Underlying Ideas & Conceptual Reintegration: Returning Television – Summer 2011

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.

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TCA Summer Press Tour Studio Day: “The Simpsons” At Film Roman

Inside Reel stopped by Film Roman Productions yesterday as part of the Television Critics Association Studio Day. We snapped some exclusive photos of animators and storyboards at Film Roman’s headquarters in Burbank. We also attended a talk from Showrunner and Executive Producer of The Simpsons Al Jean who gave us some insights into the writing process for the show (now approaching its 23rd season). He told us what creator Matt Groening felt was the difference between The Simpsons and his newly-revived cult-phenomenon Futurama, and gave us a hush-hush sneak peak at what would happen on the show’s 500th episode coming up this season. Check out the quotes and pictures below.

Al Jean [The Simpsons]:

“We are a show that is written for adults that kids like.  The hardest thing is not to repeat.”

“I always think about how the shows will play in 5 or 10 years. Matt [Groening] always says that ‘The Simpsons’ is a cartoon but ‘Futurama’ is real.”

“There is a big town meeting we’re doing for the 500th episode (airing in Feb 2012) where Springfield plans to get rid of the Simpsons.”

Homer Being Drawn

An animator at Film Roman works on Homer Simpson

Animation on The Simpsons

Animator works on Simpsons character

Homer Simpson Storyboard

Storyboard art of Homer Simpson

Envisioning The Pace: Returning TV Shows – Summer 2010 – Review – Part I

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.