The New Fall Season Thanksgiving Roundup

It's Thanksgiving week in the states, and time to talk about what has turned out to be a disappointing fall season. I will avoid the predictable comment about turkeys.

We covered several premieres this fall, and there was only one show that we decided to take on and review every week. That's kind of sad. I was really hoping I'd fall in love with something new, since this is Smallville's last season and I have a reviewing slot opening up soon. Oh, well.

With Josie's and Dimitri's help, here is a rundown of the new fall season, such as it was. We're using a new rating system created by Dimitri: WATCH IT, SKIP IT, or catch it when there's nothing else on but a Simpsons rerun of an episode you think you might have seen before but they've all started to meld in your mind and just how many times has Marge discovered she had a gambling problem anyway, if they're going to recycle plots, how can I be expected to keep up, oh, wait this isn't the Simpsons, it's Family Guy (CATCH IT WHEN THERE'S NOTHING ELSE ON for short).

And the winner is...
The Walking Dead


Isn't it interesting that the best new show this fall is a zombie apocalypse on AMC? There's a lesson in there for the networks. Will they absorb this lesson? I don't think so. Anyway.

The pros: I really enjoy end-of-the-world stories, but let's face it, they usually suck. The Walking Dead does not suck. It's exciting, intense and character-driven. The end of the world and the zombies themselves are used beautifully as the basis for a story about survival, humanity and morality, and they're not going for the predictable. The lead, Andrew Lincoln as Rick, is definitely the guy I would vote for as The Man I Would Most Want to Be With During a Zombie Apocalypse.

AMC, a network previously known for showing censored old movies, has become the home of exceptional original television: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and now The Walking Dead. They are cornering the market on quality, and I applaud them. Seriously. I didn't even notice that Rubicon didn't work out.

The cons: Only six episodes? Six? That's it? The Walking Dead has wowed the critics (including us) and has already been renewed, so we're getting a second season. But unfortunately, we'll have to wait for it.

The verdict: WATCH IT. Don't miss this one, genre fans. I'm happy to report that we're reviewing this show, and I'm proud to have it on the site.


The Event

As I mentioned in my review of the pilot episode, I am leery of any new high concept show with a convoluted plot that bills itself as 'the new Lost'. By trying to emulate the complexity of Lost, they run the risk of never finding their own identity. I was disappointed in the pilot, mostly because the jumping around in time thing was stupid and confusing.

The pros: It's gotten more interesting as the weeks have progressed, and I'm happy to report that they're no longer subjecting us to fifteen time periods at once, meaning the flashbacks are much easier to follow now. And there seems to be a new science fiction element added every week, which is good because I'm all about the science fiction elements. I'm still watching this show, although I'll admit it tends to sit on my DVR a long time. (It's sitting there now, as I type.)

The cons: I have yet to connect strongly with a single character on this show. I've recently started sort of liking undercover alien agent Simon Lee (Ian Anthony Dale) and government-bigwig-with-a-tragic-past Blake Sterling (Zeljko Ivanek), probably because they've gotten some interesting character arcs. But the two cute young leads, Shawn and Leila (Jason Ritter and Sarah Roemer), have *not* gotten interesting character arcs, and they both leave me cold; I just don't care about them. And when you don't care about the two cute young leads, that's not good.

The Verdict: CATCH IT WHEN THERE'S NOTHING ELSE ON. It was announced recently that The Event will be going on a long hiatus while its network uses its timeslot to promote another show. This is a harbinger of doom, people; it's giving me FlashForward vibes. So I would advise not getting too attached to this show.

Undercovers

I almost didn't bother including Undercovers, since it's already been canceled. But I'd already written most of this section before the cancellation was announced, and why waste several perfectly good paragraphs?

The pros: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gerald McRaney, and Carter MacIntyre. And a strong pilot. I loved the premiere and thought it had potential.

The cons: Unfortunately, the follow-up episodes didn't go anywhere; they basically kept doing the pilot over and over again. As the episodes progressed, I became bored, and stopped watching right before the show was canceled.

What went wrong?

(1) Undercovers stayed frothy, old-fashioned and predictable; there was no edge, no depth, no arc. And surprisingly, no spicy marital conflict, which I'd automatically assumed would have to be the core of the series in order to make it work.

I understand that they had planned to introduce more arc-like elements later in the first season. But I'm not sure that doing it sooner would have helped, because (2) I never warmed up to Boris Kodjoe as Steven Bloom. As the episodes progressed, I found myself wishing Samantha had married Leo Nash (Carter MacIntyre) instead, because he was more likable and interesting than Steven. Except that he probably wouldn't have worked as a romantic lead.

The Verdict: SKIP IT. And I hate saying that.


Hawaii Five-O

Why am I even talking about Hawaii Five-O? It's not science fiction, fantasy or cult; it's a network cop show. Except that it's a network cop show with three actors from my favorite genre shows. And it's getting better.

The Pros: As I just mentioned, I love the cast: Daniel Dae Kim (Lost), Grace Park (Battlestar Galactica), and Alex O'Loughlin (Moonlight). O'Loughlin in particular. He's a charismatic actor and undeniably hot; I like him so much that I've rented his Australian movies, and they even let him keep most of his tattoos. It seemed at first that O'Loughlin was a poor choice for Steve McGarrett, since his strengths are comedy and romance. But in the past few weeks, the writers have wisely begun lightening McGarrett up, mostly in banter scenes with the wonderful Scott Caan, who is a stand-out as the fourth cast member, Danno.

Since I'm nattering on about the actors, I have to mention that in the first string of episodes, the guest stars have included actors from Buffy, Wonderfalls, 24, Supernatural, Heroes, Dollhouse, and Alias, and there was an obvious petite homage to Lost (the huts on the beach, complete with blue tarps). Can this be a coincidence? Usually, network mainstream show runners don't give a crap about genre shows and genre fans.

(Except Castle. The writers/producers are obviously aware of how wonderful Nathan Fillion is and that his fan base includes genre fans; accordingly, they began writing to highlight his acting strengths and have included several lovely homages to Firefly. The last episode was a parody of the X-Files, too.) (Did I just plug Castle? Yes, I did. I did indeed.)

So back to Hawaii Five-O. I did some research (okay, I checked IMDB) and the three executive producers of Hawaii Five-O are Alex Kurtzman / Roberto Orci (Star Trek, Fringe, Alias, Xena/Hercules) and Peter M. Lenkov (24, La Femme Nikita). The executive producers of Hawaii Five-O are geeks like us. Mystery solved.

Hawaii itself is a main character on Hawaii Five-O; the scenery is striking and the locations don't look like anything else on the tube. And it has what might be the best theme music in television history. Seriously. Pretty people, explosions, Hawaiian scenery, what's not to love?




(Well, maybe it's the second best theme song on television. I love this one even more.)

The Cons: It's a cop show. It will never be more than a cop show. I don't usually watch cop shows. Why? Because they're cop shows. I can hope for time travel, robots and vampires, but I know it's not gonna happen. Or if it does, it'll be a bizarre and groundbreaking cop show, and wouldn't that be cool?

The Verdict: For now, CATCH IT WHEN THERE'S NOTHING ELSE ON. But I suspect Hawaii Five-O is slowly turning into a WATCH IT.

(Here is Jess's review of the pilot.)


Nikita

I dropped the new Nikita after the pilot aired, almost certainly because I was unwilling to adjust to a Michael who wasn't Roy Dupuis. So I've hit up Dimitri A.C. Ly for his opinion, since he is still watching the show.

Dimitri says...

The Pros: As expected, the CW has taken active steps to iron out some of the kinks in the pilot, redefining Nikita and Michael's miscast romance as a lost friendship and introducing a new love interest for the heroine: the hand that killed her husband (scrumptious melodrama)! Nikita also has more of an ensemble feel now, devoting two thirds of every episode to Alex and her Division antics. Even Percy got a bit of a personality makeover, no longer the cackling villain but a man too willing to compromise so as to maintain a status quo that may yet save the world. After all, the alternative would be to let the new baddies Gogol take over. Three-ways are fun.

The Cons: Simply put, Nikita isn't likable. It took me six days to get through the first ten minutes of "Phoenix" because I couldn't bring myself to care about the heroine's smarmy one-liners and superior attitude. It doesn't help that the whole series rests on her having sent a seventeen-year-old on a virtual suicide mission. Every time she misses a distress message from Alex (which happens a lot), part of me feels like calling social services. Luckily, it always turns out Division doesn't supervise its trainees, even though they're all criminals and junkies held against their will. Didn't you know? Suspension of disbelief is an Olympic event over at the CW.

Nikita got a full season order, but the CW intends to retool the show even further. So far, the network's done a solid job, but patches can only take you so far before you end up with another Bionic Woman.

The Verdict: CATCH IT if you think Hellcats would be 73% more awesome with machine guns.


Boardwalk Empire

I'm also not watching Boardwalk Empire because I dropped HBO after this season of True Blood ended. Josie Kafka is watching it, though, so the next voice you hear will be hers.

Josie says...

The pros: Steve Buscemi. Kelly MacDonald. A billion great secondary characters. Even Michael Pitt (playing Jimmy Darmody) no longer feels like a cut-rate Leonardo DiCaprio. BE is gorgeously shot, with taut writing, skilled direction, and a great score. The personal and political developments of the Atlantic City hotshots are crafted as elegantly as anything in Deadwood or Mad Men, and the historical details are delightful without bogging the story down. I'm most taken by Buscemi (because I adore him) and MacDonald, whose character is fascinatingly complex. However...

The cons: ... I'm not sure MacDonald's Margaret Schroeder is supposed to be quite as complex as she is. Men who make movies or films about gangsters aren't known for their attention to the female sex as anything other than lovers, mothers, or shrieking harridans who tell you to vanfanculo yourself. Margaret's character is either a fascinating study in the disconnect between how the male characters see women (and how we, as viewers, expect women in this genre to be portrayed) and how complicated they actually are, or the writers are trying to cram every possible aspect of The Female Self into one tiny Irish woman.

Other cons: Sometimes the symbolism is a bit weighty; ditto for the dialogue. Even if I don't intend to review a show, I still like to pick out which quote I'd use as my running headline for a review. Nearly every line and every conversation is headline-worthy. Not a bad thing, but it would be pleasant to see the show loosen up a bit.

The Verdict: WATCH IT. It is a beautiful and well made show. The characters and stories are compelling. The attention to period detail is astonishing, as are the clothes. Sometimes it feels a bit too flawless -- like one of those fabulous cakes it seems a shame to cut into, much less eat. But if high-gloss perfection is the biggest problem, then Boardwalk Empire is still a masterful show.

------

That's it, folks. What do you think of the new fall season? What are you watching, and what have you already dropped? Will The Event get a second season, and do you care?

And to everyone in the states: Happy Thanksgiving!
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

For this fall season:

1. I agree about The Walking Dead. It's my favorite new show to debut this season.

2. I wanted to like The Event, and I still kind of do, but I'm starting to lose interest.

3. I never watched Undercovers.

4. I'm not an anti-procedural guy (I still consider the original Law & Order one of my favorite shows), but I didn't get into Hawaii Five-0, even though the pilot was actually really good.

5. I never watched Nikita, either. (I guess I'm not really a spy person.)

6. I really want to see Boardwalk Empire, but I'll have to wait for the DVD because I don't get HBO.

7. Aside from The Walking Dead, the only other 3 shows that I watch religiously are in their second+ seasons. I love Fringe and Supernatural. My #1 favorite show, however, is Community on NBC. The fact that it wasn't nominated for Best Comedy at the Emmy Awards this year really makes me upset.

Harry Earle said...

Thanks guys, you've convinced me to giving The Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire a try when I have time. I'm still not sure what to make of Nikita. How annoying that The Event is gonna be on hiatus.

Jess Lynde said...

Since I reviewed the pilot, I'd also like to chime in on "Hawaii Five-0," which is a favorite in our house. Not a "must see it right away" kind of favorite, but just a fun, enjoyable show. We love the cast and their chemistry, especially Danno and McGarrett. (Also, we've started playing Five-0 bingo, which ups the fun factor --- thanks, EW!) They've definitely done a good job loosening up McGarrett and making him a more enjoyable and sympathetic character.

My chief complaint is that they kind of made it seem like there would be a serialized element with McGarrett continuing his father's corruption investigation, but then they never went anywhere with it. (Even though they had the perfect opportunity a few episodes ago with a cop corruption story.) And where did McGarrett's sister disappear to?

Thanks for the update, on "Nikita," Dimitri. Like Billie, I stopped watching after the pilot. I was going to give a few more weeks, but realized I just wasn't excited to watch another episode and took it off the DVR-record list. Sounds like I made the right choice for me.

Anonymous said...

I've actually surprised myself after the slightly dislikeable pilot, and become a little bit addicted to Nikita. It's not like I don't love all the multitude of other versions, but they have actually managed to do something fresh with a very familiar story this time - now it's a little bit Alias too! Also, the fight choreography (and Shane West's stunt double particularly) is kinda awesome - and I watch so many similar shows that I usually barely notice anything about the fight scenes.

It's not like it doesn't wear its many weaknesses on its sleeve, but I do find I'm willing to suspend disbelief - it comes across with a fairly brittle tone, and I'm kinda impressed that they don't feel the need to make their characters obviously likeable, so long as they stay interesting.

I think probably enough effort has gone into making it clear that Alex is capable of taking care of herself that it doesn't really feel like she's been pushed into anything she can't handle - or that it's necessarily a suicide mission.

But hey - given my terrible weakness for OTT spy shows, I was always going to watch this... although watching it in a triple bill with Burn Notice and Chuck makes you start accepting things like expert kung fu, resourceful ex-spies and lots of very large automatic weapons as somehow normal..!)

I think The Walking Dead is the only other new show we're getting in the UK right now... I'm kind of enjoying so far, but the whole underlying bleak outlook on human nature is getting a little gruelling already after 2 eps (how have they managed not to kill anyone off yet??)

Dimitri A.C. Ly said...

Hi, Jenncatt, good point about "Nikita" bringing a fresh take.

To clarify, when referring to the suicide mission, I was using "virtual" in the literal sense, meaning "not in fact". I agree Alex is awesome. I think the success of her whole storyline rests on our individual suspension of disbelief though. Technically, Alex is a child, and she's getting beaten, electrocuted, tortured, drugged, squeezed in a Saw-like bondage device, nearly killed, nearly molested, all in the name of Nikita's petty revenge. That's a lot to take in, even with Lindsy Fonseca's undeniable charisma, and, as a viewer, you can either go with it or not. I don't think anyone could be blamed for either (though they should be warned because the implications can be pretty disturbing when you stop and think about it).

As an aside, I just recently figured out the actress also plays the narrator's daughter in "How I Met Your Mother". I was wondering where I'd seen her before. The son is played by David Henrie of Wizards of Waverly Place fame (Disney Channel reference number 7).

maxpower03 said...

Great reviews, guys.

Personally, I'm a huge Nikita fan right now. It's a little spotty in terms of character and some of the dialogue, but there's a general likability to the show. I'm impressed with the cast, and I do find myself excited every episode. I didn't watch the original Nikita show, though, so maybe that helps...

I'm reviewing Undercovers on my site and I agree that it's generally pretty flat. Besides the Leo character, it's like a mirage, not hugely interesting. Like a blur. It doesn't help that we're constantly reminded of bigger, better spy shows from recent years.

Really liking The Walking Dead. I'm not sure that it's the best thing around like so many others do, but it's a lot of fun so far.

diego said...

Billy!!!! If you dropped hbo does it mean that u are not going to review True blood? I'm from Peru and I'm your fan since Buffy's Days. I check this blog every day. I lov u Billy U r the best

Billie Doux said...

Hi, Diego: Yes, I'm definitely going to review the next season of True Blood this summer! I just drop HBO in the fall and pick up Showtime in order to review Dexter. I'm too cheap to keep two subscriptions going at once.

Patryk said...

But your going to have to pick up HBO earlier to watch Game of Thrones next spring. :)

Billie Doux said...

Hi, Patryk:

I *personally* may not pick up HBO to watch Game of Thrones, but I can pretty much guarantee that someone here on the site will be reviewing it.

Heather Elaine said...

My thoughts:

1. I like Walking Dead. It is fun and has some excellent characters. Rick isn't one I particularly like (he is kind of blah to me), but I do find myself fond of Glenn and Darryl. If both of those characters died, I probably wouldn't watch it anymore. My personal verdict - Watch it.

2. I tried the first two episodes of the Event and just couln't stick with it. I'll be Skipping It.

3. I only watched one episode, but I already know Undercovers is too typical for my tastes. Skip.

4. Even with O'Loughlin and Scott Caan, I'm not really one for procedurals. NCIS is the only one I watch (if you don't count Dexter as a procedural). Skip.

5. I really, really wanted to like Nikita, but it isn't for me. I never saw any of the original stuff, so maybe I don't have as much patience as those who can compare it to the original. Skip it.

6. I've heard a lot of good things about Boardwalk Empire, but I haven't been able to catch it yet. I intend to watch it when I get the chance.

I watch a LOT of TV, so I'm not as picky as I sound after this list. I guess I just don't think they brought much to the table this season.

Other than The Walking Dead, the only other new show I'll be watching the season (and I like it a ton more than TWD) is Raising Hope. I realize it isn't right for BD.com, but I still want to mention it. I haven't been so anxious about catching a comedy every week for years.

Shows that I never miss when they air: Supernatural, Dexter, Chuck, Modern Family, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Fringe, and Burn Notice. There are a ton of others that I just watch when I feel like it.

moonspinner said...

@Bille: Undercovers didn't get the coverage that other JJ properties ALIAS and FRINGE got. Before the casting was revealed, there was a lot of anticipation for the show: it was touted as a young Jack and Irina Bristow show. I wonder how much of its failure is due to JJ playing it too safe (making the leads and their relationship too likable) because of the casting... or whether the show was never given a chance by the audience in the first place because of the casting. I think it's a bit of both.

@Dimitri: Alex is a child, and she's getting beaten, electrocuted, tortured, drugged, squeezed in a Saw-like bondage device, nearly killed, nearly molested, all in the name of Nikita's petty revenge.

All in the name of Alex's own revenge against Division for the murder of her parents (which led to her being sold into sex-slavery and becoming a junkie). It's made clear in one of the early episodes (I actually thought the flash back episodes came too early, but that's me) that Alex actually has a bigger bone to pick against Division than Nikita. Also, Nikita isn't so much on a roaring rampage of revenge as she is on a hunt for justice.

Dimitri A.C. Ly said...

Hi Moonspinner,

Interesting thoughts regarding Undercovers. I assume by "casting", you're mostly referring to race, since it's been a pretty popular rumour making the rounds these days. I honestly don't think that's had anything to do with it. Box office numbers have demonstrated that American viewers have no trouble embracing an African American star (even though Hollywood seems relatively shy about it). For a full decade, Will Smith has been the highest grossing star in American cinema, and while he always plays the hero, he hasn't been afraid to bring a bit of dysfunction to the occasional role like in Seven Pounds or I Robot. He was America's favourite leading man because viewers value charisma over skin colour, and I have no doubt they would have felt the same way about Undercovers if the show had played more to Abrams' strengths (more pathos and mythology).

Regarding Nikita, the flashback episode ends with Nikita telling Alex, “I’ll give you a reason to live.” That indicates to me she’s the one pointing Alex in the direction of Division. So as willing and angry as Alex is, she is to some degree being manipulated by Nikita, especially given she’s still a child. In the real world, if you’re not old enough to drink or vote, you shouldn’t be old enough to get tortured and violated because someone pointed you in a certain direction and said, “That’s your enemy” (yes, that was a thinly veiled political comment).

Of course, Nikita doesn’t take place in the real world. As I mentioned, that all comes down to suspension of disbelief. You either go with it or you don’t. For the record, I’m shrugging and going with it, which is why I’m still watching the show and largely enjoying it.

I definitely think “Nikita” is about revenge though. That’s why the intro ends with Nikita saying, “and the last thing they’ll say is my name” (or something like that). That’s not something you say when you’re looking for justice only. I think the point of the last two episodes was to show Nikita is in the process of growing in her quest, as exemplified by her decision not to help Gogol even though she never even considered how taking down Division might affect the world. In contrast, Michael is not growing, which is why he’s still with the baddies. In other words, her character arc is to go from vengeance to justice, but she isn’t quite there yet. I actually really like that idea, not least because it means I might learn to like Nikita a bit more over time. Still not there yet though.

I guess that reinforces Jenncatt’s excellent point about the show having the courage to showcase unsympathetic characters.

moonspinner said...

There were 2 flashback episodes in Nikita that dealt extensively with Alex and Nikita's relationship. Nikita explains that she sought Alex out because by: firstly, not saving her parents and secondly, leaving the thirteen year old with the family 'friends' that sold her, Nikita needed to save Alex to redeem herself. It's Alex that demands to play a role in bringing down Division and demands an even more dangerous one than the one Nikita offered at first. I doubt it was a retcon, so early in the season. While the angle of Nikita taking advantage of Alex in a similar way to how Division takes advantage of its recruits is an interesting interpretation... I actually prefer the idea of two equally strong women in a mentor/mentee relationship. It's extremely uncommon on TV.

While Nikita's motives are not purely altruistic, I think it's clear that it's not just about revenge: apart from justice, there's also her quest for redemption.

mmmm... The more I think of it, the more I realize how positively Xena-ish Nikita is.

Ratings show that Undercovers had consistently low viewership i.e. right from the Series premiere. The numbers didn't so much drop off as never peaked at all. While I don't think American viewers being averse to the casting was the only issue with the show - I already observed that JJ played too safe with the characters - it certainly appears that to a lot of folks the show was already, before ever being aired, D.O.A.