Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The Annual Culling Of The Shows

When I say culling, I'm not referring to us cutting back on shows. Don't be ridiculous. We're so far behind on most shows that we're following that it is tempting, but it's not going to happen any time soon, because I hate to give up on anything. Of course, I'm actually referring to that awful time of year when the networks pass judgement on the underperforming programmes on their rosters, slicing out much-loved cult faves and giving the kiss-of-life to some real oddities that no one is really passionate about. Hollywood Reporter has a report on the status of many shows here (this information is arranged in a more pleasing list format by Herc in this AICN Coaxial post), and it contains good and bad news, as ever.


Most upsetting is the unequivocal cancellation of Reaper, which has improved by leaps and bounds this year. Having shaken off first season nerves, the showrunners and performers have allowed more oddness and format-shaking looseness in, with some episodes doing away with the ponderous soul-hunting stuff in the cold open in order to follow the protagonists as they bumble along in their super-amiable way, and others just running with gags that would never have occurred last year. In a recent, very entertaining episode, more time was expended upon Sock (seeking chemical castration to prevent his lust for his step-sister) and Sam (dealing with his zombie dad's attempts to bond with him) than was spent on what would once have been considered the A plot, which was just fine by us. Nevertheless, that burst of energy came too late to save it. Sam, Sock and Ben (and Ray Wise, of course) will be missed.

The woeful state of Jerry Bruckheimer's roster of shows surprises me. While the CSI franchise is not going anywhere (especially now that the original series is on such consistently great form, courtesy of Morpheus), Without A Trace and Cold Case look like they're in trouble, with one of them probably cancelled. I get that this is due to the financial pressures of running both shows, but they always seemed like they'd be around forever, like bigotry and flatulence. I say that despite the fact that I watch neither of them and have exactly zero interest in them.


I'm much less surprised that Eleventh Hour is facing doom. It's only just started airing in the UK, on Living (which means watching it exposes me to endless adverts for Grey's Anatomy; a seriously nauseating experience, especially with Kevin "Journeyman" McKidd popping up every couple of seconds to remind me of our favourite recently cancelled series). A less apt channel I cannot imagine, as Eleventh Hour has yet to display a pulse. Is this the most boring show on TV? Yes, despite the insistence of the ever-present Clicking Clock Of Teh Doom, it's much less silly than Fringe, but it's not like it gets the science right even in such unambitious circumstances, so it hasn't even got that going for it.

At least Fringe, while being full of risible science, is not ashamed to forget about realism and just go all out, showing us people turning into rampaging porcupine monsters, or macrophages that burst out of your mouth and crush your windpipe on the way out, or teleportation devices that are just fucking wicked cool and if you don't agree then I'll never love you. Eleventh Hour, on the other hand, is sober but utterly joyless. It also features a lot of googly-oogly eyes, as Rufus Sewell and Marley Shelton have intense ocular orbs that scare the piss out of me. Not for much longer, though. Farewell, Dr. Hood and Thingy Gunbabe. I hardly knew you or cared.


Two other shows I don't watch are Num3e7501019 or whatever the hell it's "called", and The Unit, pictured above (that's First African American President David Palmer carrying what looks like a life doll for people with a fetish for deli-shop owners). While Numbronics has a few fun character actors on it, I cannot understand how a procedural about numbercrunching has managed to last for five seasons, and is likely to come back for another. I saw the first three episodes, and tuned out because I couldn't see how the concept could sustain itself. And yet there it is, running even longer than the similarly restrictive Bones (though of course the charm of that show, apparently, is the chemistry between Boreanaz and Deschanel). What happened to the Numberation format to make it run this long? Was I wrong to drop it? (This is a rhetorical question; I'm not going back to it no matter what I hear.) Maybe a long-running character will turn out to be a serial killer, to the delight of its many fans. Or am I thinking of another show?


In contrast, the possible cancellation of The Unit saddens me despite my utter ignorance of it. Why? Because this year creator Shawn Ryan treated TV watchers to one of the classic seasons of one of the greatest shows ever created. The final season of The Shield was a nerve-destroying tour de force, and to think he's lost one show (on a high) and then maybe lost the other one without fair warning makes me unhappy on his behalf. For providing us with such a thrilling conclusion to The Shield, he should win awards, not get thrown off TV with such disregard. Fingers crossed that, if worst comes to worst, he can come up with another show as great as The Vic Mackey Glower Hour (twice as thrilling as The Jack Bauer Power Hour, even on a good day, tension fans!).

After a whole season of speculation about being dropped by Fox, it looks like Terminator: The Needlessly Long Title Involving The Important-Sounding Word "Chronicles" is finally being cancelled. That, and Dollhouse, have suffered the fate of Friday Night Lights; running to overtake the expectation of imminent extinction. While FNL has, happily, been renewed for two more seasons, T:TSCC is not going to be so lucky. Perhaps Fox only really needed it to dilute the impact of the upcoming film in order to damage its box office chances, if their behaviour over Watchmen is anything to go by. Ironically, even though I was enthusiastic about T:TSCC when I saw the pilot, I only watched one more episode. Of course Torchwood, which I was comparing it to, got worse than even I could imagine, and yet I watched it all the way through to the hysterical end. What's up with that?


Surprisingly, Dollhouse might make it to a second season, which would probably be surrounded with even more chatter about cancellation. The only thing people have linked to Dollhouse more than those early, awful episodes is the expectation that it will not last. While once that was irksome, it's a testament to the quantum leap in quality from the sixth episode on that cancellation would now be a tragedy (in terms of TV show potential, not actual real tragedy). The last two weeks have provided more brain food than any other show on TV that isn't set on a mysterious island. As long as Dollhouse 2.0 is allowed to continue to explore the distortion of the moral norm caused by Dollhouse tech and not just have the ever-unappealing Dushku wandering around in bondage gear prior to some poorly edited fighting, a second season would be welcomed with fireworks and Bacchanalian parties (and, sadly, a flurry of woeful fanfic). If the show is not going to play to its intellectual strengths (yeah, I said it), why bother giving it another chance?


As I said earlier, we're inundated with shows, even more so now that In Treatment is back for two and a half hours a week, so maybe I should be glad Cupid is being axed. I never watched the original starring Jeremy "Mercury from The Metal Men" Piven, so I have very little awareness of what the show is like, but we're talking about a remake of a failed show, replacing the undeniably watchable Piven and the equally appealing Paula Marshall with Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulsen. I'm having trouble mustering enthusiasm for this, and now that it's been cancelled, that enthusiasm dims even more. If I do watch it, it'll be out of loyalty to the man who brought us Veronica Mars (though that wasn't enough to make me watch 90210).

Still, I can't imagine that it could be worse than Castle or The Unusuals. Despite the charmkrieg that is Nathan Fillion selling almost every shitty joke and laboured flirt-op (and proving he is indeed better, better than Neil, at so many things it's hard to conceal), everything else about it is to entertainment as formica is to wood. A lot of unimaginative shows feel like they are made by machines, but the machine that made this is constructed out of string and cardboard and powered by irradiated rats. Still, at least it's not The Unusuals. ABC's website made this sound like a drama featuring a bunch of unorthodox cops whose rarified skillsets allowed them to solve crimes no one else could. Canyon thought it was meant to be a straight-up comedy. That it satisfied neither of us is a sign something went haywire as soon as calloused fingers typed Fade In.


It's telling that, in the pilot, you see a clip of Bruce Weitz on TV in some kind of sitcom, as the show also felt a lot like Hill Street Blues, but this time with a team comprising nothing but the weirdos like Renko, Belker, and Buntz, but lacking the stable characters like Furillo, Coffey and Esterhaus. The first hour, directed with typical ineptitude by Stephen "The Reaping" Hopkins, was interminable, cutesy, unimaginative, uninvolving, edited into incoherence, cloying, drab, desperately quirky, and, most annoyingly, filled with terrific, wasted actors, like Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau and Terry Kinney. Such talented guys. Oh, and Adam Goldberg is in it too. Erm... ::tumbleweeds blow by::


So, if we lose that, no biggie. Better Off Ted, however, is just about the most lovable show on TV that isn't Reaper, and even if it's not as funny as 30 Rock, or as clever as The Office, it's still worth rooting for, especially as series creator Victor Fresco also gave us Andy Richter Controls The Universe, and I'd feel bad for the guy if he was responsible for two great sitcoms cut down in their prime. It has cemented our love of Portia DeRossi, who is just wonderful as the android-like Veronica Palmer, and has managed to satirise soulless corporate culture in such a non-abrasive manner that we almost love our monolithic overlords by the end of it. It's mild stuff, but compared to the laugh-void that is Parks and Recreation, it's Arrested Development meets Seinfeld. I've got my fingers crossed for it.


Sadly, I doubt anything can save my favourite new show, NBC's bonkers soap opera/religious fable/alternate-reality-curio Kings, which would be unmissable even if it was just 45 minutes of Ian "Swearengen" McShane walking around his "palace" muttering to himself, but manages to excel by featuring Ian "Swearengen" McShane walking around the city of Shiloh, capital city of the Kingdom of Gilboa, scheming against his foes (including Brian Bloody Cox!), railing against a preacher (played by Eamonn Bloody Walker!), and trying to predict what God wants of him in order to protect his eroding power base even when that makes him act against the interest of others. As with Dollhouse, no one expects it to make it to a second season, which is heartbreaking. In a season as dreary as this one (where the only other new shows worth following are the frustratingly erratic Fringe and the fluffy Mentalist) it's been a revelation. No matter how the other shows fare, knowing that the Sword of Nielsen Damocles hangs over such a promising head is enough to make me wonder why the hell I bother watching TV when ambition is so often rewarded with dismissal.

Self-indulgent whinge #268 over.

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