RogerBW's Blog

2014 US Television Season 11 November 2014

The current American television season is in full swing, and while it's pretty lacklustre I've caught up with some new series that looked interesting.

(Some of the content here is derived from my comments at Senceless Pie. There are probably more popular places to discuss TV shows, but Meg and the other regulars there are an interesting and friendly bunch.)

While I do still watch some procedural shows – OK, that's not an obvious term, I mean here shows that stick to a standard structure and plot and are typically about law enforcement in some way (Bones, CSI, Castle) – I think that some of that is from inertia (I was watching from the beginning or at least from early in the run), and some of it is a a particular twist that the show puts on the subject (Castle and Bones do this rather better than CSI, which at times has seemed to be about how if you're a woman who dares have anything other than a strictly vanilla monogamous sex life you deserve to be punished).

So Mysteries of Laura lost me during the pilot. Gee, a woman can be a mother as well as a cop? How revolutionary. Well, maybe in 2009 in Spain when the original series was broadcast it was still considered faintly unusual; this is the American adaptation five years later, and it isn't. This lost me in the first five minutes.

All a pilot has to do to get me to keep watching is to have (a) vaguely interesting people doing (b) vaguely interesting things. If I'm in a tolerant mood, just one of these will do.

My rule these days is that the pilot has a high quality threshold to exceed and get my attention: after all, it can be carefully constructed to maximise audience appeal, and budgets don't have to be spread out across a full season. So if the pilot doesn't grab me straight away (Revenge), I'm out. Otherwise I'll stick around for the first non-pilot episode, which should be a fairly good representation of what a "normal" series episode will be like, so it doesn't have to meet such a high standard with me. At long as it's reasonably entertaining, I'll probably carry on until the end of the season unless the show gets much worse.

Scorpion got off to a good start: only one of the four principals was really annoying to me (the generic panicky fat guy), which is not bad as these things go. The setup with aircraft being out of communication was rubbish, of course.The "good wireless signal" was even more rubbish. And as for the backup regime… yeah, for all the sense they're making, they might as well be saying "we've got to flirble the wazmatic or the cormanol will be fizlit!". By the time they started talking about "five hundred thousand kilowatts" (yeah, that's half the output of a fair-sized nuke plant, it’s not being switched through one small cabinet) I was laughing at the show, which is not a bad thing even if it's not what the makers intended. Normally I count on competent procedural content in a show to carry me over the rough characterisation; here it's the other way round.

But oh, man, yet again we see the "all smart people are pathologically socially inept" meme. That was always going to be the real hump for me to get over on this one. Like The Big Bang Theory, it feels like geekface, with people who have never actually known any real person in the group in question writing as if they were experts. Indeed, Paige the waitress seems very like the Penny of the show, the "normal person" who's there to provide Homespun Wisdom and Common Sense and other things that those silly smart people don't have.

As always with a TV show made to appeal to a mass audience, anyone who is significantly smarter than a Regular Guy has to have some huge disadvantage to go with it, to show that overall they're no better off than said Regular Guys. (Maybe they were built on the same number of points?) You can see this in a minor way on Bones, and in a major way on Alphas and Scorpion and Criminal Minds and Elementary (and Sherlock, it's not just an American thing).

I ended up dropping this one during episode 2. The tech is so blatantly made up from buzzwords that it just had no appeal to me.

As for Gotham I liked the pilot and I'm enjoying the show. As a non-comics-fan, I can take or leave all the hints about how this guy is going to turn into that costumed villain, but I really like the core story of the lone straight cop in a corrupt police department in a corrupt city. Particularly when it becomes clear that at least some of the villains have realised that, as a straight cop, he can be counted on to behave in certain specific ways: if they can keep feeding him a steady diet of less-connected criminals doing terrible things, he can even be useful to them.

What I got from the pilot of Forever was: it's basically Sherlock Holmes as a pathologist, spotting tiny details and working out what they could mean. Which I can live with, particularly with Body of Proof having first lost all the good regulars in its third season and then been cancelled. In Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod only has one gimmick: he's From The Past. Henry Morgan (har har) is both From The Past and Super Observant. So I'll stick with it for now. Actually, although the setup (male lead From the Past, female lead contemporary cop) is obviously inspired by Sleepy Hollow, this feels rather more like Castle in conception: wacky male lead, by-the-book cop female lead. And that's no bad thing, particularly with a solid cast, including a fractionally better role for Joel David Moore than the one he had in Bones. Alas, ratings have been poor and I suspect it’s not coming back.

On the other hand I dropped Stalker during the pilot. Far too much "look at the woman in peril, look a little more closely, she's terrified isn’t she, let’s have a nice lingering shot of that, the bad guy will be caught in the end so it's OK to enjoy it" for me. The way Criminal Minds almost always finds an excuse to show a pretty woman in terror in the first few minutes does kind of grind me down; mostly I watch it for Reid.

In returning series, Castle (season 7) is, well, it's OK, but everyone's starting to feel a bit tired. Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic are still worth watching, though. CSI (season 15) is still working well after the surprisingly brilliant move of bringing in Ted Danson as the lead, but it's an old show and it's cruising a bit. Bones (season 10) is trying to change things up by killing off an annoying character; maybe it'll work. Sleepy Hollow in its second season is getting a bit less randomly crazy and a bit more interested in good storytelling. It's still a show that shouldn't work, but somehow does. I rather lost interest in Elementary in its season 2, but it's still doing a good workmanlike job of telling tales loosely inspired by the original stories. (Rather a better one than Sherlock, but it doubtless helps that it's trying to portray female characters as people.)

I'll admit I started watching both Sleepy Hollow and Elementary because I thought they would be amusingly bad, and the same applied to Constantine (or "Constanteen" as everyone insists on pronouncing it on-screen). It's not great, certainly – the smoking and bisexuality have been censored out for a start, and I suspect the latter will show up before the former – but it does a reasonable job of portraying John Constantine as a fundamentally damaged person even if he does get all emotional and whiny at short notice. Still looks like a monster-of-the-week show at the bottom of it all. I should say that I'm not a huge fan of the comics, so I'm not being offended by the inevitably different characterisation.

Tags: television

  1. Posted by Elizabeth at 10:18am on 09 December 2014

    Sleepy Hollow is a fun ride.

    I agree regarding Scorpion, in part because I have two very intelligent children who are also socially ept. (well, you can be inept, that seems to imply...oh, never mind) Socially competent let us say. So I know that the two can reside within the same personality.

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