Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Moving to the current poll, despite the fact that I don`t normally write much about comedies in this blog, the category of the first Comedy to be cancelled in the new TV season has turned out to be one of the most popular that we`ve had. Seventeen votes were cast and with one exception, CBS`s Mike & Molly, all of the series got at least one vote. In fifth place with one vote (6%) was $#*! My Dad Says, from CBS. In fourth place with two votes (12%) was NBC`s Outsourced, while in third place with three votes (18%) was FOX`s Running Wilde. In second place with four votes (24%) was the other new FOX sitcom, Raising Hope. But the winner that you think is going to be a loser, with seven votes (41%) is ABC`s Better with You.
We had one real comment on the shows mentioned in the poll (there was a second comment that didn't make a whole lot of sense in light of the shows that were mentioned). Ben wrote: "I'm gonna guess Raising Hope. The premise of a guy raising a child after the baby's mother gets executed is just begging to get cancelled." Was it executed or just incarcerated? Either way, for reasons that I get into, I'm inclined to agree with you.
Now the first thing that you have to know is that the only one of these sshows that I`ve actually seen is the first episode of $#*! My Dad Says so as always I'm not on top of the comedy line-up. That said, I don't really think that this is a particularly good year for comedies. Mike & Molly is a standard "couple getting together" show with a gimmick – in this case the gimmick is that the couple are overweight. This could be good or a disaster depending oon how they deal with the weight issue. $#*! My Dad Says is following the sort of formula that was made most famous by The Odd Couple – two basically incompatible guys living under the same roof – combined with an "old guy who is free to say anything he wants because he's old" element. It works but it's hardly original. Better With You is another show that is hardly going to set the world on fire with originality. But that doesn't make it a bad show. In fact I like the two lead actresses, Jennifer Finnegan and Joanna Garcia, quite a bit. Even Outsourced isn't that innovative. Think of it as The Office with a fish out of water quality added. It is, dare I say it, reasonably innocuous.
That leaves us with the two FOX comedies. Strike one on these shows is that they're on FOX. How long has it been since there's been a really successful live action comedy on FOX? I'm thinking back to Married With Children. And no, I don't count Arrested Development. It may have been artistically brilliant but it stayed on the air despite ratings that would have had most shows cancelled in under thirteen weeks. There've been other shows that stayed on FOX for more than a single season, but those have also had people scratching their heads. Of the two shows, Running Wilde seems the more attractive show to me. It does have some ties to shows that have gone before in that you've got a basically unsympathetic protagonist, but the concept is reasonably fresh. With the right lead-in and the right nurturing I think it could do well enough, or at least become a show that the network would want to keep around despite less than strong ratings. The problem is that the show has Raising Hope as a lead-in, and everything that I've heard about that show has me wanting to run the other way hard and fast, starting with the presence of Cloris Leachman. I didn't like Leachman in Mary Tyler Moore, I didn't like her in Phyllis and I didn't like her in Dancing With The Stars. The premise of the show makes me cringe and some of the things that I've heard about the show (the vomiting scene) are just too gross. In a battle between unoriginal and gross-out people tend to watch unoriginal. I think the first comedy to be cancelled is going to be Raising Hope. The real question may be whether or not it takes Running Wilde with it.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
I don't think that anyone will ever accuse CBS of really pushing the envelope when it comes to most of their dramas. Or at least the shows that work. The network has been willing, on occasion to try a show like Viva Laughlin, and replaced the marginally successful Moonlight with the disastrous The Ex-List, but for the most part the network seems content to build on and spin-off or copy (with some changes) their own successes. You can see this in the 2010-11 season. The three new dramas on CBS are Blue Bloods, a cop show merged with a family drama, The Defenders, a dramedy built around a pair of
lawyers who are just a couple of steps above being ambulance chasers (and which just might be the most innovative of this year's CBS dramatic crop), and the subject of this review, Hawaii Five-0.
Hawaii Five-0 is of course a remake of the classic CBS series that debuted in 1968 and ran until 1980. The original, which starred Jack Lord, James MacArthur, Kam Fong and a host of others, is one of the most iconic television series ever. The theme is so well known that the first introductory notes, before the theme really gets going, are enough to identify the theme and bring back memories of the show's title sequence and thoughts of Hawaii. It's an almost Pavlovian reaction. In fact when the new version of the show was announced with an "updated," more "rock oriented" version of the theme, the villagers were out like a flash with their torches and pitchforks to destroy the "monster," which was successfully accomplished.
The big question is how do you handle this sort of iconic series when you want to do a new version? You could got the "Next Generation" route; have the new series be a continuation of the old series set a couple of decades later with new characters and references to the past. That was in fact done in an unbroadcast 1998 pilot featuring Gary Busey as the current head of Five-0. That pilot also featured a number of members of the original series cast (including Kam Fong playing his old role of Chin Ho Kelly despite the fact that the character had been killed during the series; no one connected with that revival remembered). The other way to go is to simply use the characters names and the basic concept of the show but to ignore everything that had occurred in the previous series. It worked very well when they remade Battlestar Galactica and much worse when they remade Bionic Woman. This is the approach that the producers of the new Hawaii Five-0 have taken.
The pilot episode of the current Hawaii Five-0 set up the whole premise of the series. Navy Seal Commander Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Laughlin) is part of a heavily armed escort detail transferring terrorist Anton Hesse to a different facility. However Hesse's brother Victor (James Marsters) took McGarrett's father, John, hostage and forced him to call his son. This allows Victor and his gang to locate the convoy that is transporting Anton and direct another group of terrorists to attack it. During the attack, Anton manages to escape and gets a gun. Steve is forced to shoot Anton and in retaliation Victor murders McGarrett's father. Returning to Hawaii for his father's funeral McGarrett is brought to meet Hawaiian Governor Pat Jameson (Jean Smart) at a public area of Pearl Harbor. She has a proposition for him; she will appoint him to head a special state task force to track down Hesse and other criminals like him. He will essentially have carte blanche to pick his own people and a promise of immunity for just about anything that they might have to do in order to get the job done. McGarrett turns her down. He's after Hesse himself. While at Pearl Harbor, McGarrett meets up with Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim) who had been John McGarett's protégé at the police department. Although Chin Ho is now working as a security guard in the public areas of Pearl Harbor, he gives Steve some information about the case and how seriously it's (not) being taken. The Police Department has picked a "haole" (a word in the Hawaiian language which is usually taken as meaning Caucasian, although in this context it seems to used as a term of contempt for someone who doesn't have roots in Hawaii). Returning to his family home, Steve finds and observes several clues that tell him about the number of people who were involved in the murder of his father. He is interrupted in his search by an armed man who just happens to be the haole detective that Chin Ho mentioned. Danny Williams (Scott Caan) is a divorced cop originally from New Jersey who came to Hawaii to stay close to his young daughter. He's not very happy with Steve McGarrett becoming involved in his case. This leads Steve to call the Governor and accept her offer, even being sworn in over the telephone. Suddenly Danny is Steve's subordinate, and not in a position to give any orders. Clues found at the house leads Steve and Danny to a suspected arms dealer who supplied Victor with some of his weapons. The man is not exactly happy about the police coming around and a running gun battle starts. It ends when the arms dealer threatens to shoot McGarrett and is shot by Danny. Steve isn't exactly pleased with having his one lead killed but the discovery of a Chinese girl, tied up in the arms dealer's house gives them a new direction to try. Steve reasons that Hesse might be using snakeheads, or people smugglers, to get him out of Hawaii.
In order to get a line on the snakehead responsible for bringing the girl they found at the arms dealer's house, McGarrett turns to Chin Ho. He's happy to provide some information but when Steve asks him to help on the case he refuses. He's been shuffled off to the side – given a rubber gun as he puts it – despite fifteen years on the force, because of allegations that he took bribes. Steve believes in him though because his father believed in Chin Ho. At a meeting with one of Chin Ho's confidential informants, a Hawaiian seller of shaved ices, Steve and Danny are excluded while the informant gives Chin Ho the name of the snakehead. They need to get the man to incriminate himself. The problem, as Chin points out, is that on an island the size of Oahu, all of the bad guys know all of the good guys. They need someone who isn't known, and Chin Ho has just the woman, his cousin Kona Kalakaua. They meet Kona (Grace Park) at the beach where she's surfing. A former professional surfer, she blew out her knee which led her to enter the police academy. She hasn't graduated yet, which makes her an ideal candidate to go undercover to get information to incriminate the snake head. She goes in as a Chinese immigrant who wants to get her family out of China. Outside the rest of the team is waiting in a semi-trailer equipped with some of the latest electronics, including a special laser microphone that will allow them to hear through walls. To prove that she's not a cop wearing a wire the snakehead forces her to strip down to her bra and panties, but because she has beach sand in her hair the snakehead is convinced that she's a cop. Just as things are about to go very bad for Kona the semi smashes through the wall of the old warehouse where the snakehead is based. After a gun battle, the snakehead is defiant. He claims that McGarrett and his team are guilty of entrapment and that he'll get off. After Danny discovers a group of people locked in an shipping container, Steve has some leverage on the man. The threat of prison isn't going to break the man so he threatens to have his wife and son sent back to Rwanda, where the boy is just about old enough to become a child soldier. He gives up Victor Hesse's location – a Chinese freighter that is ready to leave Hawaii soon. McGarrett contacts the Governor and insists that she stop the ship from sailing. She's worried about an international incident if American cops invade the freighter, but McGarrett not only reminds her of her promise of full immunity for his actions but claims that if it becomes public that a known terrorist was found aboard a Chinese freighter they won't press the matter of the ship being Chinese territory. McGarrett and his team drive their car up a ramp and ont the ship. In a gunfight they wound or kill most of Victor's men. In a confrontation on top of a shipping container Victor and McGarrett manage to disarm each other but recovering a gun Victor seems to get the upper hand before Steve manages to get his hand on a gun and shoot Victor. He falls off the top of the container into the ocean, but as the body doesn't come to the surface there's some question of whether or not Victor is dead. The episode concludes with Steve surveying the new headquarters of his task force in Honolulu's Iolani Palace. As the group enjoys a beer, Kona brings up the idea that they need a team name.
In 1998 Kam Fong, who played Chin Ho Kelly on the original version of the show once spoke about the possibilities of a remake: "When you have a show that runs successfully and you try to duplicate it, people who watched the earlier version can't help but associate the current cast with the former one. If they did Five-O again, everybody would compare Jack Lord with the new guy. It's never the same. The original is always better than the remake." While anyone who compares the two versions of Battlestar Galactica critically would be inclined to disagree with the assessment that "the original is always better than the remake," it is almost inevitable that one would compare the various actors to those who played the originals. This presents a problem because of the differences in acting styles over the years. I was generally pleased with Alex O'Laughlin's portrayal of Steve McGarrett; it was looser and more relatable than Jack Lord's performance. In Hawaii Five-O at least, Lord always seemed to run the emotional gamut from A to A-; for the life of me I can't ever recall his McGarrett smiling, let alone laughing. O'Laughlin's version of the character not only smiles and laughs but he comes across as a more human character. The approach with Scott Caan's version of Danny Williams is also very different from James MacArthur's. Caan's version seems to be a more mature adult than MacArthur's even though his life off the job is probably more messed up. Caan's version of Williams comes across as more of an equal to McGarrett rather than a protégé which is how MacArthur's version of the character always seemed. Making the initial relationship confrontational created more of a "buddy cop" vibe than was ever achieved in the original series. There is big difference between Kam Fong's portrayal of Chin Ho and Daniel Dae Kim's. As portrayed by Kam Fong, Chin Ho was a garrulous veteran cop (his first line in the pilot of the original series was something like "Have no fear, Chin Ho is here!") who was very well connected, often through family connections. He also represented something of an institutional memory – he had a lot of facts at his command. Daniel Dae Kim's Chin Ho has some of these qualities. He's a veteran cop and he has plenty of connections. The allegation that he's a corrupt cop who took bribes is something that would never have been used for the original character. His link to Steve McGarrett, and the reason why McGarrett is willing to bring him into his task force is that Chin Ho was his father's protégé. John McGarrett believe that Chin Ho wasn't guilty and because his father believed in and trusted Chin Ho he's willing to trust him as well. The biggest change is of course the character of Kono/Kona Kalakaua. Zulu who played Kono was a big Hawaiian guy who quite frankly had limited acting ability. The character was essentially the group's muscle, and generally had little to do in most episodes besides providing the muscle. Grace Park place Kona (that's the feminized version of the name Kono, although apparently the show will use the name Kono for the character interchangeably), and the character has been give a lot more to do than her previous male counterpart. They've made the character a tough, capable kick-ass woman with a lot of potential for storylines. Just as an example, making the character a new cop, fresh out of the academy, and therefore unknown to the bad guys means that she is likely to be the character most likely to go undercover in many episodes. I'm impressed with the direction that they're taking with the character, making her far more visible and important than Zulu's character ever was. Where I have a problem is that they have not only made the character an Asian woman with a Polynesian name, and presumably some Polynesian ancestry, but they've reinforced this by making her Chin Ho's cousin. But as you'll see this is a problem that I have with the show in general.
I generally liked the pilot, although there are a few things that I had problems with. The decision to start the series with a pilot that explained how the "Hawaii Five-0 unit" (as it is going to become known, though I don't think that the "naming session" at the end of the episode actually got around to mentioning that particular name) was created was probably a good one. It not only gives us background as to why this particular group of people came together but it also gives the characters a back story. In what will not be the last reference to the old series in this review, that is something that was painfully absent from the original Hawaii Five-O. In fact we probably knew more about the private lives of the characters on Law & Order, a modern series that was notorious for focusing only on the professional lives of its characters, than we ever knew about Jack Lord's version of McGarrett and we knew more about him than we ever knew about any of his team members. There were other nice touches, such as an explanation of why McGarrett calls Williams "Danno" (it's the name that Danny's daughter used when she had first tried to say his name). More to the point we saw the origins of the McGarrett and Williams relationship. In the original we never knew how Danno became McGarrett's protégé/second-in-command. In this we saw the relationship develop from open hostility to grudging respect.
Turning to things I didn't like, my biggest problem with the show as a whole is that there seems to have been no effort made to use local Hawaiian talent in the show, particularly Polynesian-Americans. Of the four main cast members, not one was born in Hawaii, and none is a Polynesian American. In the original series Kam Fong and Zulu (real name Gilbert Lani Kauhi) were both born in Hawaii (in fact Kam Fong was a sixteen year veteran of the Honolulu Police Department) as was later cast member Herman Weidemeyer. Another later cast member, Al Harrington, was of Samoan ancestry. A bigger problem for me – and this is something that might improve in later episode – is the sense of pace. The episode seemed to race to a conclusion in the "hour" (including commercials; more like 45 minutes without) apparently winding up the entire case a lot faster than any other show on TV. When you consider just how many of the scenes in the episode were action sequences you have to wonder how smart a terrorist Victor was to be caught the way he was. The pace of the whole thing was frenetic, and to my mind this pace left too much unexplained. This is a show that would have benefited from slowing the pace down by either running the pilot as a two hour movie – not something that's done much anymore – or splitting the pilot between two episodes. Hopefully in later episodes they'll even out the pacing.
I'm not going to say that this version of Hawaii Five-0 is better than Jack Lord's Hawaii Five-O (the replacement of the letter "O" with the number "0" is an official edict from the show's producers). The original series was very much a product of its time, and is constructed in the way that shows at the time were done, without necessarily delving deeply into the backstory of either the people or the organization that they were working for. The viewers are meant to accept what is presented to us without questioning their origins too much. Because of what we've generally become used to in shows, this lack of exposition can make the original show feel old-fashioned. Viewing a few old episodes in a recent marathon that Spike TV ran prior to the debut of the new series, I couldn't help but feel that at times the show just didn't hold together well. Based solely on the pilot the new Hawaii Five-0 has given us many of the qualities that the original series didn't explore because they didn't need to. Where I find fault with the new series (besides the lack of local actors in leading roles) is that based on the pilot the pacing isn't right. This is something that can be readily fixed so that we aren't inundated with action with bits of exposition in between to fill in the gaps. I think that the show needs to be a bit more believable as a procedural in order to live up to its namesake. While in my opinion the show has some room for improvement, Hawaii Five-0 is still a solid performer that people are going to watch, and I doubt that few of them are going to feel short changed when they watch it.
As far as the network is concerned, Hawaii Five-0 is a safe bet for CBS in this time slot. It follows the networks formula of generally playing it safe and not taking too many risks. It builds off an established name and concept and doesn't do much in the way of pushing the envelope. This may be something that the professional critics, and amateur reviewers like me may bemoan on occasion, but I think that we all have to admit that this is a formula that works. It's a formula that CBS is riding, cautiously, all the way to the bank.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Better late than never on this I guess. At least nothing's been cancelled yet, so I might as well poll on which new Comedy will be the first to be cancelled. As I mentioned in the last poll, unless a comedy really really doesn't work they tend to get a fairly good chance to prove themselves. The problem of course is that it is almost inevitable that a network will put out a comedy that someone at the network must think is funny but which the great American public doesn't get, or doesn't want to try to get, and they die a fast and spectacular death. Does anyone remember Kelsey Grammer's last show, Hank for any reason other than the way it died a quick and well deserved death? I don't think so.
What I want to know is what you think will be the first drama to disappear from the line-up (and for the purpose of this poll I'm likely to count "indefinite hiatus" as a cancellation, at least if it comes from FOX). In this case you should probably pay attention to previews that you've seen – a lot easier to do if you're an American – and online "buzz" about the shows. And as always please feel free to comment on why you think a show is going get the Viking funeral (with the unaired episodes being loaded aboard a boat and burned).
Deadline for this poll will be September 28th.
(Apologies for not getting this poll up as quickly as I had hoped for. There was a bit of a crisis in something else that I do online, and I had to help in my own little way in restoring something resembling equilibrium. It took some time and there were a lot of semi-angry words. I will be stepping back from my involvement in this for a while after the 25th of this month, but until then I can't tell how much I'll be accomplishing in this coming week.)
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
All right, we have the results of the first of two polls about which new shows will be the first to be cancelled this season. There were thirteen votes cast for the shows you think will be the first of the sixteen new dramas to be canned. Unlike other polls I won't be listing the shows that didn't receive any votes. There are too many of them. Instead, here are the eight shows that actually got votes (hour indicates the first, second or third hour of prime time since, as the folks at the PTC keep reminding us, prime time is different in different time zones). With one vote (7%) each are Lone Star (FOX, Monday, second hour), Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC, Tuesday, third Hour), and Undercovers (NBC Wednesday, first hour). And in first place, with two votes each (15%) are Chase (NBC, Monday, third hour), No Ordinary Family (ABC, Tuesday, first hour), My Generation (ABC, Thursday, first hour), Nikita (The CW, Thursday, second hour), and Outlaw (NBC, Friday, third Hour).
In other words, gentle readers, there's no real consensus among the thirteen of you who chose to vote. I'm not sure if this is a good thing in that you think that the shows are all reasonably good, or whether it's a bad thing in that you think that these are the worst of a pretty bad lot. I've got to say, I'm not too sure myself. I think that it may very well be that a lot of what we'll be seeing next week, when most of the new dramas debut, is a floodtide of mediocrity. There are two, possibly three shows that might, might, rise above the crowd in terms of quality, but the bitter truth is that quality doesn't always – actually doesn't ever – trump popularity in the world of network TV. For the record, in my opinion those two or three shows are going to be The Event (NBC, Monday, second hour), Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC, Tuesday, third hour) and Blue Bloods (CBS, Friday, third hour). I might have added Lone Star (FOX, Monday, second hour) but there is something about that show that just seems to rub me the wrong way.
Before I weigh in on that I think will be the first drama to be cancelled I want to look at the comments that this poll generated. Ben had this to say:
I'm guessing My Generation. It sounds kind of interesting, but youth-oriented shows fail more often than they succeed. See Life as We Know It, Get Real, etc.
I'll talk about My Generation in a bit, but for the moment let's just say that this show has a ton of problems beyond it being "youth oriented" starting with its opposition in the time slot.
Todd Mason had this to say about his choice, Chase:
Going with historical trends...NBC has had a history of killing whatever they put up against CSI MIAMI in its crib.
At which point I reminded Todd that CBS had moved CSI: Miami to Sunday night and that Chase will be going up against Hawaii Five-0 which really could be worse. Todd responded:
Indeed. I'd forgotten CBS had decided to bury that thing on Sunday. But, yes, being against H50.3 and CASTLE, which is a sleeper with a devoted audience, will probably not help the apparently rather dull CHASE out. A cursed slot for NBC, maybe.
But Ben ain't wrong, either. However, CW or tween cable might try to grab it if ABC decides against it.
I'm trying to think of the last time that NBC had something that lasted more than a season in the Monday third hour time slot. Okay, I wasn't thinking about it, I had to look it up. The answer is Medium(!?) in the 2005-06 season. Still, that's a long dry spell and I don't think that Chase will break the trend. But I don't think it will be the first show cancelled either. In fact I think that it might limp through most of the season before expiring.
Looking over the shows that are in contention - based on your votes - for the dubious honour of being the first drama to be cancelled, the two shows that stand out to me as "vulture bait" in the drama category are My Generation and Outlaw. My Generation has a really tough time slot to try to conquer – the comedy combo of The Big Bang Theory and $#*! My Dad Says on CBS, Community and 30 Rock on NBC, Bones on FOX and even The Vampire Diaries on The CW. That right there gives it a tough hill to climb, but then you have to add on the subject matter. As Ben pointed out, "youth-oriented shows fail more often than they succeed" and while I'm not absolutely convinced that this show is as "youth oriented" as he seems to think I'm really concerned that the subject matter isn't going to click. The ensemble cast isn't going to help, particularly when it seems like you aren't going to get too much overlap between cast members. We've seen plenty of examples where shows with ensemble casts which tell the stories of individual ensemble members have fallen flat fast.
The other show that I think will be gone fast is NBC's Outlaw. The show has the advantage of Jimmy Smits as the lead, although we all remember how well Cane did a couple of years back when Smits was the lead. The time slot is a bit of a problem in that it is going up against CBS's Blue Bloods (with Tom Selleck) and ABC's aged news magazine 20/20, and NBC offers a weak lead-in with Dateline NBC while CBS has CSI: New York. But that's not why I think Outlaws will be gone quick. I think that the big problem for Outlaw is that people are going to have a tough time accepting the premise. I don't think they'll believe that a Supreme Court Justice would suddenly give it all up to set up in private practice to work for the downtrodden. And based on the fact that Smits's character is a womanizer and a gambler makes you wonder how he managed the confirmation hearings to get onto the bench – any bench – in the first place. Combine all of these factors – time slot, lead-in, Smits versus Selleck (in terms of actor popularity), the apparent absurdity of the premise, and just the way that CBS "gets" the sort of audience that they're dealing with on Friday evenings and I think that Outlaw is likely to be gone by the end of thirteen weeks.
I hope to have the poll for the comedies up sometime tomorrow … after I get back from the casino.
Saturday, September 04, 2010
I have a new poll up, although because of the number of shows that I'm asking about I can't use my usual polling client which limits me to a maximum of ten answers.
The question this time around is what the first freshman drama to be cancelled this season will be. With the new TV season starting in two weeks – although The CW will be debuting their two new dramas this coming week – the inevitable question is what will survive and what will go down hard and fast. If past performance is any indicator the first shows to be dumped will be dramas because dramas tend to be more expensive to produce than comedies. On the other hand, if a comedy really really doesn`t work it will be out pretty quick too. And that`s at least part of the reason why I`m not asking about all of the new shows. My next poll will focus on the comedies.
It`s another case of wanting to know what you think will be the first drama to disappear from the line-up (and for the purpose of this poll I'm likely to count "indefinite hiatus" as a cancellation, at least if it comes from FOX). In this case you should probably pay attention to previews that you've seen – a lot easier to do if you're an American – and online "buzz" about the shows.
As always, if you feel so inclined, please include an explanation of why exactly you think that a particular series is heading for the chopping block like an unpardoned Thanksgiving turkey. You might even include a date by which you expect the show to be entering TV Tartarus. Deadline for this poll is September 14 at 5:30 p.m.