IR Television Review: Continuing Boundaries & The Human Medium – Returning TV Shows – Spring 2012 – Part II
The advent of a plethora of continuing animated shows distinctifies the approach of the genre but, beyond the procedurals, there lies a grand amount of live action situations (cartoons if you like) that can get the boundaries bumping on good ol’ Earth. Granted many of these shows that can balance humor and drama are harder to come by but USA tends to keep on top of it as highlighted by their sophomore show “Fairly Legal” while a cartoon like “Bob’s Burgers” exemplifies using the medium to reflect real human intentions albeit with longer foreheads.
Ugly Americans As much as the lead character Mark wants to help people, he ultimately gets sidetracked by the element of pursuit that trumps all others: sex. In expanding their comfort zone outwards, the creators decide to switch Callie for an episode to a guy (ultimately so she can infiltrate the underwater kingdom of Atlantis) which creates an element of unease as Mark’s girlfriend (being a demon) doesn’t understand such things. Ultimately the idea becomes that pollution begets pollution. The aspect of upper and mis-management becomes a more particular case when, through the aspect of a bad stand up routine, Mark becomes the head of the company only to find out a grand amount of misspent money to celebrate employees birthdays. While not as mythological, “Americans” does find its footing but it is becoming harder for it to stay there.
South Park The application of social niceties never quite circled into Cartman’s realm but with the continuing thought here the balance between notions of genre and ripped from the headlines precedence seems to unbalance at the weirdest of times. While the bullying aspect might in fact be explored in deeper structure at a different time, the idea of Cartman as both a would-be emissary as well as the town’s worst nightmare seems to be prevailing whether he is racially profiling a relationship while also posing as gay or spearheading the most simple squandering based episodes about the new trendy kind of streaking to do. Despite this, the extremeness of the novelty is wearing off, even with an intrinsic spot on element about the TSA where inspectors are placed in bathrooms after an over-reactive mother dies on the toilet when her son doesn’t put the toilet seat down.
Thundercats Building the mythology involves the cats moving through worlds and not just staying on the ground. The evolution and pursuit of this is the key in making the series more epic. The use of the different animal classes whether it be dog, cat, bird, rat or beyond start to form an element of the hierarchy which gives the storyline much more gravitas beyond the literal threat of Mum-Ra. What is starting to happen is an evolution into a notion of “Spartacus” with Lion-O acting as that stalwart which has come into more specific focus when a new female cat who is a fighter in the arena becomes part of their clan. The infiltration of this storyline is subtle in the way it necessitates itself. However even the use of Lion-O going through different trials into order to win his life back after he mistakenly dies hints at a notion of theology which crystallizes even more when they have to take to the skies which is where their destiny lies, mystical rock or no.
Fairly Legal The tantalizing effort of mediator Katie seems to grow on a person. She can be a tad annoying but ultimately completely into control of her facilities. Last season seemingly portrayed an idealism of her being the pursuer instead of the pursuee in terms of her imploding marriage because she was so off her rock and focused on herself. There is no doubt that Katie is a selfish person at heart but her flaws (like the characters on many other USA Network shows) points to a fact of redemption. The idea that her resolution would come from a man who just has about enough regret as a spider shows the fire that the writers are playing with. It works in texture enough until it needs to be acted upon. Adding in a political race with Katie’s former husband as running for the contested DA seat creates some extra tension. What wins this viewer is simply Katie’s ability to be herself even in what should be a weighty legal world. His scenario to prove a legal point to her legal partner (and would-be suitor) using sexual teasing to prove a point is both intoxicating and heavily annoying which is what makes it work.
Bob’s Burgers The continuation of such a low-key show defies expectation but this little engine that could has done what “Allen Gregory” and “Unsupervised” cannot: a searing animated show that can still be funny without losing its irony or resorting to overdone sight gags. Whereas in “Archer”, H. Jon Benjamin is the star of the show, here he is the voice of reason; it is the kids with their intensive lack of sense and morality (or, in one case, too much of both) that propels the ideas. Whether it be looking for treasure in a soon-to-be-demolished taffee factory (which makes good reference to “The Goonies” with Cyndi Lauper even singing a modified theme song for the end credits) to Bob becoming a would-be hostage negotiator with his burgers, the irony is all too available. His kids are attention grabbers who will use whatever means they can to hog the high life from Bob who, beyond his simpleton view, means well.
Those drama/thrillers that survive their first season jumps require either a sense of foreboding or story structure that interrelates their true nature. Whether based in a heightened universe (as most are) or in dealing with the moral ineptitude of life, the following shows examine the life in-between.
Fringe As the idea of the collapsing of two universes continues to gain credence, the conception of the Olivia/Peter relationship falls into almost the pairing that can undo the universe. In creating this structure with the alternate Olivia (with a very soapy but plausible functional plot twist), the idea of what is the greater evil becomes much more defined. Why and how certain things will happen obviously works in congruence with the show’s mythology which is now so deep that it will be hard for first time viewers to actually impede into the world. For example, the supposed ghost episode is highly interactive in terms of the battle between two worlds and works exceptionally because of it but reflects into the reality that the show provides. The densely structured character work especially with John Noble and now, to a high regard, Anna Torv works exceptionally well without losing sight of what the series actually is: a journey.
Stargate Universe Playing with the idea of self interplays with how the true nature of man unfolds. While the beginning of this on “Universe” begins predictably enough, the evolution of what the show begins to explore extends its esoteric potential. The only hesitation with someone like Dr. Rush is that Robert Carlyle plays his genius with disdain for everything else that it almost overcomes what the young character of Eli Wallace wants to perceive. The idea of a life within the cyberstructure of the ship, which is explored in one episode, truly draws the characters out but the race to the finish line to at least structure some closure leads to a parallel story structure which, while interesting, tries to cram too much information into a short progression of time.
Batman: Brave & The Bold The key in creating a more interesting and core Batman is to go dark which might stagger the actual possibility of good ratings. “Brave & The Bold” understands the necessity to go the other way placing the animated ode at an odd angle between something like “Batman Beyond” and “Superfriends”. While undeniably tongue-in-cheek for its own good, moving in different style directions, both artistically and narratively, has served it well. While the form has provided screen-time from everyone from Hawkman to Superman to new introductions like BatMite, the most egregious at times are the ones that border on silly like Bat Boy which, like the full musical episode last season, may be a little over the line. Batman is an institution and being able to poke fun is definitive to its structure while maintaining a decor of ethos. That said, having other superheroes try to play Batman while the Caped Crusader is injured on an orbiting space station ,did have its great moments.
The Event Accelerating the possibilities of the show revolves around the fact of trying to create new narrative elements that are seen in a different way and create an awe factor. Despite a distilled production structure, this series seems to play the ideas by the numbers. Disappearing on buses after taking down the Washington Monument almost plays too B-movie. The character structures resound flimsy as well with the Vice President almost too cartoonish to exert any real threat especially against the head of intelligence and a bunch of co-opted CIA agents. While the inset of the season, especially with the presence of Hal Halbrook, seems to indicate a bigger mythology, the eventual crux of that story line fizzles especially in relation to Jason Ritter’s vendetta fueled lead who ultimately comes off as more weak than resolute.
Law & Order: LA When shake-ups brewed inevitable in terms of personnel shifting on the series, the question became how involved would an audience be in the changing of the overall structure. If this kind of action were taken at the end of the second season, it might have had more power. The reality is that TV shows are on a much more restricted timeline in terms of delivery progression. While the movement of Alfred Molina to the detective side after Skeet Ulrich’s character is assassinated creates a structure of rich drama, it is not used to utmost effect because the investment is not quite there despite best intentions. The character that represents the most possibility is Corey Stoll though his emotional turmoil hasn’t manifested to a boil. That is the story line to watch.
The personification of what constitutes good and evil, and where the crossover lies, has bewildered psychologists who search for that kernel of betrayal that can either seduce or hold fast against temptation. With four new series, the idea stretches across different forms of law enforcement outside of the norm where bending the rules or even breaking them can be rewarded.
The Good Guys The texture of the old “buddy cop” formula had been overdone to bust before the procedural took over but there was a certain distinctness of the abandon to conventional political correctness and wisdom that made some of those shows fun to watch. With this new inlay starring Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks, the key is to make the pairing fun to watch without making the stakes too high from the outset. Created by Matt Nix, who figured the lead structure with his other hit series “Burn Notice”, the key here is comedy and making it feel natural and not overdone. While Whitford understands his character, he is definitely playing a camp version of it. When mixed with a great amount of licensed 80s music which plays exceptionally well (especially during a getaway driver sequence set to ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down”), the show can hit his stride. Originally called “Code 168” after the element of property and low rent crimes, our boys always stumble upon some big heist or case which needs their less than accurate skills. The series, also with a sense of structure, shows the paying of dues. Over the years, one of the stories told to me by Michael Douglas puts the angle in perspective since he too had a famous father in Kirk like Colin has with Tom. Michael made the point that the key to him learning was working with Karl Malden on “Streets Of San Francisco” early in his career which gave him a basis for the work ethic and the craft needed. Colin, in playing this role has a similar situation with Bradley, which tends to work to great effect. The storylines balance with distinctness and the writing is sharp despite the persistent fact that it seems apparent that they will always get out of trouble.
Memphis Beat The back step ideology works in an odd congruence here with distinct but limited results. Last time we saw Jason Lee, he was approaching the basis of Earl using common sense as a form of new zen. With “Memphis Beat” which was developed by George Clooney and his company. the background and its music figure incessantly important into the aspect of the lead character. The idea swirls in the fact that the music brings the detective back to his truism. However seeing the ideal within this structure, one cannot help revert back to a mixture of down home philosophy mixing with the Elvis showmanship. Unlike “Justified” which takes its Kentucky heritage as a badge of honor, the invention of this character comes off disingenuous because it doesn’t feel true to its roots. Lee, as a comparison created an iconic perception in “Earl” which was distinctly different from his perception as a Kevin Smith player. Working in resolution also with less humor motivates the viewer to see subtleties that simply might not be there. Misdirects however unintentional tend to impact the plot in unforseen ways which, at times, is not all together good.
The Glades Using a similar locale as “Burn Notice” but with a lead that is charming in non-serial killer way the way Dexter is not, the darker tone of this series in keeping track with both A&E’s previous series “The Beast” and “The Cleaner” shows the tendency of the cabler to play more towards the tracking elements of premium cable. Matt Passmore as the relocated cop who was run out of Chicago (after he supposedly had an affair with The Chief’s wife in the Windy City) sets the stakes. As a viewer you are not sure whether to believe him in terms of honesty (or at times vulnerability) or if he, in all reality, is serving another agenda. The first couple episodes show an innate ability of the characrer to both piss off superiors but also lack a sense of fear when it comes ultimately to dangerous gangster types, almost approaching a form of nihilism. While it is played lighthearted at times, there seems to be an undercurrent of dread permeating throughout the series which seems inherently apparent in the hurricane episode when they stumble upon a man shot in the forehead inside a car. The nonchalance of the Passmore’s Jim and the tone of the series seems to point to a tonal structure that will be further developed as time goes along.
Covert Affairs USA has a lot of ideas moving through the structure with some working exceptionally well (“Burn Notice”, “Royal Pains”) while others, to this reviewer at least, not quite catching as much (“In Plain Sight”). With more on the way, the making of another humor/drama balanced series that can still be made for a price is key. Trading in NY and Miami to shoot in Toronto which can double for European cities as well (which it does for the also locally shot “Warehouse 13”), “Covert Affairs” know its balance but the series really cruxes on the aspect of Piper Perabo (a newly promoted officer in the CIA) and Christopher Gorham (who plays her blind, in-control yet humorous handler). Perabo, best known for her turn on “Coyote Ugly” uses her cavalier attitude that has served her character work well to great effect in the past to likely inventiveness here. Unlike “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, which executive producer Doug Liman also directed, the idea of the series is identification beyond all thoughts. Annie (Perabo’s character) second guesses herself in the first couple episodes which adds to the structure of how human she can be. She is a low level operative which, as the series seems to move on, is being used for her connection to another high level operative whom she isn’t even aware is a spy or is ultimately protecting her. This is an overarching structure of mythology that will either work very well or might fall short in decisive order since most of the series at least at this point seems to be teetering on this mystery. Another point of contention is keeping Annie to a point naive and innocent of her plight before she is ultimately betrayed. The problem with this progression is that ultimately a degree of cynicism will cause the audience to lose touch with her emotionally because you have to respect the intelligence of the character while still rooting for him or her. That is a situation which is befalling Michael Weston in “Burn Notice” because there is just so many times you can say “I have to do this for the greater good”.