Tag Archives: Summer 2012 TV Season

Summer 2012 Review: Sullivan and Son

5 Sep

Here’s the premise, and essentially the first episode of Sullivan and Son in reliatvely brief. Steve Sullivan is a big-city corporate lawyer living in New York, where he was just promoted to some nameless, not-understandable-by-normal-people position for his investment bank.  He’s returning to his hometown of Pittsburgh for his dad’s birthday with his girlfriend, another big city NYer more excited about his promotion than he is. He gets back, hangs out with his friends from home and his family, and finds out his dad is selling the bar that has been in the family for multiple generations. He realizes his dad enjoys every day as a bartender, while he dreads every day as a corporate lawyer, so he decides on a whim to buy the bar, and move home to spend time with his friends and family. His big city girlfriend can’t even begin to comprehend his decision and decides to return to NY, ending their relationship.

Sullivan and Son features just about every classic go-to sitcom contrast a viewer can ask for (or ask to please not have). It’s got poor vs. rich; he was making big time bucks in his NYC corporate lawyer job, but will trade it in for a less financially fulfilled life living around the poorer goofballs of Pittsburgh – rich is good for your wallet, but not for your soul.  He’ll both bartend and practice some law, although local real person law rather than unintelligible corporate law (see: Ed). It’s got big city – small town (even though it’s Pittsburgh, not Stuckeyville, but still). New York may be upscale and sophisticated but it has no heart, and people don’t care about each other like they do in Pittsburgh.  Steve’s girlfriend represents every negative stereotype about NYC and pretty much admits it straight out – she wants to pay too much for pretentious but inferior products – coffee, she says, costs four dollars, because that’s how you know it’s good. She wants to be around people who matter, and who are sophisticated, unlike those losers in Pittsburgh, and, well, she wants this big materalistic life that clearly shows a lack of appreciation for the things that really matter in life.   We’ve got the ethnic clash as well – (a la Rob Schneider’s Rob! (forget about that one already?  sorry for reminding you), but one generation removed – unlike Rob, who is marrying a Mexican-American, Steve is son of mixed-race parents) – Steve is the product of an Irish father and a Korean mother.  Her Korean mother naturally prefers her son to her daughter, and participates and likely will continue to in further Korean cliches.

The bar is fulled with lovable loser characters who will inhibit the series – Steve’s cadre of hometown friends, who naturally act like kind of jerks, because that’s how all good sitcom friends act (see:  The League) – like real friends who make fun of you, but take it just a little too far in situations.  There’s the older folks too, including the mother one of his friends (played by brief SNL veteran Christine Ebersole), a local lovable drunk who still wants to sleep around with just about anyone, making for both awkward and good-humored situations for the other customers, as well as the resident old racist (played by brief SNL veteran Brian Doyle Murray), which also makes for awkward and good-humored situations for the other customers.  There’s also the old high school crush that may have been interested in him too (Ed again) who is apparently now kind of dating a guy who does exactly what Steve used to do two days ago before he abruptly decided to take over the bar.  I guess they’ll never revisit that.

That’s the show.  There’ll be some guys hanging out and ribbing on each other, some will-Steve-slowly-get-closer-to-dating-his-old-high-school-crush, some Irish and Korean stereotypes, and some good-hearted everyone loves each other after all moments, I’m sure.  It’s not  terrible like the truly bad shows are (again, Rob!) but why this show exists I’m not exactly sure.

Will I watch it again?  No.  I suppose if I must judge this against other TBS sitcoms, it’s better than Men at Work.  The humor is cliched and tried but I think I like the main character in this show more than anyone in that show, and the people in general seem less obnoxious with the possibility of even being likable.  Alas, it’s still not very good.  I’m sorry if The Office, Arrested Development, and it’s progeny have gotten me to expect more out of a sitcom than a couple of cliches and a laugh track, but they have.  Just try a little harder next time, please.

Summer 2012 Review: Major Crimes

4 Sep

Do you like The Closer?  If so, you’ll like this.  If not, you won’t.

I really want to simply end this review with that line but it feels like a cheat, so I’ll explain Major Crimes, if by chance you, the reader, has had the good/bad fortune to never have seen The Closer, or can’t imagine a Closer without Kyra Sedgwick (after 7 long seasons as the most popular show on cable, it can be hard).

Mary McDonnell, best known to me, at least, as President Roslin in the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, portrays the new main character in this The Closer spin-off.  At first, I thought moving from President to head of Major Crimes would be a pretty big demotion, but the LAPD may actually be bigger than the society over which Roslin was President.  McDonnell, as Captain Sharon Raydor, a character introduced late in The Closer, with the possible intent of a spin-off right from the beginning, takes over right where Kyra Sedgwick left off.  Quite literally, she replaces Sedwick’s Brenda Johnson as head of the LAPD’s Major Crimes unit.  Many in the unit, mostly the same characters from The Closer, are not fans of Captain Raydor, and and apparently have despised her rule-abiding policies for the past couple of seasons of The Closer, which I have not watched, when she was in a different position. Aside from the general emasculation that the old white police boys club clear feels because a woman has been assigned to lead them (again!), they don’t like Raydor in particular because of her new plea bargain friendly policies, designed to create cheap, fast and easy plea bargains for criminals even though they may involve slightly shorter sentences than if these cases went forward and to trial the old-fashioned American way.

In particular, this first episode involves a police shoot out.  Undercover cops are trailing a couple of suspected armed robbers, who have taken out a couple of grocery stores, but without violence.  Right at the beginning of the episode, the robbers are involved in a shootout with the police, leaving two of them dead, and one caught.  The caught criminal is about to agree to talk, when he’s fired upon.  It’s at this point that we learn that Raydor has become the new head of the unit and her subordinate, who headed the unit for about a week previously after Brenda left is not happy about it, let me tell you.  He gives her and Assistant Chief of Operations Taylor, who comes by to deliver the news, all the guff they can handle before reminding them that there will be more guff later, after he does his damn job and solves this case.

Blah, blah, blah, it turns out the shooters were a gang of military vets who were unable to fit in with regular society and played a first person shooter called “Win or Die” together (only the relatively young  woman working the case knew what the video game, or video games in general, were, unsurprisingly).  One is left alive, and turns out to be a cop’s son, and the police have the goods on him.  Raydor works hard to get the right facts confessed for the DA and makes a plea bargain happen which again further incenses the old white dude now her inferior.  Raydor struggles with her hold on the unit, which largely despises her, but stays firm and does her damn job, making it through her first day in charge alive and with a win on her record.

Oh, also, there’s a weird subplot about a disaffected teenage boy who is a material witness in a major case which may or may not have been discussed in The Closer and who needs a place to stay until his time as witness is up.  He complains and whines and complains and eventually it turns out he’ll live in an uncomfortable living arrangement with Raydor and be a main or at least recurring character for some reason.

This show is exactly what it appears to be on the surface.  I’d rate it as slightly better than The Closer because I prefer President Roslin’s no nonsense rule-following attitude to Kyra Sedgwick’s incredibly annoying I’m-just-a-girl southern accent as she talks to suspects when convincing them to confess, but the style, format, and cast is essentially the same (sadly without JK Simmons).  It’s well produced and the action is brisk, easy to watch, and paced smartly.  It’s nothing more than a police procedural though, and there’s no special element that makes it stand out, and anyone expecting anything additionally will be sadly disappointed.

Will I watch it again?  Honestly, no.  I would understand if someone else did though.  If you liked The Closer and it wasn’t entirely for Kyra Sedgwick, you’ll probably like it.  If you didn’t you probably won’t, and if you didn’t care at all about The Closer, you probably will not care at all about Major Crimes, which is more or less how I feel.

Summer 2012 Review: Dallas

7 Aug

Dallas is part of a recent spate of TV soap revivials including the kind of successful 90210 and the unsuccessful Melrose Place, but this revival is of a slightly older show, and with more original characters and actors playing more important parts.

I can sum up what I know about the original Dallas in a couple of sentences.  I know J.R. is the bad one and Bobby is the good one, and that the events take place near and on the Southfork Ranch in Texas.  (Sidenote:  My parents took my brothers and I to the real Southfork Ranch when we visited Dallas as kids).  I knew the Ewings were the good guys and the Barnes’s were the bad guys, and who shot J.R.  I also know the theme song.  That’s about it.

The theme song is back (smart move; the theme is a total classic, and hearkens back to the best of themes from that era) along with J.R., Bobby, as well as Sue Ellen, J.R.’s wife in the original, and now ex-wife, all played by their original actors and actress.  Even as someone who never watched the original Dallas, I can appreciate there’s something to having the old actors back at their classic parts; it’s like watching an old pitcher you didn’t get to appreciate as a youngster back on the team later in his career.  The new major characters are Bobby’s son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe, who played John Tucker in John Tucker Must Die, and also appeared in Desperate Housewives), and J.R.’s son John Ross (Josh Henderson, also a recurring character in Desperate Housewvies), along with their respective belles, Rebecca (played by third season Veronica Mars actress Julie Gonzalo) and Elena (Fast and Furious veteran Jordana Brewster).  Bobby also has a new wife played by Brenda Strong (best known, you guessed it from Desperate Housewives).

Okay, let’s run through the pilot episode right quick.  Christopher went abroad for a while before the series, where he met Rebecca; they’re now engaged, and he comes back to Southfork for their wedding.  John Ross and Elena made a huge discovery of oil on Southfork, drilling without asking Bobby, owner of the ranch, for permission.  Bobby’s got stomach cancer but is reluctant to tell his family before the wedding.  He visits J.R., who is rotting away in a home, suffering from depression.  While John Ross has put his stock in oil, Christopher is all in on alternative energy, and he’s got a big plan with methane, but he needs money.  Bobby is ready to sell Southfork off to a conservatory to provide him with the cash.  Bobby finds out about the drilling on his land and is furious.  It turns out that Chris’s methane technology has major issues, which John Ross, after spying on Chris’s work to discover the information, threatens to tell Bobby about on the day of the wedding.  Fortunately for Chris, Bobby doesn’t care, and a petulant John Ross goes to see his father who rises up for the first time in ages, spurred by the desire to take back Southfork for himself.  It also turns out that Elena was once engaged to Bobby; they had each thought the other had broken the engagement, but the break up was due to an e-mail sent by a mysterious third party telling Elena that Bobby wasn’t interested anymore.  The episode ends with a handshake deal between Bobby and the woman from the conservatory, followed by consecutive scenes showing that either J.R., John Ross, or both, have the conservatory woman in their pocket.  Oh, also John Ross meets this woman on the center of the new Cowboys field for a reason I’m not aware of.

I’ll admit.  I haven’t really been huge into primetime soaps over the course of my teleiviosion watching days.  I don’t really have a great reason for it.  In fact, after watching all my favorite but often more serious shows, it might be just what I need.  I didn’t watch 90210 or Melrose Place as a kid and I never really got into The OC or Gossip Girl when they were big.  Revenge is a big moment in personal prime time soap history for me, following one regularly, and I quite like it, and while I’m probably not going to watch more Dallas, it really wasn’t bad.  Larry Hagman as J.R. already seemed more put together and cunning than his son in about three minutes of non-comatose time.  The show wasn’t incredibly compelling, but it was a little bit, and the warring family classic soap pattern still has some potential juice in it.  It was irony-free prime time soap, unlike the Gossip Girls of the world, but it seemed like it could have the right level of trash to keep things going.  I may be couching this in a surprising way, but that might be because whenever I watch a show that I don’t have a high expectations for, I have low expectations for it, and even just exceeding those is kind of impressive.  The old characters were actually more riveting than the new.

Will I watch it again?  You know, I probably won’t.  I have Revenge in my life as my current top soap, and it’s better than this, at least from the first episode of each.  Dallas isn’t close to must watch TV.  But I was interested enough to read the quick wikipedia summaries of each episode, and that’s perhaps worth something.  The show is a solid okay.

Summer 2012 Review: Political Animals

23 Jul

Political Animals in an USA miniseries about a Hillary Clinton-like figure who is now Secretary of State and is facing tricky situations both in her job and in her personal life.  We know she’s a Hillary Clinton-like figure, because the character, Elaine Barrish, played by Sigourney Weaver, lost in the Democratic primary for President, and was married to a two-time former President and former Southern governor, and she was appointed Secretary of State after supporting her former rival in the general election.  You don’t get much more similar than that.  On top of that, she divorced her husband right after her campaign ended, but like Hillary, her overall popularity went way up after she became secretary of state, and the election was over, as she showed a much lighter, more human side of her personality.  Rumors were prevalent that she might want one more shot at the white house.

After an opening scene in which she concedes the election and tells her husband she wants a divorce, we skip forward in time two years.  She’s the high-powered secretary of state.  One of her sons is her chief aide, and is having an engagement party.  Her other son, who made waves as the first openly gay child of a serious presidential candidate, (Didn’t Dick Gephardt have a gay daughter? Maybe?  Or maybe he didn’t count) is more troubled, having had serious drug problems, and having attempted suicide in the recent past, which, up to now, the family has been able to keep out of the press.  At the engagement party, Elaine will be seeing her husband for the first time possibly since the divorce, and she’ll also have to deal with her possibly drug using son who wants money from his parents to start a club.

Oh, and while all this personal drama is going on, there’s an international crisis as well.  Iran has arrested three American journalists and is rushing them through a show trial and sentencing them to death.  The only way this can be stopped is for the president to come to Iran, something the president, played by Adrian Pasdar, who finally got the job he ran for in Heroes (as Nathan Petrelli), steadfastly refuses to do on principle.  Elaine finds out that this whole stunt is a ploy from the Iranian president, who wants to improve relations with America, to please his own hard-line supporters, and that the president knew about it, but didn’t agree with the plan, and she’s got to figure out another more creative way to convince the president to try to save these journalists.

While all this is happening, a journalist, played by Carla Gugino, managed to get an exclusive series of interviews with the Secretary of State by threatening to reveal Elaine’s younger son’s suicide attempt, which makes Elaine none too fond of her.  Gugino has her own problems as well, trying to get hard news, while competing with a younger cutesy twee female reporter who writes about less-lofty subjects, and who she suspects may be sleeping with her boyfriend, who is also her editor.

I’ll give it this – it’s certainly, at least, at this early juncture, less “blue skies” than the traditional USA show.  I would imagine we’ll have a fairly successful and happy ending, that won’t exactly be like the end of a Wire season, but for now, she has more serious problems in one episode than characters on some other USA shows deal with in a season.  Sigourney Weaver does her best, and she’s a less instantly likable character than most USA leads, which is also to the show’s credit, I suppose, if we can compare things to their network mates as signs of interesting-ness.

Here’s the issue, as it is with so many shows that get lost in the shuffle.  It’s not bad.  It isn’t.  But it isn’t great, and it doesn’t really look like it has the potential to grow to great.  If it sounds like something you’d like, then, well, it just may well be.  It’s quite watchable, and if the whole thing aired some lazy Sunday I’d consider not leaving the couch for a couple of extra hours.  But there’s no element in the show that reaches out and grabs you and says, well, that’s why you need to see Political Animals.  Most shows don’t have this, so I don’t mean to be harsh; but it’s worth saying.  I’m very mildly interested in what happens next.

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.  It’s not bad, but it’s not quite good enough to go out of one’s way to watch (I do watch a couple other shows that are probably around this level of quality, but these aren’t must watch, they’re just personal preference).  As I said, maybe one day if they’re all repeating and I’m tired or hung over.

Summer 2012 Review: Men at Work

7 Jul

TBS postured its endless series of Men at Work ads throughout the NBA Playoffs (endless is if anything, an understatement, as they appeared at every commercial break at least once in a couple of different forms – scenes from the show, actors talking about their characters, actors pretending to just be hanging out and having a good time) as a show just about men being men.  It’s the anti-Community or insert your favorite super smart deep and layered comedy-here – it’s turn the brain off, and sit down and have some fun, a couple of laughs, and hang out with the bros doing bro stuff.

The problem with that philosophy is that when you go out trying to make a stupid show, you usually end up with a stupid show.

Our main characters are four dudes who are good friends and also co-workers at what appears to be a magazine of some sort.  The show is apparently supposed to be set in New York, which I would never have known except for an offhand reference at the end, it looks far more like the non-descript soundstage on which it’s surely filmed.  If I’ve complained about shows claiming to be set in New York but looking nothing like New York once, I’ve done it a thousand times, but since there’s far worse things about this show, I’ll note it once and move on.

The four guys are all played by TV veterans.  That 70s Show’s Danny Masterson plays Milo, whose girlfriend (played by Amy Smart, who you’d think they’d bring back because why else have someone of her level of fame be in the show for thirty seconds) breaks up with him in the first episode.  His buds are Tyler, played by Michael Cassidy, who had recurring roles in Smallville and The O.C., Gibbs, played by James Lesure who was the sidekick on Las Vegas for several years (it’s definitely sad that Gibbs just makes me think of NCIS) and nerdish Neal, played my hometown East Meadow’s own Adam Busch, who recurred as Season 6 villain Warren in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Neal is the only one in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend Amy, while the others are single and ready to mingle.

I used this word when describing Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management, but it’s just as true here; everything about the show is retrograde.  The laugh track, the that’s-what-men-do situations and banter; it’s like the show ignored the past decade of the evolution of comedy.  I realize there’s an implicit judgment here, but comedy has come so far not just with edgy, interesting shows, but with shows that even simply take the classic formula and just modernize it.  Parks and Recreation is a great example of this.  There’s nothing wild about it’s set up, it’s a workplace comedy essentially but it’s smart, funny, and doesn’t talk down to the viewer.  There’s also room for comedies that don’t make you think a ton; It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia isn’t layered or filled with deeper meaning, but it’s downright hilarious. Easy un-thinking viewing shouldn’t require a lot of thinking for the viewer, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t require thinking for the writers.

Men at Work features old, tired, tropes about what being a man is and treats these tropes in extremely unfunny ways.  No real people hang out like this, and if they did I certainly wouldn’t want to watch it.  The boys take their moping, newly broken up with friend, out to the bar to hit on some hotties and get “rebound ass” (in even more obnoxious fashion, the screen helpfully highlights with a TBS-provided definition of what rebound ass means).

Also, it’s worth noting that the show is created by of all people, actor Breckin Meyer, currently starring in TBS sister network TNT hour long Franklin and Bash (as…Franklin?  that’s a guess and I don’t think I care enough to check further).

Unlike with Anger Management network FX, there has never been a single good TBS comedy so it’s not as if I was expecting otherwise.  I just wish the rest of America would catch up with good taste, and yes, I’m being judgmental.  People out there can watch and enjoy this if they want, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad.  There’s plenty of solid material out there to be written about guys and friends and friends who are guys, but it would be nice if someone thinks about it a little bit before putting pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?).

Will I watch it again?  Not unless those endless TNT commercials for the show put some sort of hypnotic message in my head which forces me to.

Summer 2012 Review: The Newsroom

27 Jun

The Newsroom is about a, well, newsroom, putting on a nightly news show.  The show is headed by anchor Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, and helmed by executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), under the guidance of news division head Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston – I heart Jack McCoy forever).

Aaron Sorkin is clearly an extremely skilled writer, of dialogue in particular, even though I’ve vacillated on how much I enjoy his writing (Joss Whedon is my preferred TV staple dialogue-writing cult figure).  It’s good though, for the most part, it’s sharp and crisp, and though it can be exhausting sitting through some Sorkin conversations, they have a rhythm and a cadence that gets more comfortable over time.

Aaron Sorkin, when he’s creating a show, rather than writing a movie, is also a creator of worlds, and here his talents are not quite as proficient.  Sorkin is an utter optimist and believes things can be better; this show is about running a BETTER Newsroom; his most successful show.  I capitalize better because the problem lies in the fact that Sorkin think he knows what’s objectively better.  There’s nothing wrong with an optimistic show; not every show has to be as soul-crushing as season 4 of The Wire or Six Feet Under.  However, there’s optimistic and generally light in tone and then there’s preachy and sanctimonious, which unfortunately is where the show lies some of the time and comes awful close to lying some more of the time.

(Having briefly mentioned The Wire before, I think it’s worth noting that in fact, in many ways The Newsroom looks to be the flipside to season 5 of The Wire’s journalism plot.  Where David Simon has just as much preaching to do about the state of the journalism industry, in Simon’s world view, the good guys lose about 70% of their games, while in Sorkin’s the guys guys win that many.)

There’s also this crazy and kind of disturbing romanticism for the past; a time when enws was NEWS and the greatest generation and blah blah.  I hate past romanticism more than anything; things were different but not better in every way; we used to not give gay people rights, let along black people.  Sure, some things are always better and some things are always worse; things are different.  Jeff Daniel’s character exclaims in a controversial speech in a panel at the beginning of the show that America is not the best country in the world, but then eventually says it used to be.  I was totally with him on the first part; my-country-is-best grandstanding outside of sporting events is on of the silliest ideas prevalent throughout the U.S. that I don’t understand.  Sure, I love my country, and I’ll root for it at the World Cup but I hardly think it’s objectively better overall than every other country; it’s better in some ways, and worse in others.  Once Daniels started on the second half that America used to be better, I was turned off completely.  Not to mention this continuing idea of bemoaning the rampant partisanship of America.  My belief is, for most things, some variant of fuck compromise – I believe strongly in one side and think the other is dead wrong.

That was a little bit off track, but it wasn’t entirely because the point is, while Aaron Sorkin’s world makes it seem like a great place to leave, it’s not real life, and it’s not somewhere you’d want to be real life, and that’s because it doesn’t work.

After writing about it, I realize I think I like it less than I thought I did right when I finished the episode.  I feel confident in everything I’ve written, but it’s worth remembering before I leave off what a talented writer Sorkin is; the show has good things going for it countering the bad.

One more quick note:  The show makes the kind of odd decision to set itself on the day of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and then conceal that fact until about halfway through the episode where it’s revealed as if it’s a crazy reveal; can you believe they’re starting a news show on this day?  I don’t really understand why, if they really wanted to start that day, they couldn’t have just revealed the date at the beginning.  It’s not as if most people know the date by heart as they would September 11 or D-Day.

Will I watch it again?  Yes, Sorkin is a big enough name and a talented enough guy that I’m going to give him a little bit of leeway despite my objections.  Also, I have no other way to get my Sam Waterston fix.  I may just fast forward to Waterston parts at some point, though.