of not trying that hard and not caring very much about this wholly mediocre show.

NBC

NBC

Go On

My pick: 14+

Reality: 14+

Hey there, I nailed this one exactly.  I bet on Perry’s star and heavy promotion extending the series, but attention fading later on, and that’s exactly what happened.  It got okay but not great reviews, and it wasn’t enough even on NBC.

Animal Practice

My pick: 13-

Reality: 13-

Probably the easiest comedy call of the year.  Come on, did anyone actually think this was going to last?

Chicago Fire

My pick: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

My best arbitrarily guess of the year.  I had no idea what to make of this show and it was a little bit of an under-the-radar surprise for NBC.  If only Omar Epps could star in a show on CBS, all three initial House assistants could be starring in shows on Fox’s rivals (Jesse Spencer here, Jennifer Morrison on ABC’s Once Upon a Time).

Guys With Kids

My pick: 13-

Reality: 14+

Until I just looked this up, I didn’t realize this got a small additional episode order.  Why, I’m not sure, it’s produced by Jimmy Fallon and was advertised as such and that’s the only reason I could imagine this lousy show having a chance.

The New Normal

My pick: Renewal

Reality: 14+

I’m fine with getting this one wrong.  Ryan Murphy’s been hot of late with Glee and American Horror Story, and considering NBC renewed Smash, I thought the buzz and hot start might be enough to carry the show to another season even with a sharp decline in interest.  Oh well.

Revolution:

My pick: Renewal

Reality: Renewal

I screwed up Terra Nova last year, but NBC, like Fox for that show, put a lot of money, time and promotion into this show, and it actually got surprisingly good initial ratings even as the show got worse.  A pleasant surprise for NBC, that, like Smash, last year, I could easily see fading and being cancelled after its second season.

Spring 2013 Review: Cult

24 Apr

Cult members

Warning:  I am going to use the word Cult in this review more than I ever have before, and hopefully more than I ever will again.  Let’s go.  Cult.

Everyone knows TV shows, like movies, come in twos, and Cult shares a lot of territory with Fox show The Following.  While The Following is created by Kevin Williamson, Cult shares some of the meta aspects that were the hallmarks of Williamson’s first big hit Scream.  The Cult’s meta-ness lies in that it’s a show about a cult based on a scripted tv show about a cult called Cult.  I thought originally Cult was going to have some of the cheeky meta sense of humor that Scream has, but it really doesn’t. For a show that’s so meta, there’s really almost no sense of winking irony at all.

The Following is about a crazy serial killer/cult leader who organizes a shadowy US-wide network of disciples posing as ordinary people in every walk of life who would do anything no matter how gruesome or despicable at a whim for their leader.  Cult is about a cult which features a wide network of disciples posing as ordinary people in every walk of life who would do anything no matter how gruesome or despicable at a whim for their leader.  In Cult, however, the added hook is, as previously mentioned, there’s a popular cult (yes, I know) television show named Cult, about a cult, and which many fans are completely obsessed with, looking for hidden clues and messages throughout repeated viewings of each episode of the show.  The real life cult is super secret and is based on and through the show, somehow involving its creators, presumably, and by way of these messages being submitted through the show.

The added level here that The Following lacks is that of a conspiracy drama (which is shares more with fellow cancelled show Zero Hour).  While the cult in the Following is out in the open, this one is deep underground; no one believes in it, and anyone who claims they do appears crazy, even as bodies apparently turn up regularly and people are abducted.  Our main character is a sensible ex-prominent journalist (apparently he Jayson Blair-ed it, but for noble reasons) whose off-the-rails brother goes missing after trying to convince the main character of his crazy conspiracy theory involving a cult around Cult.  The key conversation comes at a diner where sinister music and camera shots make it appear everyone around them is an shady cult member, watching and listening (a la Homer on The Simpsons, “But listen to the music! He’s evil!”) The main character, with the help of a production assistant (or something, I don’t know what her job is on the show but it’s apparently not that important because she can leave for long stretches of time) on the show investigate the brother’s disappearance and find a disturbing amount of clues leading to the show Cult, and when he finally runs into the person his brother told him to ever contact if he got into trouble, she, dressed as a Cult character, kills herself, saying the magic words from Cult that people says on the show when they kill themselves.

He eventually finds a disc which, when he puts it in his computer, will put him on Cult’s radar, letting them steal his information and become a target, but may also be the only way to ever see his brother again, so he takes the leap.  The detective who searches both his brother’s apartment and shows up after the woman commits suicide is ridiculously accusing of him and just a general mean person, but this may be all explained by the fact that we see a Cult tattoo on her at the end of the episode.  She’s in on it!

Basically, if you’re watching this show, it’s for the conspiracy.  The writing isn’t anything to, er, write home about, and as mentioned before, there’s a surprising lack of humor or irony considering how meta the concept is.  The film-work isn’t particularly expert and I doubt it’s going to be a ton of sense if you think too hard about it.  It’s a pure thrill ride, and it’s not exactly thrilling enough to reach the levels it needs to, but it could be a lot worse too.  I’m at least mildly intrigued, though not a whole lot more.  It’s the kind of absurd idea a couple of people on controlled substances could arrive at late at night (“what about this! a cult based on a cult show about cults!”) that doesn’t sound as good in the morning but doesn’t sound half bad either.

Will I watch it again?  No.  It’s not really that bad, all the issues listed before considered.  It’s already cancelled for one, so the story is probably not going to resolve.  The premise is not wholly uninspired.  It wasn’t incredibly gripping, but if someone told me I had to watch all of Cult, I wouldn’t hate them for it.  Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have watched another one, but I might have at least thought about it for more than a second if the show wasn’t cancelled.  The possibility of a good edge-of-your-seat plot, while rarely realized, can make up for a lot of sins.

Spring 2013 Review: The Carrie Diaries

4 Mar

Carrie, '80s style

There was a show you probably heard of called Sex and the City, on HBO in the late ’90s and early ’00s.  Sex and the City was based on the autobiographical columns of New York writer Candace Bushnell.  Sex and the City was hugely successful, spawning two movies (the second less successful than the first), and single-handedly increasing brand awareness of products like Manolo Blahnik shoes, at least among people like me, who would never have heard of them otherwise.  After the fantastical success of the Sex and the City TV show, Bushnell, in 2010, wrote a two-part series called The Carrie Diaries to serve as a prequel to Sex and the City, about Carrie Bradshaw’s life as a senior in high school.  It’s these prequel books that are now being adapted into the TV show The Carrie Diaries.

Okay, so The Carrie Diaries.  The star is of course teenager Carrie Bradshaw, a high school junior in 1984.  It’s part classic ’80s John Hughes movie.  Carrie’s got her own crew wacky friends, where everyone has a role.  There’s bookish Asian girl Jill, who everyone calls the mouse (Ellen Wong from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, who has to be almost 30 by now), slutty drunk Maggie (played by Katie Lindlay, best known as dead teenager Rosie Larson from The Killing), and a guy, Walt, who’s dating Maggie but is clearly probably gay, staring at pictures of Rob Lowe late in the episode.  There’s a mean girl (exactly how mean has yet to be determined, but you know the type), Donna, and her posse who run around the school like they own the place, and there’s a rich bad boy, Sebastian with a good heart who Carrie clearly likes, Andrew McCarthy in Pretty in Pink style.  There’s lots of ’80s style all around and plenty of period music in the first episode, including Blue Monday, Footloose, Burning Down the House, Just Can’t Get Enough, and several others.

There’s a serious side to the show as well (it is, after all, an hour long and it doesn’t seem like CW does half hour comedies anymore).  Carrie’s mom died just months before the show begins, and her, her dad, and her rebellious sister are all suffering in the aftermath of her death and handling it in different ways.  Her dad looks like a cross between Dennis Leary and Tim DeKay from White Collar, and is having a hard time filling the role of both parents, and knowing when to try to take over his wife’s role, and when he’ll never be able to.  Her 14-year old sister, Dorrit, was the outcast to the good girl Carrie, even before her mother’s death, and she acts out, frustrating both her dad and Carrie, who don’t know how to handle her behavior.  Carrie struggles as well, trying to be the good girl, help her sister and dad, and live her own life.

There’s yet one more important aspect.  In order to help her both grow up and recover from the devastation of her mom’s death, Carrie’s dad arranges for her a one day a week internship at a law firm Manhattan, where she’s always wanted to live (get it?  that’s her future home!).  While there, she meets a crazy artsy socialite, Larissa (played by Freema Agyeman, Dr. Who’s Martha Jones), who has Carrie help her steal a dress from Century 21 and takes her to a super wacky artsy party where she meets a bunch of fascinating people (her first gay people!) and pretends to be older than she is.  She also says the worst line of the episode as she leaves, narrating about how infatuated she was with New York – saying that she doesn’t need a boy, because she’s found her man – Manhattan. Boooooo.

There it is, one part ’80s teen comedy, one part heartwarming dealing-with-serious-issues teen drama, and one part teen pretending-to-be-someone-else in Manhattan.  As for quality, well, it’s okay.  That’s really about it.  The acting was fine, the treatment of the ’80s mimicked the classic ’80s of films without being grossly over the top, and the tragedy of Carrie’s mom’s death seemed well handled by the show in the first episode, with pathos but not overdramatic.  If you like what you’ve heard so far, there’s nothing negative enough about the quality of the show that would recommend against watching it.  If you don’t like what you’ve heard so far, there’s nothing positive enough about the quality that would recommend watching it.  It certainly doesn’t transcend it’s genre, but it’s not an embarrassment either.   CW’s made a number or programs in this vein, and while I don’t think it’s ever going to get close to the kind of buzz of Q rating of its notable progenitor, The Carrie Diaries does seem clearly aimed at CW’s core demographic. As for comparisons to Sex and the City itself, The Carrie Diaries are a little bit more serious, more teen (obviously), thus more emo, and less irreverent, and also, fairly obviously, less bawdy.

Will I watch it again?  No.  This show falls into the vast chasm of shows that aren’t so good but aren’t so bad.  I don’t really have so many bad words for The Carrie Diaries; I could imagine why someone might want to watch it.  It just has nothing particularly interesting for me in a world where there more than enough good and interesting shows out there that I haven’t seen yet.