A Question Most Pressing

Peek-a-boo! Is anyone watching you?

It’s been forever since last we posted content here at Live Plus Seven!  A look at the last post will show us that some things change while others remain dependable constants.  Happy Endings, Damages, Awake and 30 Rock have all gone to that syndication factory in the sky (also actual syndication in some cases), while struggling gems like The Mindy Project, So You Think You Can Dance, Parks and Recreation, and Hart of Dixie soldier on bravely despite ratings far less stellar than those of their competitors.  Community is on what effectively seems to be its fourth life, soon to be calling Yahoo! home.  Game of Thrones and Veep continue to be creative and critical darlings, and those poor, tortured Pretty Little Liars have already been granted another two seasons of torment at the hands of anyone capable of sending mass texts and blocking their number.  We had high hopes for new shows, some of which we don’t even remember — which one was Do No Harm? — and others of which are making their mark on the television landscape, for better (The Americans, one of television’s best and least flashy dramas) or worse (The Following, yikes).

But this post isn’t about any of that, but rather a very, very pressing question that, in the current climate of television entertainment, must be asked:

Is anyone watching Mystery Girls on ABC Family?  I can at once say the show is terrible and also that I think I love it.  The dialogue and scenarios feel as dated as the episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 it references for laughs, and yet my love of said episodes makes it almost impossible to resist the re-teaming of Jennie Garth and Tori Spelling (not quite as irresistible as swapping out Tori Spelling for Tiffani Theissen or Kathleen Robertson, but Tori is the one with the D-list cache to get a show like this off the ground).  You have to admire that Tori is self-aware enough to totally lean into playing a character who is almost a caricature of a caricature.  Jennie Garth is a treasure as the straight-woman to Tori’s antics.  Sometimes I wish the show was about identical twins, and Jennie was playing both roles, no offense to Tori.  The show’s only other character, the girls’ gay assistant Nick, feels like a perpetual missed opportunity for the show to be just a little bit better than it is.

So the show is really not very good, and yet I keep wanting to watch it, which almost makes it good by default.  No one I know seems to have anything to say about it, more maybe they don’t want to admit they’ve seen it.  What say you, Internet?  Is there maybe something more to this mystery than meets the eye?

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Case of the Mondays

When the season began, I was dubious going into CBS’s Monday night comedy block.  After wrestling with the decision, I decided to stick with both How I Met Your Mother and 2 Broke Girls.  (I never tried Mike & Molly, and never enjoyed Two and a Half Men.)  A few weeks into the season, things were looking somewhat grim.  I was still watching HIMYM and 2 Broke Girls, as well as Partners sandwiched between them.  No one show seemed worth watching on its own, but in my mind, they were all or nothing.  Each week, one and only one show would be funny while the other two were a mildly amusing waste of time.  The shows began to find their rhythms: 2 Broke Girls relied more and more heavily on offensive stereotypes and obvious jokes, Partners was developing beyond its basic Louis-screws-up plot for every episode, and How I Met Your Mother was collapsing further in on itself and its own stalling tactics.  Then CBS cancelled Partners, and I was shocked to find myself thinking that somehow Partners had been the glue holding that stretch of programming together.  Suddenly, what had been a so-so 90-minute length of sitcom became two half-hour shows on their own, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch either of them.

Empty Promises

How I Met Your Mother began the season in a not-so-great place.  The show had been slip sliding in quality since reaching the height of its critical and popular success a couple of seasons before.  What once seemed like clever callbacks and inventive storytelling had been reduced to stalling tactics and teases about the mother we were eventually going to meet.  We’d spent the entire previous season waiting to learn who Barney’s bride was going to (eventually) be, and discovered in last season’s finale that it was Robin.  Lily and Marshall had just had a baby.  Ted was maybe getting back together with his ex Victoria, on her wedding day.

This fall’s episodes of HIMYM continued the trends of the previous two seasons — the laughless opening episode featured Ted sitting on the same train platform as, but not meeting, the ever-elusive Mother — with the show visibly struggling to produce plots for the gang that prolong their predetermined endgames.  The worst example of this was the spat of episodes focusing on three relationships we already knew were doomed: Barney and stripper fiancee Quinn; Robin and himbo Nick; and Ted and Victoria.  As if already knowing these relationships would fail wasn’t enough, one episode actually announced that all three couples would break up by the end of the month, and then spent the next four episodes making it happen.  It is incredibly hard for the audience to care about what’s happening on the show when we know it isn’t going to matter in a couple of months.  This points to the larger problem with HIMYM relationships.  There is no way to invest in any of Ted’s relationships going forward because with everything we’ve been told about the Mother, we can always be pretty sure it isn’t her.  (Though, to Victoria’s credit, she is at least likeable, unlike Jennifer Morrison’s Zoey a couple of seasons ago.)

But the bigger problem with HIMYM is the show’s inability to give its characters any progress or growth, or to actually be funny.  After all, if the show was still funny and clever, it wouldn’t matter whether we thought Ted’s relationships would last or not.  No one ever thought any of Jerry’s relationships would last on Seinfeld, but that didn’t make them any less fun to watch.  On paper, the characters are maturing and growing, having children, buying houses, Barney’s gotten engaged twice in half a season.  Despite these supposed changes, though, the characters are still all written as if they’re in their mid-20s.  Ted will spend an episode moaning about how at 30-something he’s no closer to finding his one true love than he was seven years ago, but then he goes back to doing the same uncouth schtick he’s always done.  Barney has found the joy of the serious and loving relationship three times now (Robin, Nora and Quinn), but jumps back into womanizing and dirty jokes each time he’s single.  Robin was weighed down last season with the news that she couldn’t have kids and fear of how that would affect her future, but spent much of this season acting like a girl in high school.  Both Ted and Lily and Marshall have come to own suburban houses but still live in the city.  Lily and Marshall have been through the motions of being new parents and all the typical sitcom hijinks that can entail, but all of it is done in a way that’s so obvious and expected that it’s barely worth a laugh.

Saddled with all these flaws, in addition the escalating expectations for what the Mother will be when she is finally introduced and how her presence in so many previous episodes will be explained, HIMYM is failing to stay afloat.  There are some bright spots on the show, though, and even signs of possibly moving in a better direction going forward.  Barney and Robin are engaged, which hopefully means that any and all hints of the Ted/Robin relationship (which hasn’t held water since Barney and Robin were paired and especially hasn’t since we learned Barney and Robin eventually have a wedding) will fade from existence.  Barney has now burned his playbook, so here’s hoping that’s a sign of actual character growth.  With the other four characters having become so much staler than they once were, Robin and Cobie Smulders have begun to shine much more.  I once thought of her as easily the least important or enjoyable part of the group, but now she’s the best and funniest part of every episode.  Robin screaming at Patrice is, at least for me, the show’s one reliable joke.

Now that HIMYM has been renewed for a ninth season, it seems more imperative than ever that the show work on conquering its deathly fear of change and let us see these characters start to move into their lives beyond this phase we’ve been seeing for the last seven and a half seasons.  Maybe Ted won’t meet the fabled Mother until the very last episode of the series.  That’s not the worst thing, as long as Ted and the gang are doing more than just running in place waiting for that day to come.

Cupcake Dreams

The start of the 2 Broke Girls season may have been the most disappointing of any I saw this fall.  I’m not sure that any show’s problems were more obvious or more fixable.  The odd couple/buddy cop setup of terminally poor Max becoming BFFs (my term, certainly not hers) with recently-impoverished Caroline works because leads Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs play well off each other and the writers don’t skimp on making the girls really poor and really desperate.  While watching Max teach Caroline how to be poor in hipster Brooklyn constituted the funny part of the show, the diner where both girls work, the setting for a seemingly endless stream of obvious dirty jokes and potentially offensive race-based humor, nearly all of which fell flat, accounted for the definitively unfunny.  The addition of Jennifer Coolidge as building neighbor and frequent diner customer Sophie helped — how could Jennifer Coolidge not be an improvement? — the fact that most of her dialogue revolved around saying “come” or “sausage” did not.

The first season ended with a promising encounter, where Max and Caroline attended a fancy party, stalked Martha Stewart, and convinced her to try one of their cupcakes in the ladies’ room.  The off season seemed the perfect time to assess what was working and what wasn’t and return with a stronger focus.  Surely Michael Patrick King had gotten over the defensive meltdown he’d had months earlier when press tour attendees criticized the show’s diner scenes, right?  Perhaps not.  The second season premiered with what seemed like an even heavier focus on the diner and the same flat, predictable humor it carried.  The diner characters seemed to be getting even more screen time, not in order to become fuller, more three-dimensional characters, but just to execute more of the same unsuccessful jokes.  There were still funny parts to the show, but for every joke that was funny, there were three or four attempts at humor that weren’t.

A couple of months into the season, though, the show took a turn for the better, as if someone had suddenly realized the autopilot on the plane wasn’t working properly.  Max and Caroline began to focus more intently on the cupcake business, even securing (at sitcom-fast pace) the funds to open a storefront.  The show was still telling the same kinds of jokes, but the setting was more pleasant, the material felt fresher, and the punchlines weren’t as predictable.  (The joke, for example, about the girl who booked a cupcake party for her joint quincinera/baby shower may have been offensive, but I laughed out loud.)  Caroline started dating the likeable and normalish Andy, adding an aspect to the girls’ lives that hadn’t really existed before.  Sophie began to be used as more than just a delivery system for dirty innuendo.  Besides Andy, the show brought through a parade of man-candy guest stars (my favorite of which were the hot Amish boys who came to Brooklyn for Rumspringa).  The diner and its characters are still a part of the show, but a degree of balance seems to have been instituted.  By not focusing too heavily on the “broke,” the downtrodden, dirty, and dejected, and incorporating more of the “girls,” making Max, Caroline and even Sophie more human, with hopes and fears, foibles and vulnerabilities, 2 Broke Girls has gotten onto a promising path.  I look forward to seeing what the show does when it returns after the holiday break.

Top Ten Shows

  • 30 Rock
  • American Horror Story: Asylum
  • Fringe
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • The Mindy Project
  • Nashville
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Pretty Little Liars
  • Revenge

Current (or Nearly Current)

Revenge, 666 Park Avenue, Gossip Girl, How I Met Your Mother, 2 Broke Girls, Revolution, Go On, The New Normal, Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, Ben and Kate, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Hart of Dixie, Nashville, American Horror Story, Survivor, Suburgatory, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Up All Night, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Glee, Fringe, Saturday Night Live, The Soup

On The Backburner

Last Resort

Red Carpet Uniforms: Critical Ire and The Golden Globes

When the Golden Globe nominations were announced a couple of weeks ago, the general run of television critics launched into what I would consider the usual response to the Golden Globes’ television nominations, most landing somewhere in the realm of mild irritation greatly mitigated by not taking the awards seriously.  “Look at these silly Golden Globe nominations.  Silly as always!”  Sure, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association doesn’t do much to help the case for their own credibility when they do things like nominating action drama The Tourist in comedy categories on the justification that the plot was farcical.  But I’ve always loved the Golden Globes television nominations because of their willingness to buck trends and expectations and take chances.

One of the most common complaints about the Emmys is the inability, or unwillingness, of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to look forward rather than backward.  The Emmys’ devotion to their own previous nominees make breaking into certain categories all but impossible for newcomers, or even not-so-newcomers.  In spite of this and the other problems critics have with the Emmys, they remain a respected institution and are still generally considered at least an indicator of quality television.  The Golden Globes have the reverse of the Emmy problem.  Rather than seeking to reward the established, the tried and true, the Globes are much more likely to look outside the agreed-upon set of candidates and try to find greatness where others aren’t looking all that hard.  Where the Emmys prefer to be not wrong in their awarding, the Globes take their chances at being either gloriously right or spectacularly wrong.  There’s something very appealing about that.

I think for most critics, what it really comes down to is having a few key nominees in certain categories that indicate whether or not a list of nominees is good.  Was Mad Men included?  Was Parks and Recreation included?  To me, this points to a degree of standardization for what makes good television and what doesn’t.  A show can be shamed out of the room nowadays for being a police or medical procedural, and forget about being a comedy that features recorded laughter.  The critical attitude toward incorporating a little variety into these categories seems to be rather parochial.  I wouldn’t find it unreasonable if the HFPA felt that one serialized AMC drama series being nominated was enough, and opted to bump Mad Men in favor of Breaking Bad.  Some would complain that that led to the nomination of The Newsroom, a mess of a show that I myself did not enjoy enough to watch past the first couple of episodes, but The Newsroom is unlike any other show in the category.  That has to count for something.  Parks and Recreation was excluded, but maybe the HFPA felt that one show where the characters break the fourth wall (Modern Family) was enough, and instead wanted to round out the Comedy or Musical category with something more musical than comedy, going for the critically lampooned Smash.  I’d argue there’s some merit to that line of thinking.

At the end of the day, the television awards given out by the Golden Globes, months removed from the industry-standard Emmys and not even working with the same eligibility period, are almost as inconsequential as the critics’ opinions of them.  I just wish that the Globes could be viewed with a more open-minded and less dismissive attitude by the majority of smart people who write about television.  Even these brilliant minds might find themselves learning something from the Globes nominees when they aren’t too busy knowing more than the nominating committee.

For reference, the full list of Golden Globes television nominations is below:

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

  • “Breaking Bad”
  • “Boardwalk Empire”
  • “Downton Abbey: Season 2”
  • “Homeland”
  • “The Newsroom”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

  • Connie Britton in “Nashville”
  • Glenn Close in “Damages”
  • Claire Danes in “Homeland”
  • Michelle Dockery in “Downton Abbey: Season 2”
  • Julianna Margulies in “The Good Wife”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

  • Steve Buscemi in “Boardwalk Empire”
  • Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad”
  • Jeff Daniels in “The Newsroom”
  • Jon Hamm in “Mad Men”
  • Damian Lewis in “Homeland”

 

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – COMEDY OR MUSICAL

  • “The Big Bang Theory”
  • “Episodes”
  • “Girls”
  • “Modern Family”
  • “Smash”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES -COMEDY OR MUSICAL

  • Zooey Deschanel in “New Girl”
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “Veep”
  • Lena Dunham in “Girls”
  • Tina Fey in “30 Rock”
  • Amy Poehler in “Parks and Recreation”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – COMEDY OR MUSICAL

  • Alec Baldwin in “30 Rock”
  • Don Cheadle in “House of Lies”
  • Louis C.K. in “Louie”
  • Matt LeBlanc in “Episodes”
  • Jim Parsons in “The Big Bang Theory”

 

BEST MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • “Game Change”
  • “The Girl”
  • “Hatfields & McCoy”
  • “The Hour”
  • “Political Animals”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Nicole Kidman in “Hemingway & Gellhorn”
  • Jessica Lange in “American Horror Story: Asylum”
  • Sienna Miller in “The Girl”
  • Julianne Moore in “Game Change”
  • Sigourney Weaver in “Political Animals”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Kevin Costner in “Hatfields & McCoys”
  • Benedict Cumberbatch in “Sherlock”
  • Woody Harrelson in “Game Change”
  • Toby Jones in “The Girl”
  • Clive Owen in “Hemingway & Gellhorn”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Hayden Panettiere in “Nashville”
  • Archie Panjabi in “The Good Wife”
  • Sarah Paulson in “Game Change”
  • Maggie Smith in “Downton Abbey: Season 2”
  • Sofia Vergara in “Modern Family”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Max Greenfield in “New Girl”
  • Ed Harris in “Game Change”
  • Danny Huston in “Magic City”
  • Mandy Patinkin in “Homeland”
  • Eric Stonestreet in “Modern Family”

 

On The Bubble: The Sophomore Search for Self

Being an avid watcher several dozen television shows, I find that I’m never quite settled on my DVR’s playlist.  While many shows feel like must haves, there are always a few that I’m considering getting rid of to make more time for reading, writing, or watching the other shows that people are always talking about that I don’t currently watch (here’s looking at you, Homeland).  Like the emcee at a karaoke bar, I’ve found that some of these only come by once or twice, but the majority of them are regulars.  As we reach the winter break of this current season, I find myself reflecting on two shows with promising starts last season: Up All Night and Suburgatory.

Suburban Wastelands

Suburgatory was never a must-see show, but benefited from airing just before Modern Family, a show I was already committed to watching.  (Why this would matter with a DVR is sort of a mystery to me, but it still for some reason makes a huge difference to me.)  For me, there have always been parts of the show that work and parts that don’t.  With the changes going into this season, like the additions of Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell as regulars and what seemed like an expanded role for Lisa’s boyfriend Malik, I thought the show was doubling down on the things that work best, much of which involves the Shay family.  Instead, Suburgatory has found new ways to highlight its less interesting and funny elements.  I was excited for the relationship between George and Dallas to finally start to progress, for example, but the show wasted several episodes having over-the-top Dallas be over the top even by Dallas standards, while grounded George became even more resistant to these shenanigans than usual.  The fun of watching opposites attract with these two was zapped by overplaying to the extremes.  Fortunately, with the relationship having reached stable ground, the two are back to their dissimilar but complementary dynamic that works really well in limited quantities.

This leads to a larger point overall about something where the show excelled during the first season, playing the tensions between George and Tessa’s city ways and the bizarre and conservative pace of life in Chatswin.  It’s natural to have both characters adapt to some degree to their new surroundings, but the show seems to have lost its voice where this juxtaposition is concerned.  Where George once rejected the suburban way of life as much out of disdain for it as his inability to conform to it, he’s now become the town’s voice of reason in many ways, neither bothered nor befuddled by the neighbors around him, even if many of them still view him as a lesser man.

The biggest detraction from my enjoyment of the show, though, has been Tessa’s direction during this first part of the season.  The story with her wanting to get to know her mother is a logical step emotionally, and were Suburgatory a drama, I think it would work much better.  As comedy, though, there’s not much to be reaped in terms of humor from a daughter’s struggle to make a relationship with the mother who has been within reach but simply out of touch for 15 years.  Even Tessa’s eagerness to spend time with her mother feels like something of a betrayal to me, not because I don’t want them to spend time together, but because Tessa seems to have difficulty making room in her heart for her mother without pushing her father out of it to some degree.  Tessa is portrayed as a mature teenager, and sure, she is, but the character really works best when she is part of teenage storylines, whether involving Lisa, Dahlia, Malik, Ryan, etc. or just interacting with the adults in her life in a way that makes her seem like a teen rather than someone who thinks she’s an equal.  The urge to make Tessa come across as more mature is making her irritating.

The outlook for Suburgatory is still fairly bright, even if it is at the bottom of my DVR list this month.  More recent episodes have returned to some of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the show — the weird family dynamic of the Shays, Lisa’s relationship with Malik, Tessa’s relationship with the other teens on the show, families having outlandish fights over lawns and housekeepers — and are hopefully transitioning out of some of the rough waters of the fall.

Up All Night’s Identity Crisis

The problems of Up All Night are much less straightforward than those of Suburgatory.  Up All Night is a show that I usually enjoy when I watch it, but rarely do I feel compelled to watch.  Up All Night’s cozy timeslot within NBC’s Thursday night comedy block is the primary reason the show is still on my list (though, again, I know that doesn’t make sense for a person who watches everything on DVR).  Up has had a hard time getting into a good rhythm of what the show is about, mostly because it can’t decide what the show is about.

I read numerous complaints during Up’s first season that the show felt like two separate shows, the one people seemed to enjoy about the difficulties of a hip, ambitious couple with a newborn, and the one people seemed less enthusiastic about following the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of a talk show diva.  This dichotomy never bothered me much, and actually I was relieved that neither element seemed terribly slapped together, considering that Ava wasn’t even written as a famous talk show host in the original pilot.  While the show did seem on sturdier ground where the home life was concerned — and frankly there are probably many more viewers interested in seeing a professional couple struggle with an adorable baby than an overblown diva walking all over her mousy assistant — the stories surrounding Ava and the talk show did start to pick up focus and depth in the second half of the season.

All of that is a moot point, though, since the Ava Show was completely dropped at the start of this season.  While getting rid of the show within the show may have helped solve the problem of the split identity, it created the larger problem of what do with Maya Rudolph’s Ava, whose plots are seeming like more and more of a stretch each week.  The repeat use of Sean Hayes’s recurring character Walter, not particularly funny in his first appearance, is a clear sign of the writers grasping for ideas for Ava.  Things at home have begun to flourish somewhat, with the addition of Reagan’s brother and the swapping of Chris for Reagan as the at-home parent.  Unlike Ava’s stories, these feel like they are real and have heart.  Background characters like Gene and Terry (or is it Jean and Terry???) have begun to come to life, and the show feels like it knows exactly who it is.  Until it has to cut back to the scenes with Ava.

Once Up All Night wraps for the winter, it will take an extended hiatus before coming back in a new format, as a multi-camera show filmed before a live studio audience.  It is very hard to imagine the show working in this format, and I fear it will only be another instance of taking something and making it work less well than it did before.  The format seemed to be working fine, though perhaps the people in charge think that making the show look like a CBS sitcom will help achieve CBS ratings.  As Guys With Kids can attest, that is not always the case.  No, the real outlier that the show needs to address, if it’s looking to make changes, is Ava.  I really enjoy this character, and love Maya Rudolph, but Up All Night has bucked the ways in which she naturally connected to the rest of the show.  She is no longer working with Reagan, and the show rightly has opted not to have Ava simply hang around the Brinkley home in a way that doesn’t make sense.  The easiest connection to foster without perpetuating the problems with The Ava Show would have been to nurture Ava’s relationship with Jason Lee’s Kevin.  Perhaps Lee was unavailable, though I would think that an offer to be a regular on a network comedy would have been a decent offer for him.  With Kevin as a good friend and neighbor of the Brinkleys, involving him and Ava in Chris and Reagan’s lives would have been easy and natural, and the courting of the talk show queen by a contractor and single dad would have provided tons of potential plots.

Whatever the reasons behind it, the Brinkley’s now seem as far from Ava as ever and all are now heading into a format that seems completely incongruous with the show.  I hope the showrunners can get things together and pull the show into a cohesive, successful unit.  But I fear that this latest retool will be the show’s last before NBC puts it out to pasture at the end of the season.

Top Ten Shows

  • 30 Rock
  • American Horror Story: Asylum
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • The Mindy Project
  • Nashville
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Pretty Little Liars
  • Revenge
  • Survivor

Current (or Nearly Current)

Revenge, Gossip Girl, How I Met Your Mother, 2 Broke Girls, Revolution, Go On, The New Normal, Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Hart of Dixie, Nashville, American Horror Story, Survivor, Suburgatory, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Up All Night, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Glee, Saturday Night Live, The Soup

On The Backburner

666 Park Avenue, Ben and Kate, Guys With Kids, Last Resort, Fringe

Winding Down and Catching Up

My two main preoccupations for the post-Thanksgiving week of television were the latest episode of Revolution, and the show’s evolution (or not?) over the season, and getting caught up on the Fox sitcoms.

The Evolution of Revolution

This week Revolution aired its final episode before going off to hibernate for the winter. (The show will be off air until late March.) As other shows start their winter breaks in the coming weeks, the so-called fall/winter/mid-season finales of these shows mark a good time to reflect on where they’ve been and where they’re going. I’m not sure I have a harder time thinking about any show than I do about Revolution.

When I watched the pilot for Revolution, I thought it was terrible. I couldn’t imagine it would survive more than a few weeks, and I didn’t even think I’d watch a second episode. The plotting was all over the place, with six or eight or maybe even 12 episodes’ worth of action crammed into a single hour, after we’d already been jolted 15 year ahead of what would have been the most interesting aspect of the show. Rather than getting the story of people like ourselves coming with the sudden loss of man-made power sources, we were ultimately handed a rescue mission in a world that had already coped so well with what they’d lost that it hardly seemed to matter that they’d lost it. It became just another story about people who we weren’t given the chance to know before we were asked to care about them. Much of the acting was laughable, and the flashbacks only served to illuminate that apparently, in a world without power, all the visible signs of aging in adults cease to progress.

How then have I come to be so invested in the continuing dramas of Miles, Rachel, Nora, Aaron and, yes, even Charlie, as they go about their various missions? There are moments I watch of the show in the most recent episodes and think how much its grown, that character development has become important and the pacing makes sense and the flashback information we’re getting is interesting rather than obligatory or filler. But I can’t help but wonder if many of these improvements were even intentional, whether getting to know the characters is for its own sake, or simply as a means to stretch the plot because so much of it was expended so quickly in the early episodes? In the episode where we learned Maggie’s backstory, it is casually mentioned that she walked, alone, in a world where people were looting their neighbors’ homes and holding children hostage for a wagon of food, from Seattle to Buffalo. A couple of weeks ago, Neville’s wife Julia went to great lengths to make sure that their son wasn’t send to California from Philadelphia, because of how dangerous a trek it would be, even in a military troop. I see these kinds of discrepancies, and it’s hard to know whether the writers have gained a better sense of this world they’ve created or it’s all just to serve the greater plot.

These questions will start to be answered, I’m sure, as the second half of the season presents itself in the spring. The fall finale left us at an interesting place, and how the show handles things going forward will be very telling. For me, though, nothing is more important than the backstory of how the power was lost. We’ve gotten the beginnings of it, and I was pleasantly surprised that the story so far seems neither lame nor idiotic. But it is much easier to throw out a glimpse of something and make it seem interesting than to craft something that is actually interesting and makes sense. So the jury is still out on whether Revolution is transforming itself into a respectable drama actually worthy of being one of the season’s biggest hits. We’ll have to wait another three months to see if Revolution becomes something more than the show that’s good to make fun of around the water cooler.

Funny Like A Fox

Tuesday has become a wonderfully conflicted night of television for those of us who enjoy “smart” sitcoms, with a DVR-busting lineup that includes Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, Go On, The New Normal, New Girl, and The Mindy Project all airing within the span of an hour.  I’m an old-fashioned viewer who lives to rely on just recording two things at once on the DVR, but Tuesdays has forced me to explore other options to watch all these shows.  This past weekend, I found myself signed up to Hulu Plus to catch up on the episodes of New Girl, Mindy, and Ben and Kate (I’d also missed a few episodes because of power outages and inclement weather) and had a few of those realizations that only come from watching several episodes of things in close proximity.

For one thing, while I like the show well enough to catch one episode per week, i don’t enjoy Ben and Kate enough to watch more than one episode of the show in a row.  I got to the end of the Emergency Kit episode and felt like I’d had enough for a month.  I’m going to have to reconsider giving the time I spend watching this show to something else, like reading or taking a nap.

I more enjoyed watching and contrasting New Girl and The Mindy Project.  My favorite revelation of the weekend was that I’ve actually met Tommy Dewey, the dashingly handsome and charming actor playing Mindy’s love interest Josh on The Mindy Project.  (We went to college together, though I can only claim to have met him during my unsuccessful audition to join the improv troupe of which he was the star.  The saying holds true: Those who can do; those who can’t blog.)  Aside from that, I like the fact that Mindy Project isn’t just doubling down on ensemble hijinks but digging a little deeper into the supporting players.  I didn’t need a reason to invest in Chris Messina’s Danny other than Chris Messina, but I left my mini-marathon caring more about Betsy, Jeremy and even the underutilized Gwen.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Shauna, played by the talented Amanda Setton, of whom I’ve been a fan since Gossip Girl.  I guess the show is going with what works, but I’m sad that she’ll soon be departing.

New Girl continues to march along at its New Girl pace, with its awkward and funny dynamics in the main cast with that hint of the show being not quite as cool as they think they are.  For all Jess’s flaws, I will say it seems uncharacteristically juvenile for her to be pulling the so-called Parent Trap-type shenanigans to reunite her parents who have been divorced since forever.  This by no means ruins the episode, it just detracts from the show’s credibility, which it needs to sell some of the more ambitious episodes it puts out.  But no, what most stands out to me is that almost halfway through the second season, New Girl still seems not to have recovered from having replaced the pilot character Coach with Winston (because of Damon Wayans, Jr.’s unavailability when Happy Endings was picked up).  I can only imagine what the character and the subsequent dynamics would have been like had Coach stuck around, either with Wayans or maybe with Lamorne Morris as a recast instead of a new character, but it is impossible to get past the idea that Winston is just a placeholder or a foil, someone who exists almost exclusively to take a side when two of the other roommates are arguing or act as a foil to Nick’s or Schmidt’s peculiarities.  Toward the end of last season, New Girl really seemed to make an effort to develop Winston, building up his relationship with Shelby and having him search for a career.  But through all of that, and despite a few shining moments (working with Jess’s bell choir kids and singing along to Wicked while driving Schmidt’s van come to mind), Winston has failed to register as an actual person in the New Girl world.  I don’t even mean that he’s just less developed that Jess, Schmidt, Nick and Cece.  Characters have come on for an episode or two and existed more on their own than he does.  I like New Girl a lot, but the show would be much better off if they could find a way to use Winston beyond just filling whatever space the other characters leave for him in every episode and start considering him with somewhat comparable importance to the other characters.  If not, they should get rid of him and replace him with a character who the powers that be do feel is real and worthy of existing beyond propping up the other four.

Top Ten Shows

  • 30 Rock
  • American Horror Story: Asylum
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • The Mindy Project
  • Nashville
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Pretty Little Liars
  • Revenge
  • Survivor

Current (or Nearly Current)

Revenge, Gossip Girl, How I Met Your Mother, 2 Broke Girls, Revolution, Go On, The New Normal, Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Hart of Dixie, Nashville, American Horror Story, Survivor, Suburgatory, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Up All Night, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Glee, Saturday Night Live, The Soup

On The Backburner

666 Park Avenue, Ben and Kate, Guys With Kids, Last Resort, Fringe