So Kimberly and I haven't had very good luck finding new TV shows this season. Too much has been mediocre, cancelled, or both. My TV tag
includes discussions from last year of how we stopped watching A Gifted Man
, Prime Suspect,
and Person of Interest
. I've also written over on Xenagia about my ups and downs with Once Upon a Time
Here's my current thoughts on the more recent drama shows we've tried out:Alcatraz.
A beautiful premise. A great character in Hurley-the-comic-book artist, and almost as good of characters in the Warden and the boss of CSI: Alcatraz
. The problem: the producers have taken all of this potential and turned it into a somewhat unbelievable police procedural. (Why is it unbelievable? At least partially due to the caliber of the criminals of Alcatraz
, most of whom seem to serial killers in an era before serial killers. But the crimes are also often set up badly, such as the week that pert-blonde-cop figured out a very complex "modus operandi" [not actually a modus operandi] for how the killer killed people, which had never
been discovered during his original crimes; you see there was one young girl in each group of three ... who could have ever figured that out!?) And worse, it's a lame procedural, because there's no mystery about who's doing what, nor a lot of tension. And it's damned repetitive, as 63-of-the-week after 63-of-the-week commits crimes with weirdly regular time requirements that our heroes must foil. I was ready to give up before last week's episode, about the returned guard. Then we suddenly got an episode all about metaplot and the more interesting parts of the background that often seem forgotten (like the fact that whoever is sending these 63s back has some sort of purpose), that's also solidly connected to our main characters. Sadly, I'm expecting to go right back to 63-of-the-week with tonight's episode. The weekly question isn't "Will a '63 be returning?", but rather, "Will I?" Grimm.
Though it started in fall, Kimberly & I didn't actually start watching this show until the Christmas break, when everything else went off the air. (We're still about 5 episodes behind, as we watch the show occasionally when it strikes us, so take what I say here with that grain of salt.) The show was helped by the fact that it didn't try to punch out of its weight class. We knew it was a police procedural coming in, and so that was our expectation. Yeah, there's a little metaplot involving the boss and that lawyer and our hero Grimm's role in the upcoming apocalypse, but we understand that the show is going to be about the supernatural crime of the week. And, from that point of view, it's interesting. The hero is OK, and he's got a kinda funny girlfriend. The best character, who really makes the show, though, is the werewolf sidekick. The crimes are kind of interesting and occasionally surprising. The directing and mood are both really
good. Suffice to say, without the dark grimmness and the funny sidekick, we wouldn't be watching the show. My only real issue, other than the show's innate shallowness, is that the whole new-animal-people-of-the-week could both get old and undercut the idea of fairie tales. Not so far though. Goodd enough (for what it is).Lost Girl.
Succubus turned detective? Could be the next Buffy
. A Canadian production? Could be the next Slings & Arrows
. Interesting metaplot? Perhaps. Or it could look like the bastard offspring of a Hong-Kong Action Film and a SyFy made-for-tv monster movie. So, it had some interesting characters and some interesting background, but it burns, it burns.
What I've read suggests it doesn't get any better through season 3 (which has been shown in Canada), and never does anything that interesting, so I'm happy enough we let this one go quickly. A lost hour.Once Upon a Time.
This is our only true survivor from the Fall '11 drama season. It's got a lot going for it. The setup is pretty good, with Fables in the real world (not that they weren't beat to that idea or anything, though). The flashbacks to the Fables world are also quite good. However, from there the show gets really rocky. My biggest problem is the inconsistency of the show. There were two episodes that were just so
horrible that I could barely stand to watch them. The first was the second episode, which went off on this horrible "Desperate Housewives" like plot, with Emma and the Mayor spitting and slapping at each other in maniacal ways. Emma even threatens to cut down the mayor's apple tree! Oy! The second was a more recent episode spotlighting the genie of the lamp, which had two big twists deep in the episode, which I thought were horribly obvious from very early on -- and thus it was torture watching the stupid, stupid characters not seeing what was coming. My other issue is that though the plotting is often interesting, the scripting is often bad in an over-the-top, overblown, badly-written, I-can-quote-that-line-before-they-say-it sort of way. This two-faced show has stayed on our list for its potential and for its glimmers of goodness, but might not survive a more competitive season. Bill Willingham did it better. But I keep being drawn back nonetheless.The River.
OK, so I had some problems with the first episode (part one of the two parts they showed last week). First, it was so decompressed that even I, Mr. Decompression Lover, thought it was lagging. Second, it aped The Blair Witch Project
in such an obvious way while simultaneously not understanding what actually made The Blair Witch Project
good. Enter episode two, which Kimberly and I watched this evening. In part. (That's foreshadowing.) Half-an-hour in, I say, "Is it me or has nothing happened in this episode?" Kimberly says, "There was walking." Then the freaking director starts yanking the cameras back and forth while off-camera stage-hands throw dolls through the frame. The actors start running around through mud and then one suddenly collapses screaming, "It's got me! It's dragging me down!" And it becomes freaking
impossible for me not to see that this bunch of actors are just role-playing on a muddy set with nothing actually dangerous around. And I realize that this is the crap that a 15-year-old does for his high school class because he doesn't actually have any money and he doesn't know how to make a film anyway. And it's physically painful to watch. So I ask Kimberly if she minds turning the thing off, and she doesn't, and I don't. So it's gone with only an hour and a half wasted on one of the worst shows ever to grace our TV screens. Which is a pity, because it might have been OK if not for their Blair Witch
high concept, which led to the problems of decompression and
looking like a bunch of morons flailing around for pretend in a swamp in front of cameras. Shake your monitor back and forth while screaming, and you will see how dead to me this is.Smash!
Just one episode into this, which you'll see is the only non-genre show on the list. Kimberly and I both thought it was really good. Mind you, we both thought the pilot of Glee
was brilliant, and the rest of the show never came near that episode's level. I think the pilot of Smash
however, looked more sustainable. It was quirky character drama with an interesting view of the arts that reminded me a lot of the very-good Canadian show Slings & Arrow
. If it can maintain that comparison, all is good here. Oh, and I like the connections to history via the Marilyn Monroe backstory. Smashingly good! So far.The Walking Dead
. This just came back on the air last night. It's too early to see if season 2.5 is up to the standards of 2.0, and I'm still waiting for fallout from the loss of the show's producer and money as the network scrambled to keep Mad Men
. But, I thought season 2.0 was brilliant. That
was decompression done very, very well, with a tight, claustrophobic story told over 6 or 7 episodes, all the time giving us both great and intimate views of the characters and meaningful and symbolic subtext to think about. I thought the first season was a little uneven, but from 2.0 onward, this has gone on my list of top genre dramas of recent years. Grrrrr!! Argh!!!! Great!!!!
The other thing that strikes me about this new crop of dramas: how badly derivative of Lost
they are. I mean, Alcatraz
, Once Upon a Time
, and The River
all use flashbacks for their storytelling. The River
disguises it by the flashbacks being old footage, while Alcatraz
is so bold as to use a go-to-flashback sound-effect that is almost exactly like the Lost
go-to-flashback sound-effect. Both Alactraz
and Once Upon a Time
also closely ape the one-character-per-episode model that Lost
Mind you, I love what character focus and flashbacks bring to the table for TV shows, and I hope these innovations will last beyond this Lost
finale fallout. I didn't complain about the character-focus in Flashfoward
, as I felt it had plenty of its own going for it & that it did it well. But I'm pretty shocked that three shows all set in the modern day with supernatural components would be so blatant in also using the main stylistic tools of Lost
. (Yes, each with their own angle: Alcatraz
is Lost & Orde
r; Once Upon a Time
is Lost Fables
; and The River
is The Lost Witch Project
; but I feel like there's a real paucity of innovation in these new shows, which is IMO, part of why they fail.)
[And that was all a nice break from real-life drama, which continues.]