New Shows: February 8 - 14, 2014

This week had very few new shows on the air. Amazon, however, has uploaded ten pilots for your viewing pleasure. The number of views and the number of reviews on the site will determine which of these ten goes to series. I have watched all ten and give you my impressions. Even better, Ms. Kafka has joined me this week.

The New Shows color code: red means don’t bother; blue means maybe; green means good; magenta means great.

And the Oscar Goes To… (Turner Classic Movies)
This is a history of the Academy Awards that is really a history of the movies. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all remembered and there are clips galore of both movies and the awards show. Many of the winners are interviewed as are past hosts. If you love the movies, and especially old movies, don’t miss this.

Chance at Romance (Hallmark)
The Girl He Met Online (Lifetime)

The Night That Changed America (CBS)
It was 50 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, sang “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” (arguably one of the silliest songs ever written), and changed music, not to mention popular culture, forever. This show honored that music. Musicians from all genres showed up to sing the songs we all know every word to.

Interspersed with the songs were biographies of the Fab Four and a walk through the Ed Sullivan theater with Paul, Ringo and David Letterman. We were also treated to clips of the four performing not only on the Sullivan Show, but at various other venues throughout their years together. Amazingly, the producers found people who had worked for the Sullivan Show at the time as well as people who had been members of the audience. Their recollections of the day were fantastic to listen to.

Danny Harrison showed up as did Julian Lennon, although the latter did not take the stage. Paul and Ringo each sang and then sang “Hey Jude” together. It gave me chills to see them together again. If you haven’t guessed by now, I loved it. If you like the Beatles, you will too.

The After (Amazon: watch it here)
Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files, has been watching TV since his show went off the air. He especially enjoyed Lost. In this show, he is trying to recreate it with echoes of The Walking Dead.

Like Lost and Walking Dead, there has been some kind of apocryphal event. As a result, there are unexplained time jumps and odd creatures roaming the forests of Bel Air. Unlike Lost, our merry band of survivors didn’t resonate with me. Each feels like a stock character, all of them stereotypes that border on the offensive. Even worse, there is no chemistry among them at all. The one fact we learn about each is that they share the same birthday, March 7. At least 3 and 7 were not Lost numbers.

Of the roughly 2,800 reviews on Amazon at the time I watched this, half gave the show five stars and pleaded for more. I thought it was derivative and, finally, dull.

Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street (Amazon: watch it here)
Gortimer and his two best friends Ranger and Mel (Melody, but nobody calls her that) live on Normal Street. Except, there is a magic wishing well and a golden-eyed boy who grants wishes. The wishes he grants, however, turn out to be not much fun. So, endless summer turns into the hottest three days ever. The kids team up with the old, scary woman on the street to take care of this problem, learning lessons about working for what you want and love along the way.

Geared for kids around 7 to 10, this is a very sweet, fun show that I didn’t mind watching. The child actors are good and I believed they have been friends for years. The supporting cast was also good. The best part was the humor that felt natural and not forced. This may be helped by the fact that Amazon, unlike Disney, does not feel the need to add a laugh track.

Roughly 150 reviews were up, all of which gave it four or five stars. I completely agree.

Raging Nature (Weather Channel)

Bosch (Amazon: watch it here)
For this review, I turn the reins over to Josie:
Based on Michael Connelly's long-running series of LA noir detective novels, Bosch checks all the boxes: a curmudgeonly-yet-lovable homicide detective, supporting characters with one definable trait (good dresser, former hippie, cute love interest, by-the-book lieutenant, Lance Reddick), and a dark mystery that ties into the eponymous hero's tragic past. The series even gets bonus points for casting Titus Welliver in the lead role. He shops at my Trader Joe's, you know.

However, the pilot episode is banal. The appeal of Connelly's books is his taut, journalistic prose and fascinating knowledge of Los Angeles: his previous career as a crime-beat reporter shines through in both his Bosch novels and the more recent Lincoln Lawyer spinoff series. On the page, Connelly's writing makes the characters and the city come alive; on screen, Bosch is just one more haunted detective who can't live without the job, but can barely live with it. Although there was nothing wrong with this pilot, there was nothing that left me with an urge to watch more. I do have an itching desire to revisit the Connelly books on my shelf, though.


I agree with Josie’s review wholeheartedly. Although I have not read the books, this was a run-of-the-mill procedural that did not leave me wanting more. Josie and I appear to be in the minority as greater than 3,500 of the 4,100ish reviews on Amazon gave it five stars.

The Jo B. and G. Raff Show (Amazon: watch it here)
Geared for toddlers, this is a cute little show about two best friends who have adventures while they put on their show. Of course, there is the requisite lesson learned, new friends made, and ditties that manage to get stuck in your head all day.

Although it has had very few reviews, all but three were from parents who were extremely positive about the show.

Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon: watch it here)
A young, talented musician is making her way in the Big City. She lives in squalor, plays drinking games that involve Bizet and shots, and has the conductor of the orchestra enthralled within half an hour. Yep -- you’ve seen it before. Having said that, if this one goes to series, I will probably watch another episode or two simply because the music is magnificent.

The reviews for this pilot are more balanced. Roughly 1,200 have been posted about three quarters of which are positive. The negative reviews are truly spiteful. If Amazon only picks one, I’ll be surprised if this is it.

Hardboiled Eggheads (Amazon: watch it here)
A show geared for school aged kids, so let’s make sure we’ve got everything we need. Two boys who are geniuses? Check. One girl who can’t do math or who can’t spell? Check. The bully? Check. The mean girl who tells no math girl that if she hangs out with smart kids she’ll only ever be the “17th most popular girl on campus?” Check. Seriously? Come on, Amazon, you can do better than this.

The reviews for this show skewed towards the positive, but my feminist side just couldn’t get beyond the girl who can’t do math.

The Rebels (Amazon: watch it here)
The plot is derivative. A young woman inherits a football team when her husband dies. Everyone tries to get her to sell, but she hangs on, hiring a washed up quarterback (read future love interest) to take the team to the championship game. As clich├ęd as this was, it has potential. The writing needs to slow down a bit; the language needs to clean up a bit; the story needs to go in interesting directions. But, the actors were fun to watch and the mismatched team members show promise of humorous story lines.

This is another show were the reviews are all over the place. About three quarters are positive, but the negative reviews mostly comment about the been there/done that storyline.

Maker Shack Agency (Amazon: watch it here)
Two best friends, inventors who can’t build, team up with the coolest girl in school who wants to be a mechanic and can, therefore, build anything. Together, they take down the school bully and help their friend who wants to sell candy.

This is a great premise that falls apart under truly atrocious acting and writing. The kids they hired to play the leads are painful to watch; the inventions they come up with are laughably implausible. Granted, it is has been decades since I was the tween this show is aimed at, but even then I would probably have found it dull.

This one has the lowest percentage of positive reviews of the ten. Roughly half were positive; the others are pretty harsh about just how bad this show is.

Lenny Cooke (Showtime)
This should have been fascinating. Lenny Cooke was a high school basketball player, ranked above LeBron James back in the day, who never made it to the NBA. It’s meant to be a cautionary tale of what too high expectations will do to a young man, but the film fails to tell us why he failed. It may have been the fast life he chose to live too early; it may have been that he wasn’t he as good as everyone thought he was; it may have been that he just didn’t have the necessary passion to work hard enough to make it. Because the filmmakers fail to address this fundamental issue, the entire film feels flat. Shame.

Tattoo Titans (CMT)

Transparent (Amazon: watch it here)
Amazon has styled this as a comedy, yet I failed to see the humor. The issues raised during the pilot were very serious indeed -- a transgender father who is struggling to come out to his kids; a lesbian married to a man with whom she is raising kids; severe depression from one sibling and extreme self-loathing from another. As anyone who has struggled with any of these issues, let alone all of them, would tell you, there is very little humor in these situations. I ended the half hour feeling very sad.

The reviews for this one tend to fall into either the five star or one star categories. I wouldn’t go so far as to give it one star as the acting is not bad at all, but is this is one I wouldn’t follow if it went to series.

Wishenpoof! (Amazon: watch it here)
Bianca is a little girl who can make wishes come true. She is still learning, so her magic spells tend to go awry. As this show is geared for the very youngest viewers, they go awry in a comic way, but all comes right in the end as Bianca grants wishes for her friends. She, of course, learns valuable non-magic lessons along the way.

Bianca is assisted in her magic by “magic glitter boxes.” At first, I thought they were saying “magic litter boxes” and was mildly bemused. Thank goodness for closed captioning. All in, harmless for the very youngest kids. The vast majority of the parents on the site loved it.

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (Investigation Discovery)
Secrets of Fashion Week (E!)

The Act of Killing
The third in my series of documentaries nominated for an Oscar, this one did not impress me greatly. In 1965, the Indonesian military began cleansing the country of Communists. Over the next several months, at least half a million and perhaps closer to a million people were killed by the death squads. Not only have the men who were members of these squads never been called to account, they are still lauded as minor celebrities.

The filmmaker, Joshua Oppenheimer, teams up with one of the squad leaders, Anwar Congo, and tells him that he wants to make a film about Indonesia’s past. Congo is thrilled and proceeds to make a nonsensical film that glorifies what his friends and he did.

Of course, the film-within-a-film is secondary. What is really important in this film is the stories that Oppenheimer gets Congo and his friends to tell. What they did is atrocious and horrifying to listen to. The other horror, of course, is that they talk about these things without fear of reprisal and with a sense of pride.

I expected to be greatly moved by this film. I wasn’t. Yes, I was horrified; yes, I was astonished at the level of violence; yes, I got the point Oppenheimer is trying to make. The problem for me is that the point was made thirty minutes in. After that, I became numb to it all and began to watch the clock. Many, many reviewers I admire loved this piece; but, for me, it didn’t really work.

This film, made in 2012, was brought to my attention by my colleague Nicole who, because she has a small boy, was greatly affected by it. The filmmakers followed five kids, all of whom are being bullied, for a school year.

I was so affected by it, I had to turn it off halfway through and come back to it. I don’t do well with kids who are in trouble and, my God, these kids are in trouble. One young woman, who came out as a lesbian, had a group of kids try to run her down with a minivan. I’m a lawyer; that’s not bullying; that’s attempted murder.

The villains of the piece are the school administrators who bury their heads in the sand and don’t address these issues at all. If you love a child who is in school, or who will be in school one day, this film is required viewing.


Josie Kafka said...

Amazon's approach to pilots is interesting, and I can't quite figure out how I feel about it.

On the plus side, I like the idea of fan-sourced feedback. There are so many stupid pilots, and networks waste so much money on shows that fans don't connect with. So it seems like a wise business model that will lead to the creation of more good shows. (That's grammatically awkward: more shows that are good.)

However, this approach shows a real lack of faith in the ability of the creators to spin out a story that does more than just "grab" us instantly. There's an utter lack of commitment to artistic vision; the audience calls the shots.

Is that a good thing for TV? I don't think so. TV is great because a few networks took risks and were willing to let slow-burning shows burn slowly. The result is good art and good business, because well-respected shows have staying power.

It's interesting to think about which shows would succeed with the Amazon plan, and which wouldn't. Would Buffy have gotten enough up-votes? Would Breaking Bad? Lost would have (that pilot is awesome), but probably FlashForward would have, too.

ChrisB said...

Like Josie, I have spent a great deal of time this week thinking about Amazon's approach to its pilots. I like the fact that the company is taking a risk and that it sent so many shows to pilot.

As the week progressed, however, I realized that all ten of the shows have something in common -- they have all been done before. With the exception of Transparent, each premise was something that I had seen many, many times.

Transparent is obviously the riskiest of the five shows aimed at adults. I applaud the idea of a show that explores all aspects of human sexuality and do believe that it could engender a great series. Unfortunately, however, it feels as though whomever sends the ideas to pilot was concerned that a drama would be too much and so the show was styled as a comedy. Wow, was that a mistake.

On a lighter note, I received an email pointing out to me that the Lennon offspring sitting next to Yoko Ono during the Beatles' special was Sean, not Julian. Oops. Sorry for the confusion.