IR Television Review: Human Falacies & Supernatural Idiosyncracies – Returning TV Shows – Spring 2012 – Part I

The intention of human fallacies in unwittingly non-normal situations whether it is tracking drug smugglers, taking down a government agency or trying to exist as a supernatural create in a world of human brings its own set of idiosyncrasies which allows the participants to react in a variety of ways but most necessarily in the normality of who they are.

Justified [FX] Adjusting to a life without a murdering matriarch consumes itself to the will of Yankees invading the plot in the smiling goodness of Neal McDonough, Now granted Raylan (the always cool Timothy Olyphant) is still pervading his sense of Southern law, but, at some point, the women in his life get sick of it. His former flame returned to darkness in the intent of her ex, Boyd Crowder, who has found his way to enlightenment through a more demonstrative criminal method. The realization of Raylan, especially when he gets into another shootout in a hotel, seems to prove that he doesn’t have what is needed to be “father” material. Enter Carla Gugino (always a welcome sight) as a Director in the Marshall service who gives Raylan a run for his money. In terms of her resurrection in terms of intermingling with Raylan’s heart, only time will tell. This bodes darkly, especially with a treacherous and involved runner of organized crime who seems the figure to beat, personified in the visage of Mykelti Williamson who brought tenderness as “Bubba” in “Forrest Gump” but hits the intended notes of intelligence and intimidation which has not quite yet come to fruition.

Nikita [CW] Involving the notion of psychology into the reasoning behind Nikita’s actions to take down Division, the source of all her strength and death, becomes more dastardly when the woman responsible for recovering her from her initial life as a junkie becomes one of the masterminds behind the company that caused her so much grief. Many of the plot developments begin to take on double negatives especially with a girl Nikita brought back from the brink now the focus of an internal hit squad. Percy, right now the most engaging of the villains (after getting out of his box), mingles a turn of loyalties with the wantonness of Nikita to try to balance both sides of the equation but situations, despite her best efforts,  are likely to explode on cue.

Royal Pains [USA] HankMed has truly got into a normal functioning matter-of-course with Boris’ illness somewhat under control and the boys’ dad taking responsibility for his earlier sins. The more interesting structure of this season, by extension, is Evan’s relationship with his girlfriend-now-fiancee. The class structure progression of this ideal is something that some people might relate to if one has experienced The Hamptons because the possibility of all is right around the corner and it dexterously keeps you on your toes. Hank’s pressing perception also lies in the fact that Jill, his past and present girlfriend, is leaving to do her part in Uruguay and that his one true friend on the peninsula, a pro golfer named Jack [played with aplomb abandon by Tom Cavanagh], is suffering from a manageable but deadly progression of lupus and just wants to joke it away. Divya is dealing with class structure pressures from the opposite direction in that she has to pay back her part for bailing on her Hindu wedding. All within, the series is attacking more domestic issues which give it a sense of depth without the ideal that everything in these people’s lives will collapse at any given moment.

Being Human [SyFy] The predatory nature of the leads involved in this series dictates that everything in their lives cannot remain structured and unchanged as life (or death) always has a way of creeping up on you. Our lead vampire, despite being able to quench his thirst for blood while working at a hospital, only needs to watch the undoing of his maker from last season to propel him into a situation he cannot control. The most intriguing of all is the introduction of his lost love who supposedly went on a rampage when he was around in the 1920s. The flashbacks and the way they are captured are undeniably forthcoming because it shows the indelible sense of self-control that is required of this person. Our werewolf in question is both bringing and diminishing more from his pack and the dichotomy of his new girlfriend because of what she is, emboldens the idea of alpha versus benign into a very tense atmosphere. Our ghostly female roommate-in-question finds more of her own and finds out that it might be possible for her to sleep (and therefore dream) but it unlocks something inside her which, when compounded with certain forms of addiction (like possession of a human to experience sex), creates an interesting form of withdrawal which is unbalanced by the death of her mother. The series continues to explore utterly human experiences in otherworldly situations using a seemingly progression of morality.

Formula Structured Rectifications: Returning Spring 2011 Television Shows – Review – Part II

Maintaining a sense of pacing, style, wonder and general creative progression with continuing series is always a path of infinite choosing. With formula-based series like “Royal Pains”, “Justified” and “Human Target”, what made them interesting was the modulation of characters while keeping some elements of their lives a secret. The more one knows, the more the progression of what they will become waxes more defined. With comedies like “Hot In Cleveland” and “Robot Chicken”, the intensity maintains to the fact of how far you will go.

Royal Pains The tendency of a medical show on the road is the aspect that situations tend to dictate the kind of medicine needed. The interesting angle of The Hamptons is that everyone wants to keep a secret. Unlike the earlier intersections of the past two seasons with international dealings and the idiom of Cuba, the new conflicts of the show seem remarkably domestic. Granted Evan, Dr. Hank’s brother, seems to be coming into his own but the respective intentions of their overall experiences (despite their physician assistant’s upcoming nuptials) seem structured and hardly full of tension. The pervasive father/sons dynamic optimizing Henry Winkler has intrinsically run its course with no indicative place to go. While the show’s vibrancy in terms of character is much more eccentric than say “Off The Map”, its narrative progression hiccups in its returning texture searching for a more worthwhile third act.

Hot In Cleveland Despite the farcical interaction of the three leads initially cast led by Valerie Bertinelli, the inclusion of Betty White despite the inherent extremity of the situations plays heartily. While her intention seems to soften a little bit a couple of episodes in, the vigor of the comedy coming fast and furious from the elder partier is refreshing. Though the two-part episode featuring a spot by Susan Lucci seems a bit forced prompting a return to Los Angeles, Cleveland is where the show lives as long as the jokes continue. A great example of the series’ inherent tone personifies itself in the idea of White as a mob wife who in the first episode ends up in the slammer with Mary Tyler Moore as a rival where things get catty. The grand element of these types of shows on TV Land is that you can bring in all the old cronies (like John Schneider from “Dukes Of Hazzard”) into any episode and it still targets the core demographic of the channel.

Human Target The relevance of Christopher Chance angles in allowing him to be an all encompassing superhero with a quick wit and no faults. This season introduces a seductive and all-together unknowing boss who enters into situations without a full perception of their possibilities. It is because of this gumption that she starts to unravel the team. The boys club with the three prism of brutality involving the braun (Chance), the instinct (Winston) and the brains (Guerrero) is tailor-structured as a modern day A-Team but with the addition of Ames (another female – who is a wonderful foil to Guerrero in a much different way in comparison to a similar egghead situation on “NCIS: Los Angeles”), there seems more of a balance of brevity which takes away from the peril of the situation. Like at the end of the Timothy Dalton era where James Bond changes his intent of focus in his job from professional responsibility to personal vendetta, the change of priority is interesting but is not as compelling as the original mission stories.

Robot Chicken The irrepressible ideal to bring the comparisons between “Family Guy” and “Robot Chicken” are undeniable simply because the crossover element is specifically created (more recently than not because of their consecutive “Star Wars” homages). What is becoming noticeable is the increasing prevalence of strong, darker and more adult themes in both shows. After surface gags have sufficed for so long what would seem to make sense to the creators (specifically director Chris McKay here) is the certain pop culture references that interact with modern society have to be turned against each other. The result, beginning with the premiere episode’s ode to “Saving Private Ryan” and continuing through many requisite skits reflects a sense of brutality that is much more prevalent than before. Oddly enough still the most satisfying bits are the humping robot because he is a throwback to the less cynical moments. The best bit so far though is the Keebler Elves trying to stop the Cookie Monster in an “Braveheart”-type stand off followed by the requisite trial where his mother attacks the judge. The comedy is funny to be sure but the underlying context moves darker and darker with decidedly mixed visions.

Justified After the inherently resolute finish with last season’s Crowder incident, the specific vision revolving around the price on Marshall Givens’ head would seem to be a resounding voice in terms of dealing with second season structure. In narrative progression, this should have created a less Kentucky-based idealism. However last season’s final incident is glossed over with an uneasy truce that appears to allow for another family of illegal proportions to find their way into Raylan’s life in the form of the Bennetts. This new family, among other things, offers the addition of exceptional actors in the form of Jeremy Davies and Margo Martindale who display Kentucky pride with the right amount of deviance. Boyd Chowder, who was the devil incarnate who found God last season, deals with both redemption and temptation which continues to be variant themes in the series while Raylan himself, despite some interesting personal relationships, comes more to terms with his life as a would-be reaper. The tension will continue with enough palpability as long as the drama proceeds towards a head with blunt force.

Ranging The Genres: New Television Shows – Spring 2010 – Review

While not surprising, the new TV approaches in the Spring season have a decidely genre bent with some hits and misses. Caprica leads the pack with a sense of history which makes it undeniably poignant while Modern Family takes a real bent approach to humor. “Justified” and “Human Target” have Elmore Leonard and DC Comics backgrounds respectively but still need to find their true voices while “Legend Of The Seeker” trails behind simply because the way it was conceived falls in a smaller and retreatable category, by no production fault of its own. Clear cut elements and effective programming possibilities.

Caprica The essence with a spin-off is creating a crux of tension that feels dexterious which is not easy after making something as layered as “Battlestar” no matter how convoluted the ending might have become. The reality here is just the opposite. The aspect of terrorism is brought to the home arena. The structure is ingenious at times though perhaps a bit overplayed. The entire progression balances the ideas of two fathers and two daughters. The paradox is existing one side in real life and the other in an artificial reality. Alessandra Torresani who plays a girl whose ghost is trapped in one of her father’s creation gives a very distinct vision of what happens later. It becomes a tale of revenge of one angry girl which will eventually bring down an entire civilization. The reality is that this simplistic vision weighed more complex by everything around it makes this an apt companion piece for “Battlestar” though it takes a bit more insight.

Human Target Christopher Chance is like the Indiana Jones for the 80s sect. While not as purely intellectual as someone like Henry Jones Jr., he does have his uses though the standards become a bit brutish. The good angle is that with exec producer McG behind the wheel, it has a good feeling of maintaining a certain throughline. This is based on the fact that if it was just Mark Valley, formerly of “Fringe”, the series would not have legs. it is the inclusion of Chi McBride (late of “Pushing Daisies”) and the irrepressable Jackie Early that gives this team a bit of the lopsided “A-Team” vibe though a bit more dysfunctional. Some of the interactions specifically between Valley and a female FBI agent that he keeps screwing over have a nice cadence to them while other stories (like that of a washed up wrestler) seem quickly pushed together. The great element is that CG makes it possible to show global hopping without actually doing it. McG understands production value and the necessity of the audience’s beliefs of where they are. So far the show has done a good job of maintaining the status quo.

Justified After the show (initially called “Lawman”) had to give up that title to a recently defunct show, the odds seemed a bit stacked against it in specific order. However, the pedigree of Elmore Leonard would seem to play to that end. While Timothy Olymphant’s Raylan is bad in most essences, the one thing that seems to be missing at times from this series is Leonard’s trademark ice wit. While traces of it remain, one hopes the ante is increased in specific order. Certain angles like a judge with a penchant for back alley fun behind the cowboy saloon show that this structuree is not completely lost. Graham Yost, who wrote “Speed”, keeps the show on track but the velocity though workable needs to settle in gear and speed up.

Legend Of The Seeker The texture of this series unlike its similar younger sister is more in the frameset of “Xena”. Using the same structure and the backdrop, it is effective for sword and scorcery but for the overall tangent of the love story and the quest, the problem becomes one of two much verbage and not enough substance. The constant element of the “Mother Confessor” and certain other slang simply does not bely the actual narrative. When the series gets into the simple dark drama, it does alright but like the ill-fated “Flash Gordon” series, the problem becomes emotional connectability which beyond certain moment with Kara, the would-be Xena clone, the drive of the series does not overconnect. Also with the open arena of pay cable moving into this genre with both HBO and Starz working the series, the saturation is encroaching. Spartacus: Blood & Sand” by Renaissance, the same production company and producer in Rob Tappert and Sam Raimi understand the marketplace which makes it all the more interesting since ABC Studios (the same one behind “Lost”) didn’t put it on an ABC affiliate but rather syndicated it.

Modern Family The key is making a mockumentary based reverse-comedy sitcom is the saturation of the market. The Office did it first understanding the necessity of slapstick and true drama but had at times a lack of connection. “Parks & Recreation” is set in a surreal world but has begun to find its connections but still within a singles ravaged environment. What “Modern Family” has, despite some pacing issues, is a different approach in regards to family. What is interesting to note is that when played against this different backdrop, the stakes are obviously higher and a little bit more almost somber despite their obvious jabs at humor. Whether it is the father being lured to adultery by a former girlfriend or a mother trying to show off her children to a former female competitor to a remarried older man trying to find a balance between his overweight Latino stepson and his gay life-partnered son, the drama that unfolds is real and persistent which gives it a basis. While not difficult to watch, the idea is that it plays so close to the bone that the approach might be too much for some viewers.

Outlaws, Espionage & The Battle For Story: The FX TCA Summer 2009 Press Tour – Feature

In comparison to Fox proper, FX has always been about darker elements and pushing what is available on basic cable. This has not been more prevalent lately than in the criminal family drama “Sons Of Anarchy”. With new elements in the way in terms of animation (“Archer”) and a new drama: “Lawman” from “Speed” writer Graham Yost, the expansion of the interesting continues.

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Archer This new animated series, with a bit of the flash structuring in its edgy demeanor, comes from the mind of Adam Reed who was the madman behind “Frisky Dingo” and “Sealab 2021” on Cartoon Network, In translating to FX, the key becomes sizing and viciously attacking the demo making them see things your way. The concept of the series is based in espionage in the style of “Mission Impossible” and “Man From U.N.C.L.E” but with a bit of heinous characterization. Archer, played by H. Jon Benjamin (who has also done voices forr “Assy McGee” and “The Venture Brothers”, both on Cartoon Network), is a hero who has mommy issues. He is sent back to the office and now has to deal with his ex, Lana, an oversexed and seemingly vindictive co-worker played by The Boondocks’ Aisha Tyler. Hijinks ensue.

Reed says he likes taking familiar genres and subverting them as much as possible. You build on the backdrop and then skew it as badly or horribly as you can. The most important relationship in the series for him is between Archer and his mom. It undermines everything. FX seemed like a good fit for it and Reed thought so after seeing “Its Always Funny In Philadelphia” which is one of his favorite shows. He says that the spying is hard to animate so they just don’t do it a lot of the time. In terms of his background, he never went to school for this. Cartoon Network was his training ground and, in his own admission, animation cuts you a lot of slack.

People can do very bad things but you have to have your characters doing even worse. It has to be completely divorced from reality. Reed also hints that Ron Perlman who is on the TCA FX Press Tour with “Sons Of Anarchy”as well talked to him at the party for Fox the night before about playing a villain on the show. Reed seems to love that.

Aisha Tyler reflects that Lana was drawn before she came to the project…but the girl was stacked, and she seemed to like it. Tyler says there has been a lot of cackling in the booth. The aspect of doing these type of animation projects is that you can say and pursue angles of dialogue that you could never get away with in live action. Beyond that though, she says that there is a beauty to the animation in “Archer” much like “The Boondocks” but in a different way.

The key is the balance between the subversive, the comedy and the through progression on the series. While this style might have worked on Adult Swim, transitioning it into a larger world and staying there requires planning and effectiveness. Time will tell. The show does not have a premiere date yet but will likely be sometime in the fall.

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Sons Of Anarchy This show came out of nowhere last year. I had rounded up a lot of episodes and, on a plane trip back from overseas, watched a lot of them back to back. Seeing the progression within, there is intense visceral nature to the show. It blends at kind of grounded darkness with elements of classical-based character dramas, most similarly to “The Godfather”. This is a show undeniably about family beyond anything else. Love is a hard thing and these these people beat it to death while still still staying the course: protect the club (in this case Sam Crow) at all costs.

Creator Kurt Sutter who is married to series co-star Katey Sagal, doesn’t pull his punches. The darkness that she has to confront in the premiere of the second season alone apparently changes a lot of things. Kurt wants to believe that the way he pushes the envelope is never gratuitous but instead grittingly real and engaging. The premiere he says creates an emotional engine for Sagal’s Jemma and creates the season’s overarching progression. Sending Jemma on a spiritual path is a tricky and ultimately a personal progression. The importance of family is paramount but, at times, you have to take creative liberties to make it work. Emotions dont happen in a vacuum and with these kind of characters. The kickback, as a result, is unbelievable.

Charlie Hunnam, who plays Jax, creates an organic and ultimately brilliant characterization of a young man caught between two worlds. The way he is able to play both viciousness, conscience, violence and love, all within a certain time is phenomenal. But this is only possible because of the cast around him. After the panel I talked one-on-one with Ron Perlman for nearly 15 minutes. He and Charlie are good friends off set and he sees something so soulful, good natured and brilliant in this kid that it is very hard when they really have to go at it which he says is even more hard edged this season. This world for Ron is uncomfortable to play and that is the challenge of it. The physicality of the this man Clay he plays, the emotional structure, the notion of leadership…all these figure into it. It is another in a string of wonderful career moves for Perlman following such iconic roles in “Hellboy” and “City Of Lost Children”. He says his fortune is blind luck and when Kurt came to him on this role, there was just a power to it. He also says that the premiere episode changes the relationship among many, especially with Jemma, his wife, played by Sagal, For him he said it is quite a ride, scary but fulfilling.

Charlie says that evolving Jax is the structure of the setting that the character finds himself in. He has spent times with guys who live that  style and you learn. He says that his best friend went to Sturgis in North Dakota which is one of the biggest bikers rallies in the nation and that the show is embraced by many in the biker community. In terms of the throughline, Jax is steadfast as he has been all along. His allegiance lies with the club and his future lies within the club, whatever form it may take.

The women on the show are very strong which is another aspect that very much elevates the show above others. Kurt says that there are multiple women in the writing room and that perspective is necessary, especially in such a testosterone fueled show. Maggie Siff, who plays Tara who is in love with Jax and ultimately is pulled into his life, knows how intense it can be. In mentioning a killing scene in a bedroom during the first season, she says that that was a severe edge they have to walk and sometimes cross.

Kurt told me later that they had to make adjustments to that scene to get it past the censors because after Jax kills Kohn who is the man stalking Tera, they make love but they (the writers and the production) had to make it so the bloody body of Kohn was half in the bathroom and not in the room with them. Kurt thought that this little fact, just because of the irony, was amusing

Katey says that while she and Tara still go to a head, there is more of an understanding between them in terms of love for Jax but the key is that Tara  understands one thing: always protect the club. Sagal also said the six weeks she had to exist in this new structure that her character undergoes was difficult since they have to go home to their kids (Kurt is her husband). The series is not for the faint of heart but its effectiveness speaks volumes.

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Show Runners Panel In an interesting amalgamation, FX brought together the bulk of their showrunners to discuss the status of the industry and their part within in. With the Leno debate of 10pm skewing a lot of scripted programming, basic cable is the last stand against a new order. With USA and FX taking the forefront along with AMC, the stand off is approaching, Graham Yost, whose new series “Lawman” starring Timothy Olyphant, premieres later in the fall, says that because they shot the pilot late, already 40 people in terms of writers had been put out by the NBC decision. He had had a previous series at that network which had been cancelled before the last shows aired, The episodes ended up doing OK and they thought about making more but the team had already dispersed. His philosophy is when you are doing good, think about the worst thing that you have done…and prepare for that. Kurt Sutter, who runs “Sons Of Anarchy”, again pulls no punches saying that NBC is “the one to hate right now”. He doesn’t know what is going to happen. However, in his perspective the move put a lot of people on leave which, in his opinion, “sucks”. 

Todd Kessler, who runs the Glenn Close-starrer “Damages”, says that a year from now we will have a very different conversation. It might not work out. The one thing he does cite about FX is that when they give you a 13 episode order, you get to make the 13 and not worry about ratings until after the fact. Some other networks, NBC among them, do not guarantee the full airing or even production at times. Kessler says that, by comparison, FX has been true to their word and stood by them,

Peter Tolan, who runs “Rescue Me” with Denis Leary, addresses the aspect of time shifting and DVR watching as a deterrent, pointing to the fact that a very small portion of the audience actually watches every episode of your show. He spotlights that NBC (which is now a center of discussion) was known for very elegant work. He cites “Hill Street Blues” as a prime example. He says now that there is not as much spirit as in evidence there. Personally, he doesn’t care when the audience is watching as long as they “are” watching. Tolan highlights that the business is cyclical and reality will come down. 

Shawn Ryan, who was the show runner on “The Shield” and recently took over NBC’s “Lie To Me” starring Tim Roth, speaks about the attention and hand holding at FX compared to other networks. He says that the notes are comparable to the writing on the episode. If something needs to be changed, it usually makes sense. It starts new with each show. This year he is new on “Lie To Me” and they are trying new stuff so Fox’s eyeballs are on them. His perception with the Leno 10pm quandry is the perspective of the value of a show after it has aired. He says that “Heroes” is a good example. Even though it is expensive, it has significant value overseas. When these shows work, they make a lot of money. He suggested we (the TV journalists) put NBC’s “feet to the fire” and take them to task. He says that the key is to do more development and make more successful shows. Originally in the list of important things when making a show, hiring a writer was 6th. Now with the success specifically of “CSI”, that is changing.

The future is coming. But, of course, that too, is a matter of perspective.