Natural Legacy & Prevalent Viewpoints: Returning Television – Fall 2011 – Part II

The nature of legacy shows resounds in their ability to highlight and enhance without losing what they were in earlier incarnations. “Two & A Half Men” has been the most prevalent viewpoint in the last year with the departure of Charlie Sheen and eventual replacement by Ashton Kutcher but approaching characters like Batman and the vastness of the Star Wars universe holds its perils as well.

Batman: Brave & The Bold Interacting with the lore and mythology of other characters within the guise of Batman allows the creators to show and gauge the interest of fans (or the writers themselves) of how interesting certain backstories run. Highlighting lesser known vintage characters like The Atom or exploring the essence of sequel prowess with Green Lantern’s handling of Star Sapphire shows the possibility of them  against those backdrops without having to worry about logic. However, something like traveling through time to save different incarnations of Batman so he can exist in the current timeline is straining belief but the creative team knows that this is a chance to go off the rails before the next series inevitably return to darkness.

The Clone Wars Making the mythology more vast and intrinsic without overcoming the basic nature of the universe it has a created is a daunting task especially when you are writing the backstories of several of the species in later films. What this show tends to do, in short order, with adequate results, is create a depth of structure where the features just laid the ground work. Two story progressions this season so far show this both with the “Water War” progression with the Gungans and the Mon Calamari which dictate certain emotional responses in terms of war structure. By contrast, the episodes with General Krell where he displays a lack of empathy and regard to the clones results in a mutiny of sorts that creates a microcosm of battle command in its simplest form wrestling the idea away from being purely Jedi=centric.

The Big Bang Theory The indiosyncrasies of the core bunch continue to grow but what Chuck Lorre has learned to do is spin moons within the planetary configuration of the core five specifically with Howard’s fiance and Amy, Sheldon’s would-be girlfriend. The show has always been about social inadequacy and how technology and simple awkwardness make the possibility of these people connecting even more so. By changing the dynamic, especially with Penny, the idea becomes more of a wingman persona with all these people moving out in different directions on their own while still remaining a core group with varying circumstances and results.

Two & A Half Men In resurrecting the show after the unfortunate inevitable departure of Charlie Sheen, one would have thought it would be disastrous without him. The way however the writers have maintained shows a distinct undeniable truth that the writing, if done in a very specific way without negating or denying Sheen’s influence and still having a snarky but not mean edge towards its former star, shows an effective overhaul. You realize how key the bumbling mannerisms of Jon Cryer truly anchor the show and magnifies the everyman quality of it. Ashton Kutcher’s character is not a Charlie Harper but takes on a more cool quality from creator Chuck Lorre’s other show “The Big Bang Theory” in that certain qualities can be good and bad. An especially good two episode arch involves Alan (Cryer) and his worst day as well as a psychotic break where he reverts and tries to emulate his brother. It is neat because it addresses the good and bad sides of Charlie Harper while showing empathy. It might not be the Charlie show anymore but it does show that it can survive with dignity and darkness without him.

Prevalent Riffing & Inner Focus: Returning Television – Fall 2011 – Part I

Animation and improvisation doesn’t always go hand-in-hand much like live action riffing but this first batch of returning shows highlights the ability to work both sides of the line. “South Park” is the most prevalent of these with the ability to turn headlines within the week though its dramatic subtlety is becoming more defined as time goes on while “Archer” while smaller in its amount of episodes is becoming more highly ironic. “Community” is moving into left field with some great elements of spontaneity but needs to find its inner focus while “Fringe” has purely reinvented itself while keeping everything that has made it an exceptional show.

Archer Coming back with an abridged mini-season in a three-episode arch entitled “Heart Of Archness”, our oft-maligned and inspid hero has vanished for a couple months after the death of his Russian fiance. We find him on an island screwing newly honeymooned women until Rip (played with Peppard accuracy by Patrick Warburton) comes at the request of his mother to take him back. Archer makes the seaplane crash and they are capture by pirates. Archer ends up killing alot of them on an ambush back to their fortress island and he becomes “Pirate King”. The progression of that is what we come to expect from Archer: ideas that might work in a feature film but perverted to a point as to make it totally ludicrous.

South Park The continuing intensity of off-shot humor especially where Cartman is concerned knows no bounds except when it takes a toll on his mental health. Whereas Kenny will always be the poor kid, Cartman is coming face to face with his own mortality on more than one occasion. While Kyle is dealing with a more homeward-bound problem, Cartman is having to deal with more deep seated personality issues. While this element of poverty, reliance issues and “Assburgers” are all done in jest, the intermittent darkness seeping through the cracks is making the show all the more dexterous in its ability to tackle pretty exceptional drama under the guise of comedy.

Fringe Perceiving the idea of life without Peter Bishop does alot to reset the stakes of what is possible in the universe, even parallel ones. In creating this new paradox, the series has done something undeniably clever: reset the clock in terms of mythology as well as romantic and dramatic tension. The alternate universe creation might be resolved but the problems within the personal structure in terms of Walter and Olivia are not because they don’t understand or embrace what Peter is. Meanwhile new alliances are formed and Fringe level events still go on without the worry of disbelief. Peter Bishop is the man out of sync with the world and yet he is the only one who knows what is going on. Succinct storytelling is exampled but with an innate sense of keeping the audience on edge.

 

Community The team seems to innately run more in the stratosphere but not with the same creativity they have showed in the past couple years though the moments of levity still come quick and unabated. It is almost as if they know how far they can go so the line isn’t as much of a taboo thing anymore. Consequently the stories tend to lean more towards morality tales which the participants perceive as “dark” though the climactic paintball episode last year stretched the limits. The series has undeniably set characters now that the audience can run with but without a structured base of where they need to go, their lives may or may not be complete.

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.

Finality, Character & Texture: The ABC Winter 2010 TCA Press Tour – Feature

ABC has show an ability for a specific cross-section of shows that push the envelope. While some like “Pushing Daisies” and “Better Off Ted” sometimes start to fall along the wayside, other successes like “Castle”, “Cougar Town” and “Modern Family” show that by angling the formula to a not-set portrayal, one can reap great awards. However with “Flash Forward” not performing as high as thought, the behemoth of “Lost” accelerates into its final season.

Lost The influx of many of the cast members for the final season were met with a thundering round of applause for this show who, in many ways, captured the zeitgeist the way few other shows in the past couple years have been able to do.

Emile de Ravin, who plays the returning Claire who had been missing since we saw her in Jacob’s hut a few seasons back, mentioned that they have seven more episodes to film in Hawaii. Her fondest moments have been when the whole cast has been together because of its family connotations though when she read the pilot back in the beginning, it took 3 times before it made any sense.

Evangeline Lilly, who was picked out of obscurity to play Kate, admits that as she was coming out for these final interviews, she knew she was going to “cry like a baby when it ends”. One of the aspects people don’t know is how hard filming the show can be. For her, the most lingering moments that stay in her mind come from the first season especially in the scenes when Claire gave birth and Boone died. That specific episode for her “culminated everything we were talking about”. The most intrinsic point for her was trying to find Kate as a character. Also being on Hawaii shooting can be a double-edged sword (in her estimation). She says “living in paradise is a little bit of a prison” because “when we’re on the island, we are on the island” but there is “an innate sense of freedom now that we are anticipating the end”.

Daniel Dae Kim, whose character Jin, morphed from a non-English speaking character to utterly subtle feats of discourse, says that the moment for him that defined the show was when they were launching the raft in the first season because that provided a culmination of thought. Now with the 6th season, the narrative style is again changing somewhat which distinctly makes it all the more challenging.

Josh Holloway, who created one of the most nuanced con-men in TV history, with the nickname-spewing Sawyer, says the whole experience has been incredible but there has been something about this last year. He admits a certain propensity for group scenes. He says they take two or three days to film but if you position yourself right, that is key, and admits he has gotten very good at that. For him, the premiere this year felt big like a finale which points for an interesting end to come. He thinks back to when he read the original pilot. His first impression was that Sawyer “was an asshole” and that he, as an actor” had “to figure out how to stay alive” because “unless [Sawyer] became something different, he might die soon”. He parallels the aspect of Kate explaining “as Evy says, to play a character within a place, you have to explore new character perspectives”. Josh’s observation of this man becomes that “Sawyer has been walking the fine line of humanity but retaining his edge”. This comes on the aspect of the writers putting him through every possible situation, both emotionally and physically. The scariest thing of all was “the whole Juliet thing”. He thought the audience might reject those two characters getting together because it was “discovering his humanity while being salty”. He admits that many of the greatest points of his life happened during the show: “validation as an actor, marrying, having a baby, my first home”.

Michael Emerson, who emerged in later seasons as a major character in Benjamin Linus, says that, with a show like “Lost”, it is better to be in the dark adding that “it is nice not to be burdened with the secret” because “that seems to get in the way”. In terms of the moments he remembers most, he jokes “that I have alot of fond memories of breathless confrontations in small rooms”. He says the Whidmore Bedroom and Jacob scenes are “scary and I love them”. He also mentions a scene when he and Sawyer are on a cliff and trading Steinbeck quotes all the while with Ben saying “I have a rabbit in my backpack”. In terms of the ending of season five, he thought it to be a master move adding “that it was a two-part cliffhanger but sufficiently mind-bending”. He ultimately sees Ben “as a character that reacts in a calculated way but once in while acts in a childishly impulsive way”.

Terry O’Quinn, who undertakes the enigma of Locke, says that he found out that he wasn’t real Locke during last season about a month before the episode aired, indicating that he was completely unaware to the fact for most of last season. For him, there is no true special moment in the series though he remembers when they were hanging out between a break in filming listening to Naveen Andrews playing guitar under the famous Banyan tree. He also reflects back to the pilot with JJ telling him that at first in the beginning with Locke there wouldn’t be alot but later on there would be.

Damon Lindelof, who along with fellow executive producer Carlton Cuse, have become the think tank of “Lost” after the departure of co-creator JJ Abrams, says that the idea of ending with the 6th season is “doing it while we still care” calling “Lost” “a once-in-a-career experience”. ABC allowing them to end the series on these specific terms is what Damon terms “a tremendous gift”. He echoes Evangeline in that they can’t believe it is coming to an end. In terms of what they tell the actors in terms of the story, he jokes that “quite honestly, we don’t speak to them at all”. He uses the example that if they told Terry O’Quinn (who plays Locke) that he was actually playing a guy from 1000 years ago, it would completely alter the approach. For Lindelof, the most memorable points in the show are the bridging aspects in creating these connections. For the following seasons, they usually start writing in the summer time but the inherent challenge always was walking the bridge, even when time travel came into play. In terms of the finale, he says with a wry smile: “Get ready to scratch your heads America”.

Lindelof says the major shift since the show started is informational because of the minutae that the fans follow vigorously. The biggest obstacle is to “guarantee a shitty ending” to “Lost”. For him, “the worst ending we could provide is a safe ending” but “you can’t take a risk just to take a risk” because ultimately in respect they “have no excuse to say anything other than ‘this is the way we wanted it to end'”. He admits that there is hope on their parts to wow the audience with the finite possibilities of the finale because “it wouldn’t be ‘Lost’ if it wasn’t an ongoing or active debate”. In terms of story for the final season, “there is an inherent process that when ending something, you always think about the beginning. He reflects on an earlier comment by Josh about the essence of new character perspectives because “you want to show the audience the before of where the characters were then”. He says he does reflect on what the legacy of the show will be but realizes that in the weeks after the series finale airs, the only thing people will be thinking about is just that episode. He makes a comparison to “The Sopranos” because people remember absolutely everything about the diner scene and the fade to black. The end always moves in mysterious ways.

Carlton Cuse, who runs the show with Damon, says that “we came up with the final image of the show in the first season but we started to add elements to that as we went along towards the end point”. The character stuff, he adds, works itself out as you go along but that the process of ending the show was fun because, as in many seasons before, the actors didn’t know where it was going beyond the next given script. The network has not pressured them for a spin-off but definitely says that “we are ending this story”. As far as the moment he remembers most, it involved Jack swimming out with the dog to save the drowning girl. In terms of the new season, the premiere picks up exactly where the finale last season left off. He agrees that they have been very circumspect about what actually might be going on in the 6th season. Jack and Farraday, he says, believe that the bomb going off might reset everything. He warns that not every question will be answered because they still want to maintain a fundamental sense of mystery.

Executive Briefing: Stephen McPherson The enigmatic and charming head of ABC entertainment actually made a point of introducing the “Lost” cast stating that many of the crew and some of the cast were still in Hawaii shooting but that “we look forward to finishing the journey”.

He recollects that when they were shooting the pilot for “Lost”, “with Evangeline, it came down to 24 hours before” when they barely got her work visa cleared from Canada. He credits Abrams and Lindelof for having a plan and a mythology in what “arguably will be one of the most influential shows of the decade”. He compares the season premiere “to nothing different than a gigantic movie” adding that “they put all they spend on the screen”.

In terms of ABC’s fall, McPherson announced the picks up of “Cougar Town”, “Modern Family” and “The Middle” for next season. No decisions, he says, have been made yet on “Hank” or “Better Off Ted” while “Castle” is their highest performing repeat show saying that, with the Alyssa Milano episode, the show “has met its stride” adding that he “hears so much anecdotally about that show”. To that point, he says that many “shows are alchemy to some extent”. With “Modern Family”, the pitch was simply “a big family”.

In terms of two new and expensive shows finding their footing, McPherson says, first off, with “V”, they always intended it to be in chapters but that production issues came into play. With “Flash Forward”, he said, it was a bit different because the repeat viewers didn’t seem to be coming back. The show’s reaction has to be supportive of its production. That is why they did a big push about bring “Flash Forward” back while making “V” more independent of that conversation. He sees a similar possibility in the upcoming “Happy Town” because it is also “serialized and event” but “honestly it all comes down to how it performs in the end” adding that they don’t have a set premiere date as of yet.

In terms of the response on the ongoing NBC difficulties, he says that “seeing a great network tumble is not something we revel in” because “it is disconcerting to see that happening in the industry”. That said, McPherson states that they are actually up 8% in their 10pm slots because the inherent situation has put “an emphasis on creative shows” adding that “we are very happy with the way things have gone down.”

The Deep End One of the few new shows that ABC is bringing forth is this lawyer drama which uses the rookie perception to show this cutthroat world in a new era.

Exec Producer David Hemingson, whose experience in the legal world provided the basis for the series, calls it “a confluence of circumstances” since “the show mirrors the beginning of my career. Billy Zane, as the venemous Cliff Huddle, calls his character “a shark” with a personality “always moving…always calculating”. He sees Cliff as operating on his own code because even though he and his wife are very passionate, he can’t keep his hands off of everybody else so he is interested how they handle his infidelity.

Clancy Brown, an actor best known for his genre turns in “Highlander” and “Starship Troopers” and recently mentioned as a front runner for the movie adaptation of “Lobo”, sees the story as a reflection of present day mediaries in that “you just look at the headlines and see the struggles between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law”. Matt Long, embodying series lead Dylan Hewitt who must deal with attacks on all sides, used lawyers in his family as reference but understood the key to the character is “to add to the situation but not add to what the hell is going on” but “it also helps to know what you’re [actually] saying.