Thursday, 28 October 2010

"Big Love" Announces Final Season; Cat Angrily Shakes Fist in Air

According to EW, HBO announced today that the upcoming season of Big Love will be its last. This sucks for me mainly because it has, for about three years now, been one of my top five favorite TV shows currently on air. I think the character development has always been great, the troupe of very talented actors do interesting and subtle things with their respective characters, and the fact that the showrunners could take such an out-there concept like polygamy in the suburbs and turn it into something more compelling than creepy gives this show a fascination quality that a lot of shows (even HBO shows) don't have.

Let me get real with you for a second, though: I am aware that season four was a little rocky. During its run, I defended the sheer madness of Bill running for public office as something that egomaniac Bill would do. I also sucked it up and suffered through the creepy foray into the Mexican polygamist compound. Even the crazy Weekend at Bernie's-style high-jinks with Roman's dead body was painful, but moderately endurable on its own. When taken as a whole, though, I will admit that season four may have jumped the shark a little bit. That said, the show never lost me, and I still love the characters. Chloe Sevigny, in particular, distinguished herself over the last couple of seasons with some seriously great acting. I'm very sad to see this show bow out after five seasons, even though it's probably the best thing for the show creatively.

Its cancellation is hitting me in a sore spot, as this last May marked the end of one of my other favorites LOST, and next spring will signal the end of my favorite show on TV bar none Friday Night Lights. Dude, three out of five favorites leaving with no legitimate contenders for a new favorite on the horizon? That totally sucks! My other two favorites, Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, are brilliant comedies, but I need a drama to anchor my TV schedule in something serious. The only one I can think of is NBC's Parenthood, but it's still no Friday Night Lights. What's a gal to do? I'll keep you updated on my search. In the meantime, at least we've got one more season each of both Big Love and FNL to enjoy!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Project Runway Parodies!

Here's a hilarious parody of Project Runway, as reenacted by little kids. I'm loving the Heidi kid's air kisses to the ousted designer, and the Michael Kors slam of that designer's piece!

While we're on the subject, I think Mondo's going to win this season. Although it seemed in the beginning that his designs were slightly erratic and ridiculous, he's settled a bit, and now I really like what he's doing. We'll see, though. Anything can happen at Fashion Week...

Monday, 18 October 2010

Hopefully Good News for Chuck!

Chuck, which has rapidly become one of my very favorite shows on TV right now, is apparently very close to getting a full season order! Season 4 had only been renewed by NBC for 13 episodes this season, which isn't too much of a surprise, given its struggle with ratings and near-cancellation every season since it debuted. It's exciting, therefore, to see one of the most fun and creative shows on network TV possibly getting a little love with a full, 22 episode order!

NBC has made some serious mistakes with their programming of late (has anyone forgotten about the Jay Leno 10/9c fiasco of 2009? Never forget.), but it should be commended for standing by some of its lower-rated, critically acclaimed fare. After all, the Peacock has kept Chuck, Friday Night Lights (my vote for the best show on TV), 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation on the air for multiple seasons, in spite of ratings struggles. Now that I really think about it, I probably shouldn't bash NBC too much. They're doing alright over there.

Fingers crossed for Chuck, y'all! We all need more Colonel John Casey in our lives!

UPDATE: Chuck got picked for a full season of not 22, but 24 episodes! Big points for the Peacock!

Friday, 15 October 2010

"Life Unexpected" is cool and deserves to be saved

That headline really says all I want to say here. Life Unexpected is a show that debuted mid-season last year with an excellent pilot, and has continued, despite a couple of rocky producer decisions, to be a lovable addition/addiction to my ever-tightening TV schedule. Well, since I like it and think it's got a lot of good things going for it, it's in ratings trouble. The cast have been working hard to try to get the word out about their show. They suggest telling one person about the show this week to try and increase viewership even a little bit. So, I hope you'll watch it if you don't. It's cool. In the meantime, check out their facebook campaign to spread the word.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Return of Paranormal State

Y'all may not know this about me, but one of my guiltiest of pleasures on TV is a ghost hunter-type reality show on A&E called Paranormal State. It follows a student-founded club from Penn State, the Paranormal Research Society, as they investigate claims of hauntings and other crazy, unexplained phenomena. It's fun and creepy in all the right places, and, take it from me, you don't have to believe it's all real to be scared, or at least thoroughly creeped out, from time to time. At the very least, it's interesting to see how this group of people deals with and understands spiritual manifestations. The group leader is a devout Catholic, and I enjoy watching to see how he responds as a Catholic to the cases the group investigates. As a Christian, I can't deny that there's a spirit world coexisting with our own, even if I know I can't fully comprehend it in my current state. I find it fascinating to see how the investigators on this show reconcile what they find with sometimes Christian notions of how the spirit world operates in conjunction with the one we can see. Anyway, the surprisingly addictive Paranormal State is returning with a new season on Sunday, and I thought it was at least worth a shout out.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Movie Stars Transitioning to TV

Entertainment Weekly, my personal entertainment news addiction site, came up with a wish list of movie stars that they'd like to see starring in a TV show next fall/winter/summer (cable does it all!). You have to admit, cable and premium networks having been pulling more than their own weight creatively in the last few years, and the move to TV is looking much less stigmatized than it did in the 90s. HBO seems to hire its own cavalcade of movie stars every season, with actors like Anna Paquin, Steve Buschemi, and Bill Paxton committing to star in multiple seasons on their respective shows.

I've said many times that I think TV is experiencing a bit of a creative golden age right now. There are many quality shows on cable right now that have been given a chance to thrive because they're not competing for one of the twenty-one coveted hours (it's really only eighteen hours because Saturday programming is still a joke) of primetime that any of the Big Four networks have available any given season. I love that the current TV climate allows shows like In Plain Sight to have already guaranteed fourth and fifth seasons after they've only wrapped three seasons. I also love that NBC could cancel a show as heart-stopping and gut-wrenching (in a good way) as Southland, only for TNT to come to its rescue in the eleventh hour. Suddenly being rejected by the Peacock isn't an automatic funeral for a good show. (Where were you when My So-Called Life and Once and Again needed you, cable?)

Since cable networks are now spending more money producing scripted original programming, the shows have shorter seasons, often running somewhere between eight and thirteen episode. While I'm a fan of TV seasons lasting as long as possible so I can enjoy them longer, I'd be silly not to admit that there are some wonderful advantages to shorter seasons. The best, in my opinion, is that because the shows are only in production for six months or so out of the year, the actors have time to pursue other projects for part of the year. They don't have to give up starring in movies or theatre altogether. They can play interesting roles on TV, playing characters that take several seasons to develop, but they can still pursue other things.

To go back to my entry point for this post, I'm nuts about the idea of movie actors starring in TV shows! In a lot of cases, TV is the beneficiary. The medium of TV is developing in fascinating ways right now, and I for one am excited to see the blurring of the lines between film and television.

What do you think? Are you a fan of "filmic TV", or annoyed with it? Are there any film actors you'd like to see become regulars on a TV show? The comments section is your friend!

Monday, 11 October 2010

"Life Unexpected" Acting Wholesome

Check out this video from Entertainment Weekly featuring the cast of Life Unexpected behind the scenes. You've gotta love a show that doesn't take itself too seriously!

While we're on the subject, what do you people think of Life Unexpected so far this season? In my humble opinion, the series hasn't been as great as last season, which was still admittedly rocky, but there are some very interesting character developments abounding this year. For instance, I love seeing Lux finally warming up to being a regular teenager. I don't like storylines where students pursue teachers and vice versa (I'm looking at you, Pretty Little Liars), but I think it's consistent with the character that she would take something that's a normal high school experience for a lot of people (e.g., having a crush on an older guy/teacher), and turn it into a viable possibility in her mind. She's sort of stuck between trying to be a regular high school student and trying to be older than she is. It's fascinating!

The show isn't amazing at the moment, but it's still imminently watchable and I really enjoy the old-school WB feel. That's my two cents.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

This week's "Grey's Anatomy"

If any of you are reading this blog and haven't yet watched this week's episode of Gray's Anatomy entitled "Superfreak", please, for your own sakes, just read an online recap instead. It was the threat level red of most disgusting things I've ever seen on TV (on the same disturbance level as the X-Files episode from season four called "Home"). Seriously, I feel like hurling just telling you to avoid it. You have all been warned.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

"One Tree Hill" Psychos

Here's a hilarious gallery of former (and some present) psychos on One Tree Hill. This made me feel nostalgic for the days of a good, ole fashioned resident crazy in Tree Hill. My top 5 favorite OTH psychos are:

5. Sensitive Singer/Songwriter Psycho

4. Good Girls Go Psycho

3. Gimme a P-S-Y-C-H-O

2. Psyco Nanny Carrie

1. Psycho Derek

Psycho Derek wins because I've never been able to resist a good stalker subplot on a teen show.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

My Top Ten TV Pilots of All Time

On a pleasant run the other day, I started thinking about which TV pilots I would put in my top ten of all time list in case anybody ever asked (I know, nobody ever would ask, but in my fantasy scenarios, people always want to talk about TV, running, and Renaissance court drama with me. We have great conversations in my head. I promise I'm not crazy). Two points of clarification going into this: 1) Obviously, the choices on this list are late-nineties/2000s-centric, but that's more a reflection on my age than the actual quality of TV shows produced before that. I'm sure the pilot to MASH was just as brilliant as everyone says, but I never watched that show. 2) Just because a show turned into one of my favorites, doesn't mean its pilot episode was brilliant. Gilmore Girls springs to mind: the series is one of my 5 favs of all time, but the first season was largely spent trying to get to the lightning-fast pace of later seasons. The pilot is not one of my favs.

Got it? Great. Here they are:

Honorable Mention: 30 Rock, ER, Life Unexpected, Modern Family, Once & Again, Party of Five, Southland, and V.

10. Glee: I know it's a young show, but its pilot is one of the most fun in recent memory. Pilots can often get so bogged down in trying to introduce the characters and their situations, that they can forget to tell the story effectively. This pilot immediately brought us into its world with hilarious quick cuts and a voice-over that provided just enough info. By the end of the episode, you can't help but to care about New Directions. Plus, it introduced those of us that aren't Broadway geeks to the vocal power of Lea Michele singing "On My Own", for which I will forever be grateful. Pop culture has yet to show how extensive the ripple effects of this show will be, but the closing number to the episode, "Don't Stop Believin'", set a lot in motion.

9. Millennium: I admit that I was late coming to this show. A friend introduced me to it on DVD when I was old enough to really appreciate it. I had been an off and on X-Files fan, so the Chris Carter element initially drew me in. What the episode does especially well is to establish the good vs evil fight that the series would explore in its best episodes. Throughout the series, Frank Black (Lance Henricksen) constantly found himself standing on the side of good, but venturing into the evil to ward it off, and this episode took us there from minute one. This episode proved to be the perfect precursor to the depths Millennium would take us.

8. The West Wing: I think this is an example of a show that got better as its first season progressed, but its pilot was still amazing! It was written by my favorite screenwriter Aaron Sorkin in top form, giving us the intelligence and wit for which the series would come to be known. My favorite thing about Sorkin is that he's a good, old-fashioned idealist, and from the very beginning, The West Wing showed us that it was about the ideals that American government aspires to. In Sorkin's West Wing, President Bartlett is just a man, yes, but he's a presence, a truly great man in the flesh. Hey, I'm a Republican but this still sucked me in!

7. Felicity: I've probably watched this pilot about a dozen times, and each time I get something new out of it. I always find the characters to be so honest and beautifully constructed. The last time I watched this series (about two years ago), I was struck by all of the terrible decisions Felicity (the ever brilliant Keri Russell) made throughout, but as we were going through them with her the first time, they seemed like the decisions she would make. That she followed Ben (Scott Speedman) to New York City because he wrote something nice in her yearbook makes her sound crazy, but it turns out transferring to New York wasn't about Ben at all. It was always about her. In this pilot, you can't help but to care about Felicity as she naively follows her heart without restraint. She's awkward, but well-meaning. When she tells Ben, "You made me fall in love with you!", you can't help cringing, but you care that her feelings are hurt by his totally normal response. You're watching her at the cusp of beginning to become an adult, and its mesmerizing.

6. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Aaron Sorkin's idealism again took center stage in this genius two-part pilot. When the Lorne Michaels-type figure on an SNL-type show impulsively uses the live show to air his grievances about network TV in a Network (the movie, that is)-style rant, we're really hearing a Sorkinized soapbox about the problems with TV. Using this incident as a catalyst, Sorkin is able to construct a brilliant, idealized version of a TV network responding to the rant. Say what you will about the show not working as it went on, but I maintain that this pilot is near perfect.

5. Alias: The compelling opening sequence to JJ Abrams' sophomore series juxtaposes our heroine Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) in some kind of Chinese torture chamber with her finishing a test for grad school in Los Angeles. Welcome to Sydney's world! The flashback of Sydney's short-lived engagement to nice-guy civilian Danny Hecht immediately showed us the human side of this girl with fiery red hair that we deduce we'll understand all about later on. As Sydney's world unravels, we see the emotional difficulties she's going to face as she makes the decision to take down SD-6, and she's immediately compelling for it. JJ Abrams said that the idea for Alias came out of a writers' meeting during Felicity, where he half-jokingly suggested that they write an episode explaining that Felicity had actually been a spy the whole time. In many ways, this explains why Sydney was such a convincing character: she was written as a human being (i.e., Felicity) before she was a spy.

4. Friday Night Lights: How could I not include this pilot? Its emotional highs and lows usually take a season to accomplish. When we first meet Jason Street (Scott Porter), we are immediately left with the sense that something bad is going to happen to this golden boy. When it does, although we saw it coming, it's still heartbreaking. I don't know about you, but I loved every minute of watching Matt's (Zach Gilford's) conflicted emotions as he is awkwardly thrust into the team's de facto leadership role. This show is not about football as much as it's about the people who care about football, and the pilot was our first, hypnotizing glimpse into their world.

3. LOST: That opening sequence, right?! We see an eyeball coming into focus, then a jungle. Next we see a man in a suit waking up in the jungle, a yellow Labrador, and soon enough the screams coming from the beach as the man finds his way out of the jungle. This opening sequence, including the mayhem on the beach, is enough to make this pilot one of the best ever, but it's only improved upon by the seasons that followed it. The image of a man in a suit, lying in a jungle is a good microcosm for the whole series, as well as a precursor for Jack's (Matthew Fox's) journey [FOR THE LOVE OF TIVO, I CRY SPOILER ALERT!!!]: in the finale, he would find himself lying in the same place, only not as an outsider (signified by the suit) this time, but as a person who had found his home. Forgive my placing CS Lewis out of context here, but there's no other way: as Jack's eye opens in the pilot, he starts riding the bus to the High Places, and when it closes in the finale, he's finally able to move beyond his supposed desire to return to the Gray Town and into the Light. It's a beautiful journey that begins within the first :15 of the pilot.

2. Little House on the Prairie: "Little H on the P", as it is affectionately known in my house, began as a two-hour TV movie/pilot that aired on NBC in the spring of 1974 before the new fall season began. After watching it, it's not hard to see why the network was keen to pick it up as a series. Dramatizing the Ingalls' move from The Little House in the Big Woods (of Wisconsin) to the apparently dangerous flat lands of Kansas to, finally, the house in Plumb Creek, the movie pilot focuses in on the family at the center of the series and the hardships they endured. During one scene, Charles (Michael Landon, otherwise known as TV's greatest dad) has to leave the family alone in their depressing little homemade cabin in Kansas (it didn't even have a door, for crying out loud!) while he goes hunting, leaving Caroline (Karen Grassle) alone with the sound of distant but too close for comfort Native American war drums. As she sits up at night with a ready shot-gun, we get a glimpse of the real fear this family must have faced in the barely settled Midwest. The series (book and TV) tells the stories through Laura's (Melissa Gilbert's) eyes. It's not gritty realism because it's filtered through a child's lens. This particular episode shows both sides of the situation: Laura remembers the drums and her mother sitting up at night afraid for her family, but in the same breath, she remembers the Christmas where they each received a shiny new penny and candy from Mr Edwards. This pilot perfectly set up the perspective of the series: whenever it was dark, it was also coupled with a child's hope that everything would be okay.

1. My So-Called Life: I actually wrote a paper in college about this pilot. I've chosen it as my favorite of all time because I think it is one of the very few perfect episodes of TV that I've ever seen. At the beginning of the episode, Angela Chase (played with brilliant teenage conviction by Claire Danes) tells us in voice-over narration, "So I started hanging out with Rayanne Graff. Just for fun. Just 'cause it seemed like if I didn't I would die or something. Things were getting to me. Just how people are. How they always expect you to be a certain way, even your best friend." The dialogue is perfect in its imperfections, here: Angela's imperfect high school English is the kind of dialogue a teenager trying really hard to not seem like she's trying too hard would use. Phrases with "like" and "or something" flow tripping off the tongue as she attempts to explain to us her world in her own terms. She almost always uses first and last names to describe people in her high school, as if saying both of their names makes her know them better. "Rayanne Graff" (A.J. Langer) is Angela's grungy hero, and she loves that Rayanne likes her. She's "hanging out" with Rayanne because Rayanne is Angela's idea of cool, but in choosing to hang out with Rayanne at the beginning of her sophomore year in high school, she has passive aggressively abandons her old best friend Sharon Cherski (Devon Odessa). Angela doesn't see it this way, though. She's chasing after approval just as desperately as poor Sharon is. The pilot is told from Angela's skewed, self-involved perspective, but what could be more true about being a teenager than that? The thing that I love about this episode is that in spite of the mistakes Angela is making and the ways she tries to mask how she really feels, we can see how vulnerable she is, and we love her for it. She's me and everyone else at that age.

So there you have it. In case you're concerned about the state of my PhD dissertation, this post was written at small procrastination intervals throughout the week. Do you have any favorite or memorable pilot episodes? Feel free to comment below!