Tag Archives: NBC

Spring 2015 Review: Allegiance

8 Apr

Allegiance

In the wake of the brilliant The Americans, weak facsimiles seem to become pouring onto TV. First, there was unsuccessful ABC spy miniseries The Assets, and now there’s NBC’s Allegiance. Like The Assets, Allegiance piggybacks on a great idea without really understanding what makes The Americans work, and thus delivers an inferior product. Like The Assets, Allegiance tries to get after the big picture elements of The Americans; the espionage, the CIA or FBI vs. Russian spies dynamic, the constant terror of moles and leaks everywhere. But it doesn’t get any of the depth and layers that turn The Americans from an action spy show into something so much more.

Here’s Allegiance’s pitch. Alex is a ridiculously brilliant young analyst for the CIA who gets promoted ridiculously quickly to an incredibly important case because he’s so new that Russian spies aren’t familiar with him yet. He’s assigned as part of a team to figure out whether or not a wannabe Russian defector is telling the truth or is just setting them up to send them false info(a “dangle” they call it). He, along with senior CIA and FBI members, meet with her, and corroborate her story; she’s telling the truth, and he saves the day by just being way smarter than anyone else.

Meanwhile, it turns out his mom and dad are longtime Russian spies who have been out of the game for a few years, escaping from the Russian sky agency’s clutches in exchange for some unnamed favor. His older sister is in on the game as well, and may be currently active even while the parents are retired. Their old contact pulls them back in however; the deal is off and they’re back in, or else. The need to turn their son and have him provide this crazily important info; apparently the defector is on a trail which could lead to information uncovering every Russian agent in the states. Of course, they don’t want to, and they don’t think it would work; they’re convinced that not only would their son instantly turn them in, but they’d ruin his career in addition to sending themselves to jail forever and destroying his love for his family. So, after attempting to run, and then attempting to turn themselves in, they decide to start spying on their son without him knowing, which they’re convinced will work due to his utter and complete trust for his family.

Of course, that theory is put to the test immediately at the cliffhanger ending the episode, as Alex recognizes a dead body as an old family friend of his parents. Dun dun dun.

I really said all that needs to be said in the first paragraph, but I’ll reiterate. This show feels like someone read the elements of The Americans, thought it sounded pretty good, and decided to recreate a similar version of the show. And sure, on paper, it’s got secret hidden Russian spies, cool spy gear (there’s a Faraday cage, which is legitimately awesome). But there’s none of the interesting stuff behind that premise which makes The Americans a truly great show and not just a series of cool spy maneuvers. The level of care in The Americans and not in Allegiance is discernable even with just a pilot.

Will I watch it again? No. There’s nothing worth watching here. But if you haven’t watched The Americans yet, please do.

Spring 2015 TV Review: One Big Happy

23 Mar

One Big Happy

I recently talked about the remake of The Odd Couple, which was the latest attempt to make what I call a Sitcom (note the capital S), a comedy designed to consciously double down on and exemplify the fashion of old-style sitcoms which were popular for decades but have diminished in popularity over the last decade or so. These sitcoms share several characteristics, outsized protagonists, a laugh track, big jokes followed by significant pauses and an emphasis on broad comedy. One Big Happy is a newer invention; a show that tries to fuse a more modern ethos about the new ways young-ish people live, the relationships they have, and this diverse world we live in with this very old style of comedy.  One similar analogue that comes to mind offhand is 2 Broke Girls, which is not a coincidence since One Big Happy creator Liz Feldman worked as a writer and producer for that show.

Like with 2 Broke Girls, there’s a shiny facelift of the new plastered on the exterior, but the parts underneath are creaky and old, with the same broken humor (or really lack thereof) that has been pumping up mediocre or worse sitcoms for decades.

One Big Happy wears its premise on its sleeve, laying it out very clearly over the course of the first episode. A single commitment-phobic straight guy and his single lesbian best friend decide that if they are both single after a certain point, which they are, they’ll have a baby together, impregnating her with his sperm. After a couple of failed attempts, the baby takes, but at the same time, the guy out of nowhere falls head over heels for a  British woman who he marries to prevent her from being deported. Thus, this wacky trifecta has to make things work without killing each other and there’s no other choice, because there’s a baby involved.

There’s nothing subtle or clever about the humor in One Big Happy; it’s as broad as it gets. Broad comedy can be funny of course in the right hands but this certainly isn’t that. I took a note while watching that the lesbian character said at one point “I peed on it” to her bestie regarding a pregnancy test and it for some reason got a hysterical laugh; that’s pretty emblematic about everything in this show.

One Big Happy tries to sneak up on people who only know or hear its premise as original, but don’t be fooled. The admittedly novel premise cloaks a pretty bad comedy.

Will I watch it again? No. It was bad, and there’s no reason for anyone to watch it in the unlikely event it survives. Sorry, Elisha Cuthbert and guy who played Pete in Happy Endings. Long live Happy Endings.

Spring 2015 Review: The Slap

23 Feb

The Slap

The Slap isn’t really a good show, but it’s not really a bad show either. What it definitely is is one of the stranger high-concept network series I’ve seen in a while. The Slap definitely displays some serious ambition, and though that ambition is misplaced and mishandled, there’s something worth saying for at least the effort. 

Everything about The Slap is both strange and screams of wanting to be important and meaningful. The show begins with a third person omniscient narrator who, over the course of the episode, chimes in occasionally but not very often, making one wonder why the show possibly bothered having a narrator at all. The narrator starts to tell us about Hector’s day. It’s Hector’s 40th birthday, and he’s anticipating a big promotion in his job in city government. He’s extremely disappointed when he’s passed over, but does his best not to show it. Hector is stressed out about his job and his upcoming birthday party and chooses for some reason not to reveal his lack of promotion to his wife, who assumed the promotion was a mere formality.

All this stress highlights Hector’s lingering fantasy of having an affair with his wife’s teenage coworker, who also serves as their babysitter. Although it was hard for me to tell if this was real or fantasy, it seemed like they had kissed once but nothing more; it wasn’t too late to come back from, and Hector knows an affair with a teenager would be a terrible idea, but he can’t help dwelling on it.

The party causes additionally stress when his overbearing Greek parents and his wife fight; his parents bring way too much food and overstep their bounds (ethnic parents, right) and buy the whole family plane tickets to Greece without checking the dates with anyone else. Additionally, some other couples at the party get into some serious political bickering. Ur-capitalist suburban car dealer Harry and liberal creative-type Gary argue and argue, to the annoyance of their wives and just about everyone else. Different couples’ kids are playing in the yard, and Hector who wants to be anywhere but at this party, moves to talk and flirt with the babysitter in the corner and seems on the verge of making mistakes he wouldn’t be able to take back. Meanwhile, one of Gary’s kids is not behaving and is dangerously swinging a bat around.

And then, forty minutes in, right-wing Harry, in the spur of the moment, with no thought, frustrated by his indiscriminate bat-swinging delivers the titular slap to Gary’s child, prompting chaos and anarchy as different guests yell at and over one another, Harry defending the slap, Gary threatening to beat him up, sue him, or both, and everyone else taking sides. Hector is incidentally saved by the slap; as everyone disperses in the wake of Slap-gate, he finally tells his wife about his promotion gone wrong, they make up, and he realizes how lucky he is to have been interrupted before making a huge mistake.

Presumably, every episode will be from a different perspective of someone at the party, and will investigate how the slap changed his or her life. The Slap really is a strange show. There’s narration, as mentioned above, but just a little and serving no real purpose. Is there supposed to be a grand narrative, or merely a series of vaguely related vignettes? The very meaningful themes and subtexts of political bickering, child abuse, and parental rights would lend credence to the former, but choosing to start the series focusing on a character whose mini-arc is only peripherally slap-related seems to be point to the latter.

The Slap is hardly awful by any means but it is puzzling and none of the characters nor the writing are intriguing enough to actually watch further episodes; the most interesting aspect is the odd set up but while it does kind of make me want to know what’s going on it doesn’t really make me care enough to watch more. In another world, everything could have been a little more put together, a little sharper, and this could have been a legitimately interesting show. In this world, though, it’s just one shade off of interesting in about every way.

Will I watch it again? No. The Slap was actually a weird pleasure to watch the pilot of; too many mediocre pilots are just incredibly boring, while The Slap was just strange and all over the place. So it has that going for it. But that doesn’t make it good.

Spring 2015 Previews and Predictions: NBC

21 Jan

NBC

(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)

Allegiance – 2/5/2015

Allegiance

The first thing I wondered while watching this trailer was whether this show was made due to the success of The Americans, or whether it was made incidentally and someone watched The Americans later, only to realize that The Americans was vastly superior to their show. The protagonist is a super brilliant CIA agent who has some personal problems as a side effect of his brilliance, one of which is that it turns out, unbeknownst to him, that his parents are actually spies for Russia, the very nation who he’s working to dig up intel on day after day at his job. His parents’ superiors want them to turn their son into a Russian spy, while they’re afraid of what their son would do if he ever found out what they are. Uh oh! Family drama mixed with CIA espionage action. There’s no better quick way of describing Allegiance than that it looks like a shitty network version of The Americans that thinks it gets what makes The Americans works, but doesn’t quite. Could I be wrong about Allegiance? Maybe. Is it likely? No.

Prediction: 12- The Americans barely survives on cable television, and it’s great. If this was on CBS, I’d have a more favorable view, because almost any show can survive on CBS, but while this actually seems sensibly placed next to NBC hit The Blacklist, I’ll err on the default guess for all midseason shows, which is failure.

The Slap – 2/12/2015

The Slap

The titular event happens at a family and friends get together consisting primarily of a bunch of hip thirty-something parents. After one incredibly annoying child continues to instigate, an adult, who is not the child’s parent, slaps the child. The singular slap sparks a series of events that turns the previously friendly couples against one another, as everyone reacts differently. Some want to see the slapper punished severely for his actions, while others think his behavior was, if not justified, at least less egregious in the heat of the moment. High drama ensues. The Slap, which is a ridiculous title, and almost makes the show difficult to take seriously by itself, is based on an Australian series of the same name.

Prediction: It’s a limited eight-episode event, which wouldn’t obviously lead itself to a sequel, so it seems likely to be one and done.

One Big Happy – 3/17/2015

One Big Happy

One Big Family, produced by Ellen DeGeneres, is a comedy in the Modern Family mode of unorthodox-yet-functional families. This time, here’s the high concept. Relationship-phobic straight man and lesbian best friend decide to raise a baby together. All of a sudden, he, out of nowhere, meets the perfect woman and gets married on a whim in Vegas. Now, his best friend is pregnant with his child, while he’s now married to someone else. Hijinks ensue, and yet the three, despite constant tricky situations, seem to mostly make the unorthodox arrangement work. I doubt it will be particularly good, and it’s from a writer for 2 Broke Girls, which is definitely not a good sign.

Prediction: 12- Midseason comedies that get picked up are a rare breed indeed. Ellen’s name behind it certainly will help, but it’s just tough to break in in March when no one knows that you’re on.

A.D. – 4/5/15

A.D. A.D.

A.D. is subtitled “The Bible Continues.” That’s right. NBC is quite literally making a sequel to The Bible. To be fair, the bible in question is the History Channel miniseries produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett that produced mega-ratings for the network. A.D. starts with the crucifixion of Jesus, moves through his resurrection, and then on to early church leaders who fight for the survival and eventual triumph of Christianity against the pagan Romans. It’s a religious epic, and I have confidence it will be rapturously received by the Christian masses who watched every episode of the first Bible miniseries. At the same time, I sincerely question its value to just about anyone else. While religion offers plenty of interesting angles for storytelling, everything I know about the original Bible miniseries makes me imagine this will not offer any of those.

Prediction: Another mini-series, so there’s no renewal to be had, though since it has a huge built in audience, I’d imagine it will do well enough to earn another sequel if someone can put together an A.D. II.

Odyssey – 4/5/15

Odyssey

I cannot find a trailer for Odyssey. This may be a testament to my Google skills, or lack thereof, but searching the usual keywords on Google and on YouTube didn’t produce a trailer at the least. Here’s what I gather about the show. A troop of soldiers fighting Islamic extremists in northern Africa stumbles upon some super top secret info that an American company is actually funding the jihadists. Before they can return with this valuable information, all but one of the soldiers is killed by private contractors. There’s a massive conspiracy and it goes pretty far up. The story is, so says NBC.com, told Traffic-like, from many different perspectives, including that of a corporate litigator, a political activist, and a hacker. It sounds rather ambitious, like a cable show, maybe on Showtime, although it’s hard to get a great sense of its scale and production value without a trailer. Maybe less is more, because this sounds far and away like the most promising of the NBC midseason shows.

Prediction: Renewal – honestly, I wouldn’t place money on this, but these midseason shows are so impossible to pick anyway, much more so than fall shows, that I figured I’d have hope that the most interesting-seeming show might be good and succeed, which is probably too much to ask.

A.D.

Fall 2014 Review: State of Affairs

17 Nov

State of Affairs - Season Pilot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fall 2014 Review: A to Z

3 Oct

A, Z, and A's friend

A to Z is almost too cute for its own good. Desperately earnest in the day of where most sitcoms starting 20 and 30-somethings are snappy and ironic, A to Z may claim otherwise, but the show it most closely imitates is CBS’s recently departed How I Met Your Mother, and while, based on my overall impressions of How I Met Your Mother (with exceptions, fairly negative), that might sound like a bad thing, I actually don’t mean it that way. A to Z actually handles this earnestness, which could easily be too much, in a positive, optimistic manner that even made me, a pessimist born and bred, hopeful for a moment.. Because of this and the charisma of its two leads which leads to those positive feels, A to Z, while not being a show which demands viewing, and while, perhaps most importantly for a comedy, not being particularly funny off the bat, actually makes a halfway decent case for repeat viewership.

Of course, because it hews eerily close to How I Met Your Mother, there’s a clever storytelling gimmick that surrounds the show. A to Z is omnisciently narrated by TV superstar Katey Segal (in a slightly less violent role than her current job on Sons of Anarchy) who tells us that she’ll give us the whole story of the relationship between the two title characters, Andrew, and Zelda, over the entire course of their eight-month relationship, or again, from A to Z (groan at the pun, please). The already-knowing-how-long-the-relationship-is gimmick also reminded me of 500 Days of Summer.

Segal’s narrator tells us a little bit about the characters as well, giving us cute backgrounds of the two main stars. Andrew is the Ted – he’s the romantic, working for a rather cynical online dating company because he actually believes in helping people meet, which feels like something Ted would approve of heartily. Zelda is a career-oriented, lawyer, well-organized and conservative personality-wise, not particularly interested in going out on a limb. When they meet, he’s convinced he shared a destiny-type moment with her at a concert years ago (again, think Ted), creeping her out initially. Even though it may not actually have been her, eventually she’s persuaded to gve him a second chance, due to his sheer force of enthusiasm, which carries her more cynical self, along. They each have wacky side character best buds, straight out of rom com 101, who are goofier and louder than either of the two leads.

A to Z feels like a ten-years later update of its spiritual predecessor, How I Met Your Mother.  Slightly more twee and hip; the near decade difference in debuts shows in the types of young people at the heart of the show. The other difference, at least in the pilot, is that How I Met Your Mother, in its first couple of seasons, for all I rag on it, could be hilariously funny – Barney and Marshall, particularly – and that’s why I watched it even when I already hated other aspects of the show. A to Z isn’t particularly funny, though it also didn’t have the patronizing let-me-tell-you-how-life-is edge that so rubbed me, but few others, the wrong way on How I Met Your Mother.

To sum up, it’s sweet, and it’s earnest and it’s cute. It’s not very funny. That’s okay if it offers enough elsewhere; Girls and Enlightened are half hours both well-worth watching despite between being very often not very funny, and sometimes (moreso on Enlightened) out and out depressing. There’s something of value on A to Z, but I’m not sure if it’s enough for me, while it might be for someone who likes this stype of stuff more.

Will I watch it again? No. I seriously considered it, because the two leads did make me want to root for it and them, but the show didn’t quite win me over enough to keep watching, because it wasn’t either funny, or clever or engaging enough for another episode.

Fall 2014 Review: The Mysteries of Laura

19 Sep

The Mysteries of Laura

The Mysteries of Laura stars TV superstar Debra Messing as a crackerjack homicide detective who also has to take care of two unruly young children on her own. Her soon to be ex-husaband is a fellow cop, and the twist of the pliot is that he gets promoted to be her superior, leading to an awkward relationship at work with her ex, while she deals with the kids by herself at home. Of course, one would think the police department would want to avoid this situation, but we’ll put that aside for the moment.

What exactly are the tiular Mysteries of Laura? That’s a good question. Are the mysteries the individual murders cases she’ll be forced to solve each week? Is the mystery how she handles the stress of a high-pressure job catching deadly criminals, endangering herself in the process, while simultaneously raising two kids? Is the mystery whether The Mysteries of Laura is supposed to funny or serious? Is it who thought The Mysteries of Laura was a show that would have any sort of natural audience?

The Mysteries of Laura attempts to both be funny and dramatic over the course of an hour, and fails at both attempts. If I had to guess, the closest analogues to what The Mysteries of Laura is going for are the hour long comedic procedurals Monk and Psych, both on USA. The Mysteries of Laura would have probably have done better on that network, where,  that’s the type of programming they specialize in and they know how to take on that format successfully.

The Mysteries of Laura is just a mess all over. The first episode features the murder of a wealthy man, which Laura and her fellow detectives, but mostly Laura, must solve. The tone is goofy, and she rattles off jokes and shows off her skills in a jokey manner. She’s unprofessional by serious procedural standards, but that’s okay, because she’s silly and competent and everyone loves her except for the one uptight play-by-the-rules female detective who doesn’t. Again, think of her as the Monk or Shawn from Psych, the skeptic-who-is-always-right-in-the-end and overrules her boss every episode. Those shows though fit this format well because they’re often funny, and when not laugh-out-loud funny, enjoyable to watch – perfect for putting on while lying down before bed or just waking up when you don’t want to think too hard. Mysteries of Laura isn’t amusing or fun to watch.

The first episode, crazily enough, ends up with the revelation that her captain and mentor was the killer (played by Keith Mars himself, Enrico Colantoni). The tone changes oddly here at the episode’s end, implying that we’re supposed to feel some sort of serious, climactic, dramatic moment of pain and shock for Laura, but of course there’s none of this, not only because it belies the tone of the rest of the episode, but because it’s the first episode of the show and we barely know who any of the characters let alone care about them.

It’s just a strange show that aside from just generally not being very good, clearly doesn’t know what it wants to be. Waffling rarely works in TV. It’s possible to span multiple categories and genres (think Louie) but its a hell of a lot harder to do and a show of ambition as modest as The Mysteries of Laura should certainly not be shooting above its pay grade.

Will I watch it again? No. It succeeded at none of its aims. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t particularly enjoyable, and it didn’t really work as a procedural, either, it wasn’t tense or exciting, or suspenseful.