Thursday, September 30, 2010

ABC Wednesday Line-Up

Don't ask me how, or why. Blame it on boredom, or the fact I was cleaning and needed a bit of distraction. But somehow, I ended up watching the entire prime time line-up on ABC yesterday... I'm not proud. On the upside, I can give you a run-down of ABC's Wednesday night!

8pm - The Middle
What I love: The uncomfortably honest portrayal of a middle-class, Midwestern American family. They struggle financially, their kids are average (no one's a genius, a world-class athlete or secret rock star), and they're basically good people... most of the time. It's Rosanne without the despair. It's Malcolm in the Middle without the slapstick. Also, I heart Neil Flynn.
What I hate: Because it resembles other well-known shows, The Middle tends to be somewhat... forgettable.
Overall feeling: I'd watch it again.

8:30 - Better With You
Love: There was a nice moment where one of the protagonists, up until then a shiftless loser idiot, displays remarkable artistic vision.
Hate: That scene was the single point of interest during an interminable half-hour of television. Better With You chronicles the lives of three couples that form a single family - retirement-age parents have two adult daughters, both of whom are married. It uses every tired TV trope, creates caricatures rather than characters, and goes for the cheap laugh. A few diamond-in-the-rough moments of entertainment are not enough to make up for all of that.
Overall: There's a tiny glimmer of hope for this show - it's got strong (though not A-list) acting talent. Throw away some of those cliches and we'll talk.

9pm - Modern Family
Love: Everything.
Hate: Nothing.
Overall: Appointment television - I sat my ass down and promptly laughed it off. I didn't love this show at first, but I now recognize and acknowledge its sheer awesomeness.

9:30 - Cougar Town
Love: DAN BYRD. It is one of the greatest tragedies of our times that Aliens in America got cancelled. I previously blogged about this show as well - and I must say, without the weight of expectation, it was much more enjoyable on the second go-around. Possibly I also liked it because it was a Travis-centric episode.
Hate: I still think this show could be something more... a satire on our youth-obsessed culture, perhaps. That's probably just me.
Overall: Sure, why not.

10pm - The Whole Truth
Love: The cinematography is interesting - characters are presented as parts of their environment, rather than in a strict foreground/background approach. As a result each shot is crowded, but not cluttered. Something about it is more... organic? Immediate? I don't know, but it's good. Also, seeing the same story take on different meanings from the protagonists' individual viewpoints is a great representation of the adversarial legal system.
Hate: So far the characters seem pretty two-dimensional. Jimmy Brogan is a defense attorney, born of humble beginnings but with a heart of gold. Kathryn Peale is a tough female prosecutor just trying to get by in this man's world. Shared history, sexual tension, courtroom drama, blah blah blah.
Overall: I like the idea of it, and the way it's put together cinematically. Other than that... meh.

Sorry, guys. Got to tell it like it is.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

God in America

Last night I had the opportunity to attend an advance screening of the upcoming PBS series, God in America. A combination of documentary footage, dramatization, and expert interviews, God in America explores this country's religious history as it impacted public life. The screening consisted of three clips from the six-hour series, telling the stories of Anne Hutchinson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and their experiences with faith and politics.

The dramatizations were extremely well done, with several recognizable faces - Michael Emerson as Puritan leader John Winthrop and Chris Sarandon as Abraham Lincoln, to name a few. Which brings up an interesting question: are big-name actors a help or hindrance to a project such as this? On one hand, you want people with enough experience to do the heavy lifting. On the other hand, seeing someone you know as Linus from Lost might be a bit jarring. Especially with all the time travel that guy got up to...

Who's to say he didn't go back to sentence Anne Hutchinson to death banishment?

But the creators of the film had a good answer to this question. As you go back in history, you're eventually going to run out of video, photographs, and paintings of historical figures. As executive producer Michael Sullivan said, "We couldn't do it all with engravings." The dramatizations were intended to allow the audience to connect with these historical figures on deeper level, both intellectually and emotionally. In order to facilitate that connection, they hired great actors to embody these stories - rather than hire good actors to merely put on a show. It's a choice, but one I find that I can definitely get behind.

Watch the preview online at the website: God in America, and catch the whole series on PBS: Oct 11-13 (check your local listings for times).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

When did Texas get progressive?

Weighing in on another new show of the season, here's our guest-blogger, Jason!

So let’s just get the embarrassing admission of out the way: in the compliment of new characters this season on television, my favorite one is probably on the lamest show the lineups have to offer. What she lacks in a quality-written drama, though, she definitely gains in a pretty wicked pedigree.

I speak of Annie Frost, the lead character in NBC’s new police procedural, Chase. Played by Kelli Giddish, Annie is a U.S. Marshall based in Houston, Texas. She spends her days, Tommy Lee Jones-like, hunting down the worst of the worst and being haunted by a horrific past (natch) that has something to do with her father.

Midriff baring shirts are fast becoming the uniform of choice at Quantico.

Despite the hard-boiled teaser, the show (at least the pilot episode) doesn’t quite live up to its expectations of itself. With television being clogged with procedural dramas, the viewer needs something to set a new one apart. In that respect, Chase fails pretty spectacularly. No high tech camera angles whereby we learn that the mud actually came from a vulcanized rubber boot heel only manufactured in a San Bernardino warehouse. No stories wherein the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. Just a bunch of Texans drawlin’ ther way through the scenery ‘n catchin’ the bad gah.

Despite this, Annie herself shines through for a couple of reasons. First, and let’s not underplay this too much, this is a story about hard-hitting police officers that take down extremely dangerous criminals. And the person that they trust most to do it? A girl. Throughout the pilot, Annie competently and capably leads the team, including the requisite comic relief sidekicks, to a successful apprehension of the villain. And while the show certainly doesn’t seem to be aiming to take any story-telling risks, such as maybe letting the villain get away, Annie is consistently portrayed as the best one for the job without the show hitting you over the head about it. Her coworkers, even the good ol-boy alpha males, accept Annie’s leadership without a second thought. It’s not odd for them to look to a woman as their commander. We don’t have to sit through some awkward “yes, but can this little lady really handle the pressure?” conversation from the men-folk. It’s never questioned that Annie can do the job and, more so, the show doesn’t feel the need to raise the issue. This isn’t girl-power: this is just confidence.

Well okay, that and firearms.

The second point of cool for Annie is that she’s an extension of a lot of familiar people that we’ve already seen without being a total copycat. She’s Veronica Mars, if Veronica had decided to leave southern California and eat more red meat. There’s more than a little Philip Marlow in her. She’s really more archetype than character, but one that’s played against expectations of gender, owing more to Alan Ladd’s Shane than she does to Gloria Steinem.

The third reason for Annie’s success is undoubtedly her primary creator, Jennifer Johnson. Ms. Johnson is a long-time television writer who most recently put her talents writing for Lost (and winning awards for it) back in the first couple of seasons. You know, the ones where the show was still good. Johnson writes Annie realistically, sympathetically and smartly. While the pilot certainly had to make a couple of sloppy character-by-numbers points to get going, Annie feels like she’s got an entire history behind her that’s compelling.

And frankly, it’s just cool to see a gritty-ish crime drama created and launched by a successful woman writer, featuring a strong woman character. Although the pilot did very little to establish itself as a particularly good show, there’s a least some consolation to be taken from a new iteration of an old form – a female-centric show that doesn’t have to try to be as tough as the boys.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

Right when my love for Kristen Bell starts to slacken (*cough When in Rome cough*), she goes and does or says something awesome. This time she stated that she would be willing to personally finance a Veronica Mars movie, or even a web series.

I love you, Kristen, and all is forgiven.

Now if only Warner Brothers would get off their ass and surrender the rights. Come on, people! I need some new Veronica Mars!

"After all these years, do you not instinctively fear me? Maybe you should write yourself a note."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hawaii Five-0

Hawaii Five-0 had a couple of things going for it right off the bat. First, James Marsters (Spike from Buffy) appeared on screen within the first 3 minutes, so right there I was excited. Second, there were lots of explosions and gun-play in the first 5 minutes, which again, was hitting all my buttons. And third, Scott Caan is really funny.

As some of you may remember, Hawaii Five-0 began as a cheesy cop show in the 1980s with Jack Lord. Now it's a serious minded cop show in the 2010s. The pilot was slick, well-written, and interesting, but I think it was a bit too serious. I'm hoping the show is able to break out of the "CBS procedural" mode of shows that are too impressed with their own cleverness, and just make it fun. They're cops! In Hawaii! And they catch bad guys! Keep the good writing and quick pace (and the explosions and shooting), but don't take yourself too seriously, guys. Right now, Scott Caan is kind of the only light part and it seems like they could do better.

I definitely plan to keep tuning in, and I've heard they are setting more of an overall arc to the show, which sounds promising. The last thing CBS needs is another CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, blah blah blah, and from what I've seen so far, Hawaii Five-0 seems to be breaking out of the pack. So give it a try!

Also, as much as I remember Moonlight fondly, someone needs to get Alex O'Loughlin a personality, STAT.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I also accessorize my bikini with a side of whoop ass.

Well, color me shocked, but so far the CW is 2 for 2. Their second new show, Nikita, turned out to be really entertaining and (shocker) well made and acted...although to be fair, I haven't totally made up my mind about Shane West.

If you want a good brief recap of the show check out the recaplet from TWOP, but I am sure you know the basics. Girl in prison is recruited by super secret government agency to become an assassin. Girl is awesome assassin, but then then falls in love. Secret government agency murders her fiance. Girl swears revenge!

Nikita picks up three years after the above events. Nikita has been hanging out under the radar for awhile, but has now decided that it's the right time to kick things into gear and bring down The Division (the above referenced super secret government agency). Not only do we see what Nikita is up to (which in the pilot is basically leading the Division guys around by the nose), but the show also follows Alex, a new recruit in The Division. This keeps the show really interesting; we get to see what a broken mess Nikita is, but also get a good idea of how she got to be that way by watching Alex's experience.

The pilot was nice to look at, kept my attention with its action, and had plenty of twists and turns, including an awesome surprise at the very end. Maggie Q seems pretty badass, and while I think she is way too thin to be the sexbomb she portrays, I like her. Especially when she convinces Shane West's character to let her go from a tight spot...and then shoots him in thanks. My kind of girl.

If this keeps up, the CW is going to be my number one channel this Fall. Actually, come to think of it, it might be already. And I can't decide if that means I am happening or just sad. Especially since their target audience consists of 18 year old girls.

You may be able to snap a guy's neck like a twig, but you shouldn't look like one. Eat a cookie, honey.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Hellcats: Not as bad as you've heard

Perhaps it's because I'm a girl. Or because I'm a sucker for a good musical montage (of which this show has many). Or maybe....oh, I don't know, maybe I'm just crazy. But I didn't hate Hellcats. In fact, I kind of like it.

So the show is not good, but it is fun and I think it's the guilty pleasure of the season. The acting is just ok, the writing isn't all that clever or even cute, and all the people are impossibly pretty (which is actually beginning to seriously bug), but I still find myself liking it. Basically, if you are like me and watch Bring It On every time it airs on cable television, enjoy plucky heroines, and lap up dance montages, this show is for you!

So the deal is some hipster rocker chick (who apparently has some amazing secret gymnastic skillz) has to get herself on the cheerleading squad at her Memphis college to secure a new scholarship when her academic scholarship gets canceled. She instantly butts heads with the perky "no pessimism" allowed captain of the squad played by a post-nose job and post-High School Musical Ashley Tisdale. Although I have to say: as annoying as Tisdale's character may be, she's actually not really that bitchy. She's kind of nice, which is an interesting twist on what could have easily been a one dimensional character. But don't worry: there are plenty of bitches to go around.

And I appreciate how the actresses on the show have lots of different body-types. Most of the background girls on the squad are believable as hard-core athletes and you couldn't really describe any of them as "waifs." Even the main character has some curves on her. Of course they are probably still under 100 lbs, but baby steps, right?

So to sum up: thumbs up for this guilty pleasure for me, but don't blame me if you watch it and decide you hate it. I make no promises. If you dig on Bring It On, Center Stage, Stick It, etc, give the show a try.