Dee on TV

NBC has the most new shows debuting this fall, so grab a cup of coffee and check out NBC’s shows for fall 2012.

Revolution (Monday 10:00)

Premise: An unknown phenomenon destroys all advanced technology on the planet.

Thoughts: Revolution is this year’s The Event and FlashForward. It’s flashy with a big budget, big names, and lots of cool imagery that fits its strange premise. Like other mystery shows of this ilk, I’ll be watching, but my expectations are low; mystery shows without a backbone or advance plotting tend to fall flat.

Go On (Tuesday 9:00)

Premise: A sportscaster tries to move on from the loss of his wife.

Thoughts: I think Matthew Perry is charming and engaging, and I’m a sucker for odd ensemble casts like Community and Cougar Town. The preview for Go On was warm and funny. I’ll be watching.

The New Normal (Tuesday 9:30)

Premise: A successful couple uses a surrogate to have a baby.

Thoughts: I want to like this show, because I like an entertainment focus on non-traditional families and the different ways that we develop community. Some of the jokes seemed genuine and some were sloppy (particularly the apparently-racist and homophobic grandmother). Also, it’s a Ryan Murphy show, so consider this fair warning that it will go off the rails.

Animal Practice (Wednesday 8:00)

Premise: A veterinary practice experiences drama between staff and clients.

Thoughts: Animal Practice is only on the air because it co-stars a monkey. A procedural medical drama with animals instead of people might be a funny twist on the genre, but that’s not what this show is. This is a sideshow about oddballs with a monkey as a practicing doctor.

Guys with Kids (Wednesday 8:30)

Premise: Three men raise infants without their wives.

Thoughts: Guys with Kids is built around the premise that men are too stupid to be good fathers, so “the jokes are rough” doesn’t quite cut it in description. It’s existence should insult almost everyone I know, including my own father. I think we can preemptively call this one a no.

Chicago Fire (Wednesday 10:00)

Premise: Firefighters and paramedics work at the Chicago Fire Department.

Thoughts: Chicago Fire is this year’s Third Watch and ER, a high-octane medical drama featuring explosions, personal drama, and plenty of emergencies. I suspect it’ll be hiding a lack of heart behind lots of fire and romance unless they can ground it in the characters.

I’m continuing to check out new shows for fall 2012 with today’s Fox offerings.

The Mob Doctor (Monday 9:00)

Premise: A surgeon protects her career and family from a family debt to the mob.

Thoughts: The Mob Doctor is the winner of this season’s “on the nose” title. We’re leaning pretty heavily on the melodrama here, but it’s a corruption, power, and redemption story. I think it’s leaning too far over the edge.

Ben and Kate (Tuesday 8:30)

Premise: An adult brother and sister move in together.

Thoughts: Ben and Kate is a screw-up story featuring adult siblings, which is a nice take on an old genre. It’s trying to be a warm family story and it might get there; Kate’s five-year-old daughter provides the required precocious child. The jokes in the preview are really rough, so hopefully they can smooth it out.

The Mindy Project (Tuesday 9:30)

Premise: A single doctor tries to navigate her personal and professional life.

Thoughts: I’m not completely sure what the show is about, but the dialogue and plotting in the preview clip seems sharp. The Mindy Project may turn out to be a nice quirky show.

Today I’m checking out the CW’s new fall shows for 2012.

Emily Owens, MD (Tuesday 9:00)

Premise: A first-year intern discovers that her work life is much like her high school life.

Thoughts: All I could think while watching this preview is that I’m glad I’m not a teenager who doesn’t know that the real working world isn’t like this. I’ll admit up front that The CW shows are not targeted at my demographic, but the giggly stereotyped high school Emily Owens, MD isn’t for me.

Arrow (Wednesday 8:00)

Premise: The adventures of DC Comics superhero the Green Arrow.

Thoughts: Arrow is the story of a lone hero, a dark tragic figure, much like other DC Comics heroes of Batman and Superman. Arrow will fill the hole left by Smallville while aiming at an older audience. I’m on the fence here; it might be a interesting new look at this character.

Beauty and the Beast (Thursday 9:00)

Premise: A modern-day love story and police procedural.

Thoughts: The most important thing to note about Beauty and the Beast is that it bears no resemblance to the classic tale you know under this name. The Beast is hot except for a scar on his eye, and the Beauty is a NYC detective. I think it’s trying way too hard to be taken seriously. In short, this is a procedural for the CW audience.

As the most stable network, CBS is only debuting four new shows this fall. CBS shows typically follow a particular formula.  Today I’m continuing to check out the new shows for fall 2012.

Partners (Monday 8:30)

Premise: The relationship between two friends is tested when they both enter relationships.

Thoughts: I have long thought that shows depicting genuine friendships between men is badly underrepresented on the tv landscape. I am surprised and gratified to see that Partners might fit this niche! I laughed out loud a few times during the five-minute sneak peak.

Vegas (Tuesday 10:00)

Premise: A Las Vegas sheriff clashes with a mobster in the 1960s.

Thoughts: Set in the settling days of Las Vegas, Vegas features cowboy sheriffs, mobsters, dust clouds, intimidating threats, and shootouts with cars. I’d imagine it will settle into a standard procedural format with a retro twist.

Elementary (Thursday 10:00)

Premise: Sherlock Holmes solves mysteries in modern-day New York.

Thoughts: CBS has made an empire of crime procedural shows featuring one or a few brilliant and exceptional problem solvers who lead a team to solve crimes. The Mentalist, CSI, NCIS, Blue Bloods, Criminal Minds, and Hawaii Five-O are all variations on this theme.  Elementary fits the mold nicely, with Sherlock Holmes as the exceptional detective at the centre. It’ll be a challenge to appease Holmes fans, but I’d imagine the bulk of CBS’s audience will like it.

Made in Jersey (Friday 9:00)

Premise: A New Jersey lawyer joins a New York City law firm.

Thoughts: Made in Jersey is an underdog story about a New Jersey lawyer who goes to work at a fancy New York law firm. It features a plethora of New Jersey stereotypes and body types. For those who like underdog stories and aren’t bothered by the Jersey stereotyping, it’ll probably be a nice ride.

It’s hard to believe, but the fall television season is almost upon us! The 64th Primetime Emmy Awards will officially kick off the 2012-2013 television season on September 23, so you can expect that most shows you watch will begin around September 24. As with every year, some exceptions will arise; the CW always throws some shows ahead of the fray, and most networks hold some until October when the carnage has passed.

This week, I’ll cover the new offerings for fall with the shows’ premise and a few thoughts. Let’s start today with ABC!

666 Park Avenue (Sunday 10:00)

Premise: A couple moves into a Manhattan building and discovers that the building and tenants are possessed by a demonic force.

Thoughts: 666 Park Avenue looks dark, sinister, and mysterious. It has lots of tight angles and ominous music. I think it will lean too dark and scary for me.

The Neighbors (Wednesday 8:30)

Premise: A family moves into a New Jersey gated community and discovers that it is occupied by aliens.

Thoughts: A show with a Stepford-like premise might be fun, especially if they include unusual twists or directions. The jokes in the preview clip look cheap though; all the aliens are named for famous athletes but in are the physical opposites in race, gender, and size.

Nashville (Wednesday 10:00)

Premise: A legendary country superstar and a young rising star tour together to pursue dreams.

Thoughts: Starring Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) and Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), Nashville looks like it could turn into a fun drama about uneasy alliances and the rigors of fame.  Let’s be real though: I’m watching this one because it stars Mrs. Coach.

Last Resort (Wednesday 8:00)

Premise: After defying orders to fire on Pakistan, the crew of a nuclear submarine goes rogue.

Thoughts: By far the show I am most excited about, this Shawn Ryan show looks tight, densely plotted, and incredibly beautiful. I’ll be watching on the edge of my seat.

Malibu Country (Friday 8:30)

Premise: A woman moves her family from Nashville to Malibu to start a new life.

Thoughts: Shows about new beginnings are often popular, and Malibu Country has a few faces you might recognize, including Reba McEntire and Lily Tomlin. But it is using the laugh track heavily and the jokes about the cheating husband are cheap, so it doesn’t feel terribly genuine.   We’ll see!

That’s it for ABC’s new fall offerings.  What will you be watching?

When I saw the initial previews for Awake back in the summer, I thought it was the most innovative and exciting show of the new tv season. I thought the teaser was riveting. I waited patiently while the show was held for midseason. Now that the show has premiered, let’s cut right to the chase: I loved the pilot of Awake.

Since the elements are fairly complex, the pilot wastes no time in setting up the premise; within 10 minutes, the central storyline is set up and knocked down. After a car accident with his wife and teenage son, a detective Michael Britten discovers that he switches between two realities: one in which his wife survived, the other in which his son survived. In each, he functions normally with the surviving family member as his wife/son learns to cope with the loss of his son/wife. He solves cases in each. He has a psychiatrist in each, one gentle and one confrontational, who each try to convince him that the reality he’s in is real, and the other is a detailed dream. Every morning, he wakes up for a day in one then the other reality. He has no idea which one is “real,” and which one is a dream.

The show uses various tricks to help the audience, and Michael himself, determine which reality he is in. Michael wears a red rubber band in his wife’s reality and a green rubber band in his son’s. He has a young new partner in his wife’s reality, and his steady old partner from before the accident in his son’s. The scenes in his wife’s reality are shot in warm tones, so everything looks reddish and characters frequently wear red and orange. The scenes in his son’s reality are shot in cool tones, so everything looks blueish and characters wear blues, greens, and purples. It’s quite unique to watch. In one scene where Michael can’t tell which reality he’s in, he sees streaks of blue and red to underscore his and our confusion.

In the most intriguing element of his situation, details from the cases he is solving in each reality are bleeding through to the other. The perpetrators are different, but numbers and names of places cross over and correlate from one reality to the other. His knowledge of one case helps him solve the second. The realities seem to be tied together, lending credence to a theory that Michael himself is losing his sanity, which he is willing to do if it means keeping both his wife and son alive.

Other mystery elements are dropped in to provide context for Michael’s current fractured life, including confusion about details of the accident, the plans and future about the relevant surviving family member, and concern over his aptitude and ability to do his job competently. The emotional reality that Michael is surviving is stunningly clear: since both realities feel completely real to him, he is permanently in grief for either his wife or his son, and is unable to find closure on death or the other as long as he’s unsure which has truly survived.

It’s a fascinating and complex premise for a serialized show, and I think the main concern has been echoed around the critic circle: is there a show here? What does episode 8 of this premise look like? Obviously with so many moving parts, the show has significant room for grievous misstep, and I hope that it doesn’t devolve into a double-sided procedural with tiny serialized elements about Michael’s “dream condition.” But the performances are very strong, and both realities exert equal force on the emotions.  For now, this show is right in my wheelhouse – complex characters, plot, and emotional stakes driven by a mystery and an unusual reality. I’ll be watching.

In light of this week’s episode of How I Met Your Mother, I wanted to contribute a few additional thoughts to the conversation. Read my posting from a few weeks ago, on why HIMYM is confusing me, for context. And don’t read this if you aren’t current on HIMYM.

While perhaps not a true return to form, this week’s episode of HIMYM had several elements that I liked more than past weeks. I believe the show is at its best when it features such things as flashbacks from different perspectives: in this episode, the three possible ways that Robin might have phrased, “we’ll talk about this when I get home.” We know that Ted is an unreliable narrator. We know that sometimes he leaves out elements or tells stories outside reality to make his point. When HIMYM exposes those flaws, we remember that Ted tells us what he sees, not necessarily what happens, which can sometimes account for variability in story or a misunderstanding. It’s a unique storytelling tactic that fits the show, as the narrative is built around Future Ted telling his children a story.

Furthermore, this episode featured heart and character development. The show does well with complex emotions and weaving one character’s choices into the impact on another. As I’m not generally a fan of mania, I much appreciated the toned-down nature of this week’s episode compared to last episode’s Martin-Short-on-fire business.

With those positive aspects in mind, I present two things that are bothering me. First, on a micro level, I can’t grasp why we’re going down this road with Robin. Even though we’ve known since the pilot that Robin isn’t the mother, I very much enjoyed Ted and Robin dating for a year in the show’s early days. I liked them together and I liked where the show took them. We knew it was going to end, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t enjoy the ride. In subsequent years, I liked that Robin and Barney experienced a deepening of their relationship. I liked that the show took a risk by tying down their principal ladies man. As discussed here and many other places, the show destroyed Robin and Barney in a way that was more or less unpalatable, but I appreciated the risk nonetheless. My point is: I have no problem with Robin dating the available men in the group.

But we’re now past that point, aren’t we? Ted and Robin broke up because they didn’t want the same things. The reason for Robin’s breakup with Kevin underscores that Ted and Robin still do not want the same things. Many storylines have precluded the possibility that Robin could yet be the mother (remember, Ted is an unreliable narrator and could be fibbing), not the least of which is the deep story that she’s unable to have children. So I just can’t fathom why we’re wandering down this road with Ted and Robin again. We’re already over it. We’ve been over Ted and Robin for five years. I’d like the story to move forward, not backward. It’s pointless to retread this ground.

The second thing that’s bothering me on a macro level is the search for the mother. Much has been written and discussed about how the show should handle her. Some believe the show should end with the meeting of the mother: after all, the show is named for how Ted meets the mother, not how he dated her. Others believe the show could survive quite well if Ted meets the mother, she becomes part of the group, and the story continues through their lives together.

I don’t really fall into either of these camps. Ted’s search for the mother never really bothered me. I appreciate that the show has an overarching serialization, and I liked that we get occasional clues about the mother while still pursing the present. I like the idea that all the random things that happen in Ted’s life are pushing him towards his future in ways that he doesn’t yet understand. I honestly didn’t care if we met the mother now, or at the end of the show.

I’ve been thinking about this recently in the context of greater dissatisfaction, the show’s recent manic storylines, and concern that the show has either wandered off or decided not to care about its central story. My main worry now is that the story has been dragged much too far. I can’t envision an end to the central serialization that is going to be satisfying. If the mother turns out to be a random unknown stranger, I’ll think, “huh. Well. That’s over now.” It could turn out to be someone we’ve known all along who isn’t in the central group, which would perhaps be the ideal, though I can’t imagine who that could be at this point. I held hope for Victoria until her reappearance last fall, and many other minor stories with women of the past have now been wrapped up. I can’t think of anyone Ted has dated other than Victoria that fit Ted or the group well. And it can’t be someone in the central group, right? I can’t imagine that the show would bait and switch with Marshall and Lily (and besides, we’ve seen future Marshall and Lily), and it has told us over and over that Robin isn’t the mother, in both outright narrative and subtle story. So … who does that leave, and will we be happy with any answer?

I suppose on a macro level I have two main concerns about the show’s overarching narrative. First: that the show has decided not to care about its central story. Second: that no possible ending is going to be satisfying. Perhaps the real problem is that I’ve lost faith in the show’s direction. I really hope it proves me wrong. I liked this week’s episode more than others, and this season is wrapped around a story of Barney’s wedding that could turn out to be a good move. Maybe they are going somewhere that I can’t imagine at the moment. I hope so.

Dee’s TV Rotation

The Big Bang Theory
Castle
Community
Cougar Town
Fringe
The Good Wife
How I Met Your Mother
The Middle
Modern Family
Once Upon a Time
Parenthood
Revenge

Jury’s out

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