Comedy Texture & Character Evolution: The 2019 NBC Network TCA Winter Press Tour

The texture of the NBC progression within this year’s TCAs swells with the essence of the female focus, both in the texture of comedy and drama but also in the evolution of character.

Abbys [NBC] Led by Natalie Morales, this multi-cam comedy takes places in a watering hole created in said lead characters backyard with the inevitable cast of characters. Morales comments that she grew up watching NBC on Thursday nights.While there will inevitably be comparisons to another bar set series from the network, Morales says this structure is almost like “Cheers Theater In The Park” which is enhances by the fact that most of the cast all has sketch and theater experience. Michael Shur, responsible for creating “Parks & Recreation” and also the recent hit “The Good Place” says the biggest selling point of this show (or any for that matter) is “if it might be interesting”. As with most shows in terms of development, he says they “sort of become self fulfilling prophecies”. The draw for him is that it is set in someone’s backyard. He uses a point of reference that a comedic point could be “the regularity of a woman next door just because it is next door and has 7 glasses of wine before she goes to sleep” and also that “the characters sit in the same seats every day”.

Project Runway [Bravo] A stalwart of the cable landscape lineup, this continuation brings the structure back to Bravo and in doing so transforms it for a new generation. The mix of designer Cristian Miliano and host/model Karlie Koss really gives the show a renewed spirit. Miliano is an actual active designer and a winner of the Runway competition so combining this with the fashion show active Koss gives the show an immediacy like never before. Koss admits that she grew up watching this show and for her “it is surreal to be part of this next chapter”. She continues that a lot has changed in the world since the original show specifically in “as far as how designers have to think about businesses today”. For her, it is important that “we all have voices and can give feedback. Fashion is for anyone”. She says, “I first watched [the show] when I was 11 years old in St. Louis Missouri”. For her, “it is a platform and a way to show stories and a creative process, that talent comes from anywhere and everywhere”. For her, “the journey and experiences I have had…each one of us [here] is in the middle of our own multi-hyphenate careers. You have to be social media savvy. You have to know what you want to say. It is not a matter of just breaking out but also sustaining your career.” Cristian gives his perspective of the fashion business saying “I treat every designer as It reat my design team every day. I really feel I get too passionate.” That said, he continues, “It is amazing to see on this show, [people] create something from nothing. I think that is very beautiful to watch.”

Listing Impossible [CNBC] This CNBC show showcasing a texture of selling multi-million dollar homes and the angles needed to close may seem a little antithetical in the current market but it also displays the texture of ambition and goals. Lead agent and star of the show, Aaron Kirman tries to put it into perspective says “The struggles that the wealthy are up against are in many way not dissimilar [from everyone else]. His intern turned agent Neyshia Go, who is also highlighted on the show, keys into this essence of ambition: “The day she got her license her entrepreneurial spirit kicks in. Go explains it in her own way: “You need understand the buyer and seller but you need to know how to deal with the idea of of who the buyer and the seller is. ‘There is a shoe for every dirty foot’ which is what Aaron says.” Morgan Trent, also an agent on the show, has had a different trajectory having played professional football for a short time for the Cincinnati Bengals. He explains his career choice; “I played football. I played in the NFL. But I didn’t love football. I loved real estate.” He describes through the psychology needed in real estate versus say other businesses: “When we walk away, we know that they [the sellers] are on a losing ship. Usually those sellers wait until a year later [and then they come back]”.

Pearson [USA] This spinoff of “Suits” is a paradox of sorts. Gina Torres, a stalwart of the series, left the law based series to pursue other interests inevitably because the plot flow had begun a different way. Adding to that a little later, good friend and co-star Meghan Markle left to marry Prince Harry of England. But it was changing the structure and the focus in moving Pearson’s story to Chicago and setting it in the political arena. Torres explains: “My mind went to Jessica Pearson, this character whom I thought was in the rear view mirror, she wasn’t about walking the line but moving it. You can call [this development] a happy accident. You can call it a natural evolution. [But] now Jessica is in service to her own life and how that works.” Daniel Arkin, one of the exec producers of “Suits” and now the showrunner of “Pearson”. He speaks on the texture of the show: “When we set out [to do this show], we want to do it different than how we did ‘Suits’. Jessica Pearson is the link but we wanted this show conceptually to be more gritty and raw. Jessica was a chess player in ‘Suits’ but once you become the lead character, the story is not going to go very far if [that character] knows everything. People reject her for a change. Torres concludes the perception: “These are completely different people from ‘Suits’. Jessica doesn’t know who she can trust”.

La Reina Del Sur [Telemundo] This hybrid of a telenovela has become a more straight high production series from Telemundo. While the US has made their version with “Queen Of The South” on USA, Kate Del Castillo was the original bad-ass. She explains: “We never thought it would be the success it would have been. It was shown as a telenovela. But I was exhausted. We had different conditions budget wise and we did our best.”. But in terms of returning to that mindset, she continues: “You forget the character. You forget what is going on. It has been fresh because they have been repeating the series.” Living in Los Angeles, she continually watches for shifts in the entertainment industry: “Things are changing slowly but they are. Every time I read a script there is a better role for Latinos and women Latinos. I have been living in Los Angeles in 18 years. When I first came here I already had a job in ‘American Family’ for PBS.” As to the possibilities in this new incarnation, she teases: “You can expect a lot of action. I am 8 years older and it hurts. But she is more mature. She is a mother. She is mature in that way but she goes for it.”

Busy Tonight [E!] Closing out the day before rushing back to do a new show that evening with Josh Groban, Busy Phillips is full of energy and confidance. She starts off:I have been an entertainer for 20 years but making my life very open on social media opened me up to a whole new type of audience. It felt like a natural progression for me.” In terms of building the show: “What we wanted it to be was a little treat for our viewers at the end of the night. I was sick of watching ‘Friends re-runs’ on the end of the night.” As far as her guests: “People surprise you. David Alan Grier was incredible. Patti LaBelle is one of my favorites. Julia Roberts was always a priority.” Tina Fey, producer extraordinaire, explained her openness to the idea of the show on E: “I really liked Busy. She floated this idea. I think what [this show] is is unique and smart. (she looks at Busy) You are not trying to be Jimmy [Fallon] or Ellen.”

By Tim Wassberg

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.

Trading Quips & Reflective Structuring: The Winter 2011 TCA Set Visits – Feature

Perceiving the energy of a television show revolves around the set structure and notion of who becomes the fallacies and strengths of voice. Great design can help motivate a scene or interrupt it while character work sometimes overplays the necessary subtleties of the script. Ultimately each revolves as part of their own animal. A set becomes a personality or a show interweaving as a home which can be both comforting but also challenging.

“Cougar Town” as a motivating factor has evolved into a story of pure people which is reflected in the cool class demeanor on the Culver Studios lot. The bar lurks inside as does the interior of Jules’ house. The wine bar and the “lonely walk” occurs right outside. Here the core team huddles. As with earlier interactions standing around in the bar afterwards with Brian Van Holt (Bobby), Travis (Dan Byrd) and Andy (Ian Gomez)  shooting the breeze like “no big whoop”  at the local watering hole gives one the feeling of the camaraderie that abounds.

Bill Lawrence, always outspoken but fun and relaxed, is a force of nature…and never so much as with this show, which is its own animal, both straddling the notion of older viewers but with a youthful complex.

The show, he relates, “has nothing to do with what it’s about”. His great progression, he jokes, is that he “loves getting to know actors and then stealing from them”. One new aspect he highlights within the “Cougar” universe is that they have always liked “room bits” where people just sit around and blast one another which they have learned to support with “dumb games”. He admits that it is a “double-edged sword to have consistency” on the show. Moving towards a more business-structured perception, he does admit that being behind “Modern Family” is the test of maintaining an audience but that the big poll of their longevity will be at the beginning of next year. He says though they have to make the leap sooner or later. He also stands behind bringing in secondary characters, and not just for exposition, though he does attribute that he has “my own dumb philosophies about comedy”.

Courteney Cox, understanding the progression of Jules in her simple life, says that her character will “continue to drink and be a successful alcoholic” before adding that “Bill cares about the ratings”.

Jumping in Christa Miller, who plays Jules’ best friend Ellie (and also, in real life, is Bill Lawrence’s wife), says “I’m lucky because my bad traits my husband finds adorable” but that “Bill mixes it up every time.” Busy Phillips, who plays the younger BFF Laurie addresses the little snaking of chemistry she and Dan Byrd, who plays Jules’ son Travis, share, saying “I am not sure I want to kiss Dan because I’m like his hot cousin”. She continues that “he plays a bit older and I am a bit younger” so we are “a tight pair”. Byrd, by comparison, speaks of his character in the tones of “I am not wearing sunscreen and it makes me a little worried” continuing that “the way that things were shaping up I had to stop stewing in the background” which made it “a lot more interesting”.

Flipping the structure over to the CBS studio complex in Studio City which plays host to the set of NBC’s “Parks & Recreation”, the halls of Pawnee ring out true as star Amy Poehler shows us around the set (though the aspect of April hanging out in the background and giving out her business card was hilarious) before congregating into Town Hall.

Poehler describes her character Leslie saying that “she is of the same intelligence” but admits “in the first few episodes she didn’t have alot of game”. This new season for her “is evolving” since “we begin the show in triage mode with everyone looking to save their jobs”. In terms of the interoffice romances, she speaks that she doesn’t think the characters “are lonely” but agrees “that you end up dating the people you work with” because “they are like a community and relationships start to happen”. She continues saying that “this is a show where people actually have sex” though “Jerry is no saint”.

Dan Goor, the supervising producer, adds that the first part of the season revolves around Harvest Fest with some stand-alone structure though “it is nothing we can control”. He admits that the best aspect of the new episodes is “that we had time”. Speaking to the characters, he says they are “unlikely local heroes” but throws in that “Jerry does things that are a bit off”. Another tidbit of knowledge revolves around Pawnee’s sister cities in that they are “all sites of horrible tragedy”. He reveals that “Ron Swanson had never been out of Indiana” but “he drank the water and it made him sick”.

Nick Offerman, who plays the irrepressible Ron Swanson describes the season, in true fashion, stating “the harvest is a harvest of blood”.

Jim O’Heir, who plays Jerry, always get the short end of the stick, saying “they have my back when it counts” but relates that “every office has a punching bag” adding that “I have amazing talent that they don’t give a crap about”.

Aziz Ansari, the real life counterpart of Tom Haverford, believes his namesake just “wants to be that guy who owns a nightclub and make his own cologne” but “he lives in Pawnee”. If he could just have been raised in the nearby town of Eagleton, Ansari pleads, because “that whole town is a country club”.

Rashida Jones, who plays the emotionally divisive Ann, says that the idea of show rests in the fact that “they are interested in how people relate emotionally” but “you can feel why people end up together”. She decribes Ann as “a boyfriend girl” and adds “that she probably didn’t have many girlfriends but she wasn’t really looking”.

Adam Brody, who is new to the cast as transplant Ben Wyatt, explains that “it was all conceived before I got here” but that there are things about the two characters of Leslie and Ben “who have alot in common but don’t really know it at first”.

Switching into darker drama mode, the notion of “Criminal Minds” reflects in knowing how perpetrators think. With the new “Suspect Behavior” outreach which circles Forest Whitaker into the structure, the notion of spirituality and perception become necessary parts of the thought process.

The main set, like “NCIS: Los Angeles”, represents the mindset of the characters with a used old-world feel but with notions of Asian spiritualism abounding while technology wraps around it with a sense of foreboding.

Deborah Spera, exec producer of the original series as well as “Army Wives”, describes the team of “Behavior” as “a group of FBI agents within a red cell unit” who report to the Director only adding that “these groups do exist”. What makes “Criminal Minds”, as a concept, different from other procedurals, she specifies, is that “creatively we solve crimes from a psychological perspective”.

Ed Bernero, another exec who was formerly a night shift beat cop in Chicago for 10 years and has written and produced on “Third Watch” and “Brooklyn South” in addition to the original “Criminal Minds”, says that this crew of characters are already in the middle of their professions. Each of the shows reflect, he explains, their own interior lives but must balance the texture between familial and procedural. Looking at the characters provides a perspective in how they deal. Forest Whitaker’s character Sam is the sounding board while Janeane Garofalo’s Beth is a technical expert and Matt Ryan as Mick is the strategist. When you mix these people and their perception of a crime with someone like Michael Kelly’s character Jonathan who has been in prison and knows how it works, the breakdown of psychology takes on a different perception. Bernero admits that the team here is more interdependent on each other than the other show.

Whitaker, making his first foray into series television, says that he had been thinking about approaching the medium. He had been offered a few before. The kindling that he feels with this character resounds that the emotion hits his character in a very deep place. In terms of sitting within the set, he sees it as a safe zone, a “dojo” of sorts. Within this structure you can see people fight but also where they are going. As a challenge, he is always looking to interact with other actors. The missteps of character result, he says, in “great triumph” and reveal that every role has their own flavor.

Garafalo, having been seen mostly as a comedic performer, explains that it is all subjective adding that “there is something about dark haired people with deep voices and ambiguous sexuality that works well”. In terms of her character, she is “married to her job”. Approaching this kind of show does sometimes become reflective of a downer because “after dealing with a cadaver for a long amount of time, that will stick with you”. As far as facing off with Whitaker, her character sees her compatriot as “much more reserved and spiritual” who likes “stick fighting and throwing ryhmes” describing him as “a much nicer person”.

Kirsten Vangsness, who straddles both worlds of “Minds” as Penelope, describes the jumping as “nothing but cool”. One show is “evil ferrets” and the other is “killer clowns”. In interacting with the new team, Garcia can’t come in and be too familiar or it would “be weird”. She says “it’s like you’re a new third grader” because “you’re not going to be all out”. As far as the character’s fashion sense which has been undeniably scrutinized, Vangsness says her character lets her “freak flags fly” explaining that Garcia dresses like “a 7-year-old pirate from space”. Kristen likes to say she has a glam squad in real life and tells the team at the other show that “over here, we got a pool”.

Comedy, as a live idea, rounds out the perspective of set visits with the TBS brand with early morning perspectives of “George Lopez” and “Conan”, just steps away from each other on the Warner Lot.

Lopez begins the structure sitting on his wider broached set which plays inevitably slick next to Conan’s more home comfort digs. Lopez admits that since the shift that the comedy “has been a bit edgier” though now, with his later time slot, “I want to be the last person people pass out to”. He continues stating that “mine is the most diverse of any late night show” adding “it has a little more flavor” because “I don’t have a desk and I don’t use cards”. 33-years-old is the median age he hits and he agrees that “the one great thing about having my sitcom in syndication is that it is all over”. He seems happy that his was Justin Bieber’s first late night show though “I don’t think he was allowed to stay up” and recalls fondly about Usher pulling an April Fools when he asked about his three kids.

In terms of the late night shake-up, he says that he didn’t take it personally. Conan came on and they did a bit before they went to air which revolved around the beard. There is a aspect of cool synergy at times. His example is that Russell Brand went on “Conan” then came over and interrupted his monologue. The key for him in making late night “his” is that he is not worried about being funny adding that “it is not urgent for me” and that “I take it as it comes”. The host, he says, “should have the ability to listen” and that “that ability needs to be warm and engaging”. Lopez continues that he “grew up 8 miles from here but it might as well be a million”. He admits though that “there is a lot of things you can’t ask” although he was happy when “Denzel told me when he was 20 he was a garbageman”.

The biggest and most significant change for him was bringing in Robert Morton who had spent 14 years with Letterman, adding that “he keeps me on time”.

Morton adds that “it is good with the Conan lead-in to see the audience” though “we have tried to give our show a little more focus as far as comedy”. He is proud that “we are a lot stronger” with “a lot quicker pace”. One of the things that he learned with Letterman was “urgency”. He tries to keep here on a tight schedule. The writers get in at 8 or 8:30am which is the same time for the monologue guys. Production meeting is at 10am. For him, 95% of the show is created between 8 and 12. The strength he continues is that “we have a different voice”. The balance is that “the networks try to build the weight over us” but he says that they don’t “demand firsts or exclusives” moving more to “take chances with TV people who might be considered too bawdy”. Morton reminisces that, when he was first at 12:30am with Letterman, “we didn’t get anything” because “Johnny got everyone”. What Morton likes about “The Lopez Show” is that “the energy is fantastic” led by George who “has a clear voice” which allows everyone to know “who they are writing for” and “who they are booking for”.

Conan, by comparison, in his first set visit, has the benefit of experience and balance to enrapture within his new show. He says that the first meeting he had with TBS was a couple days after his summer tour. He wanted to recapture that feeling that they had on the road but also “create a lab for us to screw around and try things”. He admits that “the last year has been a crazy journey of discovery” but that “I think we are playing it out” adding “that this could be a game show in a year”. He jokes that “it is fun to be Mussolini at the top of the show every night” though he says that the Coco thing is “all Tom Hanks’ fault”. In terms of what happened in the past, he would prefer not to over think things and that this is “part and parcel from last year”. The people at TBS, he said, though have made it clear to him to do what he thinks is funny. He uses the example of playing the first show with Jack White. His motto is “if it feels that it might be funny at rehearsal, let’s try it”.

He likes to think of “Conan” as a start-up show but balances that with the fact “that I have come up with alot of people” and that “changes the dynamic”. He admits “that personal relationships play a role” and “that there is that feeling on a personal level especially in the tumult in the past year”. He continues though that “you come to a point where you say ‘I am not interested in being on TV forever” but adds “that there is nothing like walking away from ‘The Tonight Show’ to show the aspect of being on-air”. He places the concept of a joke in his ideal of “if I am having a fun time, I have no dignity” and then goes on to state how he auditioned for “The Late Show” when he was 29. He had the ear of the young people but says that “what has not changed is that people in their 20s are still happy to see me”. He chocks this up to “nothing by design” adding that “there is an innate silliness to me”. He admits he was always attracted to that type of comedy but now “I have a 5 and a 7 year old and getting them to laugh is a workout” adding that “I am not afraid to fall down” but “I am not able to grow up”.

He describes “Conan” as “a topical show but not relentless about them”. He reminisces that, at the end of his stint on “The Tonight Show”, “I said something like ‘All we are here to do is have fun on television’ which resonated with me”. He likens it to the statement that “the economy’s stupid” and “let’s not overthink”. Alot of people came over from the last gig with him adding that “we’ve all been through something in the past year”. He explains now that “there is a pirate ship mentality to the show which creates a strong dynamic” figuring that “TBS reached over the side and pulled us on the boat” which “is something we will be eternally grateful for”

David Letterman, Conan says, “called and said ‘I haven’t checked in on you but I wanted to make sure you were good'” adding that the long time host of “Late Night” is “not a blabbermouth” but said “it was nice to get a call and he didn’t owe me one”. Conan addresses the entire “Tonight Show” controversy saying “we all know what happened” but “I just try not to think about it too much” adding that “it was very strange as I wasn’t used to be a media story”. He continues that “the day after the show ended, we [he and his wife] left for Santa Barbara the following morning” adding that “two cars followed us all the way to the hotel”. He jokes that “I am not Brad Pitt or George Clooney but I am blessed with my DNA” but says “when I walked into a restaurant that day, everybody applauded”. Conan then more somberly states “this isn’t [about] a job being applauded in restaurants”, rather “these shows have been the organizing principle of my life”. He says soon after returning from that trip, “I called my assistant Sona” and “we met at a Marie Callender restaurant”. He explains that “I hosted ‘The Tonight Show’ on a Friday and we were there on Monday” continuing that “that was my new headquarters”. The reality he notes is “it was a juxtaposition that summed up the madness”. While he admits that “I loved picking up my kids during that time”, “you could see that I was determined” and “I needed to be in a harness”.

The most amazing thing for him about the last year is that “the campaign didn’t come from anything” adding that “we ended ‘The Tonight Show’ with ‘Freebird'”. The tour, he admits, “started as a small thing with just me and The Legally Prohibited Band” but then “everybody wanted to buy a ticket even though nobody knew what it was”. He reluctantly agrees that “I don’t remember a year when I was working harder” continuing that “I grew a beard because I hate shaving…and I stopped shaving after ‘The Tonight Show'”. Addressing the psychology of the situation, he says “I think you grow a beard when you go through something”. He recalls Jeff Ross, his exec producer, calling him into the office saying “Is that beard going to stay or go?”. Conan prefers he says to “take it a day at a time” adding that “it might fall off”. Someone said to him that for him “the most interesting thing in the past year is going through the psychological shift”. Conan himself thinks that “we have very creative fans that have gone through something and we use it as a bumper on the show”.

He agrees that “the business is transforming” which everybody in the room is facing. His goal is “not to do it forever but do it to the point where I have nothing left to say”. He doesn’t want to disparage his time though at his former network saying “I had alot of amazing experiences with NBC” and “it meant alot to me to be part of it.” He admits “there are times where I mourn the boss” since “there is a whole body of work which I feel really detached from” though he admits “there are some [people] I never need to see again…on a human level”. “It feels strange to me”, he continues, “as great as things have happened to me, I was a little bit sad” because “I am a very suspicious person” yet still “a ‘shut up and do your job’ person”. For him “anything that feels over the top brings out the Irish Catholic in me”.

Conan is just happy to move past this period in time, moving more to focus on “Did they like my show last night or no?” and “to just see where it goes”.

Fun, Rules & Marriage: The NBC Winter 2010 TCA Press Tour – Feature

NBC has weathered some turmoil over the past months as the structure of returning full bore to the restructured pertinence of scripted programming reflects in many of their aggressive pilot strategies. With new shows like “Parenthood” moving into the fray and “Parks & Recreation” gaining traction in an increasingly powerful Thursday night line-up, the process of recovery within a constantly malleable structure continues.

Parks & Recreation With the new season approaching, the show, always in the shadow of “The Office”, is beginning to make strides and find its own identity.

Michael Schur, one of the exec producers, admits there was an arbitrary pause in their first season. Their set is very simple with a big building and a big long hallway. The role of Chris came through on a technicality and now seems to be one of intense loyalty to the fans. It comes down to when the story calls for it, comedic license can be taken.

Nick Offerman who plays Ron, the boss, said initially, during the auditions, all Shur said was that this guy had a really big mustache. And that is all he said.

Amy Poehler jumps in quickly for her few-words co-star saying that she believe Ron liked her character Leslie because he made her job easier. It became for her all about that co-dependent relationship. She admits that she likes that there was a slow build to the heat. She says “it felt very genuine…like a fine wine”. Even when they were tweaking the rules of the characters, she said Leslie’s fundamental beliefs remained the same.

Greg Daniels, who also exec produces “The Office”, says that the moment when Nick’s character stood up and defended Leslie created a sense of optimism in the show’s trajectory because that began a type of “grudging relationship”. For him the idiom that describes it is “more nope…less dope. Initially the stories were structure within Leslie being responsible for predicatments but found it worked better when she was simply placed there. Most of the time when the camera catches Leslie’s eye rolls, she doesn’t even know it’s happening.

Amy volleys back in that it is because “we have the sweet freedom to improvise”. She then jokingly says though that when they give Aubrey Plaza, who plays the sullen and effortless secretary April, money, she throws it back at them yelling “Keep your dirty money!” Aubrey responds in monotone fashion, saying that she “does like these people sometimes” and that she “doesn’t hate everything” but “this her reality”. She deadpans the fact that they shot a scene a couple days ago and she didn’t even know they shot it.

Aziz Ansari who plays the always schemiing co-worker Tom, runs at a nice clip. He says that it surprises him what kinds of lines of his character people quote back at him. He lets loose with another zinger that he “likes dickin’ around and wastin’ my time” but that he “throws in little jokes here and there”. He said that The Roots compared the Parks cast to the WuTang Clan calling Amy “The RZA” and Ron “ODB”. When asked about maybe some cross-over into “30 Rock” or other such shows, he mocks that “it would be a terrible idea”.

The Marriage Ref Jerry Seinfeld returns to television in a format where he hardly needs to be on-screen and admits it was brought to his mind by his wife. Again the angle that brings simple perceptions like this can always make the best ideas.

Seinfeld, for his part, says that what he has learned in talking about the show, is that it is impossible to explain or even nail down what kind of show it is. In trademark style, he puts the question to the media as a challenge. Some of the arguments they encounter on the show are familiar. Some are not. It has to feel like something that is already there which is what most excites him about the scenario. This show is basically about married couples having real fight in their home. The selected panel will watch the argument and comment. He posturizes that sports simplicity is what is missing from marriage. He has lived in his apartment in NY for 10 years and he and his wife have had new differences of opinion. He says that “we are not going to fix your marriage”. One argument for example, involves a couple where the dog dies and there is an argument whether or not to stuff it. What they do is end the argument once and for all. To make another sports analogy, Jerry says that he likes it when an ump blows a call at a game.

His wife again is the one that actually said he should do this show. The crew that works on location is the one who did “Supernanny”. As far as if the panel should be experts, Seinfeld says that is not their thing calling it “more about laughing at yourself”. They won’t be approaching certain subjects like kids or things like that because “that shows that the marriage is really in trouble”. In true Seinfeld fashion, he makes another analogy, saying that he was thinking about the AOL/Time Warner deal the other day and saw it not as a screw up but just that “the timing was wrong”. For him “sometimes it can be the right idea at the wrong time…that’s show business”. In terms of how that figures into his comedic approach, Seinfeld simply says “I’m a stand up comic. There are no rules. Once you have the cameras, it is on you.” He makes the concession that it was the critics that kept “Seinfeld” on the air. In his estimation, there are no refs in show business but, in marriage, everyone has an opinion on it. He said his uncle used to pull him aside and say “Jerry…don’t get married” but reflects that “now experiencing the conversations Jess [his wife] and I have, I thought it was funny enough”. That is why it was his wife’s idea and not his.

Seinfeld then talks about the host of the show Tom Papa whom he calls “a very dangerous man” and “an addictive human being” reflexively calling himself jokingly “like a drug dealer on a school playground” because “the more you get, the more you want”. He says all of his comedian friends love Papa. Seinfeld likes him because “mainly he’s funny and we share a marriage perspective in that it is funny”. In terms of interesting arguments shown on the show, Jerry mentions one couple in which the guy parks his motorcycle in the living room. However, even when Tom approaches them, Jerry says that the man doesn’t raise his voice. In true sardonic style, Seinfeld says “the prizes are not going to be that good” but that the drive “in making the show is making you laugh”. He uses his still popular sitcom as a reference point saying “when I was doing my TV show, people would come up to me and say ‘this would be great on your show, and I would walk away. On this show though, it works”.

Tom Papa, shiny with a glint of mischief in his eye, sits right next to Jerry with the simple idea that “this show is about surviving”. In his mind, the way comedians think is “whether this one is right or this one is wrong”. His role in this experiment is that “if you are married and have trouble, it is the judges’ call is to convince me which way I should go”. His angled perception that when a husband and wife are in a fight, the husband is always trying to find out what the fight is about. Reaction is all about instinct and this show Papa perceives, like Jerry, is sports oriented. For Papa, “ultimate power is quite a responsibility” but says that ” he is just there to be funny” which “is a role very natural for me”.

Mythic Bikers & Parallel Existence: Returning Television Fall 2009 – Part I – Review

As the new fall season enters in texture, the returning shows entering display a differential that plays the same with an added sense of knowing. With the cable networks still outpacing in general story, the writers on all sides are keeping their intensity at a high level which shows in the first inferences of the new.

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Mad Men The key with this show is allowing the characters to breathe with finesse. The greatness of the show lies in its ability to let you watch the characters’ thoughts unfold with the knowledge that it might not work for them in the end. Don Draper continues to move in mysterious ways and his interaction with the would-be Conrad Hilton sends him on a disnomer of emotional proportions just when he seems to be finally bringing things under control. Don’s by-the-wayside Rockwell type moment with his daughter and newborn son show both the inevitability but also the paradox of the American Dream. As his relationship disentegrates with Roger over what should be a tryst and Cooper pulls a dark card to make him sign a contract, the walls seemingly are starting to close in again. Don is a MacGuffin more than ever. Add to this a rich surrounding of women between his wife (played with just the right amount of knowing by January Jones) who is looking for life extension especially after the death of her father to Peggy (played by an increasingly aware Elizabeth Moss) who continues to rise up the corporate ladder acting like one of the boys and finding her true rhythm in business deals. Also one must not forget Joan (played with distinctive knowing by Christina Hendricks), an exceptional shark in her own right who makes a decision based on traditional values that is inevitably biting back at her. There are also so many other characters that are secondary that are simply being ignored at times because the main proponents are so engaging and allowed to develop organically. This is the show’s great gift: its ability to create the essence of time while seemingly moving the story along without being rushed.

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Sons Of Anarchy This story operates in an antithetical way because it is about instinctual, visceral and primal elements not shrouded by stiff suits (although Adam Arkin is giving it a run for its money). Last season, the culimation of Jax’s perception of Clay as a divisive change in the rule of the club made him a bit of a tragic hero. Kurt Sutter, who also worked on “Deadwood”, has created a modern family story shrouded in love, death, crime and brotherhood within a story about a biker club with killer follow through. He had the series run at an incessant pace with an almost “Godfather” exit in the finale last season. The thing about Sutter is that he doesn’t pull the punches. Gemma, played by Katey Sagal (who is also Kurt’s real life wife), is put through the wringer in the first episode that completely changes the dynamic of the season in an instant. Sagal takes on a whole different dimension in a sharp turn in terms of the choices she needs to make. This directly affects her life with Clay, who has secrets of his own, not the least of which is that he ordered the botched murder of an innocent woman in trying to kill one of his own men. Ron Perlman told me at TCAs that playing the role of Clay can be very uncomfortable. He likes Charlie [Hunnam] who plays Jax like a son so he says it is hard for them to go at each other with such thinly veiled hate. That for him is the challenge. People are pushing themselves on the show. Even in the first four episodes of this season, you can see Charlie Hunnam simply melding into the role but the fact of how he can modulate between the life of the club and the life at home with his re-united childhood sweetheart as well as his new son comes off as heartbreaking because you know something bad is going to happen as time goes on. This show has Emmy written on it simply because of the performances, especially Charlie. Even the way his girlfriend in the series has to assert herself in the politics and alpha female intensity of the club’s dealings to retain her man is great. The power here lies in the women which is a phenomenally underlying truth. This to me in a plethora of good TV is one of the most cutting edge shows out there because it doesn’t need a high concept to make exceptionally riveting. And where it is going is ratcheting up.

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Fringe At the end of last season, a new world unfolded before the eyes of the audience and of agent Olivia Dunham (played by Anna Torv). As the new mythology evolved, the story aimed to jump start the stakes. Whereas Jared Harris (who is also on “Mad Men”) led her to a bit of ruin last season, the key here is unfolding a showing an intensity of will, which seems to come to fruition when Anna emerges from nowhere into the world almost dead in the opening moments of the season opener. It is Peter Bishop (played with restrained authorship by Joshua Jackson) that takes control and finds a way to make the division work under threat of shutdown. The relationship between Peter and his father Walter (played with delicious inventiveness by John Noble) is really starting to anchor the series. There is a degree of connection that is starting to be apparent and the humor definitely is getting a following. At one point Walter is doing an autopsy but is having his assistant help him make pudding at the same time. There is just something in that paradox that makes it work. The cornerstone in terms of the drama does revolve around Dunham but a smile or two (like in “Castle”) works miracles. The crux with her that keeps developing is her relationship with men and the betrayal of her trust (which continues to happen). Her relationship with her former partner now dead motivated her last season. This year, the problem rests in her close friend inside at FBI who is not who she believes him to be. The shake up of this structure will continue to affect her both personally and professionally. In terms of mythology versus stand alone, the alternation continues. The second episode actually includes a Gollum-like creature as if something out of “Children Of The Corn”. “Fringe” shows that it is mixing it up but the ultimate personification of William Bell is still the focal point with [Leonard] Nimoy nowhere in sight yet with his presence still lingering. It is just a matter where this story leads since the danger is of the mythology becoming too intrinsic. The show has infinitely more potential than “Warehouse 13” yet that show already has distinct control over its trajectory which in turn creates the effectiveness and clarity in ways of its storylines. “Fringe” needs to simply optimize its machine which it has the power to do.

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Parks & Recreation At the end of the abbreviated last spring introduction of this “Office” type mockumentary, its charm had not yet settled in. It was seemingly trying a little harder than it should have. However, the texture has seemed to relaxed heading into its fall progression. Having not watched “The Office” at its inset, the ability to see this show from inception focalizes that the inherent nature of it rests in creating the situation in an offset manner to the character development. The relationships in last season seemed to be more of a focal point whereas the starting point of this new season works because it makes use of events in each of the episodes to motivate the characters which inevitably works much better in terms of structure. The first episode has Amy Poehler’s character mistakenly marrying two male penguins at a function at a zoo seemingly creating a gay rights issue. The trouble that she and her Indian Carolina-born associate get into trying to live it down ends up involving a party where she is heralded as Queen. Another subsequent episode has Poehler discovering what is supposedly “marijuana” growing in the community garden she planted. While she is cultivating the garden, her associate is getting a suntan on a reclining chair nearby. It is just a perfect balance of earnestness and sheer ridiculous humor perpetrated by these two lead characters. There are couple more characters establishing themselves slightly but with the exception of Poehler’s boss pulling something in the most recent episode, there hasn’t been anything to truly diversify the rest of the cast in true form yet. But according to most, it took “The Office” in the US a couple seasons to get in stride. The question becomes will the ratings here be good enough in general to allow for that kind of possible success. Poehler fuels the show and the writing is starting to know what it needs to be so there is possibility but not quite yet.

The key with these first 4 returning shows is their different levels of intention and acceptance and how each is purveying its individual trajectory. “Mad Men” can make its story work while looking effortless in terms of character and interweaving storylines which has caused it to hit a stride of sorts in its third season after two exceptional seasons before. “Sons Of Anarchy”, in terms of energy, burns brighter with a sense of Shakespearean tragedy but rivals “Men” at times in terms of mythic perception even though it has not gotten anywhere near the kudos of the former. It however seems very steady in its identity and knowing what it needs to be. “Fringe” is a good show that is still very much finding its focus while discerning its balance between mythology and stand alone and between drama and biting humor leading towards the direction it is choosing. “Parks & Recreation” is a much simpler creature but, in the beginning of its second season, is realizing the the story/situation must take precedence and the character arcs will naturally follow. However, all in all, positive progressions for all involved, some more than others, but all showing a tightening of ranks.