What’s up on TV

One of the reasons that I stopped doing the regular reviewing thing is that there is just too much TV today to really stay on top of it. Saw a figure quoted earlier that more than 350 original scripted series had new episodes in 2014, when you count all the cable channels, the major streaming sources, and so forth.

But I have been watching things. And just having come off a batch of watching new things, I thought I’d do some running down, for the two people who still have this one their watch list.

  • The Nightly Show fills the old Colbert Report slot with news commentary humor and discussion, focusing on minority issues. On the first episode, the news humor is quite good. Host Larry Wilmore is a smart and talented man… but his voice grates on me a bit. We’ll see if I get used to it. The discussion panel was a mixed bag at best; you could tell when each of the night’s panel members were Saying The Thing They Had Prepared To Say, hanging it however loosely on the question or conversation of the moment. Overall total, on the good side. And here’s a weird confession: I was kind of hoping to not like this show, as liking it means two hours a week of watching it.
  • I’ve watched several of the non-kiddy Amazon Original pilots of this batch, and as everyone’s telling you, The Man in the High Castle is the one worth watching. It’s an alternate history take set about a decade after the Allies lost World War II. It’s well put together… but my main thought is that whoever the production designer is has just found a dream job. “Here, combine Nazi design and Japanese design with 1960s US.” What more could you ask for as a design assignment?
  • The other originals I watched: despite having some good people in the cast, Salem Rogers doesn’t work. If you saw Bad Teacher and Bad Judge, well, they would’ve called this one Bad Model, but they forgot to cast Ryan Hansen. A supermodel returns from extended rehab and proceeds to terrorize her former assistant and act entitled. It feels compressed and just not funny. Down Dog, about a vapid yoga instructor, deals actually in some of the same realms of that wacky Hollywood, but is mellower, less abrasive, more smoothly done, and still not funny. Cocked uses a standard formula of the offspring who left the family business but must come back to save it and deal with wacky relatives (example: Arrested Development.) It’s got Brian Dennehy in it, which is a good thing, and Jason Lee, which is inconsistently a good thing. It tries for a mix of humor and drama, but alas the humor is not that funny and the drama is contrived. Some nudity for those that like it (although it’s of Symbolically Sexy women for a scene’s needs, rather than being actually sexy), some small LGBT content for a key but unconvincing plot point.  It’s not a show that I would be surprised at getting a few seasons for a while, but I doubt I’ll be watching.
Published in: on January 22, 2015 at 3:44 am  Leave a Comment  

It’s Amazon Pilot season again

Amazon has their new pilots available for free viewing. So far, I’ve watched two of them.

Mrs. Nat’s TV was correct when she pegged Mozart in the Jungle as having a taste of the beloved Slings & Arrows behind it. This time, it’s an symphony rather than a theater group that is facing changes, but it’s got that very insider-y, real-except-we’re-exagerating-ourselves-to-be-kinda-epic feel to it. Clearly not a cheap piece to produce (lots of sets, known actors like Malcolm McDowell, Bernadette Peters, and in the lead, Saffron Burrows), it didn’t catch me up the way Slings & Arrows did, but if it goes to series, I’ll definitely try a second episode to see if it grows on me.

Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street felt like it specifically wanted to be The Adventures of Pete & Pete; it’s a narrated story of a group of children in a setting that was basically our suburbs with these fantasy elements worked in (and by the way, that’s a genre I’ve done a couple short stories of in prose, so it’s one I have a taste for.) Alas, where, Pete & Pete managed to have a gentle sense of whimsy and winging it, of not taking itself too seriously (perhaps encouraged by some of its cheap production values. This all feels much more calculated and thus much less fun. Calculated and slick can work in these regards (see: Pushing Daisies), but you gotta have some real magic that this pilot doesn’t show.

Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Remington Steequel

I had heard brief mention of a Remington Steele reboot being planned, which brought to mind my key thoughts on doing such a reboot a few years back. For those unfamiliar with the series, it was about a female P.I. who was having trouble establishing herself due to the “female” part of that phrase, so she gave her agency a fake male figurehead, the titular Remington Steele… only to find that a slick, handsome conman shows up, claiming to be Mr. Steele, and insinuates himself into her business.

My main thoughts on reworking this for a more recent time:

  • the key problem with reworking RS is the central “she was getting nowhere because she was a woman” doesn’t play nearly so strongly in modern times (not that everything is hunky dory on that regard, but the conversation has changed.) So either this is a period piece, or she has something else holding her back; if we make her not one of the beautiful people, perhaps disfigured by not disabled, that might work. “Handsome con man” still solves the problem.
  • the key and amazing thing that you didn’t have to change? Casting Pierce Brosnan. Older, confident conman actually would work better in the role than young impetuous one. Yes, it means that the romance aspect is May/December, but even concern about that can be overcome with the she-is-not-beautiful aspect, as it becomes less “desperate older man seeking hot young thing” and more “finally, a man mature enough to see past her surface.”

But it’s a moot point, because it turns out they’re not restarting the series; they’re doing a sequel, the next generation.

Published in: on November 4, 2013 at 5:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Slashing back

Dear TV writers:
A backslash is never part of a webaddress. Never. Those things after the h, the two t’s, the p and the colon? Those are slashes. If you must, forward slashes. So’s the thing after the dot-com part.
Special note for the writers of The Michael J. Fox Show: this is not a mistake those under 25 would make. They’ve never worked in MS-DOS. If they’ve been working in the command prompt world, it’s because they’re tech-savvy enough not to make this mistake.

–Nat, of http://gertler.com/ <-Note, no backslashes.

Published in: on October 21, 2013 at 4:34 am  Leave a Comment  

The bitter end of Breaking Bad

HEAVY SPOILER WARNINGS: I am discussing the conclusion of BREAKING BAD; if you have not seen the final episode yet, skip this. If you have not seen the series at all, well, I recommend it, because it is overall a tough, well-made work, and you should watch it from the beginning and not read this about the ending.

The final episode of , and there seems to be nothing but paeans out there. And there is indeed much to be said for it, particularly in contrast to various other major series finales that one might cite. It is a tightly-made piece, it didn’t ignore or forget what went before, and it granted full closure. I appreciate it all, and I enjoy watching it. But…

But thematically it was wrong. Thematically it doesn’t fit the flow of the story.

The series Breaking Bad is a chronicling of bad decisions. Walter White, in due panic over his own mortality, made the bad decision to help cook meth, and support that with a series of increasingly bad decisions which wreaked havoc on his family and his world, even as they rewarded his ego. Many people died as a result, the corrupt and the innocent alike.

The final episode seems to be about justice on many levels, justice delivered as a body count to those in the drug trade, to those who have killed. They got what they deserved.

But what did Walt get? What did he get for his history of bad decisions, for his crimes, for his destruction?

Walter White got what he wanted.

Oh, he died, yes he died, but he was dying from the beginning. That was never a variable. He dies from an unintended shot from his own gun, perhaps, but he does in seeming contentment, in the comforting (to him) surroundings of a meth lab. He has just destroyed all those who would destroy him, going out as the man of power. And he has provided for his family through money earned from his deadly trade. Whether you accept the goal he always stated or what he claimed to his wife on his final day, he has achieved his goal.

Walter White has won. The victory is true and permanent. And it’s not just that this is not morally right, not at all justice, but that this seems out of step with what has come before.

Published in: on October 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Goldbergs

I watched the pilot episode of The Goldbergs last night as my first venture into the upcoming 2013-2014 season (it’s available on ABC.com; the series doesn’t launch on air until the 24th.) I can’t say that I was bowled over with its comedy. The series is built around a creator telling some version of his younger family life (a la Brooklyn Bridge) with an adult version of a child character narrating (a la Wonder Years) while they aggressively put on display the items that make the period it is set on So Different From Ours, with everyone making references to the aspects of fashion/culture/technology which can still be recognized today as being from a specific era (a la That ‘70s Show, etc.)

While this show did not inspire me to want to see a lot more of it, it did set me thinking that it would be fun to try to make an episode or two of this kind of show set very much in the present. No, I don’t just mean voiced-over-from-the-future-by-a-different-actor-who-is-supposed-to-be-one-of-the-guys-on-screen (obviously, we already have How I Met Your Mother); I mean the exaggerated focus on the items of the exact moment that it’s taking place. “Hi mom! I was just watching The Goldbergs,  bold new series that I’m sure will run forever! Got it on my iPhone 5.” “Sorry, Bryant, but it’s not as cool as my iPhone 5S I just stood in line for. Look, it knows my finger!” (Mom puts her index finger on the phone’s button. “Now it knows me!” (switches to the adjacent finger) “now it doesn’t” (switching back and forth) “Now it knows me, now it doesn’t, now it knows me, now it doesn’t.” “I would pretend not to know you, too, if you kept sticking that middle finger at me!” It would be fun trying to get it just right, so that if we watch it thirty years from now, it will feel just like The Goldbergs does now.

(And for the intense TV folks, no, there is no sign I saw that they’re trying to embrace the historical import that comes with the title they chose. As for what the show is, it doesn’t have the sense that it is intended to carry some dramatic overtones like Wonder Years or really meaningfully capture the moment and locale like Brooklyn Bridge. Of the batch mentioned before, it’s got more of The ’70s Show in its heart, but not that particular comedic texture – it’s still about a family, whereas ’70s w

Published in: on September 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Saturday Night Short

Over the past few months, we’ve discovered On Demand, the service on our Time-Warner Cable that gives us access to recent shows. (While we’ve had T-W for years, we only got the cable box hooked up once we got the big screen HD TV last year, and even then we didn’t pay much attention to it, focusing on our non-HD ReplayTV. I’d assumed that On Demand was just for paid material.)

So tonight, I went to watch this week’s Saturday Night Live, and found it a bit odd going. There was no monologue. Guest host Justin Beiber didn’t show up until midway through the second sketch. “Weekend Update” came very early in the show, and then I realized that we hadn’t gotten the musical performance that usually comes before the fake news. So I paused the show to see the rnning length… this eighty-five minute show was clocking in at 49 minutes. By the time I hit the end, I realized that not only were both of the usual two musical performances missing, but that the host thanked a special guest star who I had not seen.

I haven’t yet checked if this abridged edition is standard for SNL On Demand, or whether there was something special going on in this case (perhaps Bieber has some exclusive agreement for video of musical performances?) But frankly, with a lot of the episodes I’d be happy to get to “Weekend Update” faster.

Published in: on February 12, 2013 at 6:40 am  Comments (1)  

the elusive Animal Practice

If anyone out there is a fan of Animal Practice (I’m not), it’s cancellation seems to have been moved up a week, due to some Monday stuff being rescheduled for tonight in the wake of Sandy. However, it looks like the episode which was supposed to air tonight is available online here.

Published in: on November 2, 2012 at 3:04 am  Leave a Comment  

A major change in review policy

A while back, I stated that it was no longer my goal to review every new primetime network fiction show… although I’ve kept pretty close to that at times. Now, I’m going to switch my policy more radically:

No more bad reviews.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to start giving bad shows good reviews. And if I see a bad show and see something insightful to say, I shall. But for a number of reasons, this blog won’t be the home for such depression and snark in the future. I do hope to keep recommending good shows, as they appear.

Published in: on September 26, 2012 at 12:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Goon… oh, wait, I think there’s a space in there

The new Matthew Perry series Go On aired right after The New Normal, and it showed some key factor that makes a real difference in a sitcom, because even though it was rarely actually funny, I didn’t hate watching it. It had characters that even though they were down, I didn’t hate spending time with, because they had some charm rather than merely being obnoxious. I could watch it because there were characters with abnormalities on the surface but had some real humanity beneath, rather than the other way ’round. It made me feel that even though the series has a downbeat theme, if I spent more time with the characters I’d want to spend even more with them, rather than run screaming.

This is at base a “therapy group” series, which puts it in a tradition with Dear John and, ummm, I guess Anger Management. Okay, perhaps that’s not so long a tradition. Perry’s character is a sportscaster recovering from the loss of his wife. He’s acting like a man on the edge (and looking, for some reason, like a man who stood up in a Popemobile that was running at high speed and missing its windshield.) He’s thrown into a group for those suffering from loss, some big and some small, and immediately with the force of his personality shows that he can have an impact on the group… and, with a little more digging, shows that the group may be needed to have an impact on him, no matter how much he resists.

Perry does a good job playing a man with inner stress… which, let’s face it, is what he played on Friends and Mr. Sunshine as well. The supporting casts has some faces I like, such as John Cho (Harold of and Kumar fame) and Tyler James Williams (the Chris whom Everybody Hates). There are some characters who are supposed to be a mite annoying, somewhat nasty or loserlike in their dealing with loss, and I hope the writers keep the balance from leaning too much toward them.

And in twenty minutes, I get to watch another episode, because last night’s premiere was not the premiere, it was a “preview”, with a blantantly first episode that will not be rerun tonight for the premiere.

Published in: on September 12, 2012 at 3:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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