By JMartNWA 5 Comments
I’m not going to take a great deal of time to do this, because I know everybody’s (possessive) is valuable and you probably have better things to do. As my official website will be opening in the infancy of 2011, and it will be a 100% focused full television review, analysis, psychology, and study area, complete with a forum and other goodies… it was important for me to get these feelings and thoughts out there so those that care about my opinion would be prepared as the network and cable barrage kicks into high gear this week. There will be three categories: Can’t Miss, Potential for Greatness or Disaster, and Returning Gems. Without further ado, I raise the curtain. Enjoy! And let me know what you think.
One of the reasons to use a three tiered level of enthusiasm to describe the fall television season is clear when one does a bit of research and takes his or her own content analysis of the findings of that search. Three shows have separated themselves from the pack, two that begin in the next forty-eight hours, and the third still forty-three days away. Experts are calling this a weak year for new programming, and without question, there appears to be a significant figurative desertification taking place due to the drought of new ideas and the chopping down and wiping away of long standing sequoias such as Lost and 24, just as examples. The good news is, based on every indication, the three shows that make the coveted Platinum tier are not only worthy of their ranking, they would remain in the tier regardless of the competition. This trio is can’t miss, at least from pilot and first quarter indications. Without putting them in order, here are the three shows that your DVR’s simply must take note of… I realize that individuality makes it impossible to make a blanket generalization, but these three shows MUST be given chances. If they aren’t your bag, move on, but they deserve a serious shot. Here they are, in order of debut…
1. BOARDWALK EMPIRE – HBO – PREMIERE 9/19/10 – 9 PM ET:
The point of this preview is not to be a spoiler, but a simple guide to what could potentially jump out of the screen and grab you this fall. Anyone with HBO who watches that network with any frequency whatsoever knows a little bit about Boardwalk Empire. It’s hard to miss. One thing HBO does better than anybody (potentially with the exception of FX) is advertise the testicles off their original programming. The good news is, very rarely (if ever – wait, there is Hung, so there is an “ever”) is the bravado and self-promotion bearing false witness. The shows have been spectacular, for a long long time. From Dream On, Larry Sanders, and Arli$$ all the way through The Pacific and Treme, HBO knows what makes good television. While most critics would probably tell you that David Simon’s social, political, and urban Trojan horse is the greatest drama in television history, the ratings would tell you that it was David Chase’s masterpiece that still reigns supreme.
Ever since the infamous black screen (of death?) took us away from New Jersey for the final time and we waved goodbye to Tony, Paulie, and all the rest, HBO has been eagerly anticipating its next Sopranos. True Blood is awfully close, but without question, what holds it back is that very few critics find the show overly compelling, well-acted, or even professional at times. Entourage was and is a hit, but has been a shell of itself for quite some time. Other minor hits have emerged, and the Emmy crime still exists that overlooked Treme, which was easily one of the best shows on television this year. Enter Boardwalk Empire, with input from both Terence Winter (The Sopranos) and of course Marty (The guy behind The Departed, Goodfellas, and a thousand other classics, not going to put his last name in this parenthetical)… and the unlikeliest of leads, the uber talented and quintessential “weird guy.” Steve Buscemi… as “Nucky” Thompson. While Nucky wasn’t a gangster, he was basically as close as is humanly possible without the gabagool and the cement shoes.
The show begins as prohibition begins and centers on the true infancy of major American organized crime and widespread political corruption in Atlantic City, with one of the key quotes being “Prohibition is only a rumor in Atlantic City.” With talented cast members playing a young Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and others, Boardwalk Empire focuses more on the people and the drive to succeed at any cost that pushed these men from mere criminals to dangerous masterminds. The talk from virtually every review is the same… simply put, this is what HBO has been looking for since Chase’s epic concluded. The show is already being touted as the likely “Mad Men killer” that could unseat Weiner’s control on Best Drama at the Emmy’s for the past three years. Buscemi’s performance in particular is receiving rave press and is being called transcendent and award worthy. So to simplify all this, HBO + Incredible Cast + Unbelievable Staff (Scorsese, really?) + Budget and Time… why on Earth would anybody miss this?
2. LONE STAR – FOX – PREMIERE 9/20/10 – 9 PM ET
This write-up will be a bit shorter (wipe your collective brow in relief)… this is THE network standout of 2010. It may be flying a bit under the radar, but make no mistake about it, Fox is poised to turn this into their number one show if the audience supports it. It’s the first show in a while that fits into the category where Fox could actually have turned up the volume on it a bit and turned it into an FX show, but leaving it at the headquarters gives it a chance to be the most dominant new network drama since The Mentalist. Haven’t heard of it? If you watch the NFL on Fox at all, no way have you missed the ads… well, unless you own a DVR. In a nutshell, Lone Star tells the story of a con man, also an oil man, living a double life in Texas. James Wolk plays the protagonist (or is he the antagonist), Bob Allen, who desperately wants to end all the deceit and make a change in his life. He has a woman for each side of his story and a separate life with each.
While it sounds like a soap opera, adding in top level talent, including Jon Voight (not the one who Constanza bought the car from… but the one he THOUGHT he bought the car from) among others, this show looks to take a deeper and darker turn for more suspense, blackmail, and action as Allen is forced to make deals to keep secrets or preserve his long and short cons while trying to become a better man. Allen’s father taught him to be a world class grifter and he also sits at the head of a table that could bring him huge fortune… a lot is going on here. The fact is, the show is a bit of a wild card, but virtually everything you can find on the pilot or the first few episodes is extremely strong. Many times, pilots are introductions, but apparently this one cuts through a lot of that and goes right for the throat from home plate. It’s definitely one to keep an eye on…
3. THE WALKING DEAD – AMC – PREMIERE 10/31/10 – 10 PM ET
Anybody at all that knows me or reads my insufferably long Facebook or Twitter posts knows what a big time Robert Kirkman honk I am… and they have watched as I have pre-gushed over both this show and Boardwalk Empire for months. Please indulge me yet again as I attempt to woo you towards AMC on Halloween night for the beginning of a true revelation in television. Without hyperbole, The Walking Dead is one of the finest stories ever told in any medium. Kirkman, who also pens the outstanding “Invincible” among others for Image Comics, has been writing his zombie epic since 2003. Keep this fact in mind if that “Z” word turned you off at all. Yours truly… not a big zombie guy. I enjoy Max Brooks and an occasional zombie film, but in general it just has not been anything special. Here is another fact to remember… The Walking Dead… is not a zombie story. In relative terms, The Walking Dead is a zombie story about as much as Lost is a story about a plane crash. The zombies are not the stars, they are not the focus, they are simply the plot devices used to move the characters and enhance both the tension and the response.
The Walking Dead is about the human condition. It centers so much more on how these characters react to their new situation, what risks they take, what sanity they lose, what dignity they lose, what friendships and relationships they throw away, and studies just what people do when they have nothing at all to lose, nothing to provide hope, and everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) is a monster. “The Dead Do Not Watch” and “The Dead Do Not Track” are two of the promos for the comics over the years, and they truly mean everything. As the story evolves, the question goes from whether the characters are going to survive to who truly are the creatures to fear… and why. AMC is three for three… Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Rubicon are all tremendous achievements. But here is what matters… I predict it will be THIS show that sparks people going out of their way to find AMC. As phenomenal as those shows are, the audiences are anything but in raw numbers. With Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) directing The Walking Dead, with Kirkman’s full support and input on the story, this is the one folks. This show is the one that will become the next Buffy, the next Firefly, the next True Blood… but with a budget, incredible talent, and a network that will support it to the bitter end.
Anyone worried that it won’t make it, know that AMC after seeing just the ninety minute pilot, already renewed it for a full thirteen episode second season. I urge you not only to go out of your way to watch this soon to be classic, but to read Kirkman’s story. It is true perfection, even to this day it ranks as arguably the best comic on the rack, and as good a work of fiction as you could find anywhere on the planet. Six episodes comprise season 1, but with a ninety minute pilot… that’s enough to get people introduced and fully engulfed in post zombie attack Atlanta and the world of Rick Grimes, his family, and a wide variety of others.
One bonus would be FX’s Terriers… with Donal Logue and Michael Raymond James… but I have not been able to get a feel for it yet. Keep it on your radar.
So I hear you… “I thought you said this wouldn’t take much time… well here’s why. Those three deserved some ink, but the rest of this “monstrosity” will be more or less a couple of lists, maybe with a sentence or two here or there. Wasting no time…
POTENTIAL FOR GREATNESS OR DISASTER
1. THE EVENT – Touted by NBC as “Picks up where Lost left off”… this mystery, shadow global conspiracy show promises answers as early as Episode 2. The writers have said unequivocally that we will all know what “The Event” is during the second episode. Written and produced by former 24 staff, the show mixes 24 with Lost… the problem is, many shows have promised Lost and come out the worse for it. Some would say, LOST promised Lost and came out the worst for it. Many know it is this author’s favorite show of all time, and I’m truly excited for The Event, but the pilot reviews are, in two words, not good. Worth a watch Monday night to see what might be. It will either be an enormous success – - – or an utter dumpster fire. Flash Forward anyone? Hopefully not.
2. NO ORDINARY FAMILY – ABC’s live action version of “The Incredibles” mixed with The Office… shot in documentary format and starring Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz, it has promise. It also has the definite potential to be a total failure.
3. OUTSOURCED – Thursdays on NBC have been resurrected over the past few years thanks to Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, then later Amy Poehler and company and most recently the exceptional Community. While 3o Rock and the rest have all been good shows and critical darlings, the ratings have declined steadily for most of those programs. Here comes Outsourced, which unfortunately looks more like an experiment in cheap stereotype humor and not much else.
Truthfully, these are the only three that really jump out at me. While Hawaii Five-O has Daniel Dae Kim, Scott Caan, and Abrams bosom buddies Kurtzman and Orci on board writing… it just does not seem to be the kind of reboot that will work in 2010. Speaking of Abrams, Undercovers just does not look like a very good show. The leads seem to be competent, but the show appears to be a mix of Mr. and Mrs. Smith and a sort of Burn Notice-Alias hybrid. The problem is, I’d much rather watch any of those other three than a formulaic week to week program. Abrams and Whedon spoke at Comic Con about favoring movies at this point because networks do not want sweeping epics anymore and want shows they can syndicate or run in any order, so expect more and more procedurals. USA Network has told Matt Nix, creator of Burn Notice, that his show needs to be 80% standalone and 20% story. That means a lot of “Mystery of the Week” and just a bit of a congruent story arc. That’s a real shame, but it explains what would otherwise be unexplainable returns to form each year. The good thing for Nix (and also for Jeff Eastin of White Collar) is that his show is terrific, so it can succeed and thrive through the required muck from the suits.
RETURNING GEMS (Seriously – this is “pretty much” (Air quotes) a list)
1. FRINGE (If they could bounce a lot of the “Weekly Mystery” and focus on the larger story, it would be hard to beat. The back half of Season 2 was simply spellbinding television.)
2. CHUCK (Linda Hamilton and a slew of guest stars… also a complete change in focus and expected story means another great year for one of the most overlooked series of the past three decades.)
3. DEXTER (Other than Lithgow vs. MCH, Season 4 was not great, but its conclusion certainly provides a “game changer” for the future.)
3a. GLEE (Watched the first three, then dropped it from my rotation, never came back. It’s popularity deserves a spot on the list… it will again do extremely well and should please its huge fan base.)
4. THE BIG BANG THEORY (The most consistently funny show on television.)
5. MODERN FAMILY (One of the best comedies to arrive in many years.)
6. ARCHER (Do not overlook this show, absolutely hilarious.)
7. COMMUNITY (Getting into this show late, I’m about a third of the way through Season 1, great great stuff.)
8. THE MENTALIST (Simon Baker and company do a good job and the Red John storyline continues to provide solid drama.)
9. HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (A show that needs an end date and a focused year. It’s time to get around to the mother, the silly “off” episodes need to be placeholders once a month at most.)
10. 30 ROCK (May have already peaked, Season 4 showcased a decrease in quality.)
11. IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (Not really for me, goes a little “far” for my taste, but I understand the draw and like the cast.)
12. THE OFFICE (Please start finding the end – the show is losing Carell at the end of this year, which should make for some great Michael material, but with Jim and Pam’s story decided, how much is left?)
13. CRIMINAL MINDS (Still love this show, and Mantegna has performed well after the huge loss of Patinkin, but it seems the show has hit the spot where the level will probably not increase again… or decrease.)
14. MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE (Most of these are not in order — Season 1 was fantastic and had depth no one anticipated.)
15. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Not sure when the official return is slated, but a very strong Season 7 leads us to what should be another good run for Larry David.)
I guarantee I’m leaving something off here… as a matter of fact I did intentionally. I watch some other stuff that’s returning, but truthfully, it’s because I’m pot committed (for all you poker fiends) and want to watch these programs until their conclusion, but there’s no question they’ve fallen off…
Two of my favorite programs return in November and January… Burn Notice and White Collar. Leverage returns next year as well, another top program for me. Not sure when Covert Affairs returns, but Season 1 was awfully solid and I’m all in with that show. Mad Men at this point remains the best show on television. I have not yet been able to view even sixty seconds of Breaking Bad, but it’s next on my backlog, so I expect it to make an appearance sooner rather than later. Season 4 of Mad Men to me has been the best in series history, which is saying a lot. Last week’s episode may have been the highlight of the show’s three and a half year run. The acting on that show, the direction, the set design, costuming, pacing, dialogue… literally everything… is EXACTLY what virtually anyone who ever dreams of creating a television program should aspire to be. It’s so consistently good at this point that boob tube textbooks should be written on it.
While Lost remains my number one, and I’m currently in process of getting through The Wire (which may be number two)… Mad Men will be in the top two or three for eternity. Those that have missed Rubicon, you owe it to yourself to check it out if you have On Demand or anything else. Do not be caught off guard by the pacing, as it is intentionally reminiscent of a snail. It is also fantastic, on every level.
One final note… I left off Damages, but only because I’m not sure exactly when it will be back and unfortunately, if you don’t own DirecTV, you can’t watch it anymore. FX yanked it but DTV picked it up for their Channel 101. My homeowner’s association does not allow a dish, so I will be watching via download or DVD. That pains me greatly, as I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy that show. Also for FX, Justified will pick back up early in 2011, and I can’t wait. Season 1 was brilliant, especially the back half. Friday Night Lights is also of course one to watch, but I personally haven’t gotten to it yet, so I leave it off… I’m looking forward to it though.
Next year, late spring or early summer, be on the lookout for both Game of Thrones and Luck from HBO. Expect the latter to end up with many many awards.
Alright, so I lied. But know that my intent was for this to be rather brief. I am one wordy son of a gun. Maybe journalism school is going to help me with that. Hope you guys got something out of this. Have a large one peeps.