October 26, 2015

Supergirl: "Pilot"

CBS's new DC Comics adaptation Supergirl aired tonight and all I can say is WOW. I was more impressed with the show than I expected I would be, and my expectations were high. What made this show so great? Classic comic elements, positivity, and subtle relevance.

Source: cbs.com
Probably assuming that most viewers would have a basic knowledge of Superman mythology, the writers kept the exposition at the start of the show brief. (Even briefer was the Dean Cain cameo. It doesn't matter though - even a voiceless five seconds warmed my 90's L&C fangirl heart.) Before the show jumped too deep into the comic book archives, we got to see Kara as she has been pre-this pilot episode - a normal young woman looking to find her way in the professional world. In other words, the writers found a way to make her relatable before she started beating up evil aliens escaped from the Phantom Zone. (And speaking of villains, I was hoping that the General they spoke of would be Zod, but I'll take "Astra" if it means we get to see more of the incredible Laura Benanti.) It seems Supergirl won't shy away from mixing DC canon with new creativity. There you have it - a little mythology, relatable heroes, and a prison full of villains. Add to that better CGI and special effects than I've seen on TV in a while, and you've got yourself a superhero show.

Melissa Benoist, the somewhat unknown star of the show, got the majority of the screen time, but Kara was surrounded by as many friends as foes, including a supportive sister. A little love triangle between our hero, James Olsen, and IT guy Winn may be forming, but if the pilot is any indication, romantic love won't be the center of the show. Instead, the center of the show will be well, Supergirl! A hero whose debut filled her with a radiating joy. I was thrilled to see that Supergirl is a hopeful, positive show with a hopeful, positive leading lady. Someone who seeks to do right, and be true to herself, but also be the person the world needs her to be. Does that sound cheesy? I don't care. This is a feel good show. And that's what TV's audience needs it to be.

While this Supergirl might also be "The Feminist Superhero TV Needs," the show didn't hit us over the head to make a statement. Rather, it let a host of characters make all kinds of points. From the diner waitress who simply said she was glad her daughter would have a female hero to look up to, to Cat Grant's unexpectedly legitimate defense of the word "girl," Supergirl isn't out there to make a statement, but to tell a story. If that story makes a statement along the way, great! But I'm guessing it will be a nuanced, honest statement about what it means to be real and strong, and a woman. Similarly, the show didn't hit us over the head with its modern relevance. The cultural touchstones that made the show stick to our day and age - downsizing of print media, online dating, the ubiquity of smart phone cameras - were subtle, and natural enough to set the story and its characters in what seemed like a real (albeit science fictional) world. Supergirl, who wikipedia tells me first appeared in comics in 1958, is placed neatly and believably in 2015.

The marketing for the show ramped up as the "most anticipated premiere of the season" approached. A "Who's Your Supergirl?" campaign invited potential viewers to shout out to the women in their lives with a personalized image to share on social media. CBS crafted a sweet and inspirational video of mothers and daughters previewing the show. Benoist has been doing the rounds on morning shows, and appeared tonight on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  The show was even strategically aired - immediately following the ever popular Big Bang Theory, whose Tuesdays at 8 PM slot Supergirl will now take over. And the odd 8:30 start time and the omission of the new comedy Life in Pieces were surely meant to keep the TBBT audience from channel flipping and failing to return by 9 PM. In some clever cross-channel marketing, an ad for The Flash on CBS's sister network The CW aired before the final Supergirl credits. In short, Supergirl is a show CBS is banking on to be a hit in their new fall lineup. Tonight's premiere tells me this is a show worthy of their investment - and yours.

October 4, 2015

Summer TV Binge Part II: The Good Wife

Although the central conceit of this blog is and always has been broadcast (non-cable) network TV that I watch through my rabbit ear antenna, I could not be a bigger fan of streaming internet platforms. Not only because they let me binge on yes, even cable shows (I adore Mad Men), but also because they allow me to catch up on broadcast shows that are still airing in time for the new season's premiere. 

Such is the case with CBS's The Good WifeWhen I tell one of my friends (a young adult like myself) that I started binging on this show, I inevitably get the same response: a slight smirk and the statement, "My mom loves that show." It's uncanny. Happens every time. But just because I may not be the show's target demographic doesn't mean I don't find this show fantastic.

Here's why I love the show your mom loves: 

The Good Wife Universe

The show masterfully weaves character development and all kinds of conflict - interpersonal, intrapersonal, romantic, professional, political, familial - through its overarching storyline.

Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth on The Good Wife
Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth on The Good Wife
Source: cbs.com
The title of the show is transparently tongue in cheek. Alicia is no more a "good" wife than the cheating Peter is a "good" husband. Instead, what draws the audience in is the authenticity of her choices. Not in the sense that they are choices I - or most viewers - will ever have to make, but because they are the choices we might make were we in her position. There is a distinction between relatable and realistic. This show is not one where you see yourself in the characters, but it is nonetheless believable. This is due in large part to the political nature of the show and its setting in Chicago, a city with real-life political scandals that make the Florrick's problems seem tame. The corruption, the infidelity, and the lies are nothing new to any American viewer who even passively follows politics. More than that, the show is realistic because the heroes are flawed, and they don't always win. (And when they do win, there's a cost.)

The writers of this show understand that believability is in the details; the lawyers, judges, and politicians whom the viewers meet on the show return again and again, just as they would in reality. There is a limited supply of judges in Chicago, after all. And these recurrences allow the faithful (or binging) viewer to get a more complete picture of the universe in which Alicia Florrick lives and practices law.

The Overarching Plot and the Stand Alone Episodes 

My one (peer) friend who does watch this show doesn't watch it consistently, and yet still really loves it. She's a fan of the TGIT ABC dramas, so I'd guess that some of the soapier, relationship aspects of The Good Wife are what appeal to her. And yet The Good Wife is not overwhelmingly soapy. The characters' relationship arcs feel poignant and significant - not unnecessarily dramatic. They give us enough to go on that we can 'ship one couple and hate another, but those relationships don't overwhelm the episodes. And when a relationship is worn out, the writers know how to kill it. (Yes, sometimes by killing off a character.)

Matt Chzuchry plays Cary Agos on The Good Wife.
Matt Czuchry plays Cary Agos on The Good Wife.
Source: cbs.com
All this to say, you can watch a single episode of the show and still follow along. That's because, in the great tradition of American legal/crime dramas, the writers are not afraid to craft episodes "ripped from the headlines." The cases that the main cast of lawyers face and settle and try each episode are intriguing in and of themselves, independent of the larger story. And each case is new and different, with its own legal complexities. That keeps the show interesting.

It's that larger story, too, that kept me watching. (I binged on six seasons of the show in about three months...) That wouldn't have happened if this were a run-of-the-mill procedural. Each season had its own fascinating campaign, business deal, scandal, affair, or legal battle storyline running through it. The arrest and imprisonment of Cary Agos in Season 6 had me on the edge of my seat episode after episode. That plot line was inspired. So was the dramatic irony of the Season 5 NSA wiretap plot. The Good Wife does so many things well, one of which is giving the audience just enough information that we feel knowledgable, but utterly powerless. (Which, of course, we are - but that powerlessness means we feel like we're a part of the characters' universe. That is good storytelling.)

The Guest Stars 

A lot can be said about the cast of this show, who deserve the accolades they've received. Julianna Margulies, who plays the titular character, has two Emmy wins and another two nominations for the show. Archie Panjabi scored an Emmy and two additional nominations for her role as Kalinda. Alan Cumming has three nominations for his portrayal of Eli Gold. These three have stood out to me as the most impressive in a cast full of very impressive actors who bring the universe of The Good Wife to life.

Jeffrey Tambor guest stars on The Good Wife
Jeffrey Tambor guest stars on The Good Wife
Source: cbs.com
What's been more striking to me as a binge viewer though, is the seemingly impossibly long list of guest stars - huge names from the stage and screen who fit so seamlessly into the Chicago The Good Wife has designed. Names like Matthew Perry, Audra McDonald, America Ferrera, Martha Plimpton, Kristin Chenoweth, Wallace Shawn, Ana Gasteyer, Jeffrey Tambor, Anika Noni Rose, Stockard Channing, David Hyde Pierce, Nathan Lane, and Michael J. Fox. And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head! The show is stacked with these stars - many of whom have had recurring roles. The best part is that these stars aren't being used as bait to draw in viewers. This show doesn't need bait. Rather they are being utilized to make a good show consistently great by surrounding a stellar main cast with equally stellar guest actors to work with.

The writing, the acting, the direction - The Good Wife is a triumph. It's original, captivating, quality television, airing in an era when it's easy for broadcast network TV to be anything but. It's been my favorite summer binge, and I can only hope it will be one of my favorite shows to watch this fall.

The Good Wife returns tonight at 9 PM on CBS.

September 29, 2015

Fall TV Premieres: NBC

For the past few posts, I've been writing about the returning and new shows I'm excited about for fall. You may have noticed a glaring omission in these broadcast network roundups - NBC.

That's because the new fall crop of NBC shows is even more disappointing than ABC. The likely very soapy but possibly interesting medical drama Heartbreaker (starring Melissa George), has been pushed to mid-season and replaced by the what's sure to be an unimaginative crowd-pleaser from Dick Wolf - Chicago Med. There's Blindspot, a drama (reminiscent of John Doe or Dark Angel) which may compete for the Quantico audience, though it airs on a different night, and has the benefit of following The Voice. Add to this one very stupid looking multi-camera sitcom, and you've got a network that's nearly unrecognizable when you consider the glory days of the 30 Rock, The Office, Parks and Rec trifecta. (As I noted in an earlier post, FOX now carries the great single-cam sitcoms.)

Source: finalreel.co.uk
There is also, of course, the reboot of Heroes - Heroes Reborn (one in a trend of TV revivals.) I never got into the original, so my interest level was low, but I gave the "next generation" resurrection of the show a try. From the first moments of the premiere, it was clear that new viewers had a lot of catching up to do if they wanted to fully understand this sci-fi drama. Getting dropped in the middle of this very bizarre story was tricky, and my confusion only intensified through the quick series of blink-and-you-miss-it flashbacks that began the episode. Only the introduction of Zachary Levi kept this Chuck fan watching. (Did anyone else catch the "stay in the car" line? Loved that reference to my old NBC fave.) I also loved the mysterious penny-toting benefactor. Is he from the original series?

I made it through the two hour premiere, but how much longer can this Heroes newbie stick with Reborn? Will I always be left wondering if a twisting plot point is meant to build suspense or if it references something I'm supposed to know from the original series? And while I'm a big fan of the ensemble cast, the idea of an ensemble setting is making it hard to keep track of all the players. All this leaves me wondering how many new viewers the show will capture. And believe it or not, popularity is a valid concern. I mean, why should I get all into a show if an inevitable cancellation is only going to break my heart? Here's the good news: Reborn is being billed as mini-series. Which probably means that even if the reboot isn't met with resounding praise, we're still going to get a neat wrap-up of the story before the show fades into television oblivion... with the rest of NBC's new fall premieres.

September 20, 2015

Fall TV Premieres: FOX

Tonight, the Emmy Awards will air on FOX, hosted this year by Andy Samberg. Samberg also happens to star in the FOX show I've selected as my pick for favorite returning show on the network. Here's my take on the comedy coming to FOX this fall:

Returning: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the show that arrived in time to fill the void left in my heart after The Office and Parks and Rec went off the air. It's another hilarious single-camera workplace comedy from writer-producer Michael Schur. (Office fans, you also know Schur as "Mose.")

It's a brighter, more cartoonish workplace comedy than The Office, which, for its first few seasons thrived on jokes about boredom and was set in a room so beige you could practically hear the hum of the overhead lights. By comparison, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is flashy, filled with a cast of stand-up comics and improv masters who light up the screen and lighten the mood individually and collectively. Of course, this isn't to say the show doesn't also have heart. The romantic tension between Andy Samberg's Jake Peralta and Melissa Fumero's Amy Santiago culminated with two "cover" kisses and one actual one in the final moments of last season's finale. Just how that relationship will shake out (or fallout) is yet to be seen. (You may recall that The Office Season 2 also ended with a long-awaited kiss - and a third season which left the tension unresolved.)

The cast of Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Source: moviepilot.com
Season 3 also promises to bring some personnel changes to the precinct. The departure of Andre Braugher's dry but lovable Captain Holt was the final cliffhanger of the Season 2 finale. Promos have revealed the new boss will be played by none other than Bill HaderSNL alum and all around hilarious guy. Hader is on a roll lately, having hit the big screen this summer with Amy Schumer in Trainwreck. Braugher isn't going anywhere, though; he has his own storylines in premiere promos. So what's currently listed as a "guest star" role for Hader may last only an episode or two. Of course, this hearkens me back to the revolving door of Dunder Mifflin managers following the departure of Steve Carrell on The Office. Some of those who walked in were hits (Hello, Idris Elba!) and some were misses (cough...Will Farrell). I can't imagine Hader's stint at the Nine-Nine - however long it may last - will be anything but a hit. 

By the way, don't mistake these plot connections for unoriginality. Brooklyn is a great show in its own right, and that distinctive feel just proves that Schur, co-creator Daniel Goor, and the writing team know how to set up and tell good stories. What you can be sure of, though, is that if you liked The Office, you'll enjoy Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine returns Sunday, September 27 at 8:30 PM.

New: The Grinder

I'll admit it. This show interested me for one reason: Rob Lowe. I loved him as Sam Seaborne, literally adored him as Chris Treager, and the former Brat Pack heartthrob is back to TV again, this time playing an actor who played a lawyer, who's decided an actual career in law is for him. In addition to Lowe, the show stars Fred Savage. (I'm hoping these big names don't lead to an early flop.) If the trailer is any indication, they won't. Unlike the ABC trailers I blogged about last week, this one doesn't try so hard. Take a look:

The comedy here is clearly not in one-liner jokes, but in the characters, in the acting, and in the overarching setup of the plot. And that setup is an interesting one. It's a spin on a family comedy and a legal comedy and a comedy about the tv business.  (So meta.) The show's success may hinge on the chemistry between the brothers played by Lowe and Savage. If they can manage that, and the writing and directing continues on the path laid out in the trailer, it'll be a hit.

The Grinder premieres Tuesday, September 29, 2015 at 8:30.

And with that, I'll say it. NBC has passed the comedy baton to FOX. FOX grabbed Schur, and (until recently) another Office alum in The Mindy Project. With The Grinder, FOX got Parks and Rec's Lowe, for a comedy created by the brains behind that network's successful New Girl. Bottom line: everything NBC was doing right when it came to single camera sitcoms has been nabbed by FOX, including all the right people.

Check out what I'm watching this fall on ABC here and on CBS here.

September 14, 2015

Fall TV Premieres: ABC

Lately, I'm deciding which returning shows I'll have time for this fall, and which new ones I want to give a chance. Let's see what there is to see on ABC:

Returning Show: The Middle

Source: renewcanceltv.com
Oh, Heck. I love this show so much it made me use a pun. And I hate puns! Last season we saw a lot of growth and change for our favorite family from Orson. Axl got a girlfriend and got to have a beer with his dad. Brick started a podcast and went to the Planet Nowhere convention. Sue didn't get engaged, didn't go to Prom, didn't win the attendance award, and, in the sweetest graduation-themed episode ever, didn't lose her yearbook after all. Meanwhile, Mike and Frankie kept on being the most well-meaning, not to mention the most realistic, parents on TV. How does anyone not love this show?

In Season 7, Sue will head off to college, and Brick might be headed to high school. We're apparently also in for a Halloween episode that can't be missed. Overall, I'm looking forward to more madcap adventures with household appliances, classic sitcom misunderstandings, and heartfelt endings that give us the warm fuzzies to the tune of the show's jaunty theme song that makes the viewer feel like Orson is home.

The Middle premieres Wednesday, September 23, at 8 PM.

New Show: Quantico (And mid-season expectations)

Unless you love The Muppets, you might not be that excited by the new shows in ABC's fall lineup. Two of the leading men from Gossip Girl got their own gig on the network this season, with Chase Crawford starring in the somewhat promising drama Blood and Oil, set in the North Dakota oil fields, and Ed Westwick exercising that American accent in the horrifically creepy looking Wicked City. (Seriously, the trailer will give you nightmares and possibly prevent you from ever going on a first date again.) As a fan of Community, I'm interested to see what comes of Dr. Ken, starring Ken Jeong. Of all the shows debuting this fall on ABC, the trailer that captured me the most is Quantico. It starts out looking a bit like NCIS but ends up with a twist that I found to be not exactly believable, but nonetheless intriguing. See for yourself:

If this show has anything going against it, it might be the use of a single actress as the star vehicle in a TV world that's currently embracing the ensemble cast. Priyanka Chopra is relatively unknown here in the states; but she's a Bollywood actress and singer, and a former pageant winner (Miss World 2000). Taking on this big role could make or break her, no? Her co-star Johanna Braddy is a talent I'm familiar with. This summer, I binged on UnREAL, a scripted drama that aired on Lifetime (but please don't judge it by that!) and is well worth your time if you are interested in a piercing satire (commentary?) of The Bachelor. (Unfortunately, you can't watch it on Lifetime's website anymore without a subscription, so if you have an antenna like me, you missed your chance.) Johanna was absolutely brilliant on UnREAL, and I have little doubt she'll make a similar splash on Quantico if she's given the screen time.

Quantico premieres Sunday, September 27 at 10 PM.

For whatever it's worth, the shows slated for mid-season premiere look far more interesting. There's Of Kings and Prophets, an epic that appears to be only very loosely based on the Biblical account of Saul and David, The Family, a thriller that seems to combine the political intrigue of The Good Wife and the sinister content of a classic episode of Dateline, and the quirky comedy The Real O'Neals, a show that has the advantage of being headlined by Emmy winner Martha Plimpton and Mad Men alum Jay Ferguson. But since we'll have to wait at least until January for those, in the meantime, I'll be excited to see what's new with the Hecks in Orson, and I'm at least curious to see what happens to Alex on Quantico.

Check out what I'll be watching on CBS here.

September 10, 2015

Fall TV Premieres: CBS

Fall TV premiere season is upon us! And while in the cable TV world, seasons have become more fluid and half-seasons can be separated by months, the calendar still seems to hold true in the broadcast network world. So what am I looking forward to this fall? There are some great returning shows as well as some new ones that look promising. In this and some upcoming posts, I'll clue you in on one of each from a few of the networks I tune to with my rabbit ear antenna. First up: CBS

Returning Show: Survivor 

The cast of Survivor: Second Chance
Source: cbs.com
Anyone who's visited Rabbit Ear Reviews before knows that I am a fan of one and only one reality TV show: Survivor. And this season - I think - is shaping up to be its best yet! Season 31 is titled "Second Chance," and each cast member is a returning player who has only attempted the game once before. PLUS, the players this season were voted in by fans like yours truly.

If we're lucky, that means these players know the game, and will play it strategically. Smart players make the game interesting to watch. This way, instead of each castaway voting to eliminate whoever ticked them off that day, we get to watch shrewd people make calculated decisions with an endgame in mind. And if we're really lucky, we as the fans have picked not only real game players, but folks who won't incite a lot of useless drama. Then there's the added piece that some of these players have played the game together before. Will they stick together? Hold a grudge? I can't wait to find out!

Some of the castaways from recent seasons are my favorites to win. Probably because their gameplay is fresh in my mind, but also because I suspect the games nuances are fresh in theirs. Two of the "Brains" from Season 28 are favorites of mine. Spencer, because he reminds me of one of my favorite Survivor winners, and Tasha, because she definitely wasn't given a fair shake at the game her first time around. And then there's Shirin, from Season 30, who had the most amazing character arc - unlike anything you'd expect to see on any reality show, let alone Survivor. Kelly Wigglesworth, from all the way back in Season 1 (!!) is a wild card. Then there's good ol' Stephen Fishbach, arguably more of a student of the game than any of the rest, and a guy who may have won, had his opposition been less likable.

Survivor premieres Wednesday, September 23 at 8 PM.

New Show: Supergirl

I haven't really gotten into a superhero show since the days of Smallville. And before that, Lois and Clark. So it's fair to say that there's really only one superhero for me, and that's Superman. But I'm thinking his cousin will make for a great show, too.

I found this "first look" preview to be a little too expository, but keeping in mind that CBS is not the usual venue for the comic book adaptation, it's a fair guess that the network's viewers aren't the typical Comic-Con set either. So I guess it makes sense that the preview for this new show be filled with explanations re: Krytonian history and mythology. The inclusion of staple characters Jimmy Olsen and Cat Grant makes for an interesting twist on the old tale of the Man of Steel.

I harbor some concerns that this show doesn't have the star power to keep it alive past one season. Sure, you've got Calista Flockhart,  but she hasn't been back in a big way since Ally McBeal. And Jeremy Jordan is known mostly to the musical theater loving set and fans of Smash. But, then again, CBS seems a little less predictable when it comes to cancellations, so maybe they've found something great here that another network couldn't have made work. From the preview video, they seem to have found something great in Melissa Benoist, who apparently was in the cast of Glee after I stopped watching.

It may not have star power, but it has girl power, and if the show plays its cards right, it could make some interesting statements about culture, gender stereotypes, and heroes. I'm hopeful.

Supergirl premieres Monday, October 26 at 8:30 PM

September 3, 2015

Summer TV Binge Part I: The X-Files

There's a slow trend gaining momentum in the TV world. I guess you could call it un-cancellation. Some shows that get the boot from one network are subsequently picked up by another. Others are picked up by an internet streamer, or, as is the case with The X-Files, are rebooted after years and years off the air. A Twin Peaks revival was not far behind (although its ultimate revival has not always been certain.) Fox struck again this month with the announcement of the revival of the cult favorite Prison Break. And that's just to name a few.

Poster from Season 1 of The X-Files featuring Mulder and Scully
A promotional poster for
Season 1 of The X-Files,
one of a handful of shows
that have been rebooted.
Image credit: ebay.com
So here's the question: has the industry finally run out of ideas? I suppose it may be better to bring back a known favorite than just rehash the same old concepts in uninventive ways. (Provided the revivals are well-done... I'm looking at you, season 4 of Arrested Development.)

A second possibility is that the networks - and the streaming services that scavenge on the cancelled - have finally realized that they've been giving up on shows too soon. That can give viewers a little bit of hope, right? I mean, some shows aren't even given a chance to get off the ground before they are oh-so-unceremoniously cancelled. (Of course, it's not the hidden gems - like last season's Weird Loners or the darlingly odd Pushing Daisies - that receive a second chance. Wouldn't it be nice if they did? Come on, Yahoo Screen! Can you grab those?) Sometimes it's shows that deserve a new home - like Community. And sometimes it's shows that probably would have been better off being filed into the TV archives. (Sorry, Mindy Project, but you had your chance to give us a good third season, and frankly, you let me down. I doubt I'll follow you to Hulu.)

And speaking of streaming platforms, I'd argue that the networks (Fox, in particular) have these to thank for the revival opportunities.

Both Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video stream all nine seasons of The X-Files. That's where old fans rediscovered the show and folks like yours truly - too young to watch the show when it aired - basked in the good writing and 90s nostalgia of this sic-fi masterpiece. This reignited and expanded fan base made revival of the classic possible.

Which brings me to my summer binging. I started watching The X-Files last summer, so news of this revival (13 years after its cancellation) had me excited. But it also made me realize that it was high time I catch up. I didn't quite make it to the series finale last summer, and to be honest, I still haven't. I'm in Season 8. But the show's coming back in January!

New X-Files logo with an updated sans serif font. Intriguing, no?
New millennium, new font.
Image credit: fox.com
And folks like me are motivated to catch up before the new episodes air. I'm not crazy enough meet the challenge of watching an episode a day until the premiere. Heck, I don't even have enough time to watch every single episode. (Die-hard fans, go ahead and balk. I admit I can't stand among you at Comic-Con.) But I do have some advice for those of you in a situation similar to mine: you want to watch the new season of The X-Files, but you don't have enough time to prepare thoroughly. Here's my guide to effectively binging on The X-Files while still having time to, you know, go to work and have a social life.
  • The first thing you need to know is that there are two types of episodes: Monster of the Week, and Alien Mythology Arc. Someone - or several wonderful someones - took the time to create what might be the most comprehensive episode guide on Wikipedia. There's a handy table that lets you know which episodes are in the mythology arc, and which are the stand-alone "Monster of the Week" episodes. Then there's an additional page describing each episode's plot, reception, and writing. It's worth watching most of the mythology arc episodes; that's the plot that matters to the show as a whole. But... in general... I think the Monster of the Week episodes are more fun. 
  • Second, go with your personal taste. After watching some of the show, decide! Do you like the comedic episodes? The dark ones? The episodes Chris Carter writes? The ones directed by Kim Manners? You'll figure it out. I happen to like the funny ones.
  • Third, use GraphTV to locate the episodes you can't miss and those you'd be better off skipping forever. This handy little site visualizes the IMDb user ratings of a show to show you the highs and lows and overall trends in viewer appreciation. Sure, user ratings might not be as on-the-nose as critic's reviews, but the graph will tune you in to the episodes that are most significant to viewers, and thus give you a good basis for conversations with fellow fans. 
And there you go! Everything you need to know to get reasonably caught up before The X-Files reboot premiere.

Still, I find it strange that the networks and streaming platforms would find use of one another in this way. Aside from the monetary gains on both sides when a streaming platform licenses a show,  as long as they are creating new content, the internet streamers are competitors of networks and tv show owners. And yet, here we find the former using the latter to reignite interest in old favorites, and the internet platforms picking up the best cast-offs that the networks didn't realize were great. But if this inadvertent partnership leads to more quip-filled conversations between Mulder and Scully, who am I to balk?

April 22, 2015

Survivor: "Bring the Popcorn"

Ok, I'm breaking my silence on Survivor (I haven't written about the show since this happened) because after tonight's episode I have to say: What. The....?

Shirin - keep standing tall.
Source: cbs.com
Let's start at the beginning. No, actually, let's start at the end. Shirin cast her vote for Jenn? Why? I mean, I get why. Shirin desperately wants to be there, and Jenn, well, Jenn just doesn't really care.

And speaking of Shirin - if you had told me back when she and Max were colonizing a new nudist colony that she would be the one I'd be rooting for when there were eight contestants still in the game? I'd never have believed you. And yet, that's where we are. This season, things can turn on a dime. Seriously, did any of us think this would happen? We have ourselves a season of Survivor wherein I cannot guess from one episode to the next who will redeem themselves or who will absolutely lose all credibility and any shred of respect.

Yes, I had to write this tonight because I think tonight's episode of Survivor might be the most societally important episode since this happened. Again, I'm in shock. Weeks ago, when I was complaining on twitter about the chauvinistic Blue tribe guys, I had no idea how mild their stereotypical comments would seem in comparison to the verbal assault Shirin withstood during tonight's episode. This show can depict anyone at their absolute worst. It can bring that out in the people who choose to play the game. I can only hope Will regrets his unsportsmanlike, unacceptable, absolutely un-Christian personal attack on Shirin. I don't even know how to react to that. It hurts. There was something "ugly" in tonight's episode: Will's words.

Shirin's reaction to all this showed strength. Everyone else's showed... well, not strength. It's hard to believe that Mike was the only one who came to Shirin's defense. (Even though he didn't admit to starting the rumor - about Will hiding food - that began the attack.) And the rest of them just stood there? Was it the bystander effect? Self-protection? Basic greed for the million dollars that Will might vote for them to win? Whatever the reason, they stood there.

Doing nothing.

Jeff said that this was a group of people who would stop at nothing to win this game. But nothing is all I saw.

Back when they were happy.
Source: cbs.com
I don't know. I don't know if I should launch into a diatribe about the human condition or fall back on the old favorite line - it's a game. After what we saw tonight, is it a game you'd want to play?

February 25, 2015

Finale Reviews: Parks and Recreation: "One Last Ride"

Source: nbc.com
I don't know where to begin. This final season of Parks and Rec had its misses, sure. But they were eclipsed by the precious, heartfelt moments we were given this season, especially last night. And that is worth something. Even in a final episode that was not perfect, and a final season that felt rushed, the audience was given a satisfying, happy ending. Lots of happy endings, actually.

Some of the highest points of the episode were those that rewarded longtime viewers. Tom's glamour shot, the Halloween costumes, Cones of Dunshire II, Leslie's scrapbooks, a library (of all things) in Leslie's name, and even a flash forward easter egg that revealed Jean-Ralphio's ultimate fate. There were a few delightful cameos from recurring characters - Ethel Beavers, Kyle, Brandi Maxxxx, and Dr. Saperstein were some of my favorites. And of course the actual cameo from Vice President Joe Biden was a treat.

Though I wish we'd seen a little more of it, I enjoyed the overarching theme of one final parks project for the gang to tackle, and I think its triviality made sense in the little Parks and Rec world we've come to love. Leslie in particular has never shied away from the smallest of tasks if it could make a difference to someone she served. That's what made her Leslie Knope. I have two favorite quotes from last's night's episode, and both of them are about what was at the heart of this show: hard work for the greater good.

"Show up on time. Speak honestly and treat everyone with fairness." -Ron Swanson

"Work hard at work worth doing." -Leslie Knope

Those, dear viewers, are words to live by.

My biggest complaint is that there was too much plot to fit in the single hour finale, but it's still ok. While the episode might have been a little too full, what is was full of was happiness. Parks and Rec is quite possibly the happiest, brightest, most optimistic show on television. And Pawnee is definitely the happiest little TV town since Mayberry. So yes, the episode was abundant with plotlines that weren't as completely developed or masterfully executed, as say, those in The Office finale, but each one gave us a happy ending. They showed us the happy future:

Chris and Ann will find health and happiness literally anywhere they go. 

Jerry/Larry/Terry/Garry eventually found his place, and never stopped smiling. 

April and Andy will always be a great team. 

Donna will never stop treating herself - and coming through for others. 

Tom will always land on his feet with a new idea. 

Ron will always (reluctantly) find himself working happily for the government. 

Leslie and Ben will obviously support each other as flawed individuals and perfect partners - no matter what. 

Leslie and Ben: perfect partners, obviously.
Source: nbc.com
One last thing about last night's finale. It represents more than just the end of a funny, sweet, special show. It represents the end of a special era of NBC comedy - one that included The Office, 30 Rock, and Community. These shows were a big part of the sitcom revolution; they helped re-introduce the single-camera sitcom to US audiences. Parks and Rec is more than a special little show. It's an important show. For TV, for comedy, for public service, and for small-town diners serving waffles everywhere.

February 23, 2015

The Odd Couple: "Pilot"

The last couple of times I've reviewed a new sitcom on this blog, things have not gone well for said sitcoms. Both Back in the Game and A to Z met their demise rather quickly, which is a shame because both had promise. And a shame for me, because I liked them both.

Yep. That's what my face looked like
while I watched the pilot, too.
Source: cbs.com
This review of the new CBS sitcom The Odd Couple will be (spoiler alert) entirely negative. So perhaps in a turn of poetic injustice, this show will last. This Atlantic reviewer seems to think it has a better shot than any of Matthew Perry's previous attempts at a comeback.

Before I start my review, a disclaimer of sorts. I have never seen the play, the movie, or the tv show that this new show is based on. So I suppose there may have been some nods to these sources (that I missed) that made it worlds better, but I doubt that. I'd bet that the basic characters, their names, and a jazzed up theme song were the only homages paid to the original.

So here we go. What went wrong last week when The Odd Couple premiered on CBS:
  1. Timing - It was almost unsettling how quickly the dialogue was delivered. Perry and co-star Thomas Lennon barely stopped short of stepping on each other's lines. There was better comedic timing in the promos I saw for the show than in the show itself. 
  2. Lack of Context - Quirky high-strung guys and obnoxious pickup-artist guys can both be endearing, if we have a reason to like them. In the pilot of The Odd Couple, we were given no reason. The writers plopped us down in the middle of a friendship we had no reason to care about. I couldn't care less what happens next to either of these - frankly - losers. Not a good way to start your new show.  
  3. Too many jokes and not enough plot - Keep in mind, when I say too many jokes, I mean too many of the same joke. We get it. Felix is uptight and Oscar is sarcastic. Writers, from now on, you get one joke to that effect per episode. ONE! Even a joke that could have been well done fell flat. The play on Felix Unger's initials and the abbreviated insult of the same two initials was poorly written and so hastily executed, you didn't even give the savvy viewers a chance to chuckle at it before the punchline dropped. Moreover, the show was jammed so full of lousy jokes that they didn't have time to give us any semblance of plot.
Now, some critics are claiming the show has promise. Telling us to give it time. The chemistry of Perry and Lennon will be enough! I don't buy it. Will the rest of the viewers? Time will tell.

January 13, 2015

Finale Reviews: Parks and Rec Season 6 - "Moving Up"

"Love and Waffles and Possibility"

The Pawnee Parks Gang
Ready to say goodbye to these guys?
Source: nbc.com
Parks and Rec returns tonight. Seems like there's no better time to look back, and look forward. I'll say it now, I'm apprehensive. NBC has squeezed this show's teensy thirteen-episode farewell season into the tiniest stretch of the television real estate imaginable. Promo ads reveal that Season 7 will be coming to us "From the Future!" Season 6 sometimes hit, but largely missed. For all these reasons, I'm nervous that one of my favorite shows on TV won't get the goodbye its earlier seasons deserve.

The Season 6 finale, "Moving Up" helped quell my fears... a little.

I was rewatching that episode last week, I kept thinking, "why is everything so over the top?" The Unity Concert, the panoramic shots of San Francisco, the Michelle Obama cameo... Wasn't this too big for a show about Pawnee, Indiana? The place where a Freddy Spaghetti concert was a major event?

Ben finds himself suddenly on the forest moon of Endor...
At the start of Season 7, where are we?
Source: nbc.com
Then something Jennifer Barkley said hit me. Leslie outgrew her position in the Parks Department. And just as Leslie grew out of her small town dreams in Pawnee, Parks and Rec might have grown up without my realizing it. Freddy Spaghetti was way back in Season 2. Since then, Pawnee has hosted the Harvest Festival, a model UN, a huge Founders' Week celebration and parade, and countless more    events - all of which wouldn't have been possible without Leslie Knope and her big dreams.

"Moving Up" was a happy episode. It was true to its characters. It gave us more Cones of Dunshire! It set up a beautiful future for Pawnee. Even though it didn't feel like the show's beginnings, it felt a little like it could have been the show's end. As many have noted, the episode's flash forward final scene would have even made for a satisfying series finale. And it would have been a happy ending! ...But it's not the end.

So where does that leave us? Leslie said it best: "The sun is rising over a sea of love, and waffles, and possibility."

Like it's inspiration (The Office), Parks and Rec has garnered a bevy of supportive, loving fans. Fans who will probably love the final season even if it does all take place in a ridiculously corny future far from the gentle/brash comedy beginnings it greeted us with in its first few seasons.

No matter what happens, Parks and Rec has left us with a legacy of television characters, moments, and quotes that won't be changed even if the network does dismiss its one-time hit with a rushed final season. If waffles make a comeback with my generation, it'll be thanks to Leslie Knope.

We've got thirteen more episodes with our friends in Pawnee. Part of me is worried. Worried that these "futuristic" episodes will ruin all the great ones that came before. But then, that's not a very Knope-like attitude, is it? No, I'm going to choose optimism. That these episodes will be great. At least, they have a chance to be. And I'm hopeful.

January 5, 2015

Galavant: "Pilot" and "Joust Friends"

Recent attempts at televised musicals have ended in, well, disaster. In 2013, NBC produced the miserable Underwood-fronted Sound of Music Live! and then this past December, in what can only be assumed was a misguided attempt to increase the floundering channel's viewership, they reprised the lunacy with a live Peter Pan. 

So when I saw ads for ABC's attempt at the televised musical, I was intrigued. Galavant, we were promised would not be sentimental or classy, but comic, quirky, and (juvenile-ly) irreverent. I tuned in* to see if these promises would be kept.

*Ok, this is the part where I have to admit something I'd hoped I'd never have to. As much as I love network television, and pride myself on my rabbit ear antenna, last night my antenna failed me. The sky was cloudy, and it was raining, and ABC mysteriously disappeared from my TV. A little blue box blinked "NO PROGRAM," and I resigned myself to hoping I would be able to catch Galavant on Hulu Plus the next morning. Which is what I did. Ugh. I feel like I am betraying all my fellow TV "cord-cutters," but I had to be honest. Ok - back to the review:

Source: facebook.com/GalavantOnABC
Galavant doesn't disown the musical genre it springs from. Rather, it pays homage to its inspirations. Be it through the closing line of the opening song, "attend the tale of Galavant,"  a turn of phrase now forever associated with Sweeney Todd, or the occasional nod to Shakespeare, the writing confirmed that this production is fully aware of theatre as a genre, musicals as comedy, and television as a medium. It understood that it would be seen on a small screen, so it made the big moments count. The acting can be over the top, but without being inconsistent or annoying.

This was what I appreciated most about the opening episodes to Galavant - They are utterly self aware. They know exactly what they claim to be. There were a few moments when I thought the plot was about to slip into classic fairy tale tropes, but just when I began to worry, the storyline turned, and got us back, well, off track. Sure, in the end it will probably deliver a love story in the classic sense, but it won't take the usual route to get us there.

The characters - all of them - are likable. Even the villains are likable. Moreover, the villains aren't even obvious. Sure, there's King Richard who stole the hero's lady away in the opening number, and Madalena is a bit of a gold-digging flake, but they're funny. And the heroes are far from perfect. Galavant himself is a bit washed up (not to mention hung over) by the second half-hour episode, and Princess Isabella has got her own schemes that she's keeping to herself at the moment.

Too risky to be a full season show, and yet too promising to be a single night event, Galavant is slated to air Sundays this month. I was a bit surprised that it was ABC that took a chance on this little miniseries. More than a chance, it's been talking up this "extravaganza" for weeks. The home of Once Upon a Time and all things Disney offering up a comedic take on a fairy tale? But then, Disney music patriarch Alan Menken seemed to be the show's biggest name - and rightfully so. His music is clever, catchy, and will probably be in my head all week. Speaking of big names, Galavant doesn't boast many. I kind of love that. I love that it can support exciting guest stars because the main characters are relative unknowns. I love that ABC was able to risk smaller headliners because they're only stuck with this show for a month if it flops. It shouldn't flop, though, because it's better than most of what's on TV right now. Plus, it's got enough social media traction to trend on Twitter.

Galavant wasn't spectacular in a way that knocked my socks off, but it was good. It made me laugh. It never missed, in part because it never tried to do something outrageous. It was well-acted, well-produced, and well-written. I was entertained. It delivered on what it promised. I can't wait to see what happens next.

*Here's hoping the weather and my antenna hold up.