Another year, another crop of new shows from the USA, all competing for the hearts and mind of an ever-fracturing audience. As social media, and time-shifting (recording and then watching a show later) continue to change the way we consume new media of any kind, these up-and-coming TV programs need that extra special something to get people to watch.
In lots of ways, that’s probably always been the case but more than ever, a show needs to make a compelling case to be watched and build on that. Gone are the days when you could casually idle into your first few episodes. These days you need to grab people quickly and make it abundantly clear you’re not all premise and no execution, an affliction that befell shows like Alcatraz last season that promised much, but delivered far less than the premise suggested.
I am excited about the five following shows (and another five I will review soon) because they come with insanely exciting premises which look to have the ability to become something far greater as time goes on, if properly handled.
THE SHOW: Another post-apocalyptic show (without zombies for those of you who frighten easily … and yes that includes me!) explained best by the lovely folks at NBC Publicity (NBC is the US station that will air the show):
Our entire way of life depends on electricity. So what would happen if it just stopped working? Well, one day, like a switch turned off, the world is suddenly thrust back into the dark ages. Planes fall from the sky, hospitals shut down, and communication is impossible. And without any modern technology, who can tell us why? Now, 15 years later, life is back to what it once was long before the industrial revolution: families living in quiet cul-de-sacs, and when the sun goes down lanterns and candles are lit. Life is slower and sweeter. Or is it? On the fringes of small farming communities, danger lurks. And a young woman’s life is dramatically changed when a local militia arrives and kills her father, who mysteriously – and unbeknownst to her – had something to do with the blackout. This brutal encounter sets her and two unlikely companions off on a daring coming-of-age journey to find answers about the past in the hopes of reclaiming the future.
MY TAKE: It’s an intriguing idea; one of those “what ifs” that you are content to ponder from the comfort of your lounge room but wouldn’t particularly want to live through (much like The Walking Dead or Falling Skies).
And it’s from J. J. Abrams which ups the must-watch factor still further. As does the cinematically-lush officer trailer courtesy of movie director, Jon Favreau. It all adds up to a compelling package that almost guarantees I will be watching the first episode with interest, and lot of popcorn …
My only concern is (a) Alcatraz which was also intriguing and had a gorgeous trailer and proved that not everything Mr Abrams touches turns to gold, and (b) so many post-apocalytic shows that promise so much and don’t deliver.
Why do they fail? Or at least don’t add to their early promise? Largely because they don’t treat the world they create as a dangerous world where the old rules of civilisation don’t apply. These shows often aren’t muscular enough; they’re like apocalypse-lite where danger might lurk around every corner but only turns up when its convenient (Falling Skies, much as I love it, falls into this trap from time to time.). Shows like The Walking Dead get this with cast members regularly bumped off to serve the greater good of the story. Yes we mourn them but their deaths make sense since the old certainties of the old order are long gone, and life simply isn’t safe anymore.
They also fear looking too dark and try to lighten things up with sentimental moments or moments of bonding between the characters. That’s fine as far as it goes. You would hope that all humanity wouldn’t disappear the moment the civilising effects on government are vaporised by bombs, eaten by zombies or bombed to bits by aliens so having those reminders gives you hope for the future. But too many and you get bogged down in so many saccharine moments that you feel like you’re being swallowed up by a vat of overly potent molasses.
Still those concerns aside, this looks enormously promising and so for now, I shall err on the side of incautious optimism and give it a big tick of anticipatory approval.
The video below features Eric Kripke, the show’s creator, talking about how he came up with the idea for Revolution, and what he has planned for the series including important story arcs he has in mind.
UPDATE: 9 August 2012
Here’s a 6 minute extended preview of Revolutions released today by NBC.
THE MINDY PROJECT
Now a complete change of pace to a comedy about a bright dedicated young professional woman in New York, Mindy Lahiri (The Office‘s Mindy Kaling) who can’t find love, keeps finding men who are no good for her, and is desperate to become a “better person”, even though she has no idea how to do that.
A dedicated OB/GYN at a practice she shares with, among others, a Hugh Grant-like English Lothario, Jeremy Reed (British comedian, Ben Weeks) who she knows she shouldn’t be sleeping with but does anyway, and a super zealous, hyper-critical Danny Castellano (Damages‘ Chris Messina) who is a constant thorn in her side but secretly admires and likes her. The cast of zany work colleagues is round out by the devoted-as-a-puppy to Mindy, enthusiastic receptionist Betsy Putch (Huge‘s Zoe Jarman) and the super-hip, cold-as-ice Shauna Dicanio (Dana Lorenzo) who may like Mindy that much but carries a barely concealed torch for outspoken Danny.
Naturally she has a best friend, Gwen Grandy (The Good Wife‘s Anna Cramp) who is a reformed party girl and tells it like it is to her bestie, and without whom she would be lost. Well she is still lost much of the time but at least Gwen is there, always lending her considerable support.
MY TAKE: This looks seriously funny.
Granted it contains a great many romantic comedy constants – the super capable at work, klutzy at home and in love professional woman, the devoted slightly goofy best friend, the colleague who likes her secretly but would never admit it in a million years, the sweet, earnest young receptionist, the bitchy kill you with a single stare receptionist and the bad boy the protagonist can’t resist.
Yes it is a show replete with every trope, meme and cliche you can imagine but, and yes I only have the trailer to go on, it looks like they have assembled it into one highly original hilarious package. A lot of that pulling power has to do with Mindy Kaling, who has shown on The Office, and in her New York Times best-selling book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns), that she is an enormously talented woman with the comedic acting chops to make this work … hell not just work, but fly.
I am predicting it will be this season’s New Girl and do every bit as well.
Just get it a new title please? The current one sounds like a working title that someone forget to peel off and replace with the real permanent one.
Another comedy in a year where 29 comedies, a record number I’m sure, are competing for the right to keep tickling your funny bone far beyond the pilot season. But Go On looks like one of the stronger contenders out there.
Centring on Ryan King (Friends‘ Matthew Perry), a radio sportscaster who recently lost his wife in a car accident while she was texting, it takes a long hard, and humorous look at the nature of grief and how people manage their way out, assuming they choose to.
And Ryan doesn’t really want to. He heads back to work a month after his loss, his usual cocky self until a meltdown on the radio convinces his boss, but not of course, Ryan that he needs counselling. Lumbered with this obligation, Ryan’s initial reaction is to get through it as quickly as possible, not engage and exit stage left, never to return.
Of course once he gets to this group, his flawed intentions are thrown to the wind as he finds himself first humorously engaging with everyone – by getting them to play a game of “Who has the best sob story?” – and then much to his surprise, actually getting his fellow therapy patients.
The show is produced by Emmy-winning writer and executive producer Scott Silveri (Friends) and includes a stellar cast which includes Tony winner Laura Benanti (The Playboy Club), Julie White (Transformers), Suzy Nakamura (Dodgeball), Khary Payton (General Hospital) and Allison Miller (Terra Nova).
MY TAKE: If they write this well, it has all the hallmarks of being in the same comedic vein as Community. While the jury’s still out on what effect Dan Harmon’s departure will have on that much-loved off-the-wall comedy, I have a feeling that Go On could well be a worthy companion in the quirky comedy hall of fame. Matthew Perry has a natural gift for delivering oddball lines in a pitch perfect way and not coming off looking like an idiot, but rather likeable and goofy.
His other gift is that he can manage darker emotions too with aplomb and there’s a good chance this show will have more than a few emotionally-dense moments. I doubt they will overrule the comedic vibe but the trailer hints at a recognition by the writers that all comedy all the time will seriously devalue the heart of the show. It’s encouraging that they get that because if there’s too much comedy, and not enough insight into the lives of the characters, you feel like you’re watching a circus with overly flippant clowns, and not real people masking their harrowing battle with grief with humour and deflection.
This has all the makings of a classic balance between light and dark, happy and sad, with enough goofball-ishness to lift it above the cut and thrust of ordinary uninspired sitcoms.
THE NEW NORMAL
In a sign that their finger is very much on the pulse of the cultural zeitgeist, the creators of The New Normal, Glee‘s Ryan Murphy and Glee writer Ali Adler, both openly gay, have also drawn on their own experience in starting a family (or in Murphy’s case, wanting to) to pen this new promising sitcom.
It revolves around a professional couple, Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) who, in common with many other couples around them, to start a family. Naturally to do this they will need a surrogate which is where the bright, sweet and decidedly gay friendly, Goldie (Georgia King) steps in. She figures the $35,000 would allow her to go to law school and give her preternaturally gifted daughter, Shania (Bebe Woods) the sort of life she deserves, and besides as far as she is concerned, “love is love and family is family”.
This is not a view shared by her homophobic gun-totin’ mother who is feisty, opinionated, and happy to take on all comers. She is more than matched in the sassy stakes though by Bryan’s assistant, Rocky (Nene Leakes), a Glee alum whose sharp-tongued takes on life are comic gold.
MY TAKE: It was little harder to get a feel for the show since the trailer features a snippet of the show itself rather a montage of images from across the show, but what I saw was pleasing. The two gay characters aren’t poorly sketched, jumbled together collections of cliches, and while they remind me more than a little of Cameron and Mitchell from Modern Family, that’s not an indictment so much as a reassurance because those two characters aren’t cardboard cutout gay men either.
What’s heartening and marks a profound shift since even the days of Will and Grace is that gay characters are being treated as no different to any other character. I still remember the days when gay people were seen as oddities or curiosities in TV shows somehow removed from the concerns of ordinary everyday straight folk. But now their relationships, their hopes and dreams are given equal standing with all the other characters; they are, quite rightfully, not seen as being any different to anyone else.
And that’s why I think this show, apart from being funny with some engaging characters (well as much as you can tell from a brief trailer anyway), will resonate with people everywhere. It speaks of the common human need to love, be loved and build a family, and that is something that anyone, gay or straight, can relate to.
And hopefully laugh themselves silly at too …
666 PARK AVE
The name alone says it all – 666 Park Ave is hardily the name you give to a show about a kindly couple who look after stray cats and take in the poor and destitute for nothing.
No, you give that sort of devilish name to a show about a mysterious couple, all smiles on the surface, but all trickery and lies underneath. Lost‘s Terry O’Quinn and Ugly Betty‘s Vanessa Williams are powerhouses of the small screen, and sizzle as a couple who own a beautiful ornate apartment building that harbours some very dark, very evil secrets. But to the eager couple who come looking for a job as the building’s managers, Brothers and Sisters‘ Dave Annable and Australia’s very own Rachael Taylor, the devious owners merely represent a chance at a life they could never afford on their own.
But as the trailer quickly makes clear, at what cost? You see a number of people, who presumably made deals with the devil paying for the charmed lives they lead, and it isn’t pretty. There are 80 people in the building so it stands to reason there will be plenty of story lines in a show that promises chills, thrills and payment for your sins.
MY TAKE: If ever a show had brooding menace writ large across it, it is this one. Both Terry O’Quinn and Vanessa Williams bring the requisite gravitas to their roles, managing to be both all smiles and icily cruel sometimes in the same sentence.
And Dave Annable and Rachael Taylor are perfectly cast as the wide-eyed excited young couple who can’t quite believe their luck. Of course as the trailer hints, Rachael, after an odd discovery in the basement, begins to wonder if there is more to the building than the owners are letting on, but by and large they embrace this opportunity to make something more of their lives, blissfully unaware it comes at a high price.
What intrigues me is how they will make use of this premise. With such a large number of people living in the building, all of whom seem to be aware of the cost involved in being there, it is going to be a challenge to canvas these stories and do the necessary slow reveal of the building’s insidious secrets that such a show demands. They will of course need to avoid The Curse of Lost, which is endless build up, a multitude of questions but a paucity of answers. Or when the answers are given, they’re deeply unsatisfying.
I am hopeful they can. This looks to be a show rich with malevolent possibility and the chance to tell a slew of smaller stories wrapped around the central story of a young couple who of course will discover you don’t get something for nothing.
So which show/s have you excited and already programming your PVR?