Hour-long mythology set within the real world needs to increase its bounty by stakes. Without something truly lost, nothing can be gained but its intensity can’t be fake. While some of the following shows continue to show a penchant in the writer’s room in their willingness to take chances, a wrong step can mean cancellation. The grand progression allows that the following four shows exist on cable where their fate is a little more plausible. Overall though, “Burn Notice” jolts most with a necessary ploy that lifts its possibility yet again.
Burn Notice Nothing hits home as much as family so in order for the series to graduate, the stakes must become higher without losing a sense of tension. Beginning the season with Fi’s imminent degragation at the hands of authority focuses Michael’s penchant away from professional importance to personal survival. In working through this texture and maintaining the status quo, the show maintained its execution. However, with the death of a family member, a whole new psychological angle surfaces that completely changes the tone. This single act is what heightens Michael’s resolve and the fact that he is guilty and to blame is not lost on him. The requisite end game plays that betrayal, whether intended or not, carries a large price tag, even if its true importance does not become specific until later. For this reason, the viciousness in Michael begins to cloud his judgment which is what the show needs because thereby a character starts making mistakes.
Royal Pains The evolution of this show requires a decided amount of intrigue while still keeping the stakes progressing. While this is not as life threatening as the aforementioned “Burn Notice”, the conflict to some degree should be there (even if it is more domestic). Oddly enough with this season, the progression becomes more the ascension of Evan and the conflict of brotherhood. Hank seems to have a higher calling but is held back by both his moral center and his lack of ambition per se. Evan, because he has a girlfriend who is both highly placed and accessible (a very rare commodity), finds traversing the line a bit easier. Hank’s love life, by contradiction, seems to become a bit of a noose around his neck. Though Mark Fuerstein plays it with a little abandon, it tends to feel forced as does Henry Winkler’s inclusion (despite its obvious comedic value). The balance to Evan’s element comes in the form of Divya, the physician’s associate, simply because she is suffering the same crisis of class that Evan is but moving in the reverse. The intrigue of the series wants to center around Boris (played with aplomb by Campbell Scott who understands the necessity of gravitas) but unlike previous seasons, its stakes don’t carry as much weight.
The Glades Using the aspect of a long distance relationship as a distraction for Matt Passmore’s uber-focused Jim creates an interesting dynamic that points to his survival in more ways than one. For something to truly affect him, something needs to be undeniably lost. In his relationship with Callie (who has moved to Atlanta at his motivation for a job), there doesn’t seem to be anything chemical to attach them. There is a stronger connection between him and a visiting bureau chief: Jennifer Stark. She is there to evaluate him but her tantalizing and alluring beauty tempts him though he doesn’t act on it. However, her approach seems too obvious to be realistic. The actual act would need to be more clandestine. The team, including Carlos and their intrepid intern, have a nice balance going but the investigation of Jim’s effectiveness, especially his inablity to be on the witness stand because of his methods, mirrors a similar problem “The Finder” faced on FOX before it was cancelled.
Covert Affairs Watching Annie Walker traverse what she believes the CIA is and knowing the balance between using an asset and being conned has always been the angle of the show. What continues to be interesting about watching her and Auggie (played by Christopher Gorham) is how their human failings affect their true CIA effectivenss. Like any other job, it is all about how one reacts or doesn’t react under pressure. Annie is a lonely soul who wants connection but her skill set and her ambition drive her into situations that she more and more can’t control. Her arc with Russian would-be spy/mercenary Simon carries risk because you can tell there are feelings on both ends that can only end badly. Her actions will continue to harden her and will either get her sister or Auggie killed in the process (most likely by the CIA) which might bring up a whole new can of worms, for her, as a mercenary. Auggie’s psychological development (especially with him going into the field as well as his turning point when he is captured by pirates with his would-be fiancee) points to a larger ghost hanging below the surface. His mandatory counseling and inability to directly connect with Annie (especially with her going off-book with another division) creates tension but her loyalty to her is unwavering.
Human fallacy and the thematic machinations of animation rarely move hand-in-hand except in the process sometimes of summer. Affecting a change in structure especially within drama and comedy is tricky, especially if one is not sure about the outcome. Staying with the norm only can work so far before the entire concept has to be thrown on its head, not in terms of tone but in the breaking point of the characters and what they consider as normal.
Penguins Of Madagascar The leftovers continue with their intensive functionality despite a bit of overactive silliness. The episodes are not as much spy-oriented as they are situational with the exception of the mythology-based Uncle Nigel episode though that ends with the emasculation of Private. The best revolves around Rico when the other three compadres end up stricken by herring food poisoning. The pacing becomes more reminiscent of a “Tom & Jerry” cartoon while an episode with King Julian being moved to the petting zoo for a bit is nothing if not funny as the lemur provides the inherent balance of the show which still has a fresh functionality.
Burn Notice Heading into the summer, just as Michael Weston was about to insure himself within the FBI, his handler in Max turns up dead. In between maintaining different possibilities for his friends and dealing with everything from militia to Serbian smugglers, the trails keep leading in and out from who he thinks actually is trying to subvert his reintegration into the CIA despite the fact that the “company”, especially his new contact Agent Pearce, thinks his crew is a detriment to him. The notion of reveal, especially in Michael’s misguided focus and perception, threatens to undo everything this burnt spy has worked towards. While last season seems to indicate a lack of vindication on the burn notice, its possibility and the double-cross element here rises the story structure back to its necessary level to keep the series both critical and entertaining.
Futurama Finding new and interesting ways to interact the space-time continuum is timeless for these characters. Ever since returning, they have 10 years of odd technology and pop culture to catch up on. Unlike something like “The SImpsons” plus with the allure of basic cable, the series can go as far as it wants to but smartly keeps in touch with its core audience of smart but still dumb. The aspect of the Fry/Leela relationship is placed in a contextual space which allows it to grow but, as usual and to great avail, whether it be increasing his processing power to become godlike to cloning himself and drinking all the alcohol on Earth, Bender is still the man, or clunker (as he would enjoy).
In Plain Sight In approaching a life such as those of Marshalls, especially one as cantankerous as Mary, going from 0 to 100 might be a way of life. However in dealing with Mary McCormack’s real life pregnancy, the writers were thrown a curveball. Granted it gives more humor and a distinct push out to the female audience members but it also creates an interesting dichotomy which permeates through different episodes. Someone like Mary would look at all the options but she seems to just let it go like she did the moment of passion she had with the would-be father. While this might be explained later, it creates a paradox of character which in general changes the complete direction of the show. Whether it is for good or bad is simply in reflection more so of the ratings but from a character point of view, its possibility limits the options available.
Watching the summer bloom at full boar, one gets the feeling that summer series are much more confident in their stride than most fall series making their premiere. The pressure is off…sure but the reality is that most of these entries know their formula tried and true without breaking a sweat. The one long holdover (“Futurama”) never skipped a beat in the near decade of its absence while “Royal Pains” and “Burn Notice” throttle along at pace. “Flashpoint” knows what it is and doesn’t rock the boat while “Lie To Me” seems to have found its stride with star Tim Roth as the clock ticks.
Futurama The long awaited return of Bender, Leela and the lot shows the essentials of their possible resurgence but keeping up to date is the key. Granted with Comedy Central they can go alot further than they could before, especially in regards to sex but, in the first two episodes, the ideal is more intellectual and less sight gag related which is what the audience needs to respond to. Bender needs to find his stride for sure but Leela with the voice of Katey Sagal is as up to date as ever. The animation shows a few improvements but that was never the status quo of the series. It was a balance of Fry’s optimism and Bender’s complete ignorance of good taste which made the old series work. The good angle is that this feels like a continuation and not a redo.
Burn Notice Mixing it up with Michael Weston while still keeping his plight engaging gets harder every season that goes by even with a jump in viewers. The last time we saw Weston he was being pursued by the cops and captured. It turns out that he is being worked by another position inside the government and yet not. This gives him another structure to work within but his first assignment causes him to burn another spy. The difference is that this one is a desk jockey. The new spy Jesse who looks like a UFC/The Rock export wants to find and kill the person who burned him which creates a new dynamic (since that person is Michael). It also provides someone for Weston to get jealous of in terms of Fiona. It is a good set up that will provide necessary tension throughout the season. The question becomes: what is the end game ultimately with Michael Weston? The series is still fun to watch but unlike forensic shows, Michael’s excuses are starting to feel a little hollow.
Royal Pains Resolving the loss of money in a single episode is what makes series television persistent and irresistible to cliffhangers. With Hank Med, the paradox is to add characters while still calling into question the different traits of both the good doctor and his easily distracted brother. While the inevitable and dexterious casting of Henry Winkler as the boys’ father who chiseled them out of money last year provides a thorn from which to pluck, a jaunt to Cuba in the 3rd and 4th episodes adds a needed cultural shift which gives the series a larger world view. Like “Burn Notice” in its early episodes this season, a change of scenery is necessary to show the shifting idelogy of the characters. If they do adjust in similar ways, there becomes a pointlessness to their actions but the catch is making it negligible. The interweaving love structures of all three characters in Hank Med show a transgression of emotional traits from Evan’s newfound compassion to Hank’s relaxation to Divya’s interpretation of her identity as an individual. The subtle pushing of the writing comes off effortless in every way showing a control of character which hopefully will continue to evolve.
Flashpoint The embrace of this series is braced around the CSI brand of not changing the rush of plot progression unless need be. By sticking to simple human stories and not delving into a brand of mythology that has overcome many starting series, a hour long such as this retains a section of viewers looking for simple escape. The SWAT set-up with rookies coming up, a captain at odds with his emotions and a lieutenant looking to make his bones all plays into the game from a cult-like raid on a compound to a shock jock radio host that gets a dose of reality. This procedural knows its audience and tries not to stray far from the grain but as a Canadian acquisition as a summer fill-in, it fits the ideal perfectly, surefire but safe in its texture.
Lie To Me In his continuing go-ound as a doctor/detective who can sniff out lies purely on the instinct of tells, Tim Roth seems to have grown into his character’s wit. Whereas it seemed, in the first season, he was playing the mentality of the man as slightly aloof but mostly serious, he has reversed that balance and found a texture more like “House” while still retaining an identity of his own. From a run-in with an old Irish crime boss to his on/off relationship with his ex-wife (played with delicious candor by Jennifer Beals), the pacing and pinpoints of humor really are starting to work. The interesting angle is that at one point in the premiere episode when Roth is trying to extract information from one of his employees with the Irish boss watching, you see him figuring it out and one harks back to the transformative eyes that utterly consumed his mesmerizing performance in Tim Burton’s “Planet Of The Apes”. The pattern in this series is keeping the audience on their toes while Roth lights the screen. He looks like he is enjoying the rub but the worry is that novelty in this type of character only lasts for a certain time.
The essence of summer shows always creates an intensive perspective on the eye of development. In what is mostly a high yield cable situation, sometimes the networks have trouble launching a diversified level of show. With the perspective of three through the pipeline, the intention here works both sides of the line.
Warehouse 13 This basis mired in the antecedent motivation of “the warehouse” as lifted from “Raiders” and “Crystal Skull” actually works within its structure. The cast rounds out nicely especially a couple episodes in as they hit their stride. Having met most of the cast at Comic Con this year, the balance of personalities between the angles of the show and the interaction is totally paradoxical to real life. Pete and Myka on screen are polar opposites but Myka longs to break loose (which she does in the Las Vegas/Alice In Wonderland episode). The storylines are fun and diversive since this kind of series can go a lot further than say “X-Files”. It is also buoyed by Saul Rubinek who plays Artie with a delicious anti-social quality that bemoans him. The character of Claudia (although a ragtag addition) adds a more humorous dimension that Myka cannot personify unfortunately. In terms of mythology, three middle episodes in the first run hinted at more of an outside terror. In actuality it turned out to be elements of Claudia testing the infrastructure. That said most of the episodes in terms of 6 in seem to function on their own which seems to work in the essence of ratings. While not mind boggling or awe inducing at any rate, the intent is effectively channeled. The use of music is somewhat inspired since the budget allows for some fun (aka using Jefferson Starship’s “White Rabbit” at the end of the Alice/Vegas episode). As long as the dynamic is maintained, the future of this series is consistent.
Royal Pains At first sight, despite having hung out in the Hamptons many times, the key to highlighting its people is by making them just kooky enough to be lovable, just cunning enough to be lethal and just rich enough to be dangerous. The producer/writers here take a note from “Burn Notice” and its structure elements. Like Sam, Michael and Fiona in BN, here you have Evan, Hank and Dieva. The personalities are different and the angle is skewed but it follows the same direction for the most part. A man is out and he may want back in. The thing is that is some circles in what Hank gets to do is a step up and possibility the “wave of the future” from where he was before. It does however carry some inherent dangers which Hank starts to deal with, specifically with the omnipresent Boris (played with delicious restraint by a wonderully regal Campbell Scott). The romantic subplot with Jill, who works as an administrator at the hospital, is handled in a very adult way. Towards the end of the season there is a thwart in those plans but that happens in any series. But unlike the series of the past there are certain societal blocks involving sex that are no longer an issue (at least on cable television) which allows the character’s lives to grow in a sometimes more organic way. Instead of spending all of their time thinking about sex, they just do it part of the time. Very practical. The humor especially with Hank and Evan works well in the first couple episodes but the Evan factor inevitability becomes a little annoying simply due to the nature of the characters. These points may be nitpicking but overall, the series hits the spot and catches the cool while also tackling the weird, human and interesting. Like “Burn Notice” it has legs and doesn’t have to worry about as high as stakes.
Mental Seeing the crescent of “Lie To Me” which still needs to find its way, this FOX series on the tactically minefield-like arena of mental health has its challenges for sure too. Unlike pure procedural elements, the differences of opinion here in a very tactile field can go one way or another. For example, the treatment of a movie star who has a hidden past but plays method has its pratfalls. A kid who believes he is in a video game but cannot connect in the real world has more practical applications. However the structure within psychosis of a lawyer who lost her way and can’t tell reality from a dreamworld can be truly confusing. The lead Chris Vance has his charm, in a roundabout kind of way, but he doesn’t possess the incumbent intensity of say a Tim Roth which is what this show will be compared to in the current medium. The reality is that the concepts here in terms of stability is unsteady at best so its possibilities in serving out the year tend to be weak.
And the music plays on…