Monday, 18 January 2010

TV Fall 2009 Report


I watch a lot of American television - I think after watching just a few shows you can't go back or settle with mediocre British attempts as the quality is so diminished. So steadily over the years I have picked up new shows, and actively get involved when all the new pilots and pick ups are announced by the US networks, eagerly scanning premises to see what else I can add to my rapidly growing schedule. Last September (it's obviously 'Autumn' but for speaking specifically about US shows and for the cute notion of it it's now 'Fall') I added up that I had nine shows to watch every week - NINE! - but when the nights become cold and dark there's nothing better than to curl up with your favourite characters and finally get some repercussions from excruciating cliffhangers. Oh, and throw in some pure guilty pleasures in there as well...

At present we're heading towards the end of the Christmas Mid Season Break (a horrible, bereft time of year, sob) so I thought as a heads up into the Spring Term I would round up my thoughts so far, and see which of my shows are heading for lofty heights, and which ones are lagging behind...


90210

I was a huge fan of Beverly Hills 90210 in my youth (ahhh, angsty Brenda and clean cut Brandon), and obviously was very excited by a re-launch by the CW. But Season 1 suffered badly from shallow characters, done-to-death storylines, and writing so bad it would have received a fail in my Creative Writing degree. Plus in Annie Wilson the show had one of the most unlikeable, preachy and naval gazing wallowing banshees ever committed to a pen's head. The only thing saving this show from the dredges was to have her character run over by a bus in the Summer break, and her subsequent harrowing death waved over by her family in the opening episode, so by the first advert break she is already just a whisper on the Californian breeze. But actually, the writers did something much more inventive - for them anyway - a risk that befalling any other character would have flailed and sunk. But with Annie, they had already reached rock bottom on the annoyingness counter, so what else did they have to lose by turning her into a murderess? A rubbish one at that, but still - ANNIE WILSON KILLED A HUMAN BEING. And that's where Season 2 kicks in and amazingly - has some success with it.

For Annie - even though she seems to forget she even committed a crime by episode four - gradually becomes more likeable as she is shunned by her regular popular crowd (including shameful public humiliation by Naomi), becomes drawn into the clutches of Jasper, the nephew of the man she ran over on Prom Night. Partly through guilt, but also through the fact that edgy weirdy Jasper is an outcast in the High School class system and offers Annie an insight into being a maverick, Annie becomes tighter with Jasper, until they become a teenie bopper lite Starkweather-Fugate couple, what with her running over tramps and him pushing good journalistic students down the stairs...ahem.
Because her old friends - including brother Dixon - want nothing to do with her, they turn a blind eye to the danger Annie is slowly entwining herself in. Because - of course! - Jasper knows that she killed his uncle, and then drove off. He's known all along, yet his motives for getting close to Annie are still unclear even as the series progresses - does he want revenge, or is there a lonely soul calling out here wanting friendship and intimacy? There's still claims Jasper killed his uncle himself and set Annie up and she's been innocent all along - and who knows with these types of show? But now Annie has slowly redeemed herself (with the whole Jen storyline being resolved.... see below), her friends have tuned in again and suddenly realise HOLY SHIT THE GIRL'S IN TERRIBLE PERIL! They try to warn her but Annie's head over heels at this point (uttering the vomit inducing "I want you to be my first" for about the 40th time) and why should she listen to the people who ostracised her for so long? But when Jasper admits to her that floating rumours are true - he is a drug dealer - she wants out and fast. But then he drops the bombshell - he noez wot she did last summa. OMGZ! What now? Blackmail? She killed his beloved uncle goddammit!

What happens next we'll find out in a couple of weeks, but bizarrely the show may have committed an own goal in creating 'creepy Jasper' because Zachary Jay Sherman (what a name!) is one of their best actors, one of the most interesting people in the glamorous posse and yet I can't see how they can keep his character on after this little arc is concluded. It's a shame, and I hope they can still find a way around it. He could be the new Dylan!...ish.

I've devoted so many words so the Annie-Jasper storyline because it was by far the most potent in Season 2. The others: Adrianna loves Navid! Now she loves Teddy who is clearly 31! Now she loves drugs! She's forgotten all about her baby!/Navid is a broken man after Ade dumps him! He is even more broken when Jasper pushes him down the stairs!/Silver isn't bi-polar anymore because that is so last year! Her mother died in the most predictable way! Now she is torn between Teddy and Dixon and no one envies her!/Dixon had a throwaway storyline with an older woman who turned out to be a bit of a psycho! Now he wants to find his real mom, forgetting he's done that already last season!/Ryan is dull!/Jen is finally uprooted!/and the Wilson parents and Kelly are barely in it anymore!

Which leaves the other storyline worthy of attention in Season 2 - Liomi. Or rather anything involving Naomi and/or Liam, who are both allowed slightly below par storylines because they're just so pretty to look at. Sigh. And I've been waiting for them to finally get together ALL FALL LONG! So wahoo when they finally clinched in the last eppy. I think the chemistry between AnnaLynne McCord and Matt Lanter is obvious and eminently watchable, and keeping them apart much longer would have been detrimental to the show. The inclusion of surfer dude chick Ivy did nothing for me - she was no match for the awesomeness of Naomi and I didn't feel anything for her at the end when she effectively brought Liomi back into being. Unfortunately from the promo it looks as though she is going to stick around, and actually be initiated into Naomi's 'gang'. Ugh! Let's hope Naomi doesn't fashion her nemesis out of it.

Although at times filler and a bit draggy, 90210 has actually risen up the ranks to become one of my favourite shows of the past year - you know you're going to get some enjoyment out of it every time you sit down to watch an episode, and even though it's as trashy as hell and probably kills a few of my brain cells every minute exposed to it, I can't wait for its return!


Glee

One of the new series for 2009 that's proved to be, well, inconsistent. I'm always excited by anything new Ryan Murphy does - I've been a Nip/Tuck fan since the start, and have recently been rediscovering the genius of Popular. And this one definitely had promise - I was excited Murphy was returning to the High School genre and proposing to tell it from an outcast POV ala the defunct but excellent Freaks and Geeks. The pilot wasn't as cutthroat as I was hoping it to be, and the big cheesy ensemble numbers would have lost the interest of a lot of viewers. Still, I was buoyant enough about the full season starting and seeing where the comedy, the tone and the story would go. And it's become one of those 'background shows' - it's nice to have on while you do other things. You certainly can't sit down and watch a full episode without your fingers itching towards the remote or the mouse. It just doesn't hold enough interest. The writing is very up and down - usually depending on the characters - and some of the episodes have been a complete and utter mess (that terrible acafellas one for example).

All of the characters - barring Quinn and the immense Sue - are as throwaway as the next and completely unlikeable, which is a huge shame, and a huge flaw being as we are now halfway through the first season. Surely we should have come to love or hate them all by now - at least have some kind of thoughts about how they each individually contribute to the show's dynamic? But they are all boring, especially the bland Mr Schuester who has finally got it together with bug-eyed hair folding Emma, who has 99.9% less spunk and charisma than his wife Terri did. The fake pregnancy storyline was a bit Nip/Tuck for a first season of a show aimed at teenagers, but I appreciated all the little nods to Jessalyn Gilsig's character on the cosmetic surgery drama. Quinn's pregnancy was also a bit much I thought, but they have managed to spin this in a way that makes it useful as well as heartfelt, and it's also made the character of Quinn - who was very generic to start with -  a really likeable (and pretty, heh heh) addition. Rachel, Finn, the black diva, the gay, the wheelchair (oh dear....) can all be re-cast when the series returns in April and no-one would kick up a fuss.

The show is best when it's being OTT and hilarious, and this usually means Jane Lynch is involved. I think she is brilliant as the overly competitive tyrant gym teacher, and she gets all the best lines and delivers them to witch-like perfection ("You're about to board the Sue Sylvester Express. Destination: HORROR!"). Thank God she is an integral part of the show and not reduced to a bit part as her scenes are the most appealing and memorable, especially Sue's Corner which is a work of geniosity! I really want to like the role of the principal too, but he hasn't had a killer episode yet to sell me. 

I think this show gets a lot more love than it's due, as I certainly find it a chore to watch at times. Tuning in again on its return in April will depend on a lot of things, one of the keys being whether I have missed it in its long absence. It's only been a month so far but it's fading from memory already...





Gossip Girl

The soaring ficcy heights of Season One seem like eons ago. Season 2 stumbled, blossomed into fabulousness, and then fell down a steep set of stairs. Slowly. In HEELS. Season 3 -dubbed "The College Years" had a lot to find to restore it to its Season 1 greatness. And sadly it hasn't found the - we are talking American - elevator yet. It hasn't even found the right direction! Season 3 has been extraordinarily poor, saved only by Blair and Chuck who continue to be wonderful despite being given weak storylines and hardly any screentime. The transition to College means the show has lost its focus, as the main protagonists are scattered about the city interacting with different people and living different lives. The school gates can't bring them together anymore on a Monday morning after the dirty weekend before. The writers have tried to deal with this by spinning up some incredibly boring and soapish storylines, and the show has gone from being unmissable to "I'll watch it after 90210." Yes that's right GG people - 90210 IS ACTUALLY BETTER THAN YOU RIGHT NOW. So by god, they know they're in trouble.

One of the huge flaws is Serena (played by the still impossibly gorgeous Blake Lively). By choosing not to go College (although this would have meant Serena going to Yale, and barely being in the show. Maybe that could have worked? They could have played on her original disappearance which started the whole show), she loosely hovers on the cusp of the action, having boring affairs with Carter Baizen and Tripp van der Bilt - even her car accident was pitiful! Serena was one of my favourite characters in the beginning, and now she's in limbo, in desperate need of a good punchy bit of drama that doesn't involve the inevitable (smoochiness with Nate) or the parental (lost dad orama). The parental stories are not wanted on Gossip Girl. Fair enough if they wanted to make something out of Rufus and Lily but now bringing Serena's dad into the equation is just going to make it drag onnnn and onnnnn. I just want it to concentrate on the troubled teens!

Nate's little dalliance with her off that axed CW show failed to bring me to care - even his political cheatings and fist fights haven't put him on my radar. Maybe time to kill him off? He has enough ties with the main gang for it to be a big and lasting event, and no one would miss him. It's WIN-WIN! Someone get this to the writers! Jenny was far more interesting being a wannabe fashion designer/runaway than she is now attempting to be Queen Bitch at Constance. And now a drug mule story? Pass the Gucci handbag! Dan's about to bore us to death pining after icky Vanessa, after what was a promising relationship with Hillary Duff (sadly now left). And Georgina has slowly sunk into a black hole - whatever happened to The Bitch Is Back?

Blair continues to be utterly adorable, and played to perfection by Leighton Meester. I was a bit worried how the direction of her relationship with Chuck would go after the two of them finally got together at the end of Season 2 (one of my favourite fic moments ever, le sigh), but the two of them have continued to thrive and their support of each other through each own's problems is lovely to watch. But Chuck is severely underwritten this season, and it shows when his token five minutes every eppy turn out to be the very best (there were actually times this season when I was fast forwarding through certain storylines. That's how bad things have got). His biggest role came in the last episode when the first anniversary of his dad's death haunts him and a burden he has been carrying for so long finally crashes down on him. It was a brilliant bit of acting from Ed Westwick, but then they had to ruin it all by having his DEAD MOTHER show up at his father's grave at the end of the episode, and then RUN OFF INTO THE FOG as Chuck calls after her. It was like watching a scene from Passions! What has GG become?!

GG now takes a bit of a break before returning mid March, and I say this is a blessing. It's time for the creators to sit down and watch Season 1 again, or go back to the source material and read a few of Cecily von Ziegesar's books, and really work out where they're going with this, and try to reel things back in. It's not too late to turn things around and the fanbase is still loyal. But unless things start to change, and fast, there's only so much patience we have with unfashionable garb.


Melrose Place

Another of my favourite childhood shows that has been resurrected by the CW. I hope it's going the same course as its sibling 90210 - i.e, a terrible Season 1 reforming itself by Season 2. Because for all the hype and my excitement at having the famous apartment complex back (plus the fact there are very few dramas on TV these days about young people in their mid 20s that don't involve lawyers or doctors) 2009 Melrose Place has washed up looking a bit ridiculous. Not that the original was a tightly written tense filled drama - Melrose Place is supposed to be the home of all the melodrama. But the antics of the new version have been plain embarrassing... yet you keep watching. Well I do anyway. I bemoan other shows for having terrible writing, but they all need to clear the top step of the podium for this barrage of drivel. It really is awful at times - you're cringing one moment, shouting out what's going to happen the next. And bringing in adopted brother-slash-lover in the penultimate episode of the first run was verging on insane! Oh, and it was the scorned wife wot killed Sydney as well. In some kind of canny twist to the tale. Whoodathunkit on Melrose Place?

One of the things that saves this show for me is Katie Cassidy, who plays Ella. I love Katie Cassidy - she was brilliant as the original Ruby on Supernatural and has the ability to really nail these gutsy, sparky characters. Plus every week I am amazed by all the outfits she wears! It's true fashion porn ala Gossip Girl. Even though she plays first class bitch Ella, she manages to bring a real likeability to the role that makes her a really strong tour de force on screen. She's bold, brassy and you want to be her best friend. There's a few more characters I like actually - Lauren, whose Pretty Woman storyline is actually really watchable and will be interesting to see how it pans out; Riley, even though she's a bit whiney and selfish I always take notice when she's on the screen; and to some extent Auggie as well, even though his character is a bit wooden and not the least bit admirable. He's the best of the boys though, lined up next to wet JonAH MillAH and David who whips his sunglasses off every time he walks onscreen. Violet could have been such an interesting and dynamic character as she's as creepy as hell, but in the hands of Ashlee Simpson she is just painful to endure. I read they're writing out David and Violet, and I was actually suspecting them to go before the break. Obviously there's more to play out there, but I think they're both due the exit door.

As for the returning cast I think Jane was the best - she was pouncy and vicious (in fact, they've all been pretty evil in some way or other!). Obviously Heather Locklear is still finding her feet stepping back into Amanda Woodward's shoes, and has had little to do so far. And now they've killed off Sydney so boooo! Although they've done that before...It wouldn't surprise me if she did a Dean Winchester and climbed out of her own grave. Of course they could always bring back crazy Kimberley.... ahhhh now that would be excellent.

Apparently when the show returns in March it's going to have a completely different feel about it. Now the murder mystery has been solved - not that it carried the previous episodes anyway - it's going to be much "lighter" and more fun. I fail to see how this is going to have a drastic change on proceedings, but I'm desperate intrigued enough to find out.


Supernatural


Aside from all the crap I watch (^^) I do harbour a few credible shows as well! And there are fewer of more brilliance than Supernatural. I am in awe of how this show has progressed over the years, from a monster of the week type of show to one that produces real drama, has depth in the writing, makes me collapse in fits of laughter and boasts one of the best pairings on modern day television in Sam and Dean. It truly is one of the most underrated, under radar shows in existence, and if only it was on another network than the CW perhaps it would get the broad recognition it deserves. In fact I believe it's due even more plaudits because it's on a tiny, often dismissed station complete with stingy budget and guaranteed pipsqueak ratings. We're into Season 5 now - slated as the final season but yet to be confirmed - and it's as strong as ever, the quality never having diminished and the potential for more ready in droves. I urge anyone who hasn't tuned into this yet to do so immediately - it's not too late and I promise you will not turn back.

Of course Season 5 is the awakening of Lucifer, who is ready to guide the apocalypse to its triumphantly ghastly end after being set free by Sam at the end of the last season. They've done well casting Mark Pellegrino as Satan, last seen of course as the elusive and mysterious Jacob on Lost. He's only had a handful of appearances so far, but already he's proved himself worthy of such a meaty role. They do well with casting on Supernatural - I can only think of the horror of Ruby II as a mistake. They genuinely introduce fantastic characters, and a prime example of this is Castiel, who has slowly become one of my top favourites (along with the boys and Bobby - gotta love Bobby!). The comic timing of Misha Collins is superb, and his scenes with Jensen Ackles a joy to witness. But he plays a mean angel as well, and the show would be a loss without him now. I was so afraid they were going to write out Bobby in the first episode of this series when he was injured - HOW COULD THEY KILL BOBBY! Thankfully they didn't, and he's been in it more than ever this season which has been great. I always smile when I see Jim Beaver's name in the credits. I was never a huge Jo and Ellen fan, and bringing them in for an emotional climax at the break would have held more power if they hadn't been absent for so long. Still, I bawled like a baby when they sacrificed themselves. I love how Supernatural can do that - have me giggling at Paris Hilton movie in-jokes and Supernatural conventions to sobbing loudly the next. In polar opposite form to all my recent grumblings, the writing in this is top notch.


Sam and Dean's relationship continues to define the word angst. Their characters are so well developed now the two actors can take storylines in their stride and manage to make them utterly convincing. You really care for them and what happens, and every time they have a heart to heart by the impala at the end of an episode, or one catches the other betraying the other's trust, it's emotion that is tangible to the devoted viewer. After five years you have become so involved in their journey that everything that happens to them feels like it has an impact on you, too! I was devastated when the two of them had to part ways earlier on in the Season (and then this was sensationally capped by Lucifer revealing that Sam is his true vessel), and even more so when it looked like Bobby had cut Sam from his life... luckily he was just possessed by a demon! Phew! I love these boys to bits, and would happily watch them hunting the undead for years and years to come.

There have been some stellar episodes this season: The End where Dean visits the future and Sam plays a creepy white suited devil; Changing Channels were we get another visit from the Trickster; The Real Ghostbusters, the Supernatural boys go to their own convention (!); and the finale Abandon All Hope which is up there in bonanza terms with Jus In Bello. I am squeeing about what's going to happen next and how the apocalypse is going to go down. AND IT'S BACK NEXT WEEK! SQUEEEEEEEEEEE


In other Fall news... I lost patience early on with Season 2 of Dollhouse and then it was subsequently cancelled. I've heard there are a few twists and turns as the season goes on and it does pick up the pace from what was a very lacklustre beginning, so perhaps when there's a lull again I may finish it all off. I also fell behind with Nip/Tuck's final season, which wasn't intentional, just the way things worked out. I'm now quite a row of episodes behind current pace, but I may catch up after hearing that Rose McGowan has joined the cast. How this passed me by I have no idea! Cycle 13 of America's Next Top Model, i.e. the Short Arse Cycle, wasn't as horrific as I had been envisioning, and in actuality had one of the best Final Two for a few years now. And the best gal won as well, so hurrah! Perhaps a small return to form, even though the Top Models down under are still way above and beyond. And a mention too for The Beautiful Life which was axed unfairly by the CW after two episodes. It was no revolution, but it had real promise to be fun and full of catty model dramaramas and I was enjoying it. Even if Mischa Barton was shit. I hear it's been sort of revived on You Tube, and the other finished episodes uploaded, so I may check them out at some point even though it's all futile.

So there we have it, I'm all ranted and squeed out and ready for a brand new set of juicy happenings to get my eyes bored into. Unfortunately a lot of my returning shows are still far away on holiday, and won't be with us again until there's flowers and leaves and stuff. Boo hoo. But to allay my sorrows I do have treats in waiting. The wonderful Damages with cutie Rose Bryne is back next week, and then we get the mother of them all - the final season of Lost. You can't get a better substitution than that in the break, can you really?


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