Quality Over Quantity in TV

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NBC’s Debacle Machine-Or Give Shows a Chance

Once the home of the new, fresh and exciting ER, NBC as of about ten years ago has gone stale in the realm of hour long drama. Even the venerable “Must-See-TV” has disintegrated into “Must-See-9:00p.m.-Thursday-TV.” It really seems like the attitude with the entertainment brass is to produce shows that deserve a lot more script tightening. What inevitably happens however is they throw a ton of production budget at an unprepared show, move it around the schedule wildly to see if they can grab an audience and then dump it before it builds anything more than a cult following.

Case in point, Freaks and Geeks. Clearly the network thought is was getting the new Wonder Years. What they got was an edgy, pointedly funny, nerdfest. It was too specific for a large audience to pick up on as quickly as the NBC needed it to, so they axed it. If they had used the same logic with another quirky, specific show we would have lost Seinfeld before the third episode. Only in the second and third season, did Seinfeld get some traction. But that was the old NBC model–wait and give a show with a good script time to prove itself and the ratings will come.

Now lets see where we are this season. We have a show called Knight Rider, which is NBC’s attempt to revive another kitchy show from the early eighties a la Bionic Woman from last season. Both of these shows were favorites of mine when i was growing up and I liked them for their action, yes, but more for their kitch value and suspension of disbelief. They didn’t take themselves too seriously. Ok maybe Hasselhoff did, but that was worth making fun of at least. These remakes however strip the fun from the shows and replace it with too earnest characters in far too many explosion filled action sequences. It doesn’t work. Who is buying it?

Antoher show I was hoping to like was My Own Worst Enemy. This show was greenlit without a pilot, which means that they were relying on the pitch form the producers and the casting of veteran film actor Christian Slater. I wish they had produced the pilot because a lot of the nuance this show lacks would have been discovered in that process, I am sure. Now, this show has some great sequences and a surprisingly good performance from comedian Mike O’Malley as Slater’s colleague, best friend and fellow covert agaent. The glitz that NBC has given this show, has done little to the give heart they also failed to give to the Bionic Woman. What they don’t seem to realize is that what you have to concentrate on are moments. In action dramas it is the poignant moments that pave the way for suspension of disbelief and allow the viewer to forgive plot incongruities. That doesn’t happen in Bionic Woman and as yet hasn’t happen on My Own Worst Enemy. I’m still watching and waiting, but not for long fellas.

Last season, forgotten amid the writers strike, but more likely the schedule juggling was a show that did accomplish this. It was called Journeyman and even though it was another recycled premise, that of Quantum Leap as a man unwillingly transported back and forth in time putting things right, it worked. It worked because it had grit and developed relationships between sympathetic characters. I haven’t seen an episode yet, but ABC has co-opted the premise once more with the new Life On Mars. We’ll see if they give that gripping, but oft canceled premise a chance.

October 28, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mad Men-Or Why Can’t I Stop Watching?

As an insomniac I have a lot of late night hours to kill and if I find a show that grabs me, like The Wire did, I will download and watch the entire series 3 episodes per day until the series is exhausted. Mad Men is one of those shows. I resisted watching at first because I thought it would be another Wonder Years. Not that that was a bad thing… Oh Winnie Cooper. But a period series done badly can be a really bad thing…like The Wonder Years season 4.

The overwhelming critical accolades and the good word of mouth convinced me to give ‘er a go. So I downloaded the first episode and haven’t looked back since. Each character has been brought to life with the loving care of a parent, the scrutinty of an FBI background check and the honesty of my mom in confession.

Don Draper, played subltly by Jon Hamm appears at first glance to be the Every-executive and out of touch dad of the sixties. He is perfectly groomed and rugged in appearance, but just look below the surface and wonder why he drinks and smokes so much. Elisabeth Moss plays Peggy Olsen, Draper’s new “girl friday.” She is cute and demure and is eager, but she is also sad, needy and strong.

A friend of mine told me she wouldn’t watch the show because of how sexist it is. That is true to a point. Under all of the “coffee, tea or me” and 10 feet thick glass ceiling is the reason the sixties had to exist and why they surely had to evolve and end.

The behaviour of these characters is something short of watching a train wreck, they are flawed and funny and all kinds of interesting. You get invested in all of the supporting players too. The struggle to make it in a cut-throat business and the generational influence of the older and younger generations on the middle-aged Draper.

Anyway, this is the kind of show I was desperate for in the mid-90’s and am so glad to have now. It is one of the most well-rounded shows I have had the pleasure to watch and when I am caught up with the most current episodes in season 2, I think I may need to start smoking again, because I am soaking up so much nicotine from the screen.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Television | , , , , | 2 Comments