Character Vision Realism: New Spring 2011 Television – Review – Part I

The optimization of drama and comedy comes in trying to make situations relatable. Whether animated or dictated into an interesting conundrum, the prospect becomes one of seeing the situation through a character’s eyes. Whether it be through the personage of a seething patent attorney or through the bowel movements of a burger joint owner, the reality rests in the intention of the character’s will, whether it be cognicent or simply idealized.

Harry’s Law Having Kathy Bates on your team spewing no-nonsense “bullhockey” always will maintain a tendency of fun. Originally written for an older man, this creation against the mainstream works purely because of Bates’ finesse and rough edges. Created by David E. Kelley (late of “Boston Legal”), he understands blending character study and comedy with social issues which he himself admits is a slow burn. However with meager production requirements which insist that the acting create the focus without melodrama, the show does its job with pinache. The supporting characters do need work in progressing beyond caricature but with Harry at the helm, possibilities exist.

Lights Out Creating a boxing story for the new millenium on television requires some relaxed standards in terms of what one is able to show since the part of the sporting world is dog-eat-dog. The narrative structure revolves around “Lights” Leary whose wife gave him an ultimatum to get out of the ring 5 years prior. Approaching present day, he is schlacking whatever he has to do in appearances to keep his family life running. Because of different elements (his brother’s gambling, his family’s lifestyle, the economy, bad mismanagement), events begin to push the champ back into the possibility of a comeback. While the narrative is nothing if not formulaic, the intensity and modern bent of Leary (which begets much credit to Holden who plays him) gives it the necessity of an old school studio picture with the heart of “The Fighter”. It may not be reinventing television but it does create characters to believe in.

Bob’s Burgers While the mundane aspects that fueled the animated psychologist show on Comedy Central back in the 90s draws comparisons on full display, it is the sheer avoidance nature of Bob, the lead character of this new animated series, which allows the better characters (in this case, his two youngest children) to run rampant. While the series does not boast the sight gags or sharp wit of either “Simpsons” or “Family Guy”, the sheer texture of either Bob trapping himself in his wall when his in-laws come or pooping his pants when taking on his daughter’s karate instructor simply induces laughter all the same. That said though it is Gene and Louise, his kids who steal their show with their shenanigans. Louise is a pathological liar and Gene is a party machine. Between them, the idea of going to poke dead seals and making up house music jams is just funny. At the end of one of the episodes during the credits, Gene even does a jam out with the synth he carries around. Classic.

Off The Map Revolving through the ideas of uses for the island of Oahu post “Lost” (because of the infrastructure inlaid throughout the island) must have been tempting. However the television arena was not ready to handle a mythology based tome after the failure of “Flash Forward”. Placing a doctor show in the jungle with a bit of adventure with the queen of medicinal balance in exec producer Shonda Rhimes seems a good bet. While the show doesn’t blow the doors off with either its drama or comedy, it maintains a steady pace with distinct verve. Whether delivering a baby for a mother after a father becomes wrapped by anaconda or fixing a young woman’s scar with plastic surgery because the town’s medicine man feels “the demons come from there” approaches interesting ideals of Western versus traditional since the show is actually set in South America. The soap opera structure of different female doctors lusting for the uber humanitarian (played with almost detached aplomb by Martin Henderson of “The Ring”) adds to the tension but not overwhelmingly so.

The Cape The creation of a city bent on the path of destruction by a meglomaniacal politician turned villain is not a new idea in the lexicon of superheroes. Taking this structure to an underground crime unit of circus performers led with guston by Keith David has some possibility but the actual inventiveness of a man trying to protect him family while at the samepoint not letting them know that he is alive creates the paradox in question. David Lyons as Vince Farraday (aka The Cape) is not unlikable but his presence doesn’t create any tension or spark. Helping him out is Orwell, played by fanboy favorite Summer Glau, who despite jumping into costumes at various times, plays a computer hacker and lacks the interest of her earlier work, specifically in “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” when her feeling should be more like “Dark Angel”. Creating a texture is about loss and redemption which, while addressed, doesn’t effectively intensify the possibility like “Heroes” did in its earlier pedigree.

Family Progressions & Jungle Tribulations: The ABC Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour – Feature

The revolving structure within the new idealism of ABC under the stewardship of Paul Lee reflects a more family based structure despite the success of more edgy fare like “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” With the exception of “Off The Map” which takes advantage of post-“Lost” Hawaii assets, most of the new material revolves around the Disney Channel and Lee’s former post at ABC Family. The intentions are not unfamiliar but reflect changes in regards to structure of the former regime.

Paul Lee addressed the elements of forward momentum with a much more committed hand than the previous incarnation only hours after his new post was assigned. In regards to his recent thoughts, he distinctified that the company has really stood behind their Wednesday comedy block before dictating that “The Middle”, “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” would be picked up for next season. Lee continued with intention saying that his goal is really to make ABC Studios “a showrunner culture”. He worried when they launched that there were too many shows. Even big broadcast networks, he explains, need to have a place and time. He points to “Body Of Proof”, the new Dana Delany show, as being “a very good procedural” but admits that now the networks have to “play and compete 12 months a year”. He examples “Castle” as being the target of the ABC brand. He continues describing the network, and broadcast studios in general, in that “we brought the dinner party and we brought the guests but the showrunners need to continue” the progression. Both them and the network behind them have to “be willing to fall on your face” but do it within branding.

In speaking to new ideas in the process, he mentions a “fabulous procedural” that Shonda Rhimes [of “Grey Anatomy” and “Private Practice”] is working on. They have also made two pick ups with “Smothered” and “One Up” which he explains are both comedies. In terms of existing comedies, he volunteers that “Cougar Town” has a very distinctive voice. In terms of “Mr. Sunshine” headlined by Matthew Perry, they will be placing that show after “Modern Family” within the schedule. He admits a couple years ago ABC couldn’t have been able to anchor an hour on Wednesday. Comedies, in Lee’s mind, take a while to find themselves.

Approaching the other end of the spectrum with a series like “V”, 10 episodes were ordered because within that they could maintain quality control. In the same vein, Lee addressed the interaction of Marvel within the Disney family and how that could impact ABC. His thought is that with something like Marvel, you can get the whole company behind the idea which keys back to his focus on brand, Lee also admits to the fact that the networks are living in a fragmented universe (i.e. DVR, online watching) which changes the way viewing is tracked. Marketing becomes critical but there needs to be time to do so. When interrelating to other networks, he points out that shows like “The Good Wife” and “Glee” fit the ABC Brand though he admits his favorite ABC Shows are “Modern Family”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Dancing With The Stars”.

Disney Channel’s “Lemonade Mouth” uses the strength of “Glee” to use the inherent star-making behind some of Disney’s successes into a specified movie aimed at creating an essence of edginess without sacrificing values.

Debra Chase, who also produced “Cheetah Girls” and “The Princess Diaries”, describes the production as “a movie with music” with “these characters trying to find their voice”. The key was to find a group that would “become a band with their band performances”. She said that they spent three months looking all over the world to find the best prospects. The script was based on a novel by Mark David Hughes and the title comes from the organic lemonade machine which is the cornerstone of the school. Chase’s hope is that the heart, soul and spirit of the book still lives on in the movie.

Patricia Riggen, who also directed the Spanish film “Under The Same Moon”, says that every song in the movie is special and worked from character, revealing a duality. She points out with the kinds of songs the kids sing, they are more mature and can stand on their own. For her it was a challenge to do serious storytelling on a 8 week shoot where it was about walking into an empty room and bringing the voices together.

Adam Hicks, who plays Wen, says that music motivates people whether they know it or not. The first thing he does after writing music is that he wants to tell people. The key in “Lemonade Mouth” was that in doing all the rehearsals, they could show that they all legitimately play the instruments on and off camera. His angle is writing rap which he has been doing since the 4th grade but said he “loves the surprise [from people] because I have red hair and freckles”.

Tisha Campbell-Martin, best known from the TV series “Martin”, says that she started out doing musicals Off-Broadway before graduating to “Little Shop Of Horrors” and “Rags To Riches”. She says originally she couldn’t get arrested in getting a comedic role. Seeing these young people in the movie however reminded her so much of herself.

ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” continues the act of trying to balance family programming with an edge using the story of a quartet of women who are targeted by anonymous foe, paving the way for “Mean Girls” reversal.

Exec producer Oliver Goldstick focuses the idea that the series is specifically about romance and that the soul mate connections are structured through the episodes. Balancing that with the implements of a procedural allows the show to use subtext in a series of cycles. The structure of the narrative, he explains, can rotate into mini-seasons like a 3-act play taking into account the theme of responsibility as the central cornerstone of the series.

The girls involved kept balance with how much they wanted to be aware of the world beyond the script. Lucy Hale, who plays Aria, only planned on reading the 1st book but ended up getting through the middle of Book 5. This allowed her a perception beforehand of this girl’s life although she says “I haven’t had any girls confessing their love for teachers” which is the flaw of her inherent character. Shay Mitchell, who plays Emily, says that when she auditioned she hadn’t read any of the books but read them as they shot the pilot. She says that she fully embraced her character’s style as an Adidas model but hopes to have her in heels by the end of the season.

ABC Studios’ “Off The Map” takes into possibility the infrastructure created by the recently retired “Lost” imbuing a new medical show set in the jungles of South America spearheaded by powerhouse showrunner Shonda Rhimes.

Rhimes admits that there was alot of resources left over from “Lost”. What got her interested was the voice of Jenna Bans who had served as producer with her on “Grey” while she continually spearheads new shows including one revolving around a fixer set in Washington D.C. That new show (which is in development) follows an intelligence specialist which Rhimes describes as a “crisis manager” and is loosely based on a woman named Judy Smith.

Bans, for her part, speaks that with “Off The Map”, what strikes her most about these specific characters is that none of them are at the top of their game. They all need to start over and, at a character level, “you are beginning with a huge difference”. In her eyes, the jungle is their pharmacy and they don’t have technology at their disposal and, because of this, they can “delve into stories that no one else can really do”. As a writer, she says she started writing to the chemistry onscreen that you see offscreen. She sees the series as a mix of action/adventure and comedy but also with a political twist creating what she calls “a nice blend”.

When Bans was researching the project and talking to doctors in the US, she says she came across alot of physicians where their private practice was their day job but their hobby was going away to these countries to do this. The village in the series is not completely far away from an actual commerce center but is completely surrounded by alot of remote villages. With supplies 10 hours or so away by vehicle, different substitutions must be made like using coconut milk as a substitute for fluids (which she says is done in third world countries). Episode to episode, she says they will not make the gore too gratuitous. The zipline material in the first episode will be the most extreme. Bans continues that there are different ways of practicing medicine which is what struck her and got her excited about the show.

The different doctors bring their different functions into play with brevity. Zach Gilford, who plays Dr. Fuller, says that sometimes on TV, one can be pigeonholed into a certain character base forever but, with a show like this, that stretched the possibilities, the rules are different because “you get to see different parts of the island and places you would never find”. Martin Henderson, most known for his role in the film “The Ring”, says that “to find a group of people that get on well is unique whether it was a conscious effort or not” but adds “that it is fortuitous and translates” on camera which Mamie Gummer, who plays Dr. Minard, admits “mirrors the characters”.