Comedic Reptile Wranglings: Returning Spring 2011 Television Shows – Review – Part I

The inevitable question of would-be sophmore season series relies in their ability to find an identity without changes the superstructure against what was their initial construct. With certain shows like “V”, the progression is based on an inevitable conclusion while “Archer” and “Parks & Rec” rely on a more uncertain endgame. “Community” is the most surpruising simply because its evolution has found itself in a time vaccuum giving the characters unlimited current pastiche to explore a variety of genres.

V The progression of this alien sci-fi series always leads to the structure of what will transpire and how cataclysmic it will be. Morina Baccarin as the Queen Snake has the undeniable feline/reptilian phase structure going on. The tendency is to look down at the human race as a little bit slow on the take because they cannot see their inevitable doom. That taken, despite some grand set pieces (which are done with placement on matte and green screen), the series plays primarily to a soap rhetoric despite its more lofty ambitions. As Erica, Elizabeth Mitchell from “Lost” works as specifically as she can against the material moving it towards a knowledge of heart but the reality is that the narrative needs to move more as exposition is flowing. Ultimately the power struggle doesn’t specifically nature itself to any true drama.

Archer Moving into its second season, Archer knows exactly what it is: a sex comedy peppered with a little bit of spy. The animation itself (likely due to increased support from FX) shows a little more flash at least in the season opener where Archer needs to protect the daughter of a billionaire who is a possible donor for the cash-starved ISIS. Her topless ride through the snow drifts plays to the notion of what James Bond was always thinking in the back of his mind when going down slopes with various women. The continual episodes rage in the interesting purveyance of the flu and baby daddies which of course gives way to the great joke (if not utterly impractical idea) of a candy wrapper as a condom. “Archer” is fun to watch because it knows that it is not serious at all. Just animation positioned in a great superstructure with room to play.

Parks & Recreation At the end of last season, the group was running at a fairly good pace with all the characters finding their voices with undeniable forthcoming. Amy Poehler did pause production per se because of said baby with Wil Arnett. However the requisite adding of new cast members in Rob Lowe and Adam Scott seem a bit floundering in their use because it almost belittles the cast. All the characters from Tom to Andy to Ron and back were just hitting their stride. The possibility that must be considered is that the women weren’t getting their due (though April is the heart of the show). Lowe and Scott fill that quota but interestly enough not as cameo day players but rather as full-fledged cast members. Now granted this is used also a plot ploy to create the essence of Pawnee’s Rec Department being threatened to be shut down. The solution is the Harvest Festival and while this idea is building, the best episode so far has revolved around Swanson and his rapid ex-wife Tammy who pulls him into a black hole of sin. It is these kind of off-the-cuff shenanigans that “Parks” (like “Community”) is great at. The question becomes one of balance. Send Andy on a quest. He’ll love it.

Community As compared to the early episodes in the first season, this show has truly found its footing. Like fellow sophomore series “Cougar Town” but from a completely different angle, this half hour tome realizes that you don’t have to stay within the box to truly make the jokes work. Pushed back into trying its wares again after members of the cast seemed so ethusiastic at TCAs about a “Dungeons & Dragons” episode just filmed, the modulation simply stuns because of the volley ability of the cast. All the characters get equal time, almost in a “Cheers” functionality which allows the perfect pairing of Donald Glover and Danny Pudi as the misfits to shine. Chevy Chase is truly recognizing the possibilities as well. The key to maintaining its creation is to not oversaturate its own self identity because once it becomes too aware of itself, the whole game’s over.

Imaginative Escapes, New Excursions & Life Levitated: The 2011 NBC Winter Press Tour – Feature

With the resurgence of returning in full view with scripted shows, NBC continues to keep in view with the possibilities of drama, comedy and genre to create a balanced portfolio.

“The Cape”, a structured answer to follow up the highly-regarded but ultimately short-lived “Heroes”, makes the intentions much simpler at the inset with a simple man who is murdered taking up his morality on a underworld lord.

David Lyons, who plays Vince Faraday, the man at the center of “The Cape”, says that “the character wants to do things right with a straight back” adding that he has tried to give the man an “emotional epicenter” to provide a way to fight back allowing the personfication to “prop itself up”. Making reference to the stuntwork, handled by Team 8811, he cites the importance in the series of using everyday objects as weapons optimizing on a legitimate fighting form.

Tom Wheeler, the exec on the series, says in his mind “capes are superheroes” saying that “there is something that connects them with us through childhood”. He sees, within the evolution of the current series, that they are able to capture different tones in different episodes adding though that “the latitude of storytelling remains emotionally grounded”. Wheeler continues that of all the characters, Jennifer Faraday, who is the lead character’s grieving widow, provides the incentive connection to the audience because she is not a superhero, simply tragic for the fact that she lost her husband. In terms of the danger of the stunts for some of the actors, he said he was worried the other day about Lyons fighting with Vinnie Jones, who plays a grim enforcer but that, if viewers want drama, there is more than enough.

Summer Glau, best know for her genre turns on “Firefly” and “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” credits her popularity among the fanboy culture in that she “found just the right spot” saying that this new series allows her to take her previous experiences and grow. She says that she loves the attention “except when I am at the grocery store with no make-up on” adding that Orwell, her character in “The Cape”, “feels like she has her own mission, matched with a very interesting skill set”.

“Perfect Couples” balances the idea of action back down to an inexact science as a new comedy which follows three couples in various stages of their functionality trying to find their way in the world.

Series creator Jon Pollack explains that “gender roles [in society] have never been more confused so it is a good time to write this series” adding that the institution is “easy to tear down” because “every perfect couple in the world is quite a mess”. The couples in this series, he says, have found each other but “there are rules to how it works” explaining that the stability of these people are like “the squishy part on top of a baby’s head”.

Different parts of the cast come from different emotions with Olivia Munn, who plays Leigh, saying that each of them may be cast but “we are not the characters” while Hayes McArthur who plays her better half Rex says that he “loved playing a guy who was so happy to be in a good relationship”.

Co-creator Scott Silveri invokes the tendency that “in a show that deals with relationships, the characters playing create the dynamics” continuing that the challenge is that “it is easy to make jokes about the ball and chain”.

Changing structure to reality, “The Next Great Restaurant” takes the trust of established restauranteurs like Bobby Flay and puts their intention to the test. He and his cohorts want to find the next fast casual restaurant powerhouse but it takes motivation to get there.

Flay initiates the thought saying that they are looking for that “next thing”. He uses the chain: Chipotle (which co-financier Steve Ells runs) as an example destination that has a cult following because it is well thought-out. This show, Flay explains, differentiates itself in his mind because they are putting their own money in and want it to work out in the best possible way.

Ells, another investor on the series, follows saying that “there is a food revolution going on in this country”. He makes the differentiation with “fast casual food” by diverging that “fast food is about cheap ingredients, about toys” adding that “not everyone has access to high end restaurants or grocery stores”. For Ells, creating that special restaurant is “also about the personality and the dynamics that are taking place [within it]”. This show, he continues, is about determining if “these people [the contestants] have the kind of leader qualities to bring it to its full potential”. As the investors, he and his fellow financiers “have the ability to surround ourselves with teams to push our vision” Eve so, he encourages that while “we all want them to do well, it is heartbreaking when they don’t succeed”.

Shifting back to comedy, “Community”, as a show, seems to be finding its legs by flying off with them creating fantastical worlds with a bit of imagination that seems to be clasping on with audiences to a substantial degree.

Creator Dan Harmon, uncomfortable seemingly with talk of the show’s liberation, says that “I always knew I would be comfortable on a show that had versatility” but admits that he knows “it sounds like a bad idea to caress the 4th wall”. His explanation is that “like every great show, you have to have one foot in and one foot out” citing Gonzo on “The Muppets” and Crazy Jim on “Taxi” as forebearers. He started to realize that “Community” had found its footing when Joel McHale started to inhabit the role of Jeff Winger saying that the character is no longer “the straight man where the Looney Tunes need his help” but rather defining him more as “a narcissistic jaded softy who is afraid of becoming the hero”.

As far as NBC’s creative tendencies on the series, Harmon comments that “I will tell you without fear that I have never worked for such a creatively open network” adding with a bit of irony that “it is too bad that they don’t know it is incredibly bad for ratings”. He admits that the special episodes like the Halloween and Christmas specials take more time but that is to make sure they are being done right. He stresses that there  is still a “granular reality to the show” because “you just can’t go out into the cosmos”. He talks about this in relation to an episode they are doing where the cast plays “Dungeons & Dragons” but they don’t cut away. Harmon says it is stylized for them in this way to make it interesting. There is also another episode coming up where Pierce (played by Chevy Chase) is in the hospital for the duration of the half. That aspect of drama and humor, he explains, “is blurred and should be”.

Joel McHale follows this rambunctious wistfulness saying “I’d scream at Dan and say ‘I thought this was 24′” before bringing the proceedings back to reality saying that he always knew this would be an ensemble cast, otherwise “it would be boring if it was just about Jeff’s struggle to get out of college”. He cites that one of “sweetest moments” of the series was in the zombie episode where Abed, played by Danny Pudi, sacrifices himself with a bit of “Star Wars” hokum saying the line “I love you” responded with “I know”.

Pudi, one half of the comedy volley with Donald Glover’s Troy, explains that “sometimes I feel like a blank slate in a study room with explosions going on all over me” adding that his and Donald’s rap with Betty White was a “magical experience” because “we rehearsed with her only right before he shot it”. Donald balances his compadre, joking that he likes “anything with the action in it”. He refers to their little flights of fancy on the show as “baby movies” citing the zombie as his favorite because “it allows us to feel not stupid” in knowing “that no one’s going to die”. He ponders for a minute on the Christmas episode calling it “really funny but that it can also be really sad”.

Alison Brie, who plays the burgeoning Annie says that they like to make themselves laugh on set but reinforces the fact that “we are lucky to be on a show that goes back and forth between two things” adding that “it’s great to take a break from home but you miss the other”. The goal of the show, which many dictate to the four year format of college, plays “more vague” in Brie’s mind allowing the time “for us to connect more to the characters in crisis”, especially in Annie case, in learning how “she ticks”.

Bringing the power player forward, “Harry’s Law” is a crime/law show that knows its pedigree. Taking the original lead character from a crotchety old man to the personage of an edgy persnickety hen in the form of Oscar winner Kathy Bates has infinite greatness to it especially if issues-motivated guru David E. Kelly drives the ship in his usual dexterous manner.

Kelley begins the intensity saying that the neighborhood the show is set in is going through gentrification. The character of Harry, as mentioned, was originally written as a cantankerous old man. He says the character as a woman was eventually established as a politically incorrect grump. He dictates that NBC has not blinked at any of the ideas for the show and, unlike ABC with Boston Legal, have been lenient with dialogue, especially in the use of the word “asshole”. The show is set in Cincinnati but it could have been any smaller city as long as it didn’t have gang neighborhoods which would have initiated a different structure in Kelley’s mind. The conflict here is much more about a class war.

Kelley understands that this show is a tough sell especially since a 60-year-old led drama is “not what people are coming to me for” but says that “there needs to be two or three series that can do topical debate”. With the character of Harry, “she can be lovable because she can exude a sympathy” even if she “is front and center with a hard exterior”. Harry, for Kelley, is “more comfortable being disliked” but angles that “the trick is that the audience has to like her”. The voices of any of his characters, in Kelley’s mind, have to be true to themselves. As they have progressed in shooting the series, Kelley admits that the tone has become more dramatic. Historically for the showrunner, he admits that “my shows have started slower and built” usually working from mixed reactions on the pilot (which might not work well in this new TV realm). One of the elements that strays forth in his mind is that “law nowadays is struggling to keep the pace”.

Kathy Bates, as Harry, says she was sold when she read that her character “had her feet up on the desk, was smoking pot and watching Bugs Bunny”. She admits that she can be “naturally grumpy” and that “adjusting to the long hours on set helped that right along”. With any project she “never thinks where my name is going to fit in” which “is what attracted her” to this part. Initially when looking for the tone of the character, she tried on a red wig since “we assumed she would dye her hair” but then she realized “Harry would give a rat’s ass what her hair look like”.

Making sense of the character intentions across the diversity of these shows speaking to NBC’s burgeoning embrace of a new texture of show creation which is enabling both creative vision and interesting possibilities.